Productivity Tip #2 – Schedule your time (and stick to it)

Ever had the feeling where you have had such a productive day? A day in which you believe your time was utilised as efficiently as possible? An amazing feeling isn’t it? I bet those days are few and far between.

The reality is more likely that most days you find yourself snowed under. You are reactively attending to tasks and feel scattered all over the place. Because of this, you are not getting much done at all. You feel despondent, demotivated, and become even less productive. And so the cycle goes…

In my Productivity Tip #1 article, I stressed the fact that you have to make time to manage time. My second tip (and this article) is along the same vein, but it’s about applying focus at a higher level (in-between the scurry of our day-to-day tasks).

It doesn’t involve dumping your workload on someone else, or throwing your laptop in the bin. It is about scheduling your tasks so you can focus on one at a time.

Our brains get tired too

Like you, I have a crapload of things going through my brain at any one time. I’m thinking about the tasks I need to do today, and what I need to do after that. I’m reminding myself I must pay the gas bill before Thursday, and I need to publish this very article tonight.

It’s exhausting. Our brains are wonderful miracles, but it can only do so much – especially after constantly being pushed to the limit. Our brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it needs rest too.

In order to do this, we need to move some of the tasks we actively think about into ‘autopilot’. The autopilot is our sub-conscious, allowing a whole range of habits and behaviours to occur without using much brain power. How do we do this? It’s as simply as setting a schedule.

I have a fulltime job, yet I still need to write new content for this blog, be a family man, learn new things, and enjoy life. Last year, this was a nightmare to maintain. If I didn’t do something one day, I’d feel anxious that I had missed it. I constantly felt under pressure to be doing something.

I felt I was missing out or being lazy. It eventually got to the point where I stopped blogging for a while.

Set aside time for specific tasks

Then I came across a workbook suggesting to set aside certain days for certain activities. I did exactly that, and what happened next was amazing. I no longer had to worry that no writing was being done – as I knew it was planned for Monday. I no longer had to feel bad if I didn’t go for a run, as I knew it Saturday was run day.

The simple matter of setting a day of the week to focus on one task (other than all the usual day-to-day grind) really eliminates the background nagging in my mind. I can remind it to shut the hell up and I’ll deal with the said task on the allocated day.

If you are struggling to keep up with all your life tasks. Try setting particular days for certain tasks. For example, here is mine;

  • Monday: Article day (write articles, plan new article ideas, prepare this week’s article).
  • Tuesday: General blog/home tasks (budget, ideas, research, etc)
  • Wednesday: Watch at least one TED Talk.
  • Thursday: Learning day (Go through study material if I’m on a course, or read a self-study book).
  • Friday: Finish off any other little items.
  • Saturday: Run day (run further than 5km).
  • Sunday: Rest day.

Why not set a simple schedule such as this? You won’t be disappointed.

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 to rekindle your passion on a lazy Sunday afternoon (Final Part)

This is the third and final instalment of my series about how you can rekindle your passion on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

In the first part I challenged you to dream about a day in your future life. A day about 3-5 years in the future which is the culmination of your life dreams today. In Part 2 I encouraged you to draw out the details of your dream, as well as to discover why you want to achieve this dream.

As a recap here are the 5 questions listed before;

  • What is my dream?
  • Why do I want this?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What can I offer?
  • What can I do?

Of the five questions I pointed out previously, you answered two of them – What is the dream? and Why do I want this?. Out of these two, you gained purpose.

With purpose we can go anywhere and do anything. But how? Well, that’s where the trick comes in. We have to move out of our dream world and actually perform some work. This is tough, but once you get going it’s not too hard.

Let’s find out how…

What do I want to achieve?

Although this may sound similar to ‘what is the dream?‘, in truth it is far from it. Our dream state elicits feelings and inspiration, while achievements are the tangible outcomes based on the dream. For example, in my own dream, I am walking to my son’s school to pick him up. The achievement is that I am working from home to allow myself the flexibility to take a walk when I want.

What can I offer and What can I do?

