Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Time Management’

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 24

November 26th, 2013 No comments

IMG_2711This is the twenty-fourth post in my epic journey going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

This post is late, because I went away on a vacation with my closest friends to this place.  What I’ve taken away from that trip, and the past week, is the importance of integration in your work as an entrepreneur.

We typically create silos in our lives.  We’ve got our version of work-Adam, who behaves differently (probably more professional and reserved) than party-Adam, who behaves differently (probably more outgoing and authentic) than-meeting-someone-for-the-first-time Adam (probably really interested in hearing everything about you – so as not to have to share anything about me).

I create those silos all over the place, and I notice that over people do as well.  As entrepreneurs, we’ll often tell you that the problem is that we don’t have enough separation between our work and our daily life.  We need more work-life balance, we exclaim, but what that really means is that we feel like we’re spending too much time working.

The real problem here is a lack of integration.  If we have to keep our work lives separate from the rest of our lives, it becomes really difficult to have it all.  We can spend X amount of hours working, and then we need to stop and change our focus.  And, if work makes a demand on our time, it comes at the expense of the rest of our life.

Integration means that my work is just a natural part of my job.  I meet up with people for minglers — not necessarily because I have to, but because I it’s just part of who I am.  I generate clients this way, but I also just get to go out and have fun.  I’ve integrated work-Adam with have-a-few-drinks-Adam.

The more we can integrate the parts of our lives together into one whole, the more we can have our cake and eat it too.

For entrepreneurs, the challenge is to actually have your work be a part of your daily life, but to also be intentional in creating time for yourself, and to do the things you love.  If you’re allowing work to take over every aspect of your life, you’ve the stop of integration and are now back into silos — the problem now being that you’ve let one silo grow far too large.

So there you have it.  Integration.

Share/Bookmark

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 12

August 30th, 2013 No comments

IMG_2576This is the twelfth post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

This week has had a few cancellations in my schedule, and let me tell you, that bonus spare time has been A-MAZE-ING.  The lesson this week is all about creating spaciousness.

When I have spaciousness, in my schedule, in my social life, in my spare time – then I’ve got spontaneity, freedom and, mostly importantly, creativity.

First, I’ve currently created my schedule so that I work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  That’s not too bad – having Monday and Friday wide open is one way to create space.  But, there’s not a lot of spaciousness on those three days.

What I notice is that by the end of those days, I am draaaaaaawn out.  There’s not a lot of me left.  Up until this point, I’ve been staunchly opposed to working evenings.  I don’t want to work them.  But, now that I’m exploring outside of what is predictable, maybe I’ll find myself a little more nourished and sourced if I include breaks inside my days.

People want to help me and provide a lot of support, which is great.  And, like every entrepreneur probably experiences, I have a desire to work through the problem on my own.  I notice my resistance to people suggesting resources and places I could look, even after all of the work I’ve done with my own coach and on myself as part of my training.  Our survival mechanisms are insidious things…

My job, as a coach and someone that is growing and pushing outside of my comfort zone, is to open up and allow that support.  It’s another way to create spaciousness.  What if I didn’t have to figure out everything on my own?  I know, I know – if you’re an entrepreneur and you just read that, you probably want to tear my “Entrepreneur 4 Life” badge off my shirt, throw it on the ground and stomp on it.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned these last three months: the key to being an entrepreneur is not doing it all on your own; it’s asking for, receiving and allowing support.  Doing it on your own is a bankrupt idea.  It’s the tainted version of the american dream that people buy in to because it seems courageous and allows them to operate without delving outside of their comfort zone.  There is something infinitely more powerful when someone is actually willing to get outside of their own ego and humbly ask for support.

Stoic statues make great monuments, but we don’t identify with them.  We identify with humans.  Fallible humans, working to overcome our limitations and create something outside of what is predictable.

So… what was I talking about?

Oh yah.  Spaciousness.

How does that look for me?  I don’t know yet exactly – and I have a feeling it will stay that way until I allow the support being offered.

 

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 3

June 28th, 2013 No comments

IMG_2394 - Version 2This is the third post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

This week’s lessons were that I am precious, as is my time, and support is abundant, provided I ask for it.

Two weeks ago, I spoke with my friend Lisa Peake.  She has been a mentor and an encouraging ear ever since I first reached out to her after seeing her post something about coaching on Skype.

Having just started my transition (or finished, if you like), Lisa gave me a piece of advice: “You’ll probably look at your schedule and think to yourself ‘How can I book my time?’.  Don’t.  Instead, relate to it as precious.  Where and to whom do you want to give your precious time?”.

This is great advice.  I promptly ignored it.  This is probably familiar right?  You give great advice to your friends all the time, and if only they would follow it, the bulk of their problems would be solved.

I reached out to everyone.  Made coffee dates all over the place.  Asked people if they wanted some free coaching (many people said no – I find this astonishing).

By the end of my third week, my schedule was packed, and I had days that started at 8:30AM and ended at 8:30PM.

How did this happen?  I thought that I had decided to focus on one thing specifically so that I could create the life I wanted – not work even more hours than previous.

It happened because I have not been holding my time as precious.  What I notice is that I’ve been relating to my time as though it will become precious once I’ve done enough.  “Time can be precious when I don’t have to build my business.”  If we go even deeper, I just distinguished with a colleague that I’m not holding myself as precious.  Like I can take it all on myself, and then save myself once the world is handled.

It’s insidious, this stuff.  Working with my coach, I set aside two hour blocks of time every day that were dedicated “free time”.  Nothing is to be scheduled during those blocks.  I can spend them doing work, if I choose, but the point is that there is some spontaneity and freedom built into my day.

