“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” – Zig Ziglar,
“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” – Zig Ziglar,
Ever wake up to a messy room? We all have at some point. Most of us also notice the feeling associated with it as well. A feeling of disorganized confusion, almost as if the disorganization in the room has encroached its way into your mind. This all too familiar feeling is one that inhibits leading a productive day, and if left unchecked can swallow entire weeks worth of time.
Research has shown (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21228167) that having a lot of visual stimulants present within your field of vision, causes a lowering of your ability to focus on one specific thing. Now, this may not seem too important at first since you can simply say “when I want to focus, the thing I want to focus on will be the only thing I’m looking at”. This is usually not true for most of us. If you have paperwork or college work to complete, where do you sit down to finish most of it? This desk or workspace will be the main thing encompassing our field of vision while we work. Thus anything found within this workspace or sitting on your desk will be within plain sight during your work, and has the potential to lower your ability to focus. Having a disorganized surrounding, when looked at in this light, has a directly negative impact on your ability to focus. So what are some ways to avoid this, and thus enhance your focus and productivity? Here are a few ways I’ve managed to do so:
Pack It Out, Pack It In
EVERYONE has heard this if they’ve ever been to preschool or kindergarten. Put away what you take out. Seems simple right? Well, judging by the messes on our desks that seem to work their way into our daily life as something acceptable, it’s not. We have a tenancy to want to work on a specific task until it’s done, and then promptly go straight into “reward mode”. Some examples being: a student finishing their essay and immediately grabbing thirty snacks (gotta be prepared right?) and watching some good old tv, the worker who comes home after a day at work to relax and vegetate until nightfall, or the casual cook who leaves the kitchen looking like a battlefield after they’re done being Gordon Ramsey. All of these are perfectly fine in moderation! It’s good to reward yourself after working hard for a period of time. The problem arises when we never take the time to go back and cleanup, start to implement this behavior into small tasks, or begin displaying this behavior with everyday things we do within our workspace. If you leave your paper, pens, books, computer, tea, snacks, calculator, and so on out after each time you do a homework lesson because hey, you’ve earned your break, then pretty soon your workspace will look like a highschool student’s locker. I recommend adding a five minute “cleanup” period to the end of each of your work sessions. It will work wonders on your ability to focus over time.
No matter how good we are about putting things away as we’re finished using them (which let’s face it, we’re not all that great about that usually), there’s always going to be a small accumulation of mess over time. The little things we miss each day during our “cleanup” time. The dust on the desk, the trash in the trashcan, the debris on the floor that needs to be vacuumed, and so on. All these things add up, and at the end of the week should be dealt with. Take an hour each week on a set day, and just get it done. It keeps things tidy, and having a nice freshly-cleansed workspace at the start of each week will allow for maximum productivity.
Out of Sight Gives Peace of Mind
One of the biggest forms of clutter I see on people’s desks (including mine) is all the “needed” items laying atop the desk. Pens, pencils, calculators, books, notebooks, headphones… the list goes on and on. While all these things are needed for most of your everyday work, the sight of them is not. Organize these things inside your desk instead. Limit yourself to one item being left out. It can be your computer, your notebook, whatever you want really. Just keep it to one item if at all possible. This will keep your workspace clean and clear, which will allow for better overall productivity and focus. I recommend getting an in-desk organizer to keep everything separated and easily accessible. This one is a common one I see many people use: Rolodex Mesh Collection Drawer Organizer, Black (22131). Or if you like to tinker with every aspect of your own organization (who doesn’t?), I recommend getting an adjustable organizer such as this one: Lipper International Bamboo Adjustable Drawer Organizer.
All in all, as with any good habit, staying organized is a constant effort (I write about my discovery of this here: https://forwardjourneyblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/what-i-learned-at-berkeley-or-how-i-succeeded-by-failing/). It’s a time investment we make in order to be able to have a workable environment. But overall, it’s an investment that has an tremendous return value in terms of being able to focus, and leading a productive day, everyday.
Too often I hear people (including myself) say: “I don’t have time for that”. Yet, when observed, there is so much time wasted in their day-to-day life. Taking my past self as a prime example: I would spend time each day checking Facebook, watching shows, browsing the internet, and simply doing nothing of any productive value each day. Then at the end of the day I would look back and ask myself what I had accomplished. Often times the list would be completely empty. Now, I took some time to look back and ask myself how I managed to break that cycle and finally get some things done with my time.
