It’s going to be 75° today. The sun is already blasting in my office window at 7:30 AM. When I’m working at home, it can be hard to focus, especially if there’s someplace I’d rather be, like out on my bike. We all have work to do, but it’s hard to get stuff done if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. This is even harder if someone else is dictating your schedule, meetings, conference calls, commutes etc.
There are a few things that I do daily to make work more enjoyable. Since they’ve become habits, they take very little effort but are a crucial part of getting stuff done.
Work in zones.
I divide my day into three zones: prime time (for me, mornings), the dead zone 3PM to 6PM and home (evenings). I like to get the tough stuff out of the way in prime time. I like to schedule one big task during prime time. The best tool I’ve found for this is a free product called Momentumdash. Once installed it presents you with a beautiful image, and reminds you of your focus each time you open a new tab on your browser. I also plan for the dead zone each day, scheduling the easy stuff, or a workout, during my least productive times.
Don’t work off big to do lists.
I treat to do list apps as a catch-all for any necessary task that takes over a few minutes. If you stay focused on the big stuff, sometimes you find a little items on this list fall away. At the end of each day I’ll take some time to plan the following day, pulling some of the most important tasks off the big catch-all list and writing them down in my notebook. I put the heavy-duty stuff in prime time. The act of pulling tasks off an overflowing digital list and writing it down in a notebook, gives you a more realistic feel for what can get done in a day.
Throw a tomato at it.
Pomodoro is a type of Italian tomato that a popular time management technique has been named after. The technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and giving your complete focus to a task for that period of time before taking a five minute break. There are lots of free Pomodoro timers in app stores for your smartphone or browser. It doesn’t really matter which timer you use. The key is to apply your complete focus while the timer is running then take a five-minute break. You don’t need to have ADD to benefit from focus. Think of this method as a very important 25 minute phone call with yourself that can’t be interrupted. When the timer is running on my iPhone it can be set to block calls and notifications. I find this really effective for writing.
Change your location
In his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare Henry Miller sees a world of office drones plowing through endless streams of repetitive tasks and data in giant air-conditioned, (but at the same time suffocating), buildings. That was in the 1940’s when people were out the door at 5 PM and could read the newspaper over a leisurely breakfast and roll into work at 9AM after a quick commute. What would he think today? Regardless of your current situation, try to change your location, work from home as often as possible. If you’re stuck in an office, get outside, pick some nearby locations where you can walk, just get a change of scenery while you’re working. Interested? Here are 20 more reasons why this is a good idea.
How light can you travel? I’ve always admired people who can travel extremely light, they’re focused on the experience, rather than hauling their shit around. Think of your work in the same way, how can you simplify, go minimal? Remove as many physical things and distractions as possible from your work environment. Start with paper and gadgets. Recently I’ve been playing the minimalist game clearing out all kinds of crap from my home and office. All that stuff just slows you down. You’ll be able to move and think quicker if you can fit your entire office in a backpack. Start by using an apps like Evernote, Dropbox and Google Docs to get piles of paper out of your life.
Steal like an artist.
In his book Steal Like an Artist Austin Kleon talks about how creativity is everywhere and you don’t need to be a creative genius to look at, remix, and share great ideas. Schedule time every day to look at more art, read something other than news, facebook, or twitter feeds. Think about how you can take a good idea and build on it. Hint, you’ll find a lot more good ideas in art and literature than in the news. Whenever I get excited about a side project or hobby, I go deep on it, not just reading about it, but writing about it, creating. When you start focusing on output you’ll find you remember more. I think of this like planting seeds that I can farm later, maybe as part of my work or different projects.
“The only art I’ll study is stuff I can steal from” – David Bowie
Put the things that work into daily practice.
There are lots of things I’ve tried that aren’t listed here. Many of them didn’t work or may have worked but just weren’t right for me at the time. For the things that do work, try to turn them into habits by making them part of a daily practice, then keep doing what you’re good at as much as possible.
I once read that bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists. This is because silver medalists are more inclined to compare themselves to gold medalists. The bronze medalists were just grateful to get that medal. The message here is you can be really happy in third place, fifth-place or 97th place. It all goes back to being grateful for what you’ve accomplished and what you will accomplish. So when you’re writing down all the things you want to get done, take about two minutes each day and write down three things that went well.
If you do that you’ll be automatically practicing gratitude, that’s all there is to it.