The Power of a Shower

The Power of a Shower

At one point or another, we all struggle with writer’s block or we fixate on a problem without a solution. At times we can be obsessed with a disagreement with a friend or a comment we made that was taken the wrong way. We can also fill our brains with worry and anxiety about an upcoming event.

During these times, we naturally tend to focus more of our attention and energy on the issue or concern versus taking a step back. Recently, I have tried a different approach. Whenever I find myself fixated on an issue or stuck solving a problem, I take a shower.  Yes, a shower.  Sounds weird doesn’t it?

But, think about it for a second. When you’re taking a shower, you aren’t doing anything else with your mind. Cleaning your body is such a routine task that it frees your mind and allows it to wander and think openly and creatively.

I found research actually supports my findings. When you’re taking a shower, you are distracted thus allowing your subconscious mind to think creatively about the problem at hand and come up with some new ideas or solutions. Taking a shower is also relaxing which releases dopamine which in turn unleashes your creativity.

Those of us who are hyper-focused on getting things done might see taking a shower as a waste of time. I used to jump in and jump right out to get on with my day. I have since reframed my thinking to recognize that taking my time in shower actually increases my productivity by giving me the time to gather my thoughts and come up with new ideas or solutions. I now see this as a critical time for mentally planning and preparing for the rest of my day.

Of course, if you’re at the office, you can’t just jump in the shower but taking a short walk or taking a break to play a game can have similar effects. Whenever you are stuck on a problem or can’t seem to find the right words, find a different activity that is both distracting and relaxing.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you find yourself obsessing over something, take a break. Stop and take a shower or take a walk. Let your mind wander and watch how the ideas and thoughts just start to flow.

The Juggling Act

The Juggling Act

Inevitably no matter how much we try to manage our tasks and our time, we end up having more to do than is humanly possible. Many of us relate to this imbalance as performing a never-ending juggling act. The goal is to keep all of the balls moving in the air without letting any of them fall on the floor.

In real life, no matter how good we are at juggling the many tasks on our plate, sometimes balls will drop. We must accept that this is just part of the game and not see that as failure. More importantly, we should take inventory of the balls we are juggling, categorize them and then play the game accordingly.

There are three balls in the game of life: glass balls, plastic balls and rubber balls. The key to success is to understand which category the things that you are juggling fall into. Sometimes this can be more challenging than the juggling act itself.

GLASS BALLS

 Glass balls will break and shatter if they fall. These are the things that need your immediate and focused attention. They are the things that are most important, cannot be delayed or delegated and will have a negative impact if dropped.

PLASTIC BALLS

These balls will fall but will not break. They will lay on the ground and roll around until they can be picked back up again. These things can wait and be attended to at a more convenient time or date. These things don’t need immediate attention and can be picked back up later.

RUBBER BALLS

When dropped, rubber balls will continue to bounce around for some time by themselves. They have enough energy to keep going by themselves for a little while. There’s no immediate or negative impact from letting rubber balls drop every now and then. They can easily be picked back up when time permits.

So, the successful juggling act dictates that you never drop a glass ball. The glass balls should command all of your focus and attention. If you need to drop a ball, try to drop a rubber ball. It will keep going for some time allowing you to pick it back up later. And, if you drop a plastic ball, no permanent damage will be done.

TRY THIS OUT:  How many balls are you juggling right now? Can you categorize them into glass, plastic and rubber balls? What can you to do make sure you don’t drop any glass balls?  If necessary which rubber balls can you let drop?

The Daily Top Three

The Daily Top Three

So, you have a to-do list and things get added to your list but it feels like nothing ever comes off the list. Sound familiar? While most people know how to create and update their lists, they don’t really know how to manage it. How do you prioritize items? When should you delete a task? How do you decide which task to focus on first?

Most productivity gurus promote the concept of selecting a few tasks to focus on at a time instead of trying to do everything all at once. Leo Babauta, author Essential Zen Habits, popularized the term Most Important Thing (MIT) to promote the idea of identifying your top one to three tasks each day. In a recent Pinkcast, Daniel Pink asserts that using the MIT process is a simple trick to getting the right stuff done.

