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It’s ok to take a lazy time-out occasionally

I’ve been going ‘balls to the wall’ for the first half of this year. I’ve created many things and much has happened. I find myself surprised at how quickly May popped out of nowhere. But it’s been tough. And I’m feeling rather lazy.

My usual productivity periods tend to have peaks and troughs around a few months apart. I become uber-productive and motivated during one month of the year, then dip down into a lull another month or so later. I become lethargic, tend to watch more T.V., play more games, and become just plain lazy.

It’s not entirely a bad thing.

We all need some time to just chill out. Time to think about nothing in particular, and go through enough of the motions to complete the necessities of a day. If we don’t allow this laziness, we burn out. We drive ourselves into a frenzy where we always feel like we’re not achieving anything or have to prove to ourselves (or nobody in particular) that we are ‘busy’.

And that is entirely a bad thing.

Don’t be too lazy, though.

There is one caveat to allowing yourself some laziness – and that is to not be lazy for too long. We humans are suckers for habit. Any habit (good or bad) is learnt through repetition. Allowing yourself to be lazy for too long will trick you into becoming lazy permanently.

How do we stop the fall into continued laziness? We remind ourselves who we are and ask ourselves are we doing the best we can do.

Yes, we need breaks.
Yes, we are only human.
Yes, we are lazy.

But that is not an excuse to be lazy all the time. There is still a crap load of work to be done, and nobody will do it for you. You are the only one who can improve your life.

So…Please excuse me while I switch over to the next reality T.V. show, but tomorrow will be different because I know what I still need to do, I know who I am, and I know I want to make a difference. In order to make that difference, I need a little time-out.

If you are lazy sometimes, how do you like to spend it?

How Mindless TV Is Like Meditation

Update: I do not agree with my own views in this article. They have changed over time and that’s ok (read about it here).

There is some real crap on TV today. Reality shows, movies, and soapies are great examples of TV that suck us in and keep us watching. At the end of the hour, the show ends. We haven’t learnt anything, we haven’t been challenged, and we forget the show within the hour.

But sometimes we need this mindlessness.

We are all so busy all of the time. We are working, creating, socialising, being active. All of this is so much hard work. It’s hard to have to constantly think of new things to write, or maintain relationships, or workout every day. It’s even harder to go into the office and be focused for 9 hours straight (and then still create, maintain relationships, workout…).

That’s where mindless TV comes in. It’s a form of meditation (my form of meditation). Experts say we should meditate for a certain amount of time per day, but neither you or I have time for that. I have a full-time job, a long commute, a wife, children, and a passion for writing.

I do not have time to sit in silence doing absolutely nothing.

After arriving home, dealing with the whirlwind of dinner, the children, and their bedtime routine, I can finally relax on the couch with my wife and the T.V. on. Going away from my wife to another area of the house to meditate in sombre silence is not my cup of tea.

However, some nights I don’t feel like concentrating on browsing the web or social media. I don’t feel like having a deep, meaningful conversation with my wife. And I particularly don’t feel like using my brain to concentrate on an informative documentary (although these are immensely interesting and I watch them often).

So, watching mindless T.V. is an ‘online meditation’ of sorts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am extremely motivated. I push myself at the office, and test the boundaries of my comfort zone by writing articles such as these. I just can’t seem to find any benefit for me in meditation – without having to sacrifice some further time with my family and wife.

Meditation may work for you, it may even work extremely well. But for me and my wife, our relaxation is each other’s company, with mindless T.V. in the background.

Is there anything you do that relaxes you and tunes you out of the hectic day?

[Featured image: Stephane Betin]

The 3 Worst Pieces of Advice I’ve Received About ‘Focus’

During my journey of learning how to be more productive and efficient, I have come across many websites containing some excellent advice, as well as colleagues having also given excellent tips. There are, however, many times where the advice has simply been awful, quirky, or downright stupid. Here are my top 3 worst pieces of advice I received on focus.

1. Keep a cluttered workspace

’A workspace, cluttered or not, does not affect focus.’

I laughed when I saw that statement. Clutter creates tension, anxiety, and a sense of non-clarity. You might be working on your desktop or laptop, not requiring anything from your actual workspace, but humans have this thing called peripheral vision.

We see our piles of papers strewn across our desk, the post-it notes, the coffee cups (and probably coffee stains too). These all form a picture in your sub-conscious that simply does not conform to applying focus when you need it.

2. Remove all distractions

’Close all other applications (including email), move to a quiet spot, put on noise cancelling headphones.

In today’s world of being constantly up to date and available, it is not feasible to disconnect from everything.It may be possible when you are by yourself at home, but at the office it is a different story. In an open plan work area, with a job that requires you to monitor emails or alerts, it is not conducive to remove all distractions.

