The to-do list is a strange paradox. It compels you to get stuff done yet it can also make you feel inadequate for leaving boxes unchecked.
“We like lists because we don’t want to die,” said Umberto Eco.
Perhaps instead of trying to do everything you pick one thing to execute.
Called the Hunter Strategy, it asks you to surround yourself with a simple Post-it note to get stuff done.
All you do is choose one task that is going to be the focus of your day, even if it doesn’t take you the whole day to complete. You write that item down on a Post-it note, stick it to your laptop (or a wall, we presume) and use it as your lodestar. Look to the note when your mind begins to wander to your waiting text messages, to your dry-cleaning, or to any of the ridiculous things people do when they should be working.
How do you know which task to start with?
According to the CEO of Jotform Aytekin Tank, “If you’re having trouble thinking of something I’ll give you a hint — it’s usually the thing you least want to do.” That thing is probably the activity we reserve for the end of the day, other than brushing our teeth.
There’s no need to throw our phone into the ocean just yet. But if we‘re using the mobile as a way to procrastinate, perhaps we should consider it.
People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.
Similarly, people often perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.
When it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations, nothing gets wasted. Scraps and shitty rough drafts lead to the best answer.
Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing. Without propelling the imagination and putting work on the canvass, we are just waiting for the next rebound under the basketball hoop rather than looking how to score.
Despite popular belief to the contrary, there is absolutely no power in intention. The seagull may intend to fly away, may decide to do so, may talk with the other seagulls about how wonderful it is to fly, but until the seagull flaps his wings and takes to the air, he is still on the dock. There’s no difference between that gull and all the others. Likewise, there is no difference in the person who intends to do things differently and the one who never thinks about it in the first place. Intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you.
We hear it all the time. Get up and go for a walk. It’s how Walt Whitman jogged the brain so he could keep generating writing ideas. Even Steve Jobs held walking meetings.
But now the science proves that taking a quick stroll reactivates the flow of blood to your brain.
Scientists at Liverpool’s John Moores University checked the blood flow of 15 active office workers in three phases: sitting for four periods of time, taking a break every half hour to walk 2 minutes, and walking on the treadmill for 8 minutes every 2 hours.
Scientists tracked the blood flow to their brains just before and during each walking break, as well as immediately after the four hours were over. They also rechecked people’s carbon dioxide levels during those times.
As they had expected, brain blood flow dropped when people sat for four continuous hours. The decline was small but noticeable by the end of the session.
It was equally apparent when people broke up their sitting after two hours, although blood flow rose during the actual walking break. It soon sank again, the ultrasound probes showed, and was lower at the end of that session than at its start.
But brain blood flow rose slightly when the four hours included frequent, two-minute walking breaks, the scientists found.
The results indicate that taking frequent short breaks is the best recommendation for sustaining a clear-thinking brain. So every half hour, take 2 minutes to hit up the bathroom, grab some water, circle around your desk, pretty much anything to get you out of your chair and your legs moving.
If you need a reminder or cue to get started, try the Pomodoro Technique or set your timer on an app like Focus@Will to ensure you’re getting the most out of your productivity when you’re sitting.
I must admit that taking breaks is hard, especially if you’re stuck on a conference call or forget that the ludic loop has kept you scrolling online for an hour. That’s when a foam cushion like this one comes in handy, along with the under the desk foot message. Sounds and maybe looks ridiculous but they work!
“To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice. Up!”
The goal is to be good at more than one thing. Everyone should be versatile.
But sometimes it is better to narrow yourself to expand. Instead of doing everything, you focus on doing one thing well. And the rest gets better as a result.
Take social networking for example. It’s a misperception that one has to be on all networks, sharing all the time. So you take shortcuts. After publishing a new blog post, you automatically share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Google+.
Frictionless broadcasting may work for those who already have an acquired audience. But for the startup or entrepreneur — they will need to work harder to get attention. And the best way to do that is to pick one network and double-down.
Focusing on Twitter, for instance, may allow you to write concise tweets, insert captivating media, and include vanity links. Focusing on Instagram may allow you to include the niche hashtags related to the post that gives the image an extra boost.
Single-tasking on one marketing channel takes a strategy. Publishing is deliberate and methodical, the community engagement well-intentioned.
Less is more. The pattern of interactions will bleed into other outlets. Unlike the feather, you’ll be the wind directing all the controls.
It’s not so much as being bored than it is the value of pausing.
It’s a good thing we can’t write everything our brain says down on paper. Most of it would be jibberish.
Even when we dictate our thoughts onto the computer, we’re impeding the darts of words from overwhelming our head.
We make a lot more sense when we slow down and edit.
