Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category
A pot of water does not boil faster if you stare at!
At work today I ended up having to fix a bunch of things with my work laptop. I updated my operating system, recovered a bunch of files from a backup disk, had to free up space on my hard drive when it maxed out, had to reinstall a whole bunch of software, etc.
A lot of these tasks required some activity to initiate, and then they just automatically run their course for 20-30 minutes or even an hour or longer for some tasks.
During the waiting periods I found myself just staring at the computer screen. As if my staring would make it go any faster!
Once aware of this I used the time to do some yoga in my office, write things down on a paper that I needed to get done and take care of a few conversations I had to have with co-workers.
It made me acutely aware at how much “slack” time we all have waiting around for things. Waiting for people. Waiting for traffic. Waiting for the copier. Waiting for a phone call. Waiting for a lane to open up at the swimming pool. Waiting for a dinner partner to show up. Waiting for a computer to boot. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Waiting isn’t inherently bad but the time could be better spent doing any number of things:
- Stretch your back and legs out
- Read something meaningful
- Do some open eyed meditation
- Take 10 deep breaths
- Call someone you care about
- Doodle something cute
- Make a list of goals (or better, things you’ve already accomplished that week/month/day that you are proud of)
Anything but waiting around!
I’ll guess that 80% of meaningful work gets done in the last 20% of time left for a project.
Software bug counts drop. Papers magically extend in length with great polish. Videos are created and finished. Trips are planned. Home improvements are completed in the nick of time.
That final 20% is a magical time.
Deadlines are dreaded by many but I really like them. I like them so much I create artificial ones just to keep momentum high.
They keep me accountable to getting things done and ‘shipping.’
You have more than enough time in your life to do whatever you want to do.
If you think about the number of hours in your life, and then think about the small fraction of those hours so far that have been spent doing things that are worthwhile, memorable or generally fitting with your life goals – it’s clear that there is more than enough time available.
Still don’t believe me? Set a timer for 20 minutes and sit down on the floor. Do nothing but focus on your breath the entire time. Tell me that 20 minutes doesn’t seem like forever!
Time does seem to get crowded out with the mundane. Taxes, laundry, commuting, showering, changing diapers, etc. These things need to get done. That’s not the point. The point is to not let these things crowd out the time available for the remarkable things.
If in a given workday, less than 20% of your time is spend doing real creative work (with the rest spent browsing Facebook, gossiping with co-workers or procrastinating by ‘doing email’) – than why not try to make better use of the other 80%? The same goes with school or time at home in the evenings or weekend.
It’s not an issue of not having enough time. The real issue is lack of creativity in learning how to eliminate things that waste your time and a lack of courage and decision-making skill in actually eliminating those behaviors once you identify them.
On the flip-side, it’s also about picking some things you do want to spend time one. When you focus on the remarkable things, the unremarkable gets squeezed out.
The other day a student in my yoga class asked me how I have enough time to work at Microsoft and teach several yoga classes a week…let along train for ultra-marathons and triathlons – on top of other things I do.
There truth is that there really is no secret.
I just don’t let “not having enough time” become a reason for not doing something. In my experience I’ve found that when I am doing things I like, the time organizes itself to work things out. When I am training a lot, I find I am more efficient at work. When I teach yoga in the evenings, I make sure meetings are quick so I can real work done and leave the office on time.
I also have little patience for people who abuse my time repeatedly – through unfocused meetings, requests for information that they have access to themselves, etc.
I do think the key insight here is to start with the mindset of having abundant time in your life to do whatever you choose. From this mindset, you’ll eventually find ways to fit everything in that you want to fit in. It may take some creative thinking on your part, but that is part of the fun.
I watched a recent talk by Getting Things Done (GTD) author David Allen. A ton of folks in the technology community like the approach, possibly because it appeals to highly structure folks and those that love to create systems and use technology in new and interesting ways. I have no doubt that the GTD system could work well for people. I tried it for a week, but honestly didn’t give it a full go. It seems like overkill to me. Too much process. There are some good things about it, like the notion of writing things doing vs keeping lots of things floating around in your head makes sense. Writing things down is a cathartic activity. That is to say it makes it feel like things are under control and less overwhelming, especially when there is a lot going on.
However, I think the GTD system can easily fall into the trap of being too much of a system. I have friends that get so caught up in the process of tracking their to-do‘s that they have far too little time and energy left to actually make progress on the to-do’s! There must be a better way. In fact, I know that there is.
I do something that is different from most people I know, but I think it is highly effective. I just the effectiveness of my “system” strictly based my response to the following questions on a daily basis:
- Am I confident with my direction in life?
- Am I contributing to the world in a positive way?
I feel like a good a good amount of stuff done. I generally do not feel stressed (maybe the yoga has something to do with that!) and don’t consider myself a work-aholic either. My technique is the anti-thesis of massive never-ending list keeping, prioritization and long to-do’s. I am a fan of occasional list-making, but that is not the super powerful technique.
