I’m not nearly as productive and organized as I’d like to be. A lot of my success comes from being able to work in sprints and deliver under tight deadlines.
When it comes to producing content, this actually isn’t a bad way to work.
A burst of hard work for a few hours that produces a piece of content that continually pays you isn’t a bad outcome. The problem is that this process is incredibly stressful and hardly sustainable.
If you’re unorganized, you know that it always feels like your head is barely above water. It’s a constant hustle and grind.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just wears you down. It also has one other major drawback: it makes it impossible to tackle future projects–especially if those projects don’t have an immediate return on investment.
If you always feel like your head is just above water, how are you ever going to accomplish any of your long term, loftier, less profitable but more fulfilling goals?
The worst time to learn how to swim is when you’re drowning.
In Scheduling, There’s Freedom
I was recently introduced to a new scheduling app called Woven. I’m skeptical of any new technology, but a super busy friend persuaded me to give it a try for 30 days. I figured that since it won’t cost me any money either way, I may as well go for it.
Woven is a productivity and calendaring app. You can do a number of things, but a few are specifically helpful to me:
- Sync all your calendars in one place
- Rapidly time block and schedule your life with built-in scheduling links and smart templates
- See analytics based on how you spend your time so you can use your time better going forward
Woven also acts like Caldenly in that it allows you schedule phone calls and meetings from a click and integrates with zoom. These are all wonderful features, but how will this benefit you?
Focus is trainable
I think that a lot of people intuitively know this, but we rarely get a chance to practice. In fact, our environment makes it difficult to develop the ability to put our mind on one thing, so much so that modern culture applauds multitasking.
We don’t realize how bad we are at focusing until we attempt to do something that requires our singular attention.
Working with the Woven App allowed me to realize just how badly my ability to focus was. As a result, I started working on some practices to improve it.
Distractions Distractions Everywhere
One of my goals with the Woven app is to section off time to write. I’m in the age (born 2/15/1985) range where I remember how easy this was as a kid and young adult, but now it’s legitimately challenging because everything is done on the internet via smart phones.
Modern life has become one big distraction and we’ve been convinced that our very existence relies on these distractions.
Even in airplane mode, your phone is still full of apps that still beg for your attention. Even listening to music makes it hard to focus because you want to change the station to something more interesting OR you get caught up in actually listening to the music instead of working.
The best way I’ve found to deal with these constant distractions is to simply remove them. I try to make my working environment like my sleeping environment: quiet and comfortable. The quiet part should make sense but I want to elaborate a little more on the “comfortable”.
I’m finding that for non-physical work, I need my environment to be in the “Goldilocks Zone” of comfort; not too hot, not cold, not too comfortable, and not too austere. I know that my comfort level is right when I don’t think about the temperature, overt noise is non-existent, and I’m not hungry, sleepy, exhausted, or I have to use the bathroom. That last one especially often serves as a distraction point.
Remove your phone from your workplace, shut all but the most vital windows if you have to work on the internet, keep a quiet environment (likehack: put on good headphones but don’t turn them on), make sure your body temperature and functions are taken care of.
The Methodical Way To Avoid Procrastination
I once tweeted that you should approach what is easy as if it were hard and what is hard as if it were easy. Many people found this line of thought confusing, but I will elaborate.
People procrastinate for one of two reasons: we either underestimate the difficulty of a task or we overestimate its simplicity. Both reactions have the same outcome: we put off what needs to be done. To overcome this, you have to trick your system into action.
Sometimes I put off content that I think will be difficult to create. To overcome this, I imagine how simple doing the research would be. For the content that I figured was easy, I’ve trained myself to see each thing I put out as a work of art that reflects me and my brand. In this way, I’m motivated to act but meticulous enough to create something excellent.
No matter what the task is, I take pride in it and I aim to create a masterpiece. For the things I think are difficult, this means acting methodically. This methodical approach takes a complicated task and breaks it down into something simple that I’m excited to approach.
For the things that are easy, I remember that I’m creating something that will reflect who I am. In taking pride in the creation of the work, I avoid cutting corners and I’m less inclined to put it off. In doing so, I force myself to take a methodical approach to something that I may have otherwise rushed through–or completely put off.
Take pride in yourself and what you do or create. Whether a task is easy or difficult, approach it with the craftsman mindset. The difficulty of it will evaporate and you will easily make progress.
The “Many Thoughts” Problem
After a few moments of work, my mind drifts.
It doesn’t matter how engaging the task initially is. Sometimes, it’s as slight as thinking about something trivial. Other times, I completely misplace the entire thought process. This happens when I give random thoughts that pop into my mind too much attention.
A valuable lesson that blocking my time off with Woven has taught me is that I don’t have to give attention to every thought that comes up. Unless it’s an urgent emergency, I can ignore it to stay focused on my work.
Of all problems with focus, this is the one that scheduling my time has helped me with the most. My mind wandered because I held many thoughts and worries in my mind at once. It was difficult to focus one thing for any extended period of time without other tasks creeping into my mind.
I found that a combination of scheduling and blocking my time along with using a whiteboard has helped with this problem tremendously. If I know that I have some time set aside to dig through my emails and answer them, it’s easier for me to focus on the blog post that I’m writing.
If your mind is wandering and you’re distracted by other thoughts, start blocking off chunks of time to do things. Keep a white board near you in case something pops up so you can quickly jot it down. If you do this, it will be easier to give yourself permission to forget the unimportant and trivial thoughts that fill your mind.
Kill the Perfectionist
Done is better than perfect.
This one is more for content creators and writers, but I think that many types of workers can benefit from this approach.
One thing that murders the productivity of a writer more than anything: trying to edit their work as they create it. In fact, the only thing that hampers productivity more than this is waiting to be inspired or motivated.
No matter what your goal is, if you want to consistently produce a high volume of work, you have to accept that you’re going to make mistakes. But that’s ok, because it’s a lot easier to go back and clean up something that’s already finished.
You capture the essence of creativing by not editing yourself. It allows you to get into the flow state where you create effortlessly. This is only possible if you aren’t worried about exactly what you say and instead, you simply focus on getting something on the page.
Even if you aren’t a writer, we all have our “page” that we need to fill with words. Being a perfectionist will limit your ability to create almost to the point where you may as well not be creating anything at all.
Put The Rewards In Their Rightful Place
I put this last because it’s a culmination of all the other tricks for focus.
Sometimes I think about what my reward will be for a job well done. Will I let myself blindly surf the internet or will I watch some Netflix and chill? Maybe I’ll listen to podcasts and blow off some steam. Sometimes, I’ll fixate on the reward so much that I’ll become distracted and decide to do that instead, figuring that I’ll just do the work later.
This almost never turns out well.
Rewarding yourself early completely saps your motivation to complete the task at hand. Popular advice recommends treating yourself after you achieve a milestone or hit a target, but I’m even starting to question that–at least for some people.
I’ve found that it’s better to work as much as I can, only stopping when I’m truly exhausted. If you’re doing a good job and the work is engaging, then it should be hard to get you to stop anyway.
I don’t even schedule leisure into Woven. I feel like that would be just setting myself up to be distracted. Instead, I set up buffer time zones in between each session in case I really get into the flow and I don’t want to stop.
Getting into the flow makes it easy to ignore distractions, work methodically, and it murders the perfectionist in you.
If it all comes together
When all of these things come together, it’s impossible for you to be focused on your work. I guarantee that if you apply these lessons I learned, you’ll make more progress towards your goals in a much shorter amount of time. Especially if you use the scheduling technology to help you get things done.
The rest is up to you.