This article argues that ritual is at the core of any successful lifestyle [not the right word]. He cites the life of Jack LaLanne, a 94-year old “fitness guru” who lives within an inviolate fitness regime and credits it for his longevity. Bregman then proposes a routine for improving productivity at work:
STEP 1 (5 Minutes) Set Plan for Day. Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. […] Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day.
For me, this evokes Babauta’s ZTD and Covey and Merril2’s First Things First, although it ignores the latter’s focus on the weekly perspective. The focus on planning before touching a computer resonates deeply for me: my email is unerringly full of trouble; it saps whatever energy I have, and by the time I’ve gotten through the scary-looking ones, I invariably need to attend a meeting. My start to the day, therefore, starts with a blizzard to the face and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. (Boo hoo.) Planning a little, and considering what I could get done, might provide a stronger foundation to the rest of the day.
STEP 2 (1 minute every hour) Refocus. Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour.
This feels a little bit like the (awfully yuppified Western) explanations I’ve heard of the Buddhist practice of Mindfulness. I confess to understanding very little, but I understand it to involve paying attention to your surroundings and to yourself. I read an article once where Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about using stop signs as triggers to mindfulness [http://www.43folders.com/node/47451/319495].
I once tried doing something similar with an Invisible Clock set to 15 minute intervals; after a few hours I found myself just tapping the ‘stop’ button and going back to whatever I was doing. I’d managed to create the trigger without wiring it to any behavioural change; I’d fallen into the trap that Leo Babuata identified in lots of “time management” schemes: the actual value is in the habit changes, not in the external point solutions.
STEP 3 (5 minutes) Review. Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?
This is a habit I crave, but can’t seem to muster. In all my tinkering with GTD, I have found ‘Review’ the hardest habit to adopt. By the time I look up from what I’m doing, it’s 18.30 (so Jenn’s upset that I’m late), and I feel panicky about not finishing whatever crisis has attacked my day. That timer going off at 17.30 might act as a good trigger to re-evaluating (a) how I spent my day, (b) what I still (really) need to do before leaving, and© how I should spend tomorrow.
Bregman also cites Loehr and Schwartz: “those who said where and when they were going to [complete a given task]” appeared much more likely to actually complete that task, in a couple of empirical studies. I’m not quite sure how to apply this yet, given the amorphous nature of most of my work, but it’s worth considering.
Kudos to Matt Delprado for the link, via his Google Reader favourites.