• Graham Allcott • Krzysztof Wysocki • Daniel Reeves • Jill Renaud • Maura Nevel Thomas • Gonçalo Gil Mata • Sinead Mac Manus • Leo Babauta • Michael Sliwinski •
#13 (May–August 2012)
on hacking productivity like a real ninja master
Articles on: 4 Focus and Attention Management 4 Yoga and Productivity 4 Pomodoro, Unschedule and other hacks
From the Editor
Hacking Productivity By Michael Sliwinski, Editor
ere you go – the lucky 13th issue of the Productive! Magazine coming to you this summer to get you ready before the “busy holiday season” coming this Fall. My baby daughter was born on January 13th so from then on I really love this number. Hope you’ll love this one, too. This time the magazine’s long–time contributor and a good friend of mine, Graham Allcott is featured in the magazine with his great new book about becoming “The Productivity Ninja”. The whole concept of the book is very unorthodox (as well as the fact that it’s self– published and proceeds from the ebook go to charity). And I like to think of myself as a productivity ninja, too :–) “Hacking productivity” is the new trend as we constantly struggle to find focus and get things done. We have many new contributors in this issue, with Maura Nevel Thomas (just published a “Productivity Secrets” book),
! Links: Productive! Magazine on Twitter
Sinead Mac Manus (the author of “Productivity Jogi” book), Daniel Reeves with Jill Renaud, Krzysztof Wysocki and Gonçalo Gil Mata. I’m humbled to see so many great new authors contributing to our magazine. Please enjoy our lucky issue #13 and enjoy the summer on the northern hemisphere to recharge your batteries – hopefully our “productivity” advice will inspire you to achieve fantastic results in the months and years to come. Yours productively,
Table of contents 04
Michael Sliwinski Becoming a Productivity Ninja Interview with Graham Allcott
08 10 12
Krzysztof Wysocki My car navigation uses GTD! Daniel Reeves and Jill Renaud Akrasia, The Planner Self and Lazy Self
Maura Nevel Thomas Kick time management to the curb and focus on your attention management
14 16 18
Gonçalo Gil Mata Focus... and how to improve it every day Sinead Mac Manus Can Yoga Make You More Productive?
Michael Sliwinski Power of Unschedule and Pomodoro Technique
Michael Sliwinski Productive! Show Videos Leo Babauta Why Killing Time Isn’t a Sin
Productive! Magazine www.ProductiveMagazine.com Sponsor: www.Nozbe.com
Your Online tool for Getting Things Done – available in your computer browser, mobile phone and on your iPhone. Chief Editor: Michael Sliwinski
Technical Editor: Piotr Wozniak
Technical Advisor: Maciej Budzich
Editorial Team: Lori Anderson
Tribute: Marc Orchant (1957–2007) The Productive! Magazine is dedicated to the memory of a productivity guru, great blogger and a very close friend, Marc Orchant who passed away on 9th December 2007. All articles are copyright © by their respective authors. Productive! Magazine is copyright © by Michael Sliwinski. Getting Things Done® and GTD® are the registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.
Interview with Graham Allcott by Michael Sliwinski
Becoming a Productivity Ninja
Be calm, ruthless, savvy and hack your way to productivity!
raham Allcott: I have been writing for the Productive! Magazine for a while, it has been pretty interesting. Folks might have seen some of my articles in previous issues. I run a company in the U.K. called Think Productive. We run productivity workshops with whole range of organizations, with big business like eBay and Heineken, with some government organizations, and charities as well. Before focusing on productivity I set up a couple of charities, I was in a mindset of “wanting to change the world” and that has always been a big thing for me. So helping people to really do great work is really what I’m most passionate about.
Michael Sliwinski: And with that in mind, you just published a book about being a productivity ninja. Graham: Yes, the focus on the book is on real “ninja traits” and how we can use them to be more productive. All of our trainers at Think Productive are called “productivity ninjas”. As the book has been developed we really wanted to pin that down to what it actually means to be a productivity ninja. So there are about nine different characteristics I mentioned in the book.
Michael: I love the book. Totally recommend it. To me a ninja is a super hero without real super–powers who can just
by practice and focus can get to places (or “hack” them) that a normal person would not get. Let’s start with the first trait of a ninja. Graham: First characteristic is zen–like calm. So really being present in the thing you’re doing. You want to avoid distractions, especially by all the other things you could be doing at that time... and also about the times when you are really under pressure, maybe you have a deadline coming up, that sort of thing, you don’t even think about eating or emails or about what is going to happen next in the rest of your world. You are really focused on just being in that one thing.
Michael: Totally. Continuing this, let’s talk about “ruthlessness” (the second ninja trait) as I think the art of saying “no” is one of the most important skills that we can learn right now. Graham: Absolutely, you know, this kind of old school time management approach is, first thing in the morning you collect all your letters and they land on your desk, and you deal with them and the impact they make on your choices during your day. And then you work through most important stuff in the morning, medium stuff in the mid day and early afternoon and the kind of easy and less vital in the afternoon. And the world doesn’t really work like that now, because we’ve got not just email, but we’ve got Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and all these other tools that are constantly asking for attention, trying to connect us back into the other sources of information that are around. So there are constant choices to be made and constant uncertainty about “am I doing the right thing?” and within that lies constant distraction. So, I think being really ruthless around what you engage in, saying “no” to other people is definitely part of it but saying “no” to yourself and having that discipline around your attention is vital as well.
One of the keys is to avoid distractions, especially by all the other things you could be doing at that time. Michael: You devote an entire chapter in your book to “doing email like ninja” and I totally agree with that... as people still don’t understand the difference between “checking email” and “processing email”... Graham: When people talk about getting their inboxes to zero, for me that’s the beginning of the game and not the end. You get your inