When it comes to time, planning and productivity our brains are at odds with our drives. The cognitive dissonance generated by our stated desire to make the most of each day and our inability to really do so is demonstrated by the countless articles and studies on procrastination.
We are, it seems, at a constant war within ourselves where our stated goals are fighting against all the inner demons holding us back until one or the other wins. I could, here, claim to have had an epiphany of sorts but this is not strictly true. Like most, I battle with deadlines, I’d much rather interact on G+ than concentrate on complex analysis and write up business reports for corporations struggling with the new shift in their home markets and, when things get really tough and the pressure of work and deadlines goes through the roof I take myself off to the gym for a killer-session that silences the inner voices by driving me close to physical exhaustion.
Yet, in retrospect, I have also managed to become much, much better. My productivity, over the years, has increased several fold and, there are days, when despite what I would call suffocating pressure, the day goes off without a hitch, all the writing gets done in time and without sacrificing quality, the meetings run on time, emails get replied to and I still get time to let steam off at the gym.
Learn To Focus Better
The trick (and it is a trick) lies in a Samuel Johnson quotation that I now have on a permanent note on each of the devices I use, as a small reminder. It famously says: The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. This, of course is a corruption of Samuel Johnson’s actual phrase:
Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
The original is a little clunky for my liking plus the pithier version fits beautifully on my smartphone screen. The trick here is that I know I am not going to be hanged, at least not literally, but if I was, then, suddenly, all the doubts, distractions and musings that busy my mind away from work would appear so inconsequential as not to matter at all. What I would focus on, is exactly what matters: my aims for the day.
In a way that’s mindfulness. Living in the moment, milking every drop of value out of each day. It’s harder to do than it sounds because the very activity of becoming engaged in, for instance, a social media conversation that may have real value, can also distract us and absorb time by engaging in social media interaction that does little other than waste time. The difference between the two lies, very much in our approach, that is guided by our mental attitude.
The 30,000 Day Clock
To help me stay focused I use an additional trick that I wish I had come across some twenty years earlier. I live under the shadow of my own mental doomsday clock that’s busy counting down.
None of us is going to cheat death. On average we have about 30,000 days on this planet. I have about 14,500 days left and each one only has 24 hours. The moment I think of it this way, whatever procrastination anxiety I may have had evaporates. Time becomes a fast flowing stream and I just try to pack as much in it as I can. If I succeed in increasing my productivity, not just at work, but also in how I view the world, the way I interact with friends, family and acquaintances and how I then contribute back into the streams of their particular lives, I will have managed to pack more than one day in each 24-hour slot. I increase my time-impact and, in a sense, live longer in terms of what I achieve.
Social Media Broadens Horizons
Social media connections play a huge role in the enrichment of each day, for me. Over the past year I have been privy to conversations, experiences, points of view, opinions, ideas and advice that in the days before all this would have taken me a lot more than a year to accumulate.
In return this has made me create a guide of sorts to help keep me focused:
- Listen and think before contributing
- Acknowledge, instead of restating what’s already stated
- Never discard an opinion just because I disagree with it
- Focus on what is really important to me
- Understand why I am working in terms other than just money
- Value the people first, the professional connection behind them, second
- Be switched on every minute of the day, unless I am asleep
- Express gratitude when I should
- Apologise when I am wrong
It’s far from exhaustive but, for me, it really works. If it makes me sound like some kind of saint, I am not. I have lost count of the number of times I fell short of my own guidelines. The thing is, each time it happened, I realized it and I worked hard to make amends plus change my attitude so it does not happen again.
The result is I am more productive, less likely to put things off than ever before and, yeah, I am a hell of a lot happier in how I work.
Video: Check out artist Henry Collins in an inspirational video on how he pretty much tricks himself , in a slightly different way, to achieve the very same thing: increased productivity, focus and happiness in life.
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