In this post I’d like to focus on the importance of mornings, and how they effect your entire day. I’ll go through my morning routine, which will hopefully give you ideas on how to construct a routine for yourself that cultivates productivity.
The first hour of each day is worth 16
While most people have the tendency to wake up each morning and spend the next few hours of their day “waking up”, this is one of the worst possible things you can do to your productive self. This sets the day up for an loose and unproductive routine. Simply blaming it on “I’m not a morning person” doesn’t fix the fact that nothing is getting done in those crucial first hours of the day. If you’re unhappy with how much you’re getting done each day, the first hours are most likely a huge part of your problem. Setting up a routine for each morning, starting the minute you wake up, is something I highly recommend. Using my morning routine as an example, I’ll list out some ideas that hopefully inspire you to cultivate a morning routine that allows for a productive day:
Right when I wake up I brush my teeth, wash my face lightly with water, and begin jogging on the treadmill for the next 45 minutes. This wakes up my body and mind, and allows me to multitask in the form of reading and checking up on things that need to be checked on while I’m on the treadmill. I check on stocks I’ve invested in, check emails, read the news, listen to podcasts, attend to any business that occurred over the course of the night, and (here’s the big one) plan my day out and write my todo list for the day. Already from these first 45 minutes I’ve managed to exercise some, wake up to the fullest degree (both body and mind), and plan out exactly what I want to do with the day. This usually useless and completely unproductive time has now become the most important part of my day. It sets the whole mood for the day, and allows me to choose exactly how I want the day to go. All before the day has even fully began.
“Your first ritual that you do during the day is the highest leveraged ritual, by far, because it has the effect of setting your mind, and setting the context, for the rest of your day” – Eben Pagan
The next thing I do is shower (I just jogged after all 😛 ). Not only does this give me more time to reflect on the things I went over, learned about, or planned out for myself while on the treadmill, it allows me to feel fresh for the upcoming day. This is why I always recommend to anyone seeking to enhance their productivity: shower every morning! Nothing gives quite the boost to your productive day as stepping out of the shower feeling fully revitalized and refreshed.
Next up in my day is my morning meal and coffee. While many people say coffee can become a crutch and that it’s not always a positive thing (this can be true for some), I have been using it every morning to get myself into a state of mind that allows me to focus on the most important tasks I’ve written on my todo list. This, as well as eating a healthy breakfast, sets me up to focus and work on things I need to get done for the next 3 to 4 hours uninhibited. After only the first hour of the day, my day is already productive and set on a productive path.
I will continue to lay out ways to manage your time and cultivate healthy time management habits in future posts within this series. For now I hope from this post you can see that it’s amazing how much of an effect your mornings can have on how productive you are throughout each day. If nothing else, take time each morning to plan out what you want to accomplish during the day. Having the thoughts of what you need to get done inside your mind at the earliest possible time each day causes you to think about them more throughout the day. This in turn increases your potential to actually finish the tasks.
I hope you take this post as a motivator to begin cultivating a morning routine that allows you to be as productive as you want to be in the future 🙂
So many greatly successful people have kept notebooks in the past. From Thomas Jefferson to George Lucas, many of society’s great minds all have kept or keep notebooks on hand constantly to write down whatever they need to at a moment’s notice. Even beyond just writing down ideas as they hit you, a personal notebook can be indispensable in so many ways:
From your random ideas, to your ideas for great projects that are going to make you rich someday, having a notebook on hand to jot down fleeting thoughts is always a great idea.
To-do lists, important dates, lists of tasks you need to complete, exercise regimens; the list goes on and on. Using a notebook to organize your life and all that is happening within it is a good way to stay on track with what you want to accomplish. Why do you think so many notebooks are made with the sole purpose of acting as organizers?
