Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Archive for the tag “Time Management”

Why the 20 Minute Rule and Ignoring Yourself Increase Productivity

Thinking a lot about the apparent contradiction in the following: Is the best way of being truly mindful, creative and in the ‘here and now’ to be continually running a slot management and priority review system?

I know I’ve read about it many times in David Allen’s (see links in right bar) work, but it’s been difficult to make stick previously. Something’s definitely shifting. Again, I think it’s a left brain/ right brain thing. Let me explain.

My left brain, in Taylor’s words ‘chatters’. It’s continually raising into my awareness my commitments, to do list, undone business etc. It’s function as an awareness system has shortcomings. Dragging my focus onto those things that my other-than-conscious cannot currently sort on it’s own doesn’t help if I can’t consciously act now to sort those commitments or issues. They end up bouncing round my head and weighing heavy on my chest (at low moments)

So what to do? Accept that mindfulness and the ‘here and now moments’ are paid for by lots of little actions. These actions are normally dismissed: ‘I’ve only got 20 minutes, I’ll start thinking about that big project that’s been on my task list for weeks in that big slot I’ve got tomorrow afternoon’

Wrong. Why? Because 1. You’re already thinking about it. Have been since you committed to do the task and put it on a list. You can’t stop (consciously or otherwise) until you’ve started the momentum towards a goal you’re crystal clear about. 2. Why not do 20 minutes now? Pen to paper and start to list everything you can think of that you’ll have to do to achieve your goal. End the slot with a time commitment to just another 20 minutes tomorrow. (in that big slot tomorrow afternoon that will probably suck in loads of distractions, so you’ll only have another 20 minutes anyway)

Repeat the above every day for a week and you’ll have given the project that’s been hanging in your thoughts and on your chest 100 minutes intense focus. Set a deadline and you’ll be near completing it.

Do the above across all the things in your task list. It may cause a balloon of work (and make it seem you have even less time in the here and now) – but it’s a hump you’ll overcome to achieve efficiency.

If you notice, it’s virtually accidental. An afterthought to use a 20 minute slot rather than re-reading the emails that have been squatting in your inbox (which you never get round to because you’d never get anything done in 20 minutes, would you…….)

The point of the above in relation to a contradiction between a system and creativity?

We’re using our logical left brain to accept the shortcomings of it’s chatter, to then accept a system that it doesn’t believe in, to facilitate something at the polar opposite end of logical and analytical.

Seven Simple Rules for Personal Productivity

An interesting shift has again taken place over the last few holiday weeks.

The need for, and value of, the inputs for my self improvement remain fairly suspended. I am still in a consolidation and gestation mode. Simple structures are however re-emerging from my explorations over the previous years. They are moving into position for seemingly one purpose only: to accelerate my productivity and effectiveness.

So, in this absence of striving for improvement and instead just letting things ‘be’, what are the seven simple steps for my own personal effectiveness?

1. Set objectives/ target/ goals. What is your vision of a successful outcome? Obvious (and a bit of a no-brainer considering my focus with Scarlet Monday), but often forgotten or not explicitly articulated. Write it down or say it out loud for maximum effect. Get your left brain to marshall all your other-than-conscious resources.

2. Set some timescales. You need time for 3. and 4. below and then for your first chunk of action towards your goals. Very important, and the place most people set themselves up to fail. Whether you like it or not, there’s a lazy, pleasure seeking, work-shy version of yourself hidden inside you that suddenly appears as soon as you make something/set something too onerous for yourself to do. Don’t scare the lazy you into resistance. Make it a quick first couple of slots. I find myself working best in 30 or 45 minute max. chunks.

3. Brainstorm within your tight timescale all the things you have to do to achieve your target/ goal: Mindmap/ blank sheet of paper/ write a list. Don’t expand or self-correct. Start a flow or dump. Because you’ve programmed your own internal satnav in step 1., the aim of this step is to get the flow going. Your internal resourcefulness will keep working on ideas long after you’ve stopped this step: just make sure you keep something close to hand to take note of these ideas on. Time-bounding this to a 30 minute chunk helpfully stops you getting stale.

4. Lay out a rough plan or sequence of activity. Again, within the timescale you set in 2. above, do a set of rough prioritisations. The main aim of this stage is not to create a sophisticated decision-tree/ sequential programme plan/ chart. It’s to do enough to stop your brain chatter about the other actions you need to take to complete your goal when you’re actually taking an action. It allows you get on with the very next action you undertake in the next step.

5. Start your very next action (VNA). Just start it. I know that all personal productivity advice tends to say this. There’s a reason. You start and something nearly magical happens. Your lazy work-shy fades away. Your normally fairly silent/reticent creative personality comes to the fore and starts to get to work. And continues working until the task is done – even if you’ve reached the end of the time you’ve given the task. Now this may not sound right to you, but believe me. As long as you’ve taken the steps 1-4 above, you’re in a perfect place to make this magic start. If you leap in at this step then you’ll swiftly slide down the slippery non-productive/ procrastination/ resistance route. Why? Because you’re not in the right mindspace/set. You’ve not done all that your logical left brain needs to shut up and allow your right brain to relax into resourceful action. Past this, overall you won’t have been ruthless enough with yourself on the time and step management to stop taking too long in planning and not enough in just doing.

6. Stop at the end of your first action time chunk/ slot. That’s right: stopping is a step in doing more. From my view, avoiding wasting big blocks of time by trying to maintain your energy, focus and passion on one action past 30-45 minutes counteracts any possible inefficiency from picking up, getting up to speed, starting work again and then stopping at the end of the timeslot.

7. Continue the previous VNA/start another VNA in the next time slot suitable.

Repeat 6 and 7 until goal achieved.

With thanks to the simplicity of a set of project action steps in Tracy’s Eat That Frog (see sidebar) for guiding the above.

The Power of Focus (how many times?) and AA Principles…


The Last Drop by Zsuzsanna Kilián

The Last Drop by Zsuzsanna Kilián

I apologise profusely for being a broken record on this. As a colleague today said in the kitchen at Madgex ‘Well of course, focus is the key to life’.

You can get a sense of the level of the conversation when I’d been suggested that we pull together a group of (we thought) similarly self-aware individuals who were all struggling with the same problem: the consistent management of their attention. I suggested we use the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous in terms of peer/group support and create our own steps for ‘recovery’.

The whole theory of it being a ‘recovery’ however really brought it home to me what a holy grail/ key to life it is. For me it fits as follows. In a pre-dawn moment at the weekend I brainstormed the following under the heading: ‘Observations, realities and reminders’

• MY CONTROL OF MY ATTENTION WILL be my lifetime USP/ core competence
• Deliberate practice is the only way that life gets easier
• Mindfulness and self awareness are the cornerstones to my future success
• Deliberate, clear and constantly referred to goals are at the heart of the engine room of effort
• Focus and consistent, persistent hard work takes a crazy amount of effort
• I only achieve through hard work and constant endeavour
• Deliberate focus on efficiency, volumes and throughput is the only way to get better faster
• A driver of hard work and persistence should be time for the creation of creative/ pleasure/ research

I decided just to put these out there in this post without any further explanation as my stake in the ground/ hat in the ring of what I intend to achieve in the short-term of my life

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