A long time ago I remember reading about David Allen’s idea that goes something like this:
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. – David Allen
Ironically this idea has stuck with me for years and I have found it invaluable. My mind is often relatively empty so I can be totally present with whatever I’m doing. Maybe you’ll find this idea useful too.
If you have a never ending todo list try sorting the list by energy state. High and low energy tasks. A high energy task would be something that takes quit a bit of mental bandwidth. When you feel tired or uninspired you do the low energy tasks. When you feel amazing or during your most productive time of day do the high energy tasks.
An alternative sort method is to do the thing you least want to do first.
If memory serves this idea comes from Khe Hy
I’ve been fortunate to spent the last year traveling around the world. It’s been an incredible adventure to say the least. When you’re working online on a RTW trip you find yourself being productive in some strange places.
Right now I’m at a cafe in the middle of nowhere. It’s stiflingly hot, loud trucks are passing by, old people are loud talking at each other, and there are sweaty personal space invading waitresses everywhere. Not the most excellent work environment right? Wrong, I’ve been remarkably focused over the last couple hours of working here.
This space should be anything but conductive to focus or work and yet I’m completely mindful of the tasks I’m working on and getting them all done. I’ve completed all of my MITs and even had time to write this little post up in a couple hours. I’ve been in the flow state for this entire time.
How is this? It helps that I started this work session “on a hill” and that I’m working on exactly what I want to be working on. Also, I’ve been intensely cutting down on anything that doesn’t directly relate to what keeps me mindful and focused.
It helps that I’m working on less projects, telling people no more than yes, and generally reducing what I do online to next to nothing.
Beyond focus it helps to be mindful.
Here is something you can do to really kickstart your workday. Start each day on a downward slopping hill. A metaphorical downward hill that is.
Stopping a task at an arbitrarily defined time like 5PM really makes no sense. Try stopping your task on or shortly after the point you’re most excited about it. One would think if you’re excited about something you should continue working on it until the excitement wanes. This is great if you can complete the task in sitting. If the task takes you into another day you may want to consider quitting while you’re ahead.
The whole point of this is that it takes an incredible effort to get back to that level of energy and excitement the next time day. Sometimes generating that kind of interest is just too much to ask early in the morning. So we allow the distractions to take over. Like processing email. In other words procrastinating with something that feels productive but is really just busy work.
Stop when you find yourself totally motivated and pumped up. Move onto the next item and get that task rolling.
When you start your next day you’ll be excited to get back to the first task where you left off. Ideally if you stagger your tasks like this it will never feel like a chore to get going, and you’ll be a ninja on startup every day.
[photo by incase]
You Know The Feeling
Your head is down, you’re cranking out whatever you’re working on and all of a sudden time disappears and nothing else matters. Everything else is muted and you are just destroying! Well, er, in a good way of course. Everyone has this feeling of getting into the zone or being in a state of flow from time to time. I’ve started to ‘hack’ this artificially get myself into this headspace at will. Here’s how I do it.
I’ve noticed that I almost always have some type of drink on the go. And no, I’m not talking alcohol. I gave up that poison years ago. I’m talking about the best espresso you’ve ever tasted at a cafe in Athens. Or the incredible organic coffee from Arbutus Coffee in Vancouver. Whenever I get into this flow state or into this zone there is always a drink involved. I suppose the caffeine induces some type of biochemical or neurological response which makes my feel like I’m in the zone… It could also be that I’m least productive when I don’t have a drink going.
Music or Silence
If there is not complete silence at the ass crack of dawn then I need to have music. Usually ambient or lyric free music is best. For example this week’s Friday Mixtape by Tor is exactly the type of flow inducing music that I love.
Very Early Mornings
I’m talking 4:30 or 5:00AM. When I get a restful sleep I can rock up at this time of day and immediately start cranking it out. For many people, like my most awesome brother, the late night is a better flow time. He and I once tried to work together and this caused huge issues! He works best at night, I work best in the morning. You can’t just start waking up this early on a whim. It takes quite a while to get used to the sheer ridiculosity of this time of day. The best part about this time of day is you can take your dog for a walk and there is near silence. Take your dog to the local cafe and crank out some work before the rest of your timezone is even awake.
The best combination is this: some fantastic early morning exercise, a great coffee type drink, and silence or ambient music. If you’re a runner you can parlay your well documented ‘runners high‘ into your flow state. If you can combine all of them in the right order you’ll be a productivity master. Your inbox will be zeroed and you’ll get your most important tasks done before your friends or colleagues are even awake. They’ll wonder how you make it look so easy. It appears as though most high performance people (yeah I just said that, pfft!?) do this.
If you really have trouble finding your flow state use one of the time tracking tools to monitor your productivity. Then take note of your environment. Act accordingly.
Contrary to what common sense would suggest, having less connectivity will actually increase your productivity. If your internet access is intermittent and you’re genuinely offline, you’ll get more crap accomplished.
I’ve written 40 000+ words, shot 30 000+ photos, bought and sold several websites+domains+photographs, and run a successful photography school. All of this was with very limited connectivity while traveling through 20+ countries this past year. I’ve gotten more done in less time and I’m happier for it.
When you do have “online” time you have be highly focused on what you need to get done. As a result, you get it all done. Think reverse Parkinson’s Law which states:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Online time should be a treat, like ice cream. If you have 24/7 high speed internet getting distracted into useless minutiae is easy. The web is a hyperactive distraction machine. There is something incredibly awesome and simultaneously useless that comes out every single day. If you want to be more effective give yourself more offline time.
Spend your time having fun and building sand castles, not Facebooking your friends to death. Speaking of ways to be more effective, read this article about email.
Here’s a little ‘pro tip’ for you:
If you’re not already, start task batching stuff you need to get done as much as possible. Do you empty your garbage each time you put a piece of trash in it? Do you do your laundry every time you toss a dirty item into it? Obviously not. It’s clearly a waste of time in these cases because of the time it takes to switch back and forth from task to task.
Think about this in terms of basic productivity. Are you reading and responding to emails and calls as they come in? Does it take away from the work you are doing at the time? You might want to start batching that stuff and then attack each batch with the agility of a ninja. Think about batching your errands, emails, calls, meetings, bills, etc etc.. It will save you time and will help you focus properly on what you actually want to be doing instead of being constantly disrupted by inbound stuff. If you’re not task batching you might as well be taking out the trash every time you get a new email.
This dovetails nicely with inbox zero, and GTD.
[Photo by laszlo-photo]