Category Archives: Routines and scheduling

A message to you, the reader

I hadn’t heard back from a client in several weeks, so I sent another message.

When they responded a short while later, they let me know that my messages had been encouraging and helpful in a busy time. And I got to thinking that many of you, the readers of this blog, are in similar circumstances and in need of encouragement. So this message is for you, dear reader. It’s a gentle check-in and a nudge towards the change they (you) want to create –  even in the midst of busy, demanding life. It is an obvious message, perhaps, but the magic is in actually acting on the suggestion.

Here it is. (Only the greeting has been changed.)

Dear reader, hope you’re doing well. I don’t know your exact circumstances and this may or may not be relevant to you, but I just wanted to suggest that even in a busy time it’s helpful to take time out, take stock, and decide what the most important 2 or 3 things are that you need to make progress on in the coming week. Then focus on getting those done before other things. It’s a weight off the mind to get those done, and it’s a great way to find clarity amidst chaos.

Making Success More Likely When Changing Habits

What are the warning signs when making resolutions? And how can you do it better? We’re talking New Year resolutions or any decision to change for the better.

  1. A strategy that consists of “I mean it this time!”
  2. Any strategy that is based more on willpower than on triggers and routines. (A milder form of point 1.)
  3. A goal that sounds good – when I think “I really should do this” rather than really thinking through the most likely paths to achieve my goal.
  4. A vague goal, without a clear target, such as like “eat healthier”, “exercise more” or “blog”.

What can work better? First, let me emphasise: Find what works for you, and be willing to experiment.

Below are some insights which have helped me to create good habits:
– Expect that you’ll need to improve your strategy, as you find things that aren’t working, and try new approaches, until you have it working just right.
– Goals to “get X done” haven’t been the most effective for me. Goals to “Make it easier for myself to do X”, or “Work out a routine to do X” have given better results.
– Make it easy. Put effort into minimising any obstacles.
– If what I need for my habit is within reach and within sight, so I can start on my habit in seconds, it’s much more likely that I’ll do it. E.g. my yoga/exercise mat lives on my bedroom floor. It’s not the only place I exercise, but it makes starting that much easier.
– A good routine is awesomely powerful, making your new habit easier and much more consistent.
– The energy I have for life determines the energy I have for achieving my goals. For this reason, exercise and good sleep are key for me, and I’ve persisted in getting these right. (These habits are much improved, and my energy levels are better for it.)
– If your new habit requires focus, create time when you won’t be distracted. E.g. getting up early is by far the best way for me to write. (Staying up late to write can work for me in the short term, but ruins my energy and productivity in following days.)

What are you doing to make success more likely in 2015?

Focus First: Facebook and Email in Their Place

The distractions

I love social media, and I’m connected with lots of smart, interesting people. I enjoy the interactions and I like that they make me think (and feel). Some of these people I count as real friends – not just Facebook friends. But needless to say, Facebook is an enormous time suck – even looking at intelligent, insightful posts is no comparison to working on my goals, creating, and carrying through on my vision. 

I’m also somewhat addicted to email. Like a laboratory pigeon pecking at a lever hoping for a reward, like a gambler putting dollar in the machine, part of my brain is hoping for the reward: the news, interesting tidbit, opportunity or idea that occasionally comes in email form. But whether or not I act on it now it’s a distraction from anything else. Once I open an email in the morning, the ideas are in my head, pushing aside my work, my top priorities, the things most important to me, which become much more difficult to focus on. Perhaps you find the same thing. The solution? The single best thing I’ve done for my productivity in the 10 years: I ignore my email until afternoon, giving email its own focused time later in the day.

I have one more morning distraction: an idea pops into my head, I look it up online and start reading. I may tell myself it’ll be a 5 minute search, but I’m a compulsive reader and it’s always more. And though there’s always something valuable to read on the web, generally it won’t change my life or world the way that meeting my commitments and exercising my vision will do.

All of these distractions have value, but they mean making a passive choice to not do something else. The alternative that works powerfully for me is to make an active choice, to defer these things and give myself time now for what’s important. I hold myself to this commitment by making it publicly – on Facebook, here on this blog, and/or to those close to me in real life. This is the commitment:

The commitment

Between now and the end of February, 2014:

  • Email only between 3pm and 9pm each day, other than than the starred messages view, or searching for a work-related email. (I use an email filters to add stars to emails from colleagues and family – anything else can wait a few hours. A search shortcut in my browser lets me search directly, without seeing other emails that could distract me.)
  • Facebook only between 3pm and 9pm each day. (I also use this time for other things, so I might miss Facebook altogether most days, which is great. If I want to share something outside the 3-9pm window, I’ll use the share on Facebook bookmarklet or add it to my-do list for later. It goes without saying that I don’t have Facebook notifications or email notifications on my phone – I don’t even have the app installed.)
  • No Facebook stream or checking the Facebook notification icon from Monday to Thursday. That means I can only check my own page, private messages and events, and only during the allowed times. From Friday to Sunday I may check what I wish between 3pm and 9pm. 
  • No internet searches or reading web articles before 1pm, Monday to Friday, unless it’s related to something I’m working on.

At the end of February, I will reassess, either keeping these guidelines or adjusting them. I’ll report back in a later blog post.

I’m looking forward to getting awesome things done with this increased focus.

What works for you?

You may have your own focus secrets. If it works for you, keep doing it.