I also realized that planning more than four “hard” appointments in my calendar would probably be too much, so I committed to booking a maximum of four appointments (coaching or otherwise) in a given day.

I immediately broke this commitment.  Why?  I know why it is important.  Why would I break that commitment so quickly?

Because I’m holding on to that same old fear.  I’m scared that I’m not doing enough and that I will fail as a result.

Guys.  Let me say it again.  It’s insidious, this stuff.  That’s how slippery it is.  This is the nature of our resistance.  This is why a coach needs a coach, just as much as anyone else.

On the flip side, I’ve experienced the inspiration and joy that connecting with other people brings me.  This morning I had an inspiring call with Robby Slaughter, a coach in Austin, Texas today, simply connecting with him and discussing our work.  Until this morning, we knew each other only from one blog post.  I linked to him, he wrote back to me, and we connected via phone.  I have consistently been present to how gracious and generous people are with their time, when you simply reach out and ask for it.  Connecting with people like Robby and Lisa makes a world of difference.  It means that I don’t have to win alone.

So, again, this week’s lessons are that I am precious, and if I actually want to create the life I truly want, I must start relating to myself that way.  Second, there is an abundance of support available, and all that I need to do is ask for and allow it.  Connect with people, and trust myself as a gift.

Want to play?  I really want to create an impact with my writing.  You can support that by following this blog and our Evergrowth Blog, and sharing it with people.  Retweet my posts, share them on Google+ and Facebook, e-mail posts to people, and tell people about what I’m up to.  Even if you only do it once, you have helped me on my journey.

(But if you do it twice, you’ve helped me twice as much as that jerk that only did it once).

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 2

June 21st, 2013 2 comments

IMG_2367 - Version 2This is the second post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

The big lesson for this week has been to slow down in order to make more time.  This is not new or exciting advice (but that’s fine, because you’re coming for the photos of my shoes, socks and pants right?).  But it is good advice.

On Wednesday I found myself in a lull.  You know those kinds of days – they’re the ones where you don’t really want to do very much.  You want to play around or do something mindless.  Maybe you want to spend the whole day on YouTube, Facebook, etc.

I had three coaching sessions booked for that day, a session with my own coach, and had planned out a bunch of other stuff to do.  And when I sat down, you know what happened?  I didn’t want to do sweet fuck-all.

Two of my sessions cancelled, so my day had a lot less hard items in it (an item that has a scheduled time, as opposed to something to do that can be fit in anywhere), but no less soft items.

I got my exercise in for the day and then sat down.  I knew that I “should” go and do some business development, but I didn’t want to.  And I couldn’t make myself.

The surprising thing wasn’t that I didn’t want to do things – it was that I didn’t want to do them and I couldn’t make myself.  I had brought with me an assumption that, once working for myself, I would be one-hundred percent engaged one-hundred percent of the time.

But that wasn’t the case.  I was shocked; and until I could be with this, I was going to damn well beat myself up for the fact that I didn’t want to work.  Beating myself up, surprisingly, didn’t help either.  I just sat there playing video games getting annoyed with myself.

The lesson in this is that I am not a robot, and neither are you.  In the past, I have worked with people that want to optimize their organization so as to be more efficient, but once we really start digging, it turns out that what lies underneath all of that is an inability to trust the way we are.

I couldn’t trust that I would continue to work on my business if I really just went along with my current desire to relax.  Here’s the punchline: I actually want a life where it’s okay for me to spend a few hours during the day playing video games – and I’m actively fighting that.  Kind of self-defeating right?

Instead of becoming more efficient, or creating more structure to “keep me in line”, the real work to do for me, is to actually allow myself to be with everything that is showing up.  If I’m feeling lethargic and low on energy, go with it!  Ride the wave.

The more we resist something, the more it gets held in place.  And so of course, the longer I sat there playing video games frustrated with myself, the more I wanted to just frigging relax.  Since I wasn’t allowing myself to relax, that urge wasn’t going away.

Sometimes, you just need to take a break.  Sometimes, that happens right in the middle of your work day. When I was working for other people, there were structures in place to ensure that I took those breaks: they would come up to my desk with an ice cold beer and say “Here, drink this” (yes, I would actively resist that too, to an extent).

Now?  Now there’s no one other than myself to tell me “It’s okay to take a break and not work very hard right now – you need it”.

By actually slowing down and getting off the “doing train”, I would really create more time.  By allowing myself the space to relax, I would stop actively resisting what I really needed, and the natural cycle could flow through me much faster and more efficiently.  Slowing down really will create more time.

So that’s this week’s lesson – again, going back to the foundation of doing vs. being.  It’s not at all about what I’m doing.  It’s about how I’m being as I do it.  You can grind yourself to dust trying to work as hard as possible so as to create the millions of dollars and success that will allow you to relax, but it’s an illusion.  Until you change that way of being, you won’t experience the peace, tranquility and relaxation that you really want.  The only way to create that is to do it right here, right now.

GTD’ing with Reminders and Quicksilver

April 3rd, 2013 2 comments

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 10.21.20 AM

A quick post today on integrating iOS and OS X’s reminders app into your GTD workflow, with the help of our friend Quicksilver.

GTD relies heavily on the concept of the “tickler”.  A folder that serves as a place for you to put everything that you need to do in the future.  If you want more details on the tickler, you can read about them here.  The intent here is to take Reminders and have it act as a digital substitute for your tickler.

First, if you haven’t installed Quicksilver, do so.  It is fantastic, and will save you time even if the only thing you ever use it for is to launch programs.