We cannot close our email applications. We cannot put on our headphones. We certainly cannot disappear for hours on end to ‘focus’.

I say work with these distractions.

3. Focus for long periods of time

’Knuckle down, sit tight, and go for as long as you can, until you have completed your task.

No, that’s not how it works. The basic understanding is that humans focus best for small periods of time, with small breaks in between. The optimum time for any given period of work being between 90-120 minutes.

You can always try the Pomodoro technique, or the hack job that I work with every day.

My advice: Do what’s right for you

At the end of the day, there are so many techniques and suggestions on how you can work best. So many people promising they have the one-size-fits-all technique that will turn you into a productive ninja – focusing and judo-chopping through your tasks all day and all night.

But the truth is, there is no single solution. We are all different, and in turn, work differently. You have to find what works for you. This will probably be a hybrid of what you have found online, read in books, or seen your colleagues do.

Putting a piecemeal technique together, from experience and research, is how I got to where I am today. My colleagues often comment on how productive I am, but there is no secret to my methods. All I have done is learn from them and integrate it into my way of working.

I have read, watched, learned, and adapted my working style to suit me. This has meant that I can achieve a lot more in any given day. Not superhuman typing, not delegation, or even super speed (as some people might think). Just simple, effective management of my emails, prioritisation, and focus of the tasks demanding my attention.

[image source: Alex Trukhincc0]

Working With Distraction

I’m writing this at 7:20 in the morning. I’m sitting on the couch while my two young sons run around the room, shouting and playing. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is airing on the TV. And the cat keeps nuzzling into my lap, knocking my arm while I’m trying to type.

This got me thinking about distractions, and working through them.

So many sources of information state that we should get rid of all distractions before we can work, write, create, or perform any sort of task.

This is the real world. There is no such thing as ‘no distractions’.

We have children, colleagues, emails, mobile phones, day dreams, open plan offices, the Internet. We can’t all retreat to our mountain lodge with only ourselves and the bare essentials.

We must learn to focus through the din.

Now, after I’ve dealt with crying children and wiping water off the floor, the TV show has changed to Little Einsteins. At least the cat has moved to the other couch.

Keeping your focus is difficult. When disturbed, you have to try keep your train of thought until you return to your task. Sometimes it is possible, sometimes not.

But what if your rhythm is a broken rhythm?

Accept the fact that there are forever going to be distractions. You will remain a lot calmer when distractions do occur, and regain your rhythm quicker. Not accepting it causes you to increase your irritation each time you are distracted. Your stress level increases. And with that, it becomes harder to focus.

Go with the flow. Take it as it comes. Be flexible.

My eldest son is now leaning on my shoulder, fidgeting, moving, talking to the T.V., as well as providing a blow by blow account of what is happening (to nobody in particular).

Split your focus between your task and what is happening around you. The distractions will ebb and flow like the tide. As the distractions lessen, apply more focus to your task. As they increase, become more open to the changing situation.

At home, it is difficult to apply the split focus as young children tend to demand more attention. But it is possible, with a lot of practice and patience – especially patience.

Managing distraction at the office is a different kettle of fish. I can usually focus more on the task at hand, and phase out the background noise. In a way, the office is a lot easier, as the distractions don’t require your immediate attention – unlike young children.

The trouble in the workplace is providing attention to people who tap you on the shoulder, phone calls, and emails. Similar to home, you must learn to temporarily store your train of thought while your focus is diverted elsewhere. This can be a troublesome task. Constantly switching channels between the task at hand, meetings, or interruptions.

Let me carry on while my son wipes his nose on my shirt, and the other scoots around the room.

The way to retain your task status mentally is to have ‘checkpoints’ while you are busy with the task. Simple mental pointers such as ‘I finished the section on resource forecasting’, or ‘all I have left in this statement of work are the financials’, or ‘I stated the history behind the situation, now I must explain to Jerry what I need’.

Mental checkpoints will help you remember where you were before you were distracted. All you need is a pointer, a single reminder, and you will remember how far you got. Your brain is smart that way.

I’ve just had to break up a bickering session between the kids, advising them what sharing is, and how to do it. One tantrum by the youngest, and one sulking session by the eldest.

How to work with distractions:

  • Accept the fact that there will be distractions.
  • Be adaptable and flexible.
  • Be aware of what is happening around you. Apply focus when distractions are low.
  • Have consistent mental checkpoints while busy with your task.

Distractions are a pain in the ass. Accept the fact you will have them, and your day will be so much more productive.

And after all is said and done, both boys are with me on the couch, where they are receiving some parental love. Time for me to go onto my next task – some rough and tumble with my boys. And I’ve accepted the fact there will be distractions…

[image: Craig Garner]

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