A less common idea that not many people think about doing, is using a notebook to write down distractions as they come to you. Say you are busily focusing on a task with your pomodoro timer faithfully ticking away when a thought pops into your brain: “I need to do this” or “I have a great idea to make money” etc. Instead of trying to dismiss the thought away and move on without paying it any more mind, try writing it down real quick into your distraction journal. Many of the thoughts that interrupt even our most focused mindsets are important. Writing them down allows you to save the thought for later and get back to work swiftly. Even less important distracting thoughts can be of use to write down. This allows you to analyze what distractions are arising when, and how to possibly get rid of these distractions. For example: say every time you start work on your computer the thought comes up “I need to check Facebook”. While this is most likely not an important thought that deserves more attention, things can still be learned from it. Was it because I was using my computer already that I had the urge to check Facebook? Should I install a website blocking app to activate for when I’m trying to stay focused to keep these such distractions at bay? And so on.
What type of notebook you buy can change the way you use it
For example, if I were to want to keep a thought journal on hand, I would choose a small, blank paged notebook such as this one: Moleskine Classic Notebook, Pocket, Plain, Black, Hard Cover (3.5 x 5.5) (Classic Notebooks)
If I were to want a more organizer oriented notebook, ruling or other formatting can aid in the process. A larger notebook is probably better for this use as well, as it doesn’t necessarily have to be portable if you only use it within your workspace. A good option is the Moleskine Classic Notebook, Large, Ruled, Black, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25) (Classic Notebooks)
I recommend getting a Moleskine or similar quality notebook, especially for your thought journal, as writing in a quality notebook has a certain degree of enjoyment associated with it. My Moleskine notebook has held up to the wear of taking my thought journal around with my in my day-to-day life better than most others I’ve tried as well.
As you hopefully can see, getting a notebook and writing in it daily is a great way to exercise creativity, record ideas, get organized, and much more. The number possibilities of how a notebook can enhance your life is truly staggering!
The ability to focus on a task is crucial in life. Whether it’s planning aspects of your own life, working for someone, studying, creating something, designing a project, and so on, being able to focus is a must. There are two main types of focus I will discuss in this week’s post:
Simply put, short term focus is what comes to everyone’s mind when the buzzword “focus” is used. Being able to sit and focus on a task for an hour or more is what I would call short-term focus. Cultivating a strong ability to focus for these periods is extremely important in order to complete many tasks in day-to-day life. Completing these tasks in turn helps you accomplish bigger goals, which helps you to lead a fuller and more satisfying life. Making sure these bigger goals are in line with what you actually desire in life is where long-term focus comes into play.
Long term focus is the ability to persevere through to the end of a task or until a goal is reached. An analogy would be: short term focus is like a bodybuilder starting and finishing a set, long-term focus would be the bodybuilder achieving his desired physical results over time. Short-term focus, in this light, can be seen as a necessary building block for long-term focus. Where long-term focus can be seen as the culmination of all the building blocks coming together to achieve a set desired result.
Training Yourself to Focus
In order to fulfill a long term goal, you need to focus on each small task needed to realize this goal. But as we all know, focusing on a task can be an extremely difficult thing to start doing if you’re not used to it. In an effort to start training (you have to start somewhere) your ability to focus better, I encourage you to follow the next few steps to set up a new daily habit to abide by:
Pomodoro timers (read more about them here) work by counting down 25 minutes (in which time you should be focused on a task), then counting down 5 minutes in between (your breaks!). These timers are great for training yourself to sit and focus on one single task for a short amount of time. Also, allowing yourself a small break before going at another 25 minutes. I recommend ClockworkTomato to Android users and TomatoTimer (rather simple, but gets the job done) if you’re using a computer.
Choose a task based on what you want or need to get done. It could be work related or school related. Keep track of the main task you want to complete by writing it down in a notebook. Make sure when you’re writing it down to include as much detail as you can about exactly what needs to get done, and within what timeline; this will be important for the next step.
Separating a large and seemingly impossible to finish task into smaller chunks allows you to focus on one task at a time without becoming overwhelmed. Write down each component of the large task and figure out what days you’ll complete which components. Make sure to schedule finishing all of the components (and thus the initial large task itself) within the timeline of the large task. Having broken up the large task into its components and scheduled dates for their completion, you allow yourself to focus in small chunks (much easier than focusing for long periods of time) and have made the task seem much more do-able.
In the end you really just have to site down and focus. It may be hard at first, but once you get a few good focus session in with your new timer, you’ll feel more and more able to complete tasks, and much more productive.
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