Instead, my technique is simple. It just requires the accomplishment of ONE THING EVERY DAY.
That’s it: ONE THING.
The trick is, this ONE THING must be the one thing that makes you answer yes to both of the questions mentioned above at the end of the day. The first thing I do when I get into work every morning (well, after getting my coffee or tea!) is take out a post-it note or index card, and write down the ONE THING I want to accomplish during the day.
I write it out by hand, and stick the card in my pocket. I carry it around all day, and occasionally take it out and look at it. Come hell or high water, I will get that thing done. It doesn’t matter what happens. The sky could fall and I will still get the thing done. There could be 10 meetings in the day and I will get it done. There could be a blizzard and traffic hell (like the past few days) and I will get it done.
My ONE THING could be finishing a paper or presentation, reviewing a project and providing feedback, having a tough conversation with a team member, etc. The one thing I write down is usually something that requires a good degree of effort – in terms of focus, courage or creativity.
On weekends, I do the same thing….only instead of being a work-related thing, it is usually personal. My ONE THING on a weekend might be “finish a long run of over 3 hours with a smile on your face”. Or it might be “talk to Mom and Dad”. Or it might be “Finish reading that book!” Something like that.
The biggest trick is to not try to list out more than one thing. This is the trap….it’s easy to write down 10 things that must be done and accomplish none of them. Instead just write down the one thing you want to do, the one thing you will be PROUD OF DOING….and make sure you get it done. NO MATTER WHAT.
Think about it this way, if you do one big thing every day…over the course of the week you will have accomplished 7 noteworthy things, after a month you’ll have 30, and after a year you will have done a whopping 365 amazing things that required some degree of effort, courage, creativity, etc.
I have found in my own life that when do this every day, you end up by default accomplishing far more than just the one thing. Having the single point of focus is what makes it possible….your brain will start hunting out things and get the done…the trick here is focus. There is a saying that “how you do anything is how you do everything.” It is absolutely true. If you can accomplish ONE MEANINGFUL THING A DAY you can accomplish a lot more, but it must start with just one.
So there you have it, the most powerful technique for getting things done.
A CHALLENGE FOR YOU! Try it for yourself for the NEXT 10 DAYS. Every morning, write down on an index card the one thing you want to accomplish during the day. Make sure you get that thing done no matter what! At the end of the day, cross it off and be happy that you did something worthwhile. Keep the card visible on your desk and repeat for 10 days. After this challenge….look back on the 10 days and laugh at how much you were able to do, and how easy it was.
Give it a shot, leave a comment and let me know how it went!
We never lack resources just resourcefulness. The next time you think you don’t have enough time to do something, just consider how much time you spent thinking instead of doing. There is always enough time, money or skills available if you are willing to put aside excuses.
I always am at my best when I am super busy. Working on a bunch of challenging projects at work, training for an Ironman Triathlon, doing a yoga training or traveling. Having a lot going on forces me to be more resourceful with my time, money, energy and skills. It takes the slack out of life and helps me to operate in a way that is far more efficient and effective. I find that this way of being carries over to the more relaxed periods in my life as well. I’m able to get more done in less time and spent the extra resources on relaxation!
Next time you think that you don’t have the means to get something done… try being more resourceful. Think about places in your life where you could save time and money. Think about people you know that could help you out with needed skills and resources. Most importantly, stop telling yourself that you don’t have enough, and start telling yourself that you have more than enough – and the way forward will make itself known.
I have a tendency to go to extremes. I set clear and sometimes audacious goals, achieve them (at at least give it a good attempt) and then frequently fall off the bandwagon a bit as I succumb to what I call the “post-goal blues.” When I raced triathlons, I found this “disease” to be common amongst my racer friends.
We’d train hard all year for a big race, and then the day after – feel relieved that the event was over. No more worries about squeezing a workout in, dealing with soreness or dreading another track workout. A week later, we’d be enjoying our time off from training. A month later, we’d be scratching our heads while looking at our ever-growing bellies and wondering what the next big goal is gonna be – but feeling too unmotivated to actually come up with one. I experienced the “blues”big-time after my last Ironman – totally stopping any sort of training routine for over a year.
Time away from a purpose-driven and goal-driven life can be a good thing. It is like going on vacation and getting away from all the demands you might have at work or home. However, at some point, you need to get back in the groove and reconnect with those things that really motivate you long-term, even if those things might require a bit of work on your part (like getting in the gym, learning to speak that language, hitting the trails or writing that book you’ve been putting off, whatever it is!).
All athletes have an off-season, even folks like Lance Armstrong – 7-Time Tour de France champ – takes at least a month off at the end of each season, chowing down on burritos and drinking beer. Even in my place of work, our executives tend to check-out during the month of August, enjoying the summer time and relaxing while they can. The key, though, is not to let yourself take too much time off and fall off track.
