Tuesday, September 29, 2015

365 True Things: 184/Productivity

I had breakfast this morning with my wonderful friend Annie, and one thing we (or I) talked about was how to be more productive, or at least organized, or at least focused—in the sense of a toolbox of tools to turn to. Like, two that came to me immediately were (1) set aside 15 minutes for whatever needs doing or/and (2) set an alarm. Like if I keep saying I want to meditate but never do it: set an alarm for 11 a.m., and just do it. No excuses. Or if I'm not "feeling like" writing this blog—which so far has happened only a couple of times, amazingly enough—allow myself to write just one sentence, post a picture, and done! That's the equivalent of 15 minutes. As in, I don't have to write an essay/clean the entire garage/do an hourlong walking meditation: I can just do a little bit, and it will be good, or at least it will be something—which in itself is better than nothing, ergo: good.

I know: this is very easy for many if not most people. But not for me.

So I've just googled "tricks for getting more productive," and I will here list some of the ones that resonate/seem useful.
The first hit, a short video titled "Here's the Trick to Being More Productive"—which certainly sounds like the very key to it all—suggests that all you have to do is accept your negative feelings. Uh huh. I guess that's useful, but I wouldn't call it the trick.

Here are some more:

From Lifehack's "Fifty Tricks to Get Things Done Faster, Better, and More Easily":
  1. Most Important Tasks (MITs): At the start of each day (or the night before) highlight the three or four most important things you have to do in the coming day.  Do them first.  If you get nothing else accomplished aside from your MITs, you’ve still had a pretty productive day.
  2. Big Rocks: The big projects you’re working on at any given moment. Set aside time every day or week to move your big rocks forward.
  3. Inbox Zero: Decide what to do with every email you get, the moment you read it.  If there’s something you need to do, either do it or add it to your to-do list and delete or file the email.  If it’s something you need for reference, file it.  Empty your email inbox every day.
  1. One In, One Out: Avoid clutter by adopting a replacement- only standard.  Every time you buy something new, you throw out or donate something old.  For example, you buy a new shirt, you get rid of an old one. (Variation: One in, Two Out — useful when you begin to feel overwhelmed by your possessions.)
  2. Brainstorming: The act of generating dozens of ideas without editing or censoring yourself.  Lots of people use mindmaps for this: stick the thing you want to think about in the middle (a problem you need to solve, a theme you want to write about, etc.) and start writing whatever you think of.  Build off of each of the sub-topics, and each of their sub-topics.  Don’t worry about whether the ideas are any good or not — you don’t have to follow through on them, just get them out of your head.  After a while, you’ll start surprising yourself with some really creative concepts.
  1. SMART goals: A rubric for creating and pursuing your goals, helping to avoid setting goals that are simply unattainable. Stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. 
  1. Eat the Frog: Do your most unpleasant task first. Based on the saying that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a frog, the day can only get better from then on.
  2. 80/20 Rule/Pareto Principle: Generally speaking, the 80/20 Principle says that most of our results come from a small portion of our actual work, and conversely, that we spend most of our energy doing things that aren’t ultimately all that important.  Figure out which part of your work has the greatest results and focus as much of your energy as you can on that part.
  3. What’s the Next Action?: Don’t plan out everything you need to do to finish a project, just focus on the very next thing you need to do to move it forward. Usually doing the next, little thing will lead to another, and another, until we’re either done or we run into a block: we need more information, we need someone else to catch up, etc. Be as concrete and discrete as possible: you can’t “install cable”, all you can do is “call the cable company to request cable installation”.
  4. The Secret: There is no secret.

The suggestions continue to be very good: slow down; time boxing; batch process; Covey quadrants; handle everything once; don't break the chain; review; roles; flow; do it now; time log; say no; structured procrastination (which "requires a masterful skill at self-deception, which fortunately bigtime procrastinators excel at"—mm hmm); personal mission statement; backwards planning; timer; etc., etc. This is a list I could benefit from looking at often.

(An abbreviated list, in a different order and without quite so many project management techniques, can be found at "27 Ways to Get More Sh!t Done.") Curiously, neither of these suggest that if you're feeling negative—i.e., resistant—you should just accept the bad feelings and keep moving forward. But that's actually pretty good advice.

My thought this morning, in talking this over with Annie, was to choose just one such tool every day and test it out. See what works, what doesn't. That way I could whittle my strategies down to just a few.

Of course (says the gremlin on my shoulder), it'll all depend on just what I need to get accomplished, right? Well, maybe. But still: I suspect that some of these strategies are more in line with how I operate anyway.

Like, just for starters, I need to remind myself of what I need/want to do. So #1 is important. But then as the day goes along, I need to remind myself again of items on the list. So: alarms (a combo of #s47 and 49 on the list). For some of my projects, like my Amber Moon writing project, #s 5, 13, and 14 might be the best approach, for where I am now. Covey quadrants might help me come up with a reasonable to-do list. Et cetera.

But mostly, I need to keep things simple and remember: there is no secret.

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