Second is the easiest step – setting up Reminders as a tickler.  While I have used apps like Remember the Milk to create complicated solutions to my tickler in the past, I have found that they’ve fallen by the wayside because of the overhead they require.  For our purposes, we want Reminders to be as lightweight as possible.  Here are the rules that we follow to create that:

  • create a reminder (with a day and time) for everything that needs to be done this month.  Any hard appointments (requiring a specific time and date – ie, a calendar appointment) should be in your calendar, and not your tickler;
  • for everything that is to be completed in one of the following months, create a reminder for the first day of that month; and
  • at the start of each month, review each reminder for that month and reschedule with a day and time.

Simple right?  That’s our game.

Third, we want to be able to add reminders efficiently, and with a minimal number of clicks.  To do so, we start by adding a Quicksilver script.  Download it here.  Save the unzipped file in ~/Library/Application Support/Quicksilver/Actions/.

If you are unable to find this directory in Finder, you may need to change your settings. You can do so by launching Terminal and entering the command:

chflags nohidden ~/Library/

Once you’ve done this, you can close Terminal.  The folder should show up in your Finder window right away.  If you want to hide the folder again afterwards, simply open Terminal again and enter the command:

chflags hidden ~/Library

Before we restart Quicksilver, there’s one final change we need to make.  First, identify the name of your list in Reminders.  You can do this by opening up Reminders and checking the left side of the app.  My list is called TODO.  Yours might be called something else.

Fourth, we need to update the script with your list’s name.  Navigate to the script you just put in to ~/Library/Application Support/Quicksilver/Actions/ and edit it using either Textedit or Applescript Editor.  Right toward the top of the script is a line that says:

showlistlistname

Where listname will be the default list name.  Change this to whatever the name of your list is (mine now says showlist “TODO”).  Save the script and exit (you don’t need to compile it).

Now, restart Quicksilver.  At this point, you should be able to load up Quicksilver (using command-space, or whatever hotkey combination you set), and enter natural text reminders, such as “Remind me on may 4th at 9am to call julie”.  The complete workflow now looks like this:

  • command-space to bring up Quicksilver;
  • Type “.” to begin typing in text
  • “remind me to call julie on may 4 at 9am”
  • [Tab]
  • Type “Reminder”
  • [Enter]

Boom, new reminder added, from anywhere on your computer, regardless of what you’re currently doing.

Lastly, I find Reminders integration with Mail.app to be super useful.  Whenever I have an e-mail that requires some kind of action in the future, I drag that e-mail onto Reminders’ app icon in the Dock.  It will create a reminder for me which includes a link to the original e-mail.  I can fill out the rest of the details and then archive the e-mail, knowing that it sits in my trusted system.

Good luck with all your GTD’ing needs, and feel free to post if you have questions.  Follow me at @adamquiney and @evergrowthadam, and my professional blog at evergrowthcoaching.com for productivity tips beyond the realm of tools.  Lastly, a big thank you to @LoveQuicksilver for providing this handy Reminders script.

Breaking the Silence – It’s time for authenticity

October 24th, 2011 No comments

Simple RulesThis blog has now been silent for a little over a month.  I’ve sat down and written a few drafts, but nothing has come out the way I want it to, and that is for a simple reason: I’ve been avoiding being completely authentic.

Authentic to myself.  Authentic to my readers.  Authentic.  Period.

Authenticity is a powerful word.  In fact, it is one of the most important qualities we can be true to in our lives.  I will elaborate on what this word means to me as we go forward from here, but I want to share with you my own story, and how it is time to really drink my own medicine and live up to the ideals I’m purporting to help others live by.

 

The Background

I’m working through my final year of law school now.  When I went back to school, I wasn’t certain I wanted to be a lawyer, but found law fascinating and loved working with intricate and technical systems.  I also knew that, for me, education is an end unto itself, and I would therefore benefit simply from going back to school and learning more.

The first year of law school was very challenging.  Many of us forget what it feels like to start from ground zero again and have to learn something from the roots up.  This year, along the continuum of learning something new, my classmates and I moved from unconscious incompetence (we didn’t even know what we didn’t know) to conscious incompetence (we knew what we were doing wrong, and it stressed us out).  For lawyers, this is a continuing process that lasts far beyond the paltry three years of law school.

Since that initial phase wore off and I moved back a little bit more into my comfort zone, I’ve been able to focus on other things.

Okay.  I just spent fifteen minutes writing my around what it is that I actually want to say, so let’s just tear the bandaid off.

When I graduate, I’m not going to article.

There, it’s out.  For the last six months, I’ve known what I want to pursue when I graduate, and I’ve been taking significant steps to enable that future.  However, this is the first time I’m publicly affirming my decision here.

Put simply, once I graduate, I will be making my living exclusively as a coach and consultant.

Wow, that feels good.

See, for the last six months, I’ve been holding my cards right against my chest.

Why?

Because of fear.

Let me state that again, because it’s important.  I have not been authentically representing myself for the last six months because of fear.

Let me elaborate on some of those fears, so that you can see what I mean.

The idea is risky

Who in their right mind spends a whole bunch of money going to law school, so that they can not become a lawyer?  Well, I do.  And I do it for a number of reasons.  I can and do create tremendous value in my capacity as a consultant and a coach.  I’m passionate about this path.  I love turning other people on (in the general sense – this isn’t about sex).  This is something I’ve been doing my entire life, and I am an expert in the subjects in which I support people.

There’s not a really big safety net for what I intend to pursue.  Bay is working, and we have equity in our home, but we also have a great deal of debt.  If I flounder and fail, where does that leave us?  The answer: not looking too great.