Here’s how it works for me. It’s a little like playing the lottery. Each day you simply pick your top three priorities for the day and focus your time and efforts on making sure they get done. You win when you complete all three of them before the end of the day. Sounds easy and fun, right?

While there are many task management tools and apps available to track tasks, none help you actually manage your list and get stuff done. A new task management app called priorigami: the art of productivity has this concept baked into the app.

Each day the app sends you a reminder to select your Daily Top Three. You can choose to get the reminder at any time you choose such as the night before or at the beginning of your day. Click on the reminder to review your list of tasks and then drag and drop your priority tasks into the Daily Top Three section. The app tracks your progress and sends you a progress update towards the end of the day giving you just enough time and a little nudge to finish up any remaining tasks.

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Sometimes things come up and priorities change during the day so you can always go into the app and shuffle your tasks and reset your Daily Top Three tasks for the day. In fact, this is a good habit to adopt even without any unexpected disruptions. The app will send you a reminder to review and shuffle your tasks during the day as well.

TRY THIS OUT: Download priorigami for FREE from the iTunes App Store. Try it out for a week and commit to selecting your Daily Top Three each day. What were the results? Did you feel more focused on your priorities? Did you get more done? Do you feel better knowing you are working on the most important things?

Less is More

Less is More

Often when considering productivity, we think about how much we have to do and how to get it all done. The volume of how much we have to do seems overwhelming. So, what if we limited the number of tasks on our to-do list? Sounds a little backwards but one easy and smart way to become more productive is to reduce the number of things we are trying to do.

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In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg Mckeown explains “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.” He continues, “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

This concept is not just limited to tasks. Think about how many things you have as well. We all have way too much stuff. I was fascinated by the story of Rob Greenfield, a 29 year old entrepreneur, environmental activist and minimalist who has limited his possessions to just 111 items that fit in his backpack. He shares, “Through my years of downsizing, I’ve found that material possessions don’t create long term happiness or fulfillment for me. I’ve found that an overabundance of possessions hinders my purpose and passion rather than facilitates it.”

Recent research and experiments have proven that working fewer hours results in increased productivity as well. In fact, in 2000 the French government mandated a 35-hour work week and has also since eliminated checking email after hours. Several companies in Sweden have experimented with a 6-hour work day and found that they were doing just as much if not more than they accomplished in 8 hours just by working more efficiently.

So, which of your tasks are hindering your purpose and which ones are helping you reach your goals. Think critically and deliberately about focusing on the Most Important Things from your long list of tasks and you’ll begin to see your productivity increase. The old adage, “Less is More” supposes that by doing fewer things, you are directing more time, energy and attention to the things that really matter thus resulting in a better end product.

TRY THIS OUT: You, too, can become an essentialist: simply ask yourself, “Is this the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” Challenge yourself to focus on the few versus the many by eliminating distractions and time wasters.

The Importance of Why

The Importance of Why

In the newly released and highly acclaimed productivity book “Smarter, Better, Faster,” Charles Duhigg opens with a chapter about motivation. He asserts that those who have control and understand the big picture are more motivated. He writes, “If you can link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier.” He adds, “Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”

So many of us spend a lot of time and energy making lists, tracking tasks and keeping up with all of the things that we need to get done. But, how many of us are asking, “Why?” Why should I do this task? Why is this task important? Why should I spend any time on this task? Why is this beneficial?

Early in my career, someone shared a great story that stuck with me and have since shared with many of my team members and colleagues over the years. A man is walking by a construction site and comes across three workers doing the same job. He stops and asks the first one, “What are you doing?” The man quickly replied, “I am laying bricks.” He then asked the second guy the same question but he responded, “I am building a wall.” The man then turned to the third guy and when he asked him the same question, the guy stood up, paused and smiled and looked to the sky and then shared, “I am constructing a cathedral.”

While each of them were doing the same task, they thought of their work completely differently. There’s a big difference in terms of thinking that you’re just laying bricks versus constructing a cathedral. Through their descriptions of their work, you can tell which of the three workers would be most motivated, driven and productive.

