Rather than trying to do everything at the same time, the most productive people prioritize and block off their schedules to focus on one task at a time. “The idea is that if you become more efficient in time management, it allows for more spontaneity and creativity in the day, every day,” Levitin said.
I squirm at the words “time management” since no one can manage time. We can manage our attention though, what shall we actually do and focus on.
While researching his book, “The Organized Mind,” Levitin spent time with very successful people to try and figure out what they did differently from others that allowed them to get more done. While many of these people had a legion of employees working to organize their schedules and set priorities for them, the basic principle of focusing in on one task at a time holds true for anyone. “When they’re doing something, they’re really doing it,” Levitin said. “They get more done because their brain isn’t half somewhere else.”
The key to being productive and succesful (however you define success for you) is to focus on one task at a time.
Many people believe they are skilled multitaskers, but they’re wrong. Neuroscience has shown that multitasking — the process of doing more than one thing at the same time — doesn’t exist.
I disagree on the word “doing”, we can do several things at the same time but we can only focus on one of them at a time.
“The brain doesn’t multitask,” said Daniel Levitin, author and professor of psychology, behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University on KQED’s Forum program. “It engages in sequential tasking or unitasking, where we are shifting rapidly from one thing to another without realizing it.” The brain is actually fracturing time into ever smaller parts and focusing on each thing individually.
Each time we switch from one task to another we need time to refocus. That means we waste time with each switch.
People often think they are being more productive when they try to juggle tasks, but Levitin says not only is sequential unitasking detrimental to productivity, but it produces less creative work as well. Multitasking is also stressful for the body.
Trying to multitask creates a feeling of busyness but it’s less productive. It’s much better to focus on one thing at a time. When it’s done (or the set time is out), pick another task to focus on. Singletasking rules.
Keys to creating and maintaining habits is to be accountable and to be persistent. There are apps that help us be accountable, persistence is up to us.
I have used Habit List for more than two years in order to keep track of my habits and it works really well. Now I want an app that helps me keep track of both goals and habits. I found Strides: Goals & Habits Tracker which seems to match what I want. It has several options (Target, Average, Milestones & Habit) that makes it easy to define what we want to track. I love the dashboard and its graphic overview, it’s very easy to see current status.
What do I track?
As an example, here are the goals and habits I have at present in Strides.
Plank (exercise), once a day or more.
Pushups (exercise), 25 or more a day.
Squats (exercise), 50 or more a day.
Situps (exercise), 75 or more a day.
Walk at least 30 minutes, daily.
Enjoy and gratitude (mindset), daily.
Interact and connect, daily.
Eat healthier (health and mindset), daily.
Write, an average of 200 words a day.
It’s the goals (how many a day) that made me decide to test out Strides. For my exercises it fairly simple, I want at least a certain number each day. My writing will vary a lot from day to day, that’s why I go for an average instead of a fix number of words per day.
Everybody get stuck from time to time, even us professionals. I was stuck on two issues and then I got this image:
Know your limits. Then crush them.
Our obstacles are often more mental than real. Our minds are great at creating stuff, not always to our advantage. When we ge stuck we have problems to on our own see the obstacles from another perspective.
It’s hard to coach yourself even when you know how to coach others. I took help from a friend, we had a conversation that focused on me and my two issues. A conversation with someone that really listens and who helps you find your solution to the problems makes a huge difference.
One of my issues was my writing. My obstacle was the idea that if I couldn’t write well from start then it was better to not write at all. That wasn’t exactly productive. The conversation helped me see things in a proper perspective and the next day I was reminded that Bad writing precedes good writing. In other words, sit down and write without judging what you write. Editing can be done later.
My other issue has to do with my personal spiritual development. I was locked in the concept that what how it worked in the past was how it still should work. The conversation helped me open up and realize (again…) that since I have changed so have how things work for me.
Questions for you
Are you stuck on something? If so, how can you get a new perspective on it?
Who can help you change your perspective?
Who can help you change according to your new view?
When I advise people on how to best get things done I often suggest that they get a clean desk. After reading Is A Messy Desk Really Better For Creativity? I will modify that advice. It’s about removing clutter and distractions, not about a clean desk. What distracts us vary, figure out what works best for you and find your own level of neatness.
The part “Change Your Definition Of Clutter” contains this gem (bolding is mine), a great definition of clutter:
Clutter isn’t necessarily piles and items that appear disorderly. Instead, clutter is made up of items we keep that do not serve us—that book you’re never going to read, the papers you think you need to hang onto because you have to, etc. If you need it and it’s giving you something positive, it’s not clutter.
