No matter what you work on, there are always ways to improve.
It can mean to have more efficient rituals.
Keeping connected to your friends and working out will also allow you to work more efficiently.
Simple example: If you know that you always have excellent focus when you are awake, you best make sure you sleep enough.
#1 – Find the optimal time to work.
For me, it actually works best to get up early in the morning.
When the day is fresh, I am at my most creative.
For others, the evening may work best.
Figure out the times that you are most productive and those where you are usually a bit exhausted.
The latter times are when you best work on running errands. The former times should be reserved for focused work.
#2 – Reserve a block without interruptions.
This simply means that you reserve a time where you only focus on your work. Nothing else matters. Maybe even have some snacks with you or your lunch close by, so that you don’t need to get up.
See Gary Keller’s and Jay Papasan’s “The ONE Thing” for further discussion of this technique.
A popular example of this technique is the “Pomodoro” technique, where you set a kitchen timer – originally shaped like a tomato, hence the name – to go off after 25 minutes.
During those 25 minutes, you are completely there.
#3 – Be specific in purpose, step and duration of your work (deadlines)
According to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, we are not productive if we are not specific about what we do.
For example, if we just put “clean house” onto our daily schedule, it’s unlikely to get done. Why? Because we don’t know where to begin, and we haven’t defined the specific steps.
Sometimes we don’t even know how the end result will look like. “Continue writing the manuscript” is another typical reminder that really goes nowhere, unless we have a very specific image how the end product of that discussion will look like.
In contrast, when I make a coffee in the morning, I know what to do: take the coffee box, put a scoop of coffee into the machine, add water and hit the start button.
And I know how my coffee looks and tastes like.
This is precisely how you want to imagine your projects over the day as well.
Let’s look at “clean your house”.
1. How does the outcome look like? Clean rooms with no clutter.
2. What are the single steps to take? 1. Put all furniture into the next room. 2. Sweep or vacuum clean the floor. 3. Put the furniture back. 4. Wipe the counters clean.
3. How much time do we have? Let’s say we reserve one hour.
Can you see how much faster the work will go?
Likewise with “Continue the manuscript”.
1. What will today’s outcome be? A draft of the introduction (for example).
2. What steps will I take? 1. List all the experiments and results you have so far. 2. Divide them into three categories. 3. Search for 4 – 5 different papers that provide background on each category. 4. Write 5 sentences about each category. 5. Add one sentence each to connect these categories.
3. How much time do I want to reserve? 2 hours.
That is a concrete game plan, and even better, you will be able to measure the successful finish of your project!
Which gets you right into the…
#4 – Momentum mindset.
Define your steps so that you automatically have a result at the end of each block of time that you reserve.
Ludvig Sunström talked about that a while back.
Have a few positive experiences throughout the day, so the next step feels much easier to do.
If you finish – as described in #3 above – each of your projects with a concrete result, you will look back at the day and know you did not just “work towards your goal”. That sounds a little vague.
No, you “finished steps a, b and c” towards your goals. Or maybe only one step. Does not matter. Define your work for the day as one closed loop.
You did the dishes. You cleaned your kitchen. You wrote another paragraph for your book. You earnt another $5. And so on.
The results from today may contribute to 0.1% of your total goal. One paragraph has 40 – 50 words, those are 0.1% of 40,000 words or a 200 page book.
This example also shows how important it is to actually finish the small blocks you are working on. One closed paragraph of 40 words is better than 10 half-finished sentences.
So if you imagine your ultimate vision at the endpoint of that arrow, your finished sub-project every day keeps you another step towards your goal.
#5 – Minimize and simplify steps.
Sometimes we don’t get a good start into something when the picture we look at is too big.
Big pictures are good for creating a vision in your mind, for example: “I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro”.
But they are not good for getting work done.
Imagine you wanted to indeed climb Mount Kilimanjaro. You decide that you want to – finally! – get started.
How do you make a list of things to do? That mountain is big. Do you need tour guides? What are the best shoes for the job? It can sound too big to comprehend.
As a result, you can become demoralized.
So instead, think about climbing a small hill.
What equipment do you need now? Probably only a car to get there and some walking shoes.
Maybe you could even plan a trip to the highest peak in your local area. It will be much easier to plan for that.
And once you have the small hill down, you get a very different perspective on what it takes to get on larger peaks.
The smaller your goal is, the easier you can come up with ideas and put them into motion.
Another example is public speaking.
That sounds overwhelming if you have really never done it before. You don’t really know where to start. How do you explain what you do to a big audience? You don’t even know half the people in that room.
What has always helped me is not “imagine your audience in their underwear” (though this advice, of course, may help you) – what has helped me indeed is to imagine explaining the topic of my talk to one of my friends.
Even to this day, when I feel a bit overwhelmed in the middle of giving a talk or when my mind is empty and I start to struggle with the next words, I imagine myself explaining my ideas to a friend. And I get back on track.
#6 – Make sure you are healthy and fit
If you feel beaten down, it’s unlikely you get much done. Eat well and healthy, work out and get enough sleep.
#7 – Make sure your work place is conducive to your work.
Our work place has a bigger impact on our performance than we may think. Most people, myself included, like to have a tidy environment.
Some people, on the other hand, become very efficient when they in fact have a chaotic work environment strewn about.
All the objects strewn about serve as small reminders of different tasks they want to get done.
If they cleaned up their place, they’d be lost.
Whatever you prefer – orderliness or creative chaos – make sure your workplace looks the way that you can work with.
#8 – The “Two-Minute” rule
Whenever something can be done in two minutes or less, do it right away.
Otherwise, the thought of an unfinished project – and even if it is only to carry the garbage downstairs – will linger in your mind and distract you from your work.
#9 – Start your work week mentally one day early.
Most people will regard sunday as their most valuable free day.
We all need some time to let go and take it a little easier once a week.
For me, I choose to have that “easy day” on a saturday.
Therefore, on the calendar-based sunday, I am actually already mentally at work again.
And when monday comes around – and most people dread this day, you are already right back in the swing of things.
#10 – Stay in touch with people.
Isn’t that a very general way to become healthier on an emotional base? Yes, and there is more.
Here is what I have observed.
Especially during “hot phases” in my PhD thesis, I was more or less working around the clock.
However, a PhD thesis is a long-term project. You publish two or three publications, and each one takes two to three years.
So even if you are in an intense work mode, there are no immediate results – and I am sure that’s the same with building up a business as well.
My personal experience is that during those times, relatives and friends may give you the advice: “You work too hard.” or “Don’t burn yourself out” etc.
I believe though that this statement is not really a comment on your work intensity. It means that people don’t see tangible evidence of success.
And as a result, they can feel disrespected. Or maybe they feel they don’t get enough attention.
Why do I think that? Because I rarely see people told they “worked too hard” after they just had a big success.
When the success rolls around, people will usually voice how “proud they are” and how you “deserved this success with all your hard work”.
I never hear anyone saying about Steve Jobs or Arnold Schwarzenegger that they “worked too hard”.
So when people say “you work too hard”, what they really mean is: “you’re working too hard for too little success”.
While that may be annoying, it isn’t always coming from a bad place.
People are afraid that you leave them alone. A very human emotion.
And then they think you hide from them in your work.
If you want to avoid potentially draining discussions and “guilt trips”, both of which sap work efficiency from you – just proactively keep the contact.
Call your friends and family once a week, maybe meet for a brief coffee in between. Let them be part of your world.
They may even start cheering and rooting for you and your work.
If you tell them what you do, they have an opportunity to be part of something big!
#11 – “Yes, and”.
We too often say “yes”, followed by “but” – that diminishes our positive statement.
“Yes, the sun was shining, but winter would come soon.”
“Yes, we were happy, but we still had to go to work.”
“Yes, the work is proceeding well, but the deadline comes closer and closer.
Do you see how we sabotage ourselves by throwing sand into our gears just when we are ready to move forward on a positive note?
Instead, say “Yes, and”.
“Yes, the work is proceeding, and the finishing date comes closer as well!”
Now, all of a sudden, the potential fear of the deadline becomes just another indicator of how fast we move forward.
If you want to check out “Become an Idea Machine”, you can do so here.
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