Tag Archives: productivity tips

How I Maximized My Productivity as a Writer

cell phone

cell phoneIf you’re like me, you can’t read enough about how to maximize your productivity: Deep Work. The Hunter Method. No Meeting Wednesdays. While the optimal time for achieving your best work varies across individuals, there’s a consensus that you need to have laser focus while you’re doing it.

For a while now, I’ve been following that advice. As soon as I decided that I wanted to write a book, I started to devote 15 minutes a morning to doing just that. Over time, those 15 minutes blossomed into 30 and then 45. Once I was laid off, I began devoting several hours a day to my writing.

Even now that the book manuscript is finished (though still not sold – sniff!), I still write every morning. These days, it’s often fiction. Or a blog post. Or my newsletter.

But a month or so ago, I discovered a fatal flaw in my system. No matter how dutiful I was about prioritizing my writing, I did one thing when I first woke up that was absolutely deadly for my flow:  I checked my phone.

To be clear, it was really more of a scan than a deep dive:  I’d quickly scroll through my emails to see if there were any burning platforms…I’d look at any updates on assorted social media platforms…I’d check personal texts and chats.

I told myself that this mini “phone time” was essential. After all, my mother is now quite elderly. Perhaps something happened to her during the night. I’m in close “What’sApp” touch with various friends back in the States, and often miss out on threads that happen while I’m asleep. I’m also self-employed. So I’m always at the beck and call of clients.

But the problem wasn’t the length of time I spent on the phone. It was how distracting it proved.

Because once I’d digested the updates from assorted platforms, I couldn’t turn them off in my brain, even once I put the phone down. I’d find my mind darting back to a meeting I needed to prepare for later that day… a funny tweet I wanted to share on social media…a text I needed to send a friend. Which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of having dedicated writing time in the first place.

Before I knew  it, my  carefully constructed “laser focus” was gone. Or at least diminished.

Then I read this brilliant article by New York Times technology writer Kevin Roose about his cell phone addiction. Roose went so far as to hire a consultant to help him “break up with his phone.” This person encouraged him, for example, to change the lock screen on his phone so that it displayed three questions: “What for? Why now? What else?”

Brilliant.

I didn’t feel that my problem was that serious. But I did know that I had a problem.

So I instituted one tiny change: I no longer allow myself to check my phone until I’ve finished my writing and executed some of the other key markers of my morning routine like journaling, meditation, and stretching. In practice, that amounts to not looking at my phone for the first 1.5-2 hours of my day.

It was really hard at first. Like an addict, I’d find myself making excuses to sneak a peak. But after the first week or so, I began to find this digital detox a relief.

Postponing my phone time had two other benefits. First, I’m an extrovert, so I love being connected to the world through social media. But – much like my rules about dessert – the joy of checking my phone is now all the greater for putting it off. Second, my writing time is also now that much more focused and productive. A win-win, as they say.

I’ve always prided myself on being the consummate multi-tasker. But I’m coming to question whether that personality trait is really an asset for productivity. So I’m wondering: what small habit have you changed that had a much larger impact on your life?

Image: Apple Cell Phone Facebook Google by Tracy Le Blanc via Pexels

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Managing Your Workload

deadlines

deadlines“Do as I say, not as I do.”

So goes the famous saying uttered round the world by everyone who’s ever been a parent. Lately, however, I’ve also been finding its relevance to my role as a teacher.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently teaching a course entitled “Life Skills for Offices” to a bunch of Masters students in the statistics department at the LSE. I’m having loads of fun with the course, where we cover everything from interviewing skills and project management to teamwork and cross-cultural communication.

But after a recent workshop in which I introduced the students to assorted strategies for managing their workload, I realized that I was not practicing what I preached. I’ve had an incredibly busy month, waking at 5 am to get a jump on my day more times than I’d care to mention. I’ve also worked straight through the last three weekends.

It all came to a head yesterday, when I was meeting with one of the members of my personal board of directors and I confessed to her that I was struggling with work-life balance. She reminded me that being my own boss enables me to control the balance in my life; I do not report to anyone anymore.

It was a good wake up call. So, today, in an effort to align my message with my behaviour, I am sharing five tips for managing your workload so that you don’t get overwhelmed:

a. Use an Eisenhower matrix. One of the tools I introduced my students too for prioritizing their workloads is the so-called Eisenhower Matrix. This deceptively simply tool builds from a speech in which former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Eisenhower apparently used these two dimensions to organise his own workload, and they have since morphed into a matrix in which all tasks can be sorted into four categories, each with its own decision rule: urgent and important (Do!); important but not urgent (Plan!); urgent but not important (Delegate or postpone!) and neither urgent nor important (Delete!) The matrix is particularly useful for calling attention to how much time you spend doing things that are urgent but not really important (e.g., email). It also forces you to see how little time you allow in your schedule for things that really matter, but aren’t pressing and thus slip off the radar until they ultimately come back to bit you in the rear end. This technique empowered me to ignore a bunch of stuff sitting in my inbox and focus instead on what really needed to get done (e.g., business development for generating new clients).

b. Deep work. But even if you recognize those super-important items on your To Do list that aren’t urgent but await execution, you still need to set aside time to tackle these “biggies.” Here, I advised the students to engage in deep work, a strategy that allegedly explains the productivity of everyone from Albert Einstein to Bill Gates to Toni Morrison. Deep work simply means setting aside large chunks of uninterrupted time to do those important but time- and labor-intensive pieces of work that require intent focus. According to productivity gurus, chunking your work day in this way enables you to allocate your energy where it’s most needed, while leaving the rest of the day for the less important tasks that need to happen but don’t require as much concentration (e.g. meetings/email.) In my last office job, I mastered this strategy to the point where I was able to dump all meetings into three days, leaving two full days for the deep work of editing. I need to remember how great it felt to be on top of my workload.

c. Work backwards from your deadline. This one is so obvious that I shouldn’t need to remind myself of it. But when I recently found myself staring at five, 2-3 hour workshops I’d somehow managed to commit myself to delivering over one week in February, I realised that I needed my own refresher course in project management 101. The basic idea here is quite simple:  as soon as you have a deadline, work backwards so that you know exactly how much time you need allocate to that project each month/week/day etc. to hit that deadline on time. As I told my students, there are two important corollaries to this old time management chestnut: 1.) First, be sure to factor all non-work obligations into your planning, such as public holidays, vacations, conferences, doctor’s appointments, etc; and 2.) Second, be sure that you actually block out your calendar to prepare for these deadlines so that you don’t commit time you don’t have to other projects (See b, above). Oh yes, and get thee to a Gantt chart.

d. Schedule virtual coffees. This was a suggestion from my fellow kitchen cabinet member during our catch-up yesterday. I was complaining that there were so many coffees I wanted to schedule – whether for networking purposes or just socially – but that I really didn’t have time right now to spend half a day schlepping up and back from central London to make them happen.  So she suggested that – as she and I had just done – I begin scheduling virtual coffees. You still get the caffeine fix, you still get the stimulation and face-time, but you don’t lose all those precious hours (and pounds/dollars/name your currency…) commuting. I’ve got my first one next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

e. Just say no. Really, just say it once in a while, both to work requests you don’t realistically have time for and to social requests you really don’t really have energy for. It will add hours to your day. And it feels great.

How about you? How do you get your workload under control? Share your secrets in the comments section!

Image: Deadline by Geralt via Pixabay

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Clear Out Your Inbox

inbox

inboxOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m not one of those die-hard Inbox Zero types. I’ve come to accept that there will always be a certain base level of flotsam cluttering up my inbox. Otherwise, I’d do nothing but eliminate emails all day long.

But there comes a time — and everyone has a different threshold — when you just can’t bear to look at your inbox splitting at the seams anymore. For me, it was when my inbox went over 1000 messages. (I won’t tell you how much over or you might gasp.) And I knew that it was time to get our my virtual hacksaw and start chopping.

If you’re like me, you probably dread the idea of sitting down and going through your inbox. Maybe there’s stuff in there that you’re trying to avoid. Or you fear that by managing your inbox, you will necessarily *not* be doing something else with your time. Or maybe the whole task is just too daunting.

But today’s post is meant to help you see that by setting aside time to clear out your inbox, you’ll actually feel calmer *and* more productive. Here’s why:

Read the rest of this post over on Thrive Global:

Image courtesy of Recrea HQ via Flickr

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Great Lifehacking Websites

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Yesterday I fessed up to not being a lifehacker. But just because I don’t employ many lifehacks in my own life except, perhaps, accidentally (hmmm…”The Accidental Lifehacker” – perhaps that should be the title of my memoir…), this doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the beautiful simplicity of short cuts for daily life.

So today, in honor of all my lifehack-loving friends out there – including, and especially, my lovely husband – here are five great lifehacking websites:

1. Lifehacker. This eponymous lifehack website is mostly geared towards downloads that fuel productivity. But lest you think it is only for computer nerds, there’s something for everyone on Lifehacker. Given my sleep issues, I was particularly drawn to this post on how to improve your sleep posture.

2. Zen Habits. Here’s another lifehacking site focused on – as the sub-title has it – “simple productivity.” So, for example, here’s a post about “executing your to do list” (Sub-title: why writing it doesn’t actually get it done). Egads! But it’s all about the crossing off…I mean isn’t it? I sometimes write things down after I’ve done them just to experience the thrill of crossing them off the dreaded to-do list! Clearly, I need to spend some more time here.

3. Dumb Little Man. This website offers “tips for life” that run the gamut from personal finance to self-development to improving your productivity. In light of my new-found enthusiasm for physical therapy, I was quite taken with this post on how to improve your hunched over PC posture. (You mean leaning in further, typing faster and more furiously, and telling yourself that you’ll stretch in the next half hour – but then never managing to actually do it – isn’t the way forward?) Insider Tip: My husband has a “stretch shoulders” alert on his computer that reminds him to stretch once an hour.

4. Write to Done. Started by Leo Baubuta – creator of Zen Habits – it provides productivity tips to writers of all kinds. It also features a lot of guest posts, which makes it feel like a real writing community. As a sometime fiction writer, I really liked this post on how to let loose with your story telling.

5. The Happiness Project. Penned by my old pal Gretchen Rubin, this blog narrates the author’s journey through a year of learning what makes people happy by “trying on” advice, bromides and strategies from Aristotle to Oprah. But every Wednesday, Gretchen also offers happiness tips. Some of my favorites have been her tips on parenting, including this post about “Seven Tips to Defuse a Tantrum” and this post about “Five Tips for Getting a Little Kid to Take No for an Answer.”

OK. I must admit that after that brief stroll  through lifehacker-land, I’m beginning to see why these sorts of things are so addictive…but can a zebra really change its stripes?

Image: To Do List by Ebby via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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