My advice now on clean or messy desk is this:
Get rid of clutter, things that no longer serve you.
We have all been there. Something need to be changed or added in order to improve our life. All that’s needed is to get that done. That’s where the hard part starts. Just like in sales, our worst competitor is status quo. Doing what we already do is so much easier than making a decision to change and then act on that decision.
There are a few things needed in order to actually make the changes we want.
A goal, what do you want to achieve.
A reason, what motivates you to actually change?
A plan, when during the day can you do it? Where does it fit in without complicating life too much.
Action and perseverance.
Change requires a goal
We need a goal, a colourful attractive goal that works like a lighthouse and shows us where to go. What do you want to achieve? Ignore what others want, changes are all about you and your own motivation.
Write down your goal in just a few words, put it somewhere you can easily see it and be reminded of it.
If needed, break down your goal into sub-goals and steps before planning.
Change requires a strong reason
Change requires action, perseverance, grit and above all a solid to us attractive reason. What’s the reason for us to get up and start doing something? Our reason shall keep us on track and actually do what’s needed. A weak reason makes us try a few times and then it all fades away.
We need a reason so strong that it kills all the excuses we can come up with to get off the hook and do nothing.
Change requires action
Action speaks louder than words. Change requires action. The decision to make a change and thinking about doing it amounts to nothing without action.
Change requires perseverance
Change is like learning to ride a bike. For most of us it takes more than one try. You fall, get up, dust yourself off and get back on the bike. It will work better this time. Changes work the same way. Sometimes we forget or it goes wrong. The key here is to try again, next time will be better.
Make the decision
Making the decision is the easy part. The decision in itself requires no action. Our brain is lazy. It’s pleased by making the decision and doesn’t care much about actually carrying it out. The brain makes us feel pleased and satisfied with making the decision. Once we have made the decision our brain wants to move on to other things. “We’ve made the decision, now let us move on.”
When it’s time to actually change our brain gets very creative with excuses to avoid it. “There’s no time today. Let us wait until tomorrow.” “I’ll do it later.” If our goal seems too big we never will get started. It’s too scary, too much effort is required and it will turn into a someday project. “I’ll do it someday.”
The trick is to start small. Our intention is to create a lasting habit. Once that’s done we can expand on it. Start small, your resistance is low and excuses are hard to make up. Instead of saying I want to walk an hour a day, aim for five minutes. Once you’re out it might be more. Instead of saying I want to get 30 minutes of intense exercise each day (starting with none at all), start small with five minutes light exercise to create the habit to exercise each day.
My morning yoga
Many say you need to do yoga for at least an hour or it will have no real effect. That’s placing the bar high, how many can squeeze an hour of yoga into already busy days? Five minutes of daily yoga practice is far better than no yoga at all. What actually gets done makes more difference than tons of good intentions.
Ten years ago I asked my yoga teacher for a five minute program I could do at home. It’s hard to honestly claim that five minutes of time is impossible to find in a day. I started doing it in the morning, day after day. It turned into a habit and later into a craving, I need it to get a good morning. Over time it has expanded and is now 15-20 minutes each morning. The program has changed over the years. The reason I continue is still the same, I want an agile body.
My daily exercise
Exercise for me has nothing to do with looking or feeling younger. My goal is to exercise daily, my reason is that I want an agile and stronger body as I grow older. The exercises I pick shall require nothing but my body and be able to do anywhere. Knowing it takes time to create lasting habits I added one exercise at a time. By starting small I have over time created a great morning routine.
Nine months ago I started doing squats in the morning. I started with few squats in order to create the habit. By now I do 50 each morning.
Eight months ago I started doing situps every morning. My goal was to create the habit, not setting any records. I started with few situps, the important thing was doing them at all. It has grown over time, now I do 50 situps each morning. That’s something I thought was far out of reach when I started. If my goal had been to do 50 situps I would have given up early, it was too much for me when I started.
Many of you have probably seen the 30 day plank challenge. You start with 10 seconds and then add until you do 3 minutes a day. That kind of challenge does not work for me. A month ago I started doing the plank in the morning. I had the benefits of doing situps for a longer time so once I got started with the plank it was easy to continue.
It’s about you!
What can you do to make your changes easier? To make them at all and then stick to them.
Lennon says “You really need to be able to dust yourself off and get back up because you will get knocked out over and over and over again. Don’t take things personally because otherwise your feelings would be in a constant state of being crushed.”