Do NOT Multi-Task
This one took me a while to figure out. I used to have multiple desktop widgets, multiple websites open, a movie playing on my phone, Outlook open, AND a work project I was "working on". In retrospect, it's hard to believe I actually got any work done. Now I've uninstalled my widgets, I no longer have my browser persistently open, I don't watch movies while working. I don't even have Outlook open all the time. When I work, that's ALL I do. When it's time to relax/play, that's ALL I do. There's a clean break.
I implied it earlier, but I wanted specifically call this out. Instead of randomly jumping between tasks, put items together that make sense. For example, when I check my personal email, I also read the latest news, check Facebook/Twitter, play with Vinnie. Those are all fun items. As a result, I check my email much less, but I give it more concentrated attention. I've written earlier how that's enabled me to consistently reach a zero inbox. Then I move on to the next set of tasks.
Part of being able to accomplish this is realizing that the world doesn't need your instant response. I learned this lesson during my media fast. People are OK with waiting to get a reply. News doesn't have to be read instantly (or at all - it's OK to miss things). Here's what you do: cut out everything. Then, only add it back if you real feel like it's missing. Here's a crazy idea: remove all the bookmarks in your browser. Then only add back the ones you use regularly. I did that with my RSS reader and it was amazing. I also do this with physical things as part of my whole own less stuff/spend on experiences philosophy. I move items into our garage. If it doesn't come back out after a year, I get rid of it after taking a picture for my computer's screensaver.
Become A Calendar and To-Do List Master
One of the big things I do is put EVERY appointment/meeting in my calendar. I actually tell my wife that if she doesn't put it on my calendar, I'm not showing up. We use Google Calendar, so we can easily add/edit/view our meetings from any device. This means I don't have to memorize anything.
I'm also a To-Do list master. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, would be proud. I personally use RememberTheMilk.com because it's clean, flexible and available on any device. Any system that you can use consistently works. Before I do a task, I write it down. I have 5 types of lists, and 3 ways to sort them:
- A general inbox for items
- Blog post ideas
- Regular repeating tasks (examples: Mow the lawn every other week, feed Vinnie daily, a monthly financial summary, write annual Christmas letter, pay quarterly jiu jitsu dues).
- Projects with multiple tasks (my way of solving RTM's 1 short coming of no sub-tasks)
- Shelved items - things I want to remember, but it would be OK if I never get to it.
The 3 additional ways I sort them:
- Today: I live here. Things I want to do today
- Tomorrow: For when I'm planning my next day in the evening
- Week: So I can see what's coming up. I use this less often, but find it helpful.
Again, I don't have to memorize anything.
What this means is that when I'm working, I'm not subconsciously trying to remember other things I have to do. This means I'm more productive. I believe the term is "mind like water".
Learn To Say "NO"
Honestly, this is one I'm still learning to master. Through various motivational videos/articles it's clear that productivity (and more generally, success) is also based on narrowing your focus. Jessi harasses me all the time because I want to do everything - and she's right for doing it.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers he talks about practicing something for 10,000 hours (my full review). In order to become a master at something, it takes about 10,000 of concentrated practice. Not only does this explain why I never became fluent in Spanish, but it also has a hidden implication in it: In order to reach that level of practice, you have to say "no" to 10,000 other hours worth of activities. 10,000 hours is a LOT of time. That means being able to say "no" to a LOT of items.
I wish I had some tips to saying "no", but it's honestly hard to do. One thing Jessi and I do while we set our annual goals, is literally draw out everything we're involved in. No joke - it looks like a colorful mind map that you probably used when writing papers in school. Then we step back and take a look at everything as a whole. Then we can decide where to increase/decrease our activity. If you're like me, you'll still struggle to eliminate items, but it's at least a way to wrap your head around your life.
So there it is.
- Stop multi-tasking
- Batch items together to streamline your workflow
- Become a calendar and to-do list master
- Learn to say "no"
That's at least a start. With practice and discipline you can start to be more productive.