Everyone is talking about productivity hacks these days.
“Split tasks into small chunks”,
And so on.
It is all nice and sort of helpful. Similar to “swim when you fell in the water”.
The most important outcome is always missing though. Hands on process how to achieve that.
It is easy to recommend daily journaling, meditations or breathing exercises. How to do it properly though?
I have prepared a series of hands on articles with the most helpful daily hacks I’ve learnt and helped me. No fluff, no bluff. Only the stuff.
Let’s start with the loss of focus.
23 Minutes For The Return
One of the most often given advice to achieve something is to avoid distractions.
Switch off your phone, disconnect from the network, close into the cellar, plug your ears with whatever you wish.
Have you ever tried that? No chance you can avoid distractions.
Do you really want to switch off your phone when your kids are at school? When your wife is pregnant and doing groceries? Or, do you want to disconnect from the Internet when you need to research important stuff there?
Rather than avoiding many distractions, it is better to have techniques that get you back on track once the distraction is over.
Several research studies showed that it takes 23 minutes in average to get back to the point we were at before interrupted.
Why is that? Once the distraction is over, we think about what just happened. Then we try to remember what we had been working on. Then what was the last thing we actually did and so on.
The best approach to eliminate such a long rebound process is simple. Write a NOW log.
What is a NOW log?
It is exactly what it sounds like. Each time you start a new task or an activity, log it down. Either write a note, circle the current task on the list you have at hand or start an activity timer you use e.g. tackle.com
Each 25 minutes (are you using Pomodoro yet?) write the status in a sentence or two to record the status.
Each time somebody wants to talk to you, make sure you noted the task in hand and highlihtrd the last activity.
Once you finish with the interruption, close your eyes for 10-15 seconds, open and read the circled item. Then, read the status notes, close the eyes once again and put the puzzle together.
In less than a minute you’ll be able to carry on where you had finished.
Some people believe the same works with a to-do list – the items not crossed are the ones they worked on. The most important one is the one they have to focus on.
Not so fast.
We may create an order list with priorities but change it on the fly without a need to record it in the list. Why would we?
For instance, you label a report handout with a priority two. Your boss wants it asap. It gets re-prioritised and you most likely don’t log such a change anywhere. That is how things work, right?
Instead of jumping from one item to another once the interruption ended, you focus on the circled one and last logs related to it. Read it, relax and compose your focus for another bout.
Keep it simple. The status record does not have to be complicated.
When writing a blog post, it can be something like “Finished the first reading” or “Exported v3 of the PDF” so you know what was the latest bit of your work.
If you hate paper notes, do the same in a to-do app, Evernote or a GDoc file. The point is to have a note of the most recent status of your mind. In a to-do app you can create a P0 category so you know exactly what was happening before the call or a meeting started.
Remember, our brain can jump between tasks all the time.
We may even believe we can multi-task. The truth is, we can’t. We are starting more activities while waiting for results of the others, often forgetting the ones we had started before.
Keeping a simple log makes us more resilient to forgetting.
Simple as that.
We suffer with distractions all the time. Phone calls, emails, social networks, colleagues stopping by.
Rather than trying to eliminate all potential issues we need to learn how to stay on top of the things.
If we get back to the previous activity in the matter of minutes, no harm is done.
It may even be a pleasant interruption in the busy schedule after all.