So, next time you’re about to start a new task begin by asking yourself, “Why?” If you can’t come up with a strong answer, it’s fine to just remove that task from your list and move on to the things that have greater meaning and significance. You will find that’s motivation enough.

TRY THIS OUT: Think about the things that you rush to complete and love to do. What motivates you to do them? What drives you to get them done? Then, think about some of the things that linger on your list. Why don’t they get done? Think about how you can attach a greater meaning or calling to those tasks to increase your motivation to tackle and complete them.

The Lingering Task

The Lingering Task

When talking to people about how they manage their tasks and whether or not they keep a to-do list, inevitably the conversation turns to how their lists get too long and overwhelming. When that happens, many people get frustrated and just give up on the list.

The most troubling aspect of maintaining a to-do list is the annoyance of the lingering task that just stays on the list and never gets done. When you break it down, there are really only a few reasons why certain tasks linger longer than others. Here’s how you can get rid of those lingering tasks.

JUST DO IT

Some tasks are important but for whatever reason, we just don’t want to do it. We just keep procrastinating and avoid the task altogether. In “Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” Brian Tracy popularizes the old adage that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. He suggests that you should take your most important but dreaded task and just attack it, get it done and move on.

DELETE IT

Successfully maintaining a to-do list is not just about completing items but making decisions about what’s most important and also what should be removed from the list. Sometimes you add a task to your list with all good intentions of getting it done, but over time it lingers on the list because it’s just not that important. In that case, it’s OK and should just be deleted from your list. If it’s important enough, you can always add it back to your list later.

BREAK IT DOWN

Other tasks stay on your list because they are just too big and overwhelming to tackle. In this case, break it down and create a task just for the first step. Once that’s complete, you can then create a task for the next step. For example, if you added a task to “Plan the Party” I bet it never gets done. Instead, start with some of the following:

  • Set Date for the Party
  • Create Guest List
  • Draft Party Invitation
  • Select Menu

You’ll find that you will have much more success tackling and completing the smaller, quicker and easier tasks. Similarly, instead of creating a task to “Read a Book,” you can break it down into specific chapters.

Keep in mind, the magic of a to-do list is in checking things off the list and not letting tasks linger.

TRY THIS OUT:  Look at your to-do list and review the tasks that have been on your list for over two weeks. First, decide which ones you can just delete. Then, start to break down the tasks that are too big. Finally, if it’s important make it your top priority for tomorrow and just get it done.

The Productivity Triangle

The Productivity Triangle

Over the years, many have used a triangle metaphor to make sense of concepts including the , the Project Management Triangle (cost, time, resources), the Exposure Triangle (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) or the Drama Triangle (hero, victim, villain). I created my own Productivity Triangle to demonstrate that in order to become more efficient and productive, we need simply need to manage our time, tasks and things.

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TIME

Most of us use some sort of calendar to manage their time and while we are really good at scheduling meetings and appointments with others, we don’t manage the windows in between those meetings as well. At the end of the day or at the start of your day, take a few minutes to time block your entire day with the tasks you need to get done in between your meetings. By doing this, you have a set game plan for the day that you just need to follow. In addition to making sure you get the most important things done, this method also help you reduce or eliminate distractions.  (NOTE:  Beware of the Bermuda Triangle of Productivity.)

TASKS

For the most part, we know what tasks need to get done but we don’t use a centralized to-do list.  We just wing it and try to get tasks done just in time. As a result, sometimes things fall through the cracks or become a crisis. Try using one central list to keep track of all of your tasks. This makes it easy to remember your tasks, review and prioritize them and then focus on finding time to complete them. Also, don’t try to do everything at once.  Pick your top three tasks and get those done before tackling others. I just launched a new task management app called priorigami: the art of productivity to help with this. Try it out!

THINGS

Last but not least, we need to manage all our stuff. It’s amazing how much time and hassle we can save if we simply find a place for everything. Designate a set place for your keys and put them there as you enter your house. You’ll never have to look for your keys again. If there’s a pile of stuff on your desk, most likely it’s because there isn’t a specific place for some of those things to belong. Create those spaces and you’ll have less clutter and spend less time looking for things.

In future posts, we’ll dig deeper into each of these three dimensions.