The remaining two questions go hand-in-hand where the focus is around performing an honest appraisal of yourself to see what you can offer yourself to reach your dream. Maybe include someone you trust to offer you honest feedback.

Compile a list of strengths, weaknesses, skill sets, and experience. Think of these answers as the tools you have available to work towards your dream. By laying them all out on the table, you can see what you have and more importantly, what you are missing.

Now is the time for action

You have your dream, you have your purpose, and you have a view of where you stand right now. Now go for it! When I reached this point, I was raring to go. Excited that I had finally realised what I wanted, why I wanted it, and what I could do to get there.

The next part of your journey is the hardest – taking the first step towards the dream. What will your first step be?

Improve your decisions with one simple mind trick

We make decisions in everything we do. In the way we brush our teeth in the morning, when we decide to buy coffee, or where to sit on the train. Every single one of these decisions impacts our lives in ways we cannot imagine. Each decision moves us towards a destination we may, or may not, have set for ourselves. We need to make our decisions count.

So often, I see myself and others faltering on their decision making. Some folk make rash decisions (I’m guilty of this), while others find it difficult to make a decision on much of anything. We go about our lives rueing the decisions we’ve made – or not made.

So how do we change this? How do we become better decision makers? Well, there isn’t much we can do, really. Yes, there are a plethora of options available, ranging from gut feeling to the Kepner Tregoe Decision Making process, but the trouble is we can’t go about performing a problem analysis for every decision we make – especially if it a subconscious, sub-second one made in the spur of the moment. Neither can we simply go on gut feeling when the decision requires more thought. The trick is to find balance between the two.

One method that has worked for me is to focus only on the object of the decision. For example, I’m trying to make better decisions when I’m thirsty, specifically drinking water instead of Coca-Cola. I focus only on the area I want to change – drink water. I consciously bring that decision to the front of my mind when I’m thirsty, or every time it crosses my mind. I replace the thought with the object, like ‘Water, water, water‘, ‘drink 2 litres of water a day‘, or ‘drink water now before you want something else, you lazy bastard!‘. I find the next time I am thirsty, I choose water instead of Coca-Cola.

This method has worked for me in other things too, such as;
– exercising each morning (saying ‘Drop and give me 20!‘, instead of ‘I’m tired‘),
– focussing on tasks (saying ‘Another one knocked off‘, instead of ‘I have so much to do!‘),
– and even showing my family appreciation (saying ‘These people are my foundation‘, instead of ‘Where is my time going?‘).

Many decisions we make are due to habits we instil in ourselves. We’ve made these habits consistent enough to move to our sub-conscious. Once there, most of the decisions we make are automatic. Because we’ve made similar decisions before, our brains move the mental processing out of the way so that we can make these decisions quicker.

Changing these auto-decisions requires you to fuse new thought patterns and habits into your sub-conscious. No easy feat, but certainly possible. And it is easier than you think. It all starts with a little focus, and some habit forming.

What will you change about your decision making process today?

[Featured image Ashley Batz via]

Why Being Lazy Is Good For Productivity

When it comes to procrastination and laziness, I think I could take home the prize most of the time. If something can be done tomorrow, I’ll postpone my effort until then. Provided a choice between the easy route or the hard – I’d pick the easy one every time.

I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I do the bare minimum required in order to get the job done right. I’ll see through the time necessary in order to ship out an article, finish a project, or even complete a performance review for one of my team members.

But it has to better than last time.

When I read about certain productive people, or watch them speak, it seems like they have it all together. They are like machines, keeping in high gear day in and day out. They have all their ducks in a row, with their products being shipped out, and their tasks being performed pro-actively. I look at my own productivity in comparison and see a limping effort, wandering around aimlessly like a lost puppy.

I am prone to bursts of productivity and stagnant pools of laziness – as I’m sure most of us are. We go through hyper-productive waves where we achieve our maximum potential, but then stand idle as we get bored or unclear on where we want to go next. I don’t believe this is a bad thing.

As long as the next burst of productivity achieves a level higher than the previous one.

