Stop wishing there were more hours in the day. It’s not going to happen. Every day contains just 1440 minutes in which you can accomplish tasks, find enjoyment, take care of your body and recharge.
Like so many others, I’m always trying to get more done. I’m wired to achieve productivity by brute force: prying my eyelids open for extended periods of sleep deprivation, telling myself it’s all going to be worth it in the end.
I’ve tried all sorts of different approaches, from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, to Rescue Time software, with variable success. Lately, inspired by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, I’m trying a new approach: productivity through mindfulness.
What are you doing?
Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the moment you’re in. If you’re cooking, then cook. If you’re reading, then read. If you’re eating, then eat. This is a great strategy to get more enjoyment out of your days, but I’m finding it’s also a great way to get more done.
Stop doing that thing
Here’s a mission for your Monday morning. You’re going to need a blank sheet of paper.
Choose your most important task that you need to achieve in your day. Write it at the top of the page in big bold text.
Next to it, write down a your starting time, and a realistic time for when you’d like to have that task accomplished.
Now draw a line across the page.
Be mindful of what you are doing. Whenever your mind strays, and you catch yourself doing or thinking about something that is not your main task, write down the specifics of your distraction. (This includes checking Twitter or Facebook) Timestamp your distraction.
When you complete the task, make a note of the time at the bottom of the page.
Your habits uncovered
The first time you try it, you’ll probably be on best behaviour. Try it for a few days, with a new sheet of paper for each task. You’ll find your habits start to reveal themselves. You’ll also see if you’re routinely taking longer than expected to get things done.
If you’re honest with yourself and don’t cheat – you’ll probably notice some patterns. You can now use your self-reported task logs to analyze and optimize your productivity.
Analyze the results using three questions: what, when, why?.
What: What was the distraction? Did you check your email? Maybe randomly switched tasks? Did you randomly visit a website just to see what was going on?
When: Check the time stamps for your distractions. This gives you an appreciation for your length of focus.
Why: Why did you become distracted… this one is key. Was it your email alert sound? Did a co-worker start a conversation? Did you suddenly want to read the news/facebook/twitter?
Often, mindfulness alone will improve your performance. Acknowledging and correcting your habits will take you even further.
If any of the distractions can be eliminated right away, get rid of them. Turn off alert sounds, send your phone to voicemail, have a tough conversation with chatty co-workers (or invest in good headphones).
Use the time stamps to schedule some breaks. Remember mindfulness. When you’re taking a break, focus on not working!
Use software to block distracting websites or the internet entirely (Freedom is great for that). Tell yourself that you can read that blog, check twitter, or IM with your chatty friend during your next break or when you’ve achieved your desired task.
For more great tips about being mindful and getting more done, check out Leo Babauta’s latest book Focus – available as both a free download PDF or a paid edition with bonus content.
Photo Credit: RickyDavid