I’ve written a lot about goal setting and vision boarding. One of the great things about vision boards is that they give you a visual reminder of what is important to you. They become super important at times when you feel yourself getting off track and taking things too easy. We all know the difference between taking a little break and just being lazy.
If you haven’t checked in on your new years resolutions (or as I like to call them, new years “intentions”) or looked at your goals sheet or vision board in a while. Now is the time. Take it out, dust it off and remind yourself what is important, and think about what you can do right now to make progress against those things that at one point were so incredibly important to you, and assuredly are now too.
(a 1-room cabin in the high in the Rocky Mountains, where I spent 5 days fasting and meditating in utter silence).
Better yet, if you have a chance to get away for a few days and check-in on your goals and new years intentions, that can be incredibly powerful. Find a cabin or a bed & breakfast that is away from the hustle of your current life, and just take time to reflect on what you achieved this year so far, and what you are looking forward to achieving during the rest of the year. Recommit to achieve those things that are most important to you. Get yourself back on track.
It’s harder to be simple than it is to be complicated.
Even though most of us know that having a simple life is actually one of the keys to finding happiness, it is a tough thing to put into practice. Entropy is always at play, and things seem to expand and grow to fill up space. Simple activities, thoughts and words grow and grow until they become mind-numbingly complicated.
It is harder to live happily with fewer material possessions than it is to allow yourself to acquire and stockpile lots of random and useless things. It is harder to write clear and concise prose than it is to drone on in an essay. It is harder to eat simple and healthy food than it is to consume lots of overcooked, overspiced, oversized meals. It is harder to speak clearly and briefly when talking to friends and family than it is to ramble and talk over others. It is harder to look neat and cute in simple clothing than it is to over-accessorize with designer duds.
Being simple is hard, at least at first. However, like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. You can train yourself to welcome and embrace a simple life, but it takes work to counter the inertia that pulls in the other direction. After some time, that inertia will lose its grip, and you’ll find the simple life as a normal way of being, and not something you need to work hard to maintain or achieve.
Just do it.
I really like that slogan. Say what you will about Nike….
When you are on the fence, non-committal, waffling and not sure if you should or shouldn’t do something, just committing and trying it out (in my own experience) is the best approach. Only by committing and just doing it will you ever figure out if it is the right thing to do. By just doing it you can discover your own talents and maybe even discover that whatever you are doing is just not the right thing for you to focus on at this moment. A little bit of action can make the next steps seem so much more clear.
Indecision paralyzes. Decision moves you forward.
Make your move. Just do it.
People ask me all the time about what I eat (since I am Vegan) and what kind of smoothies I drink and why. Most people ask me these questions because they want to loose a few pounds or gain some strength, but in almost all cases I think the real motivation for the question is something deeper.
People are really looking to have more energy to live their lives. I’m not just talking about being able to keep your eyes open during a boring meeting at work. I’m talking about having the energy to perform at a high level both in mental pursuits (working on a hard problem at work or in school) and physical pursuits (like a power yoga class!).
I thought it would be good to share my top 5 tips for energizing your life. These are things that I do on a regular basis – and they work. I think experience is the best teacher – and I have learned well :)
- Avoid Caffeine. I know I know – sacrilege! Despite the supposed health benefits of drinking coffee (and even tea), the reality is that when you borrow energy you need to pay it back. This might not be what you want to hear, but it is the truth. If you are serious about energizing your body – cut the caffeine. Or (as I do right now), limit it to 1 serving in the morning.
- Hydrate. Your body is 75% water. Your body also has 2-3x as much lymph fluid in your body as it does blood. Lymph is the watery substance in between your cells that allows nutrients to flow in and toxins to flow out of your cells. Staying well-hydrated is critical to proper energy transfer into and out of the cells. A great way to stay hydrate is not just to drink water, but to avoid dehydrating your body with caffeine, refined sugars and other highly processed (and dehydrated) foods.
- Eat Nutrient Dense Foods. I’ve written a great post about this. In summary, you should focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and green/bright colored veggies that have high water content and high nutrient contents on a per-calorie basis. Did you know that broccoli has more protein than steak on a per-calorie basis? The truth is sometimes surprising but it is the truth nonetheless.
- Eliminate Refined Sugars. If it says “cane sugar,” “brown rice syrup,” “corn syrup,” or any other kind of processed sugar on the package, don’t eat it. This includes most energy bars! Your body will just experience a sugar rush and crash cycle when you consume these things. Instead, eat fresh fruits. The sugar in the fruits is processed differently by the body and they won’t cause the same spike in blood sugar. You’ll also help your body to stay hydrated.
- Breath Properly! This is perhaps the single most effective thing you can do. I wrote a long post about the importance of proper breath work. If you are at all committed to having more energy in your days – you should read this post. Essentially, cultivate a practice of consistent and deep nasal breathing – especially under times of stress and while sleeping. It may take some practice but the benefits are well worth it.
Have any other tips to share? Please let me know in the comments!