For those machine-like people, being the best with their time management and project completion comes naturally to them. They maintain a steady pace of productivity like clockwork, and they churn out tasks like nobody’s business. For the rest of us, however, it’s a daily struggle.

It’s a struggle to maintain the motivation to start, to create, to finish what we started. It takes a huge amount of effort and energy. So much so, that when we get a success or two, we rest, we get bored, we get lazy.

But after a while we realise how lazy we are, and that we need to kick start again. We pick up the pen, we brainstorm more ideas, and we get moving. The passion begins to burn again. More ideas start flowing and action starts to happen. The period of laziness renews our energy to achieve more. Only this time we need to remember what we did the last time, and do better than that.

We must do better otherwise the time we were being lazy was just us being… well, lazy.

It proves nothing, gets us nowhere, and we haven’t really grown.

There is nothing wrong with being lazy. I’m a self-confessed procrastinator and a lazy bastard. The most important thing for me – and what drives me – is that when I do get going again, I go further than I went before.

Now, go. Be lazy. Put off that important task until tomorrow. The world isn’t going to end, it will just be slightly delayed. Just remember to be better than before.

Productivity Tip #1 – Make Time To Manage Time

Your task list is piling high. You barely have enough time to finish what you are meant to do (or not finish at all). Your boss is breathing down your neck for that report you were meant to finish last week. And your team is waiting for you approve their leave request.

Eventually it gets too much. You throw up your arms in exasperation! You know you have to find a way to manage your workload. Surely there must be a better way in order to get through your tasks.

I hear you – I felt like this before. I was busy all day every day, but when I got home at night, I didn’t feel like I had achieved anything. There was so much I was busy with, I didn’t know my left hand from my right. Emails, Incidents, Requests, Projects, further pressure from my management, it just never seemed to end. Sometimes, I would even need to work late into the night (many nights actually) in order to simply stay afloat in an ocean of workload.

I knew I had to do something about this, as working like that is simply not healthy. I started to read anything I could about productivity and time management. There was a plethora of information and many great tips, but one thing got to me – I didn’t have time to implement any of the advice. I would ask myself questions like ‘How the hell am I supposed to do this stuff when I am so busy with everything else’, or ‘These people make it sound so easy, that will never work for me’.

These were just excuses, though. I was just too lazy to try something new. I was comfortable in what I knew, and it looked like way too much effort to try these new tips. I also felt that some of the advice seemed a bit too generic, and would never work for me.

Despite my doubts, I tried the suggestions. Some worked, most failed. I discovered that not all advice worked for me. I found that I had to combine many different techniques in order to find what worked. And so should you. Even this advice I’m giving you right now should be taken with a pinch of salt, as it might not even be right for what you are looking for. But what if it is – you have to try.

No matter what you try in order to be more productive, you have to make the time to change.

Something has to give in order for you to have a better tomorrow. You must sacrifice some task completion now in order to ensure the better management of all your tasks going forward. It is going to be hard. You will not get to be the super-productive-ninja overnight. There is no magic wand to clear all the tasks away. It takes a lot of time, consistency, and many boring repetitions.

Having no time is not an excuse to hamper your future productiveness.

If you want to manage your workload better, the first item on your to-do list is to schedule the time in order to form your new productive habit. That habit will require conscious effort in order to be maintained. And after a while you will be doing it on auto. At that point, you schedule time to improve the next thing.

Some tips I’ve learnt over the years are;

  1. Make time to implement a new productive habit (whatever habit works for you).
  2. Implement only one new habit at a time. Having too many new habits will not allow you to apply the amount of focus needed to effectively form the new habit.
  3. Be vigilant. Your new habit will not be in place one, two, or even ten days. It’s going to take a while. That ‘while’ varies for different people. I believe that when you are performing your habit on auto more times than you have to think about it, then it’s comfortable enough to form a new one.

Read up more about my productivity methods in the Productivity Section

Having some problems implementing your productivity habit? Ask me a question, and I will try my best to help out with it.

[Featured image: Sonja Langford]

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