When it comes to writing or speaking, that little skip of disfluency creates just enough space between the mind and the mouth or the pen to produce something a bit deeper, a bit clearer, in some cases cleverer.
Even the space after a period gives us just enough of a break to our eyes.
Breathe and stop: Persistence follows the fundamental urge to rest.
Thirty years ago, college student Francesco Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to help improve his productivity.
Working for 25-minutes intervals with 5-minute breaks in between, he called it the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro translates to tomato in Italian.
The time-management method intends to help people focus on tackling projects uninterrupted, grouping pomodoros together to track their efforts.
I’ve used the Pomorodo Technique in the past as a placebo just to get me started on a blog post. There are plenty of apps out there like Focus Keeper to track your performance. But you can also buy a physical tomato timer on Amazon to recreate Cirillo’s original experience.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the system, Cirillo is also publishing the official The Pomodoro Technique book. Writes the creator:
“Time passes, slips away, moves toward the future. If we try to measure ourselves against the passage of time, we feel inadequate, oppressed, enslaved and defeated more and more with every second that goes by. We lose our élan vital, the life force that enables us to accomplish things.”
We may not be able to control time but the least we can do is try to take advantage of the time we have. As Jerry Seinfeld says, ‘don’t break the chain.’
You can find out more about Francesco Cirillo and the Pomodoro Technique on his website here.
If you look around Pinterest and Facebook groups, you’ll see that bullet journalling is all the rage but what most people don’t know is that Ryder Carroll is the originator of the Bullet Journal Method.
Today marks five years since Carroll introduced bulletjournal.com to the world, helping millions of people like myself organize and prioritize the right stuff in our personal and work lives in the face of the dopamine homing missiles of the distraction age.
I’m happy to share with you that he’s giving away two free chapters from his new book which comes out October 23.
The writer, blogger, or boxer must always keep in training. The artist or athlete can’t wait for the muse to inject them with productivity serum.
Routine is much more compelling than inspiration, which is fickle, comes in flashes, and rarely sticks.
On the flipside of consistency, is also imperfection. The practician not only faces the resistance, they also face human error.
Showing up every day is one thing, doing it again knowing that a positive result won’t yield is yet another habit to develop.
Error is human. You need some form of struggle to remind you what needs tweaking. However, when the going gets good, you’ll want to maintain it.
If you’re wondering how you’re going to do it all again tomorrow, build off the confidence of yesterday.
I’ll leave you with this advice from thought leader and psychologist Benjamin Hardy.
Get this clear: confidence is a direct reflection of past performance. Hence, yesterday is more important than today. Luckily, today is tomorrow’s yesterday. So, even if your confidence today isn’t optimal, your confidence tomorrow is still within your control.
You can count me in as one of the people that succeeds from an analog to-do list. I’ve tried countless to-do apps, and none of them push me to get stuff done like the written word.
Keep yourself honest by adopting the bullet journal system, if only to remind yourself what actually deserves your attention.
How a Bullet Journal Works
Here is how it works: you take a blank notebook, any blank notebook. You can, if you wish, buy a special one, but the notebook isn’t the point – the Bullet Journal is a method, not an object. You number the pages as you go along, having set aside a few pages at the front that over time become your contents list. Then each month you handwrite a calendar called the “monthly log” followed by a “daily log” of tasks, events and notes, marked respectively by bullet points, circles and dashes. Each day you manually cross out tasks you have completed and then rewrite the undone ones for the next day.
It’s rough and ruthless, but criticism saves you time. People aren’t trying to be mean. They’re just trying to keep you from banging your head into the same wall.
Scientists can’t continue publishing the same paper over and over again. Apple can’t just release another iPhone without drastic improvements. As they say, sameness destroys creativity.
Instead of giving up, what critical advice does is redirect you. Writes Tom Standage in Writing on the Wall:
“Adam Smith. He wrote much of his book in the British Coffee House, his base and postal address in London and a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated chapters of his book for criticism and comment.”
In search of a little audience, you get the feedback you need to keep iterating until we get it right. Naturally, the process is frustrating for all artists. Writes Fred Kaplan on John Coltrane’s experimental determination.
In a backstage interview with Coltrane during intermission at the Stockholm concert, a local jazz DJ noted that some critics were finding his new sound “unbeautiful” and “angry,” then asked, “Do you feel angry?” Coltrane replied, in a gentle, deliberative tone, “No, I don’t,” adding, “The reason I play so many sounds, maybe it sounds angry, it’s because I’m trying so many things at one time, you see? I haven’t sorted them out. I have a whole bag of things that I’m trying to work through and get the one essential.”
The fear of messing up is good quality control. The feedback loop is a critical ingredient to success. Otherwise, you may just be making something that never sticks.