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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]

What World of Warcraft Taught Me About Life

I wasted many years of my life playing role-playing games (RPG’s) like World of Warcraft, Rappelz, or Baldurs Gate. I spent days upon days of my time trying to level up my characters by doing quests, dungeon raids, gathering resources to level up some or other skill or craft.

The wasted hours running from one end of the map to the other, completing quests, or waiting for other people. The wasted hours having to deal with immature people with overrated opinions on how the game should work. The number of wasted hours…were not really wasted.

Now that I’m older and wiser (I hope), I realise that these games can offer a lot to us, and our youth. I learnt a lot from these games, although my focus should not have been on the games, but real life.

First person shooter games can teach us about quick reflexes and co-ordination, while RPG’s teach us about strategy, planning, and working towards a long term goal. Let me elaborate.

You have to work to get what you want

To get anywhere in RPG’s, it takes a lot of time and effort. To reach the next level you have to complete a number of quests. To attain some gold, you need to gather resources to sell. To attain a new skill, you need to gain further experience.

It can get monotonous and boring rather quickly. A quest usually comprises of ‘go kill some monsters and you will get some gold and gear when you get back’. Over many quests, your character gains experience, gold, and skills that allow him to kill larger monsters and craft more intricate gear.

This sounds awfully familiar to our day-to-day lives. We go into work every day, do the same thing, get some money at the end of it. Over time we gain more experience, more money, and more skills. These skills allow us to perform our work better, take on more responsibility, and gain promotions.

There are no easy achievements

When you start a new character, the achievements come thick and fast. Your first kill, your first quest, your first level up. As you progress, though, the quests become longer, with more experience needed to attain the next level.

Somehow you don’t notice it, but all you’re looking at is the next level. It is par for the course that more experience is needed for the next level. You’re bigger, stronger, smarter – it should damn well be harder.

Bringing that back to life. When we start off in a new venture, the achievements come quick – the first piece of code written, the first product made, or the first sale. As you become more proficient, your sights are set further, and you don’t see the small achievements anymore, only the next challenge.

You can’t do everything

While your character moves up in levels during the game, certain skills can be acquired by selecting them from available skill trees. However, there comes a point when the branch on the skill tree splits. You now need to make a choice. Your character can’t do everything. You have to specialise.

Specialising in a skill tree allows certain advantages and disadvantages in battle. You might be quicker on the draw, but have less armour. Or you have more healing ability, but don’t hit as hard. The choice is important, you and your character need to know what you want to be and specialise in it.

The same goes in life. As we’re questing every day, gaining experience, money, and skills, there comes a point where we are required to specialise. How often do you see a jack-of-all-trades person achieving major success? The successful people know their stuff. They have specialised in fewer skills, rather than learning everything.

Take this with you

Even though I do feel I wasted far too much time on these RPG’s, I still believe there are some important life lessons that were learnt. In order to achieve greatness, you need to identify where you need to go, plan for it, and work your ass off to get there.

[Featured image: Flickr user foeck]

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]

Get Tasks Sorted With These Proven Tactics

In a previous post, I described the 3 core methods I use to manage my email. I described an efficient system I use to manage and file my emails.

However, it is all well and good having a system, but that is all it is – a filing system. In this post I will expand on the foundation previously mentioned, and go over an additional 3 methods I use to efficiently and effectively read, prioritise, and action incoming emails. A lot of things we read about ‘productivity’ tell us to “use this application or that one”. “Use a notepad for your to-do lists”. “You have to use something else to manage your time”.

Stuff that.

I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple. Why use multiple applications and trinkets to achieve something, when one application will do? Email applications – especially Microsoft Outlook – are premium task management suites that contain functionality in order for you to fully optimise your tasks, in addition to the usual email functions.

Right, enough time wasting. Let’s move on to getting stuff done.

1. Read

Read as they arrive

Many productivity tips tell you to only read emails once or twice a day.

Again, Stuff that.

In some industries, it is just not viable to close your email application. Services rely on it, systems rely on it, deadlines rely on it.

For me personally, I hate opening my email after a number of hours (as recommended elsewhere), only to find 20-something unread emails that I need to attend to. My heart sinks, my stress spikes, and it seems like I have too much to do.

A much simpler option is to check when you need to, or after a focus period (I will expand on this in another post).

What I do recommend, though, as a substitute to closing your email completely, is to disable alerts. I don’t have any alerts, but simply check email only when necessary. This can range from a few minutes to half an hour, but never more (unless of course I’m in meetings). Yes, some of our job roles require emails to be attended to as soon as they arrive, but this is rectified as simply as configuring desktop alerts to appear only for those emails required.

TIP: Use your smartphone to check emails during downtime while away from your desk. Read, delete, or file as necessary. This will reduce the amount of reading required when returning to your desk.

Once you’ve read all the email, what next?

2. Prioritise

We have no unread email in our inbox now, wonderful! But how does this help with task management and getting things done? Prioritisation.

Microsoft Outlook has functionality to assign Categories to your emails and tasks. Create a simple list of categories according to priority. I personally use the following four:

  1. !Next
  2. <5 Minutes
  3. A
  4. B

!Next – This means an email is of the highest priority, and needs to be dealt with after your current task.
< 5 Minutes – A task that will take less than 5 minutes. For those times when you have a few minutes to spare.
A and B – Lesser priorities than !Next.

Every, yes every, email must be assigned a priority. Without a priority, how do we know if one email is more important than the next?

TIP: Adjusting the view to show a Category column, will draw attention to the associated priorities of the emails.

Delete anything that you know is not needed. Seriously. Newsletters, notifications, nude pictures. Anything that you know that will not be queried in future. Why clutter your folders with unneeded information?

Archive anything else that does not require your attention. Remember, the objective we’re trying to achieve here is ‘the less you see, the more focus you can give to what is there’.

3. Set a deadline

Wow, our inbox is starting to take shape now. Only email requiring our attention can be seen. We also know which emails are more important than others. But now which one do I attend to first? This is where deadlines need to be set.

Microsoft Outlook has a nice feature whereby we can assign a follow-up date on emails. This is handy, because now we can assign deadlines to our prioritised emails.

Go ahead and do that now.

Sorted

Your inbox should look quite content now. Everything you see should only be emails that need attending to. Every email should have a priority and a deadline. Without deadlines, they’ll never get done.

One other thing I highly recommend, is to keep your email list as short as possible. Preferably to a number short enough so that there is no need to scroll to find emails. The scrollbar is a dangerous thing. If there is a scrollbar, emails will get missed.

By using these methods, I have a constant handle on what tasks I need to do, how important they are, and when they need to be done by. My inbox is my task hub. I’d be dead in the water without it.

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