Is this a reason to turn back from my vision?  Simply because it’s risky?  No.

Everything worth pursuing has a degree of risk involved.  No reward without risk.  You can’t grow if you don’t push outside of your comfort zone.

And besides, there are always creative solutions available.  If I don’t succeed in the direction I’m setting out in (I will), I have lots of experience and two highly valuable degrees on which I can fall back.

Other people aren’t doing this

There is great comfort and safety in staying with the pack.  Animals know this, and humans do too, even if only on an instinctual level.  If everyone else is doing something, it’s probably a good approach to take.  There is some blunt validity to this approach, and it works very well in general situations.

A wolf is trying to eat one of your own?  Run together in a pack so that it’s difficult for him to pick out one individual and eat him.  This behaviour has roots deep-down in our reptilian brain (the reactive part of our brain), and is fantastic when we’re operating in survival mode.  But most of us aren’t.  We live in a privileged society, and we are pursuing more than mere subsistence.  The people that I work with aren’t looking for simple survival – they are looking to optimize their happiness, their time, their output.  They are looking to optimize their lives.

We’re not all the same.  At the end of the day, we are each unique individuals (Sorry Fight Club, I’m right).  If we truly want to make ourselves happy, we need to follow our own path, hard as it may be.  Thanks to the society in which we now live and the advances that have come along with it, we are seeking more than mere survival, and mechanisms that address only this concern will fall short.

Having said that, while I know that pursuing my own path is the right approach, that does not simply delete the fear generated from going against the grain.  This concern raises its head often – pretty much every time someone tells me something like “well, that’s a neat idea Adam, but I really think you should reconsider articling”.

There is no guarantee

I can’t speak for other vocations, but a Law degree creates a considerable conundrum.  Upon graduating, students are essentially presented with the a situation where, if they are willing to work harder enough, they will be guaranteed never having to worry about money again.

What did you think when you read that?  If you’re like most people, you probably thought one of the following:

  1. “Pfft, must be nice”
  2. “First world problems…”
  3. “Take the money and run”
  4. “I’d like to never have to worry about money”
  5. “I knew it, lawyers make way too much money”
  6. “Pffft….  pfffft.”

Those are the common responses.  For a lot of people, it’s hard to look past the third and fourth responses.  Money has a powerful effect on us, and when we see dollar signs, it’s difficult to break the spell.  Here’s a question – how hard would you be willing to work for money to never be a problem?  Would you work 16 hours a day, six days a week?  What about 14 hours?  Where’s your limit?

If never having to worry about money meant that you sacrificed things like a relationship, exercise and your health, would you still take the deal?

I’m not suggesting that lawyers necessarily have to do any of this, but my own research has certainly suggested that the articling experience is unpleasant and highly demanding on the student’s time.  My time is too valuable for the remuneration rates and number of hours that are expected for articling students.  It wouldn’t be authentic (nor wise) for me to accept a position that placed a value that low on my time.

Focus on values and passion, not on fear

It is a testament to the power of fear that I have held back from writing about that which I am currently singularly most passionate about.  Doing so has meant that my writing has fallen off.  Every time I would sit down to write, I would have to hamper my creative process by trying to avoid writing about the thing that was most frequently on my mind.

This is the power of authenticity.  When we allow ourselves to maximally live and act in alignment with our values and who we truly are, we stop hampering ourselves.  Most importantly, we stop having to push ourselves to achieve.  When you set yourself along a path that aligns with what you feel is important, you will be pulled along – no more pushing.

Identify your Values

This is the most important piece of advice I’m offering today.  Take some time and try to identify what matters to you.  What is most important and most real to yourself?

This is often the first step that I take with my clients when they come to me indicating that they don’t know what they want to do, or why they hate their job so much.  Getting clear on your values can be a lengthy process and take time and effort, but it’s worth it.  Without knowing what is most important to you, it is difficult to be authentic.

Let’s wrap it up

The wrap up for today:

  • Let your values, not fear, direct your decisions
  • Be authentic to yourself and your values – it is the most important thing you can do
  • Just because the rest of the pack is doing something does not necessarily mean you should do the same
  • Spend the time and effort to identify what matters most to you.  Get a coach if you need to.  It’s worth it.

And that leads us back to…

Me.  The aim moving forward is to maximize the remaining time between now and graduation.  The way I will be doing that is working on my practice, building a client base, crafting a website and marketing strategy, identifying exactly who I am and what I do (in terms of my business), and of course, sharing that all with you through this blog.

Keep it tuned and stay locked for more updates as I continue to progress along the path to maximum authenticity.

Help me out with a psychology question

September 1st, 2011 No comments

You can help me out with 10 seconds of your time.  I’ve been thinking about motivation and how we can best spur ourselves onward to action.  I’ve slowly absorbed the fact that I have a bit of an emotional aversion to the process of actually getting things done (hence the many systems that I set up and maintain to spur me forward).

To help me gain a better understanding of overcoming aversions like this one, use the poll below to answer this simple question:

Without knowing anything else, which of the three lists below makes you most inclined to start filling it out?

Each list has three slots.  List A already has the third slot filled, list B has the first slot filled and list C has the middle slot filled.

Poll

List A

List A

List B

List B

List C
List C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which of the above 3 lists most makes you want to add items to it?

  • List B (50%, 14 Votes)
  • List A (29%, 8 Votes)
  • List C (21%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 28

Loading ... Loading ...

The results

I will share the results and what I think they mean after I’ve gotten enough answers.  Thanks for taking part in the experiment!

A new way of budgeting your time and productivity

May 10th, 2011 No comments

Time budgetSchool started proper again yesterday, and that means that the makeup of my days will change radically from that of the previous four months.  Although I’m writing today, the frequency of my posts will decrease drastically once work really gets underway.

I made the decision to take on a fair number of items this term, including:

  • Continue to be a good husband (yes, continue);
  • Continue to do well in school;
  • Devote a non-trivial amount of time to an application I’m working on with some colleagues; and
  • Teach weekly dance classes with my friend Jesse at a studio we’re renting in town

All of these items require substantial amounts of my time, and inconsistently to boot (meaning that I won’t get to choose when one of these items will need more attention – there will be peaks and troughs for all of them).  I believe that I’ve got the skills and ability to meet all four of these goals while maintaining my own sanity.  However, it will require planning to ensure that I’m ready when the storms start to strike.

This is a pretty short post, but if you’d like to jump to the summary, you can do so here.

A new way of looking at my available productivity

Because of these competing demands, it’s very important that I figure out the best way to maximize my productivity.  If I waste my opportunity to be productive, things will start to get backed up, and I’ll quickly find myself with too many things to do and not enough time to do them in.  Something will necessarily fall by the wayside (and if I’m being honest, I suspect it will be item #1 – it’s often easiest to let things slide with the person around which we’re the most comfortable).

Rather than try to plan everything down to the hour, I took a new approach to scheduling my productivity this term.  To start, here are my assumptions:

  • I can achieve what I’m setting out to do.

This is the most important assumption because it’s the starting point for everything else.  If I don’t believe this, then I should return to my list above and remove one of the items.  (If you don’t get this, ask yourself why you are planning to try and accomplish something that you don’t actually believe you are capable of achieving?)

  • I was apathetic the previous term and often felt myself wasting time playing video games instead of studying.

While I found the feeling of apathy generated stress, my grades did not suffer and I exceeded the standards I had set for myself.  This suggests to me that I had additional spare time that could be put to better uses.

  • I don’t want to spend any time this term feeling bored.

That is an indication to me that I currently have too much spare time.  Relaxing and just cooling out is one thing, but sitting around literally feeling bored is off the books.  If I find myself feeling this way, I should be looking to engage myself with a different pursuit.

  • I can be more efficient if I’m able to divide my time across multiple tasks.

Like most of us (all of us?), I experience diminishing returns the longer I spend working on any one particular task.  If I can divide my time across a number of tasks related to the different projects I’ve set out for myself above, I should be able to avoid the fall off that results from working on only one task for too long.

  • I have, roughly, between 3 and 5 good bouts of productivity in a day.

On really good days, I can get my process started first thing in the morning, and also find a second wind after the post-lunch tiredness.  On a bad day, I can’t seem to get the gears turning until 11AM, take a break for lunch, and only just manage to accomplish things by the time 5PM rolls around.

  • My bouts of productivity cannot easily be divided up into “clean” blocks of time.

Just like I don’t know what kind of day I will have until I find myself at the end of it (or mid-way through at least), I don’t know beforehand how long I will be able to stay in my flow for, nor how long it will take to read a particular set of readings.

Creating a workable system

So, with the above assumptions in mind, I set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to devise the system by which I would plan out my time and stay on track this term.  That system is based on the concept of productivity units (PUs from here on in).  PUs are what I call the blocks of productive work that I am talking about above in items 5 and 6.

Based on my assumption in #6, I don’t think that it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and map a PU to a specific amount of time.  In fact, it’s clear that I don’t usually think that’s possible.

Taking my range from item #5, I estimate that on any given day, I can probably accomplish about 4 PU worth of work in any given day, with no other demands on my time.

What does this actually mean?

So, what does it actually mean to accomplish one PU worth of work, if you can’t map the block reliably to an amount of time?

Here are some examples of what I would consider a PU worth of work:

  • Complete a set of readings for one of my classes
  • Spend some time writing out a few pages of a paper
  • Sit down and clear out my inbox, processing everything there and responding to any necessary e-mail
  • Spend some time working on my development team’s wiki, organizing everything and ensuring that all of our recent thoughts have been captured and stored somewhere for later reference
  • Attend one class

It is important to understand that these are the benchmarks I have drawn for myself.  Based on what you see above, you could probably estimate that one of my PUs probably roughly translates to 1 to 2 hours worth of work.  This is reasonable.  However, this will not always be the case, and there are times when it will take two PUs to finish a set of readings, or only half of my available energy to complete something.

The important part of my system is that it is adaptive, flexible, and dynamic, as these are all characteristics that I wish to imbue in the work that I do.  If my system does not embody the same traits that I myself wish to, there’s going to be conflict (which generally leads to the system being discarded and returning to old ways).

Your mileage may vary – you may find that you prefer to work in smaller chunks, but fit more of them into a day.  Whatever works for you is what you should do.  For me, this provides a clean and lightweight way in which I can rapidly estimate how much work I can accomplish each day.

This approach also provides me with a metric by which I can determine whether or not I should really be feeling upset that I’m not being maximally productive.  Let me explain.

I have no classes on Tuesday, which means that this is a wide-open day.  However, I have no shortage of work, and so ideally, I’d like to get 4 PUs in on Tuesday.  If I’ve finished one PUs worth of work, it’s currently 3PM, and I’m sitting on the couch playing video games, things probably aren’t going too well.  I should be kicking myself back into work.  But, if I find myself in the same situation, having completed 3 PUs worth of work, I’m actually doing pretty good.

Why is this distinction meaningful to draw – isn’t this pretty obvious and intuitive?

No – it isn’t.

These kind of separations are always obvious to us when we’re external to them, having them explained to us or reading about them on someone’s blog.  It’s easy to divide everything into bright clean lines when you don’t have anything at stake and you’re not in the middle of all of the chaos and demands placed on your time.  However, when you do find yourself in the middle of everything that’s when you will most need to be able to determine if the way you are feeling is due to something legitimate or simply a pressure external to yourself that actually doesn’t matter.

Thinking in these terms provides a quick “escape ladder” that can be used if I need to pull my head up from the mess and figure out if the way I’m feeling is really something that requires my concern.

The honest truth is that sometimes you’re going to feel guilty for taking some much needed time to recharge.  It doesn’t matter that that is the best thing you could do – your psychology will play games with you and tell you that you could not possibly take the time off from working on that paper!

Dividing my time up into these kind of chunks is a convenient way for me to check the way I’m feeling and determine if I really need to get the gears turning again, or can relax knowing that the break I’m taking is well-deserved (and will actually make me more efficient on the whole).

The view from my desk

Here’s the example that I’ve created, to provide you with some context.  My class schedule roughly looks like this:

  • Monday: 3 classes
  • Tuesday: 0 classes
  • Wednesday: 2 classes
  • Thursday: 1 class
  • Friday: 1 class

On Monday, I also run a dance jam down at Centenniel Square in Victoria, which eats up a decent chunk of time.  In short, I don’t have any additional PUs available for Monday.

Tuesday is wide open, and so I can aim for my maximal goal: 4 PUs.  The plan going forward will be to divide this time between reading/studying and the necessary time required for me to continue PMing the project I’m working on.  I have my time loosely divided in half between the two, but I can be flexible and if needed, I can devote all 4 separate PUs to studying (though I would rather not, as that will increase the diminishing returns that I experience).

Wednesday I have two classes, which means I have about 2 PUs remaining.  Likewise, Thursday and Friday each have one class, so I have 3 PUs for both of those days.  Just at a glance, this way of looking at my spare time gives me a rough idea of how much time I will have available to devote to the demands on my time.

If things get panicky or packed in tight, I may need to adjust my schedule, or attempt to squeeze an extra PU out of my day.  While this may be possible for brief bursts of time, I’m skeptical that that would be a sustainable practice.  Being productive for 10 of my 16 waking hours, on an extended basis, intuitively feels like I would be pushing the limits of my mental, emotional and physical health, not to mention my marriage.

Rehash

That’s all I’ve got for today.  In general, writing a blog post is probably about 1 or 2 PUs worth of work.  It requires writing (a task unto itself), then polishing and editing before publishing.  I’ve finished three sessions worth of reading, and completing this entry makes a total of four PUs.  That means that I can now devote the rest of my day to relaxing and pursuing hobbies that are less intensive, and ignore any guilt that may pop up from time to time trying to tell me I should actually be working harder.  Not only should I not be working harder, I’m not convinced that my yield would be worth the extra effort.

Here’s the summary of what we’ve covered:

  • To maximize your productivity, break your time up so that you can focus your energy on multiple things throughout the day;
  • Breaking your time up into productive units, or PUs, can provide a convenient way to get a loose handle on what you can realistically accomplish in any given day;
  • Your PUs may be different than mine, and that’s fine – do what works for you;
  • If you’re feeling lazy or like you should be doing more work, check in to see what you’ve accomplished in terms of your PUs, and ground the way you feel based on that.  Sometimes you need to kick your ass back into gear.  Sometimes, you need to relax.  Both of these things will be equally hard to accomplish at different times;
  • A system doesn’t need to schedule or track every last available minute you have for it to work for you; and
  • Check in with yourself from time to time to see if the way that you’re feeling is a reaction to your circumstances, or something external (eg, unrealistic societal pressure that you can or should be productive for every single minute that you’re at work).

Effectively managing your energy

April 10th, 2011 5 comments

This coming week will be my last in Vancouver this co-op work term.  A reflection on the last four months will be forthcoming – stay tuned to hear what I’ve been learning!

Until then, let me start with a story:

I was making coffee in our office’s lunchroom a few weeks back and struck up conversation with the co-worker that was waiting for the kettle with me.  Well, waiting isn’t quite the right word.  It was more like she was mentally somewhere in Thailand while her body patiently awaited her return.  We talked briefly and turned our thoughts briefly to what she referred to as “energy management”.  I liked the term so much that I’ve been using it since, and maybe you will too.  Let’s dig in to the concept a little deeper.

(Want all of the wisdom but without the narrative?  Skip to the TLDR section here.)

The set-up

Many of us go through our day vested with the expectation that we should expect 100% efficiency from ourselves, without ever stopping to consider the magnitude of that expectation.

I lay part of the blame at the feet of the modern world in which we work.  If you’re a professional, the expectation is that you come in to work everyday, sit at your desk at 9AM, and work through solidly until 5PM.  Of course, anyone that has ever worked a day in their lives knows that this kind of expectation is completely unreasonable, and yet we persist in mentally holding ourselves accountable to this kind of energy expenditure.

We are not robots – we’re inefficient humans, with quirks, emotions, digestive systems, and energy that correspondingly waxes and wanes throughout the day.  These are some of my own tips for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the negatives that arise from this fact.

Recognize that you cannot be 100% productive

This is basically what I’ve just finished writing.  However, for many of us, it will be the most difficult hurdle to overcome.  The subtle expectations that bombard us on a daily basis are legion – from the way our modern workday (and week) is structured to the desire to be a member of the group rather than not, there are plenty of subtle forces that tug at our psychology.  Before you know it, we’ll slowly but surely start to beat ourselves up over the fact that we’ve sat at our desks for over an hour without managing to get a single thing done.  Even an innocuous comment from a supervisor, such as “Hey, how’s the work coming on the Penske file?” can regress us right back to this mindset.

Recognizing that you’re not perfect and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be will be an empowering experience.  Being aware of who you are and what your limitations are can free your mind up to work around those limitations and give yourself permission to be imperfect.  Until you are able to let go of the fantasy that you can be productive all of the time, you will be hindered in your ability to maximize your potential.

I want to reiterate this last point, because it’s important:

An integral aspect of maximizing your potential is being aware of your own limitations.

If you aren’t cognizant to your own strengths and weakness, you may waste precious resources (time, energy, willpower, money, etc.) seeking to accomplish something unrealistic or beyond the scope of what you really desire.  (..and  most likely, something that you don’t actually care about).

I’m not advocating that you give up on a particular dream you may have, or that anything in particular  you desire is out of your reach.  However, if you’re forty-years old and dividing your energy between managing a career, a family, and trying to make it big in the NBA, you may benefit from understanding what your limitations are and applying the energy that you have available accordingly.

Be present to your energy at any given moment

Most of our time working, our self-awareness operates on  auto-pilot.  It’s rare that we’re actually present to how we’re thinking and feeling, because we’re focused on our work.  If we’re not being particularly productive, we’re probably focused on our web browser and whatever YouTube video has currently gone viral.

Getting in tune with how you’re feeling and how much energy you have available is a process.  It’s not a skill that you can develop over night, because most of us have become so good at setting aside the way we feel in order to get our work done.  After all, that’s the expectation that comes with endless school assignments and 9 to 5 work, right?  It doesn’t matter how you feel, because the time to work is from 9 to 5.  You think about how you feel outside of those hours.

People that have made a positive change to their physical routine for the better will have an analogy to which they can draw.  At first, you start exercising and your whole body aches.  But over time, you start to get a feel for  that type of pain, and eventually, you’re no longer simply feeling “back pain”.

Now you’re  able to identify things like “hmm, my lower back is quite sore, and that feels like muscle pain… that’s probably because I’ve played four squash games this week”.

Getting mentally in tune with yourself is the same thing.  When you are feeling frustrated at work because you can’t seem to get anything done, take a moment to check in with yourself and ask where your energy level currently sits.  NB: Even if all you can do at first is recognize that you are feeling frustrated, you’re making progress.

Over time, you’ll get better at picking up on the cues your body naturally provides you with.  The more you try to check in with yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to pick up on the fact that you may be sitting in an energy funk and address it.

Use your downtime effectively

Okay – hopefully you’re starting to gain a better awareness of your energy level and how it’s affecting your work.  If you’re not yet able to make use of the previous tip, you’re not ready to move on to this one – the next question is what do you actually do once you’ve identified that fact.

Being a law student, I’m no stranger to people that take the attitude that they will hammer the work through no matter what.  In some people, recognizing that they are low on energy almost presents a challenge that makes them feel defiant.  “Low energy?  Nice try, we’re finishing this tonight”.

On the surface, this may appear to work for some people, but I personally do not feel that this is the habit or coping method that I want to develop.  Is this approach to your body’s physical cue a sustainable practice?  If not, ask yourself why you are continuing to behave in this manner.

How can you effectively make use of your periods of low energy?  Simple:

Do something that doesn’t require much focus or energy

My own solution is to spend the time where my energy and focus are low to go on walks and pursue other distractions (browsing the web, tweeting, drafting blog entries, etc.).

By mentally giving yourself permission to take breaks, you will have scored a double-victory.  First, you’re acknowledging your own limitations and working within them.  Sometimes, you’re simply not going to be able to crank out high quality work – that’s okay!

Second, you’re allowing yourself a break from the exercise of your willpower.  We know that we have a finite amount of willpower (see also here); as a result we can only exercise it so much in a day (like almost every other type of psychic energy, it would seem).  Applying your focus to a task and ignoring distractions that may pop up is a small but constant strain on your willpower.

I can’t speak to your own mental state, but my brain seems to be constantly attempting to sabotage my efforts to focus by taking those moments to think up things that I haven’t yet read on Wikipedia (“Hey, I wonder what critics thought of Mortal Kombat?”).  By making time for these kind of breaks (NB: this is different from having time), you give yourself a reprieve from the application of willpower and take your break at the most opportune time.

Maximize the way you use your periods of high energy

The Yin to the previous section’s Yang..  As the metaphor suggests, if you’re not balancing your application of this principle with the previous one, it may be worth taking some time to recalibrate.  Balance is the harmony within which I strive to live.

Maximizing your periods of high energy is often best accomplished by simply allowing yourself to focus on what you’re there to do.  Many of us have experienced moments of mode known as flow.  Time falls away from your awareness and you hold a wonderful focus that allows you to plough through your work like it ain’t no thang.

While having a decent amount of energy is necessary to get into a zone, it is not sufficient.  Meaning: you will not be able to enter flow every time you are experiencing the upper part of your energy levels.  You will also need to sit, focus and work without distractions for a period of time.

Logically, it follows that our path to maximizing periods of high energy should be spent free of distractions, focused on the task at hand.  As before, if you are able to recognize the cues that your body and mind are sending you, you will better be able to position yourself to take advantage of these periods of high energy.  Regardless of what you want to do, your head and the people around you may not be willing to co-operate.

While there is not too much you can do to deal with co-workers (closing your office door is quite effective, though I’m generally not a big fan of closed office doors), I have two strategies you can employ to try and keep your brain in check.

The first is to employ a way to address the thoughts that pop up into your head without actually pursuing them.  My way of achieving this is to write down on a piece of paper anything that is a distracting thought and holding my mind hostage.

If I’m trying to get myself into the zone and thoughts about Mortal Kombat pop into my head, I pick up my pencil and write “Mortal Kombat” on my note pad.  I’m not actually pursuing this distracting thought, but I have addressed it in a way that allows my mind to go “okay, I’ve dealt with that – back to the work”.

If this sounds cheesy to you, think of it like another tool you can put in your toolbox.  You don’t have to use it now, but if you’re sitting there feeling like you’ve tried everything and can’t break out of your habit, give this a go.  It is simple and will not introduce a lot of overhead to your existing process (have a pencil and paper next to your workspace).  The results can be quite surprising.

The second approach that I take is based on a recommendation that Seth Godin made on his blog (an excellent resource that I certainly suggest checking out).

Find some means to offload all of your distractions to something other than your main computer.  Those of us that work on computers generally use the machines both for our productive work and our distractions.  We like to think that we’re pretty good at dividing the two up (though most of us recognize that we’re not as good as we’d like to be).

Example: use a tablet computer as your dedicated “distractions device”.

Don’t allow yourself to use your computer for anything other than work.  If you don’t have a tablet, try using your smartphone.  No smartphone?  Start reading instead of browsing websites for a break.  (Believe it or not, we took breaks even before the Internet existed!)

This change too will have a rather profound result.  Framing your computer mentally as the device that you sit in front of when it is time to do work will cause your psychology to naturally align itself within the context of this frame.  When it’s time to work and you position yourself in front of your computer, your subconscious will take note and click you into a productive frame of mind.  If you don’t believe me, prove me wrong by giving it a go.  (The results surprised me when I did the same.)

TLDR? (Too long, didn’t read?)

That’s okay – you probably wanted to get back to being productive!  (You can click any of the summaries here to be linked back to the corresponding content). Here’s the summary:

  • Learn to accept the fact that you can’t be 100% productive.  You’re not a robot; you’re not perfectly efficient, and; that’s just fine
  • Try to get more in tune with your energy levels throughout the day
  • Make good use of your periods of low energy
    • (and give yourself breaks from exercising your willpower)
  • Make the most of your periods of high energy
    • (by reducing distractions and allowing yourself to focus)
  • Two tricks to help yourself focus:
    1. Write down any mental distractions as they come to mind, then let them go (keep a pencil and paper near you)
    2. Offload distractions to something other than your computer, and let your computer be a machine that is devoted purely to productive work

As a parting shot..

If you like my writing and would like to see more, I ask that you show support however you can – leave a comment if something that I’ve said turns some gears with you, or help me out by mentioning this site to anyone else that you think might be interested in the same topics.  If an article I wrote was especially meaningful to you, share it on Twitter or Google Reader.

Eventually, I would like to take these articles and compile a book (and release it open source, no less!), but in order to achieve that goal, I need the inspiration that comes from speaking to an audience and feeling some support.  I love doing the hard work – you just have to help me out from time to time by telling like-minded individuals and communicating back.  We all benefit in the long run.  Thanks for the support and keep reading!

The small things

June 1st, 2009 No comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of little things that increase the efficiency of things that I do frequently.

Below are a few programs that I have installed on my machine at work that enable this for me.  The machine that I have to use at work runs Windows XP, which sucks, because I truly believe that OS X is a vastly superior operating system when you care about efficiency and productivity.  However, without further ado:

  • AltDrag

This is a simple, low memory-footprint program that does one function on Windows:
Hold down the Alt key, then click anywhere on a window to move it around
your screen.  Seems unnecessary, but it adds a little bit of efficiency
when you don’t have to go hunting for a title bar.

Once you’ve used this application, you’ll be annoyed every time you have to sit down at a computer that doesn’t have it installed.  You can download AltDrag here.

  • WizMouse

Same idea as above.  A low memory-footprint that does one function on
Windows: Whenever you use your scroll wheel, that event is drilled down
to whatever window is directly beneath your mouse, rather than sending
the event to the active window.  This doesn’t change the focus or Z-order of
your Windows. 

This is very handy, especially when doing things that require
having something like an Excel spreadsheet and a web browser both open, both requiring scrolling.  WizMouse can be downloaded here.

  • KeePass

This guy is a really tight password manager that I came across on Lifehacker.  KeePass allows you to keep strong and unique passwords for everything you need, and ensure that you never encounter a situation where you arrive at a website knowing you have a login, but unable to remember what it is.  KeePass creates an encrypted database file that you can also sync this across all of
your computers using Dropbox, which means you just need to
remember one strong password for KeePass, and one strong password for
Dropbox.  Once you’ve got that, you can ensure that you maintain strong
and unique passwords for everything you sign up for. You can download KeePass here.

  • TopDesk

A simple application that allows Windows to mimic the expose functionality that exists in OS X (Macintosh’s operating system).  Once you start using expose, you will rarely alt-tab again (although it’s still the best way to quickly bounce back and forth between two applications).  You can download TopDesk in evaluation format to try it out, but it’s worth paying for the full version.  You can download Topdesk here.

These programs will need to stay resident in your memory in order to function (with the exception of KeePass), but all of them are very low in terms of memory-footprint, and should not cause any significant problems.  Give them a shot and see if you like any of them.  I have gone as far as to install each of these on my thumb drive so that I can run them when I’m helping out a friend with their computer – they’ve become such a convenient part of my daily work that I can’t stand having to work without them.