Productivity Observations

A few observations to note from my experiments in sleep and productivity:

  • What I eat matters. I might crave high carb (junk food) especially when I have to do difficult work but the outcome is actually a reduction in focus and a general feeling of lethargy. Also eating junk food leads to wanting more junk food which increases the lethargic feeling. It may curb the craving and enable me to work, but soon I’ll feel horrible.
  • Working late. I’ve tried stopping work and packing up to wind down at 8pm and I’ve tried working past 8pm and getting to bed only when I can’t focus anymore. I prefer stopping and packing up at 8pm. For one, the quality of my sleep is much better when I completely go offline at least two full hours before bed. Secondly, when I worked late into the night, I might have gotten “more” done but the quality was a lot less and slower paced. Thirdly, the next morning rather than having a clear mind ready to refocus and do more work, all the information worked on from the night before was still swirling in my mind because my brain did not get the quality sleep (and nutrients) it needed to store, file and process the new connections between information that would’ve made me more creative and productive the next day. In effect, I would’ve been better off stopping at 8pm, winding down and getting quality sleep so as not to impact the next day’s productivity. This is an important point as working into the night makes me less productive and creative the next day.
  • Everything gets out of whack. When I don’t take care of the fundamentals, everything else gets out of whack. A two hour wind down and quality sleep the night before is actually the best preparation for a day of creative work. It will take time to become proficient in executing the fundamentals—it’s a habit change that takes a lot of conscious work over a period of weeks and months before it becomes second nature. But the better I execute the fundamentals, the better I can execute my Highlight.

Quitting TV News

I used to spend a lot of time watching the news. At breakfast, I’d usually turn to iPlayer for the latest from BBC News. Sometimes, I’d even turn it on at lunch, and at other times, when I just needed to know what was happening in the world.

Well not only does the news not accurately depict “what is happening in the world” broadcast news can also be inefficient and not as scholarly—full of sound bites.

Instead of following TV news now, I’m opting to do something similar to what John Zeratsky does; indeed I was inspired by his book, Make Time. Rather than follow BBC News, I’ve signed up to The Week and will experiment with getting my news from a publication—in depth, and at a time that I can devote my time to actually learning from what I read.

I will give The Week a try and then also subscribe to The Economist to see which I prefer.

The aim is to improve concentration, be present and focused on one task at a time, and actually learn from information consumption rather than just hearing what someone has to say about a topic in 90 seconds.

Will let you know how it goes.


Start Early

One of the most frustrating things I’ve found is having little time to do important work.

When you know you’re capable and have the ability to perform the activity well, it will be frustrating when you have to compromise on your ability to execute because of inadequate time.

To avoid this, whatever you commit to, ensure you start early — start even before the appointed time. Do whatever you can to give yourself the advantage of time. This will enable you to truly execute in accordance with your highest potential.

Just start early.


The value of a plan

If you have a plan you’re more likely to accomplish a goal. No matter what the goal is, big or small, a plan will give you an overview of what needs to be done from start to finish and clarify for you the next step you need to take at each and every moment along the way.

A well thought out and written plan will help you to execute.

Any project you have (a project loosely defined as a meaningful goal that would take more than one step to complete) should have a plan.

As the famous quote goes, if you fail to plan your plan is to fail.


Winning the Day… Slowly

So many things vie for our attention. From the moment we wake to the moment we lay our head down to rest again, we under an onslaught of commitments — both to ourselves and to other people.

How do we make time for those things that are really essential? The answer is doing less, saying no more often and focusing only on those truly important things.

The early mornings have long been a favourite time for getting through the most important things before the world awakes and the onslaught begins.

Your early morning doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be effective. Don’t fritter away this serene time. Focus it, discipline it and let it be your weapon for winning the day — every day.


Chaos Control: Task Management Systems

If you keep your task management systems up to date, you are more likely to trust it and therefore use it regularly. If you don’t keep it up to date well maintained, you won’t trust the system and you will find that you start using all manner of tricks, post-its and reminders elsewhere to make sure you don’t forget to do the important things you want to remember to do.

The key factors are this

  • Process the capture inbox on a regular basis – ideally everyday.
  • Make it easy for yourself to find specific things when you need to. In Things, tags are a useful way of adding context to a task.
  • Trust it with everything. Your system should house every single task and should be the single point of failure as far as possible. Like your calendar, it’s best if you don’t have multiple task management systems.
  • Invest time in developing a task management process – one that is detailed but simple to execute.

Daily Down Time

Planning down time into your schedule is as important as any other task or event you could put on your calendar.

Productivity is stressful.

Down time allows you to stop spinning on the wheel of productivity for a little while in order to recuperate, put your brain into a less active mode, decompress and lower your stress.

Depending on what exactly you do in the day and what your daily work involves, this could involve anything from a walk in a nearby wood, to sitting on the sofa catching up with a TV programme. I try not to read during down time as I don’t want to use a lot of brain power during this time.

The point is – schedule something easy that you can mindlessly do a couple of times a day. This helps with motivation and may reduce your chances of being burned out and eventually exhausted by your taxing schedule.


Chaos Control

Everybody works differently. For me, I find I am more productive when I have a well thought out and structured approach to my work.

Some people like to jump right in and start tackling things right off the bat. Others, like me work best when we have taken the time to build parameters, systems and process around what we have to do before we begin.

This approach is obviously time consuming but I find it is time well spent as it allows me to draw up some boundaries and develop a structured approach to execution which as a result gives me some clarity on what I need to do, how I need to go about it and makes my execution a matter of following the plan and process that I’ve spent so long formulating.

When I face resistance to a particular project, sometimes it’s because I have not spent adequate time building out the structure and process that will enable me to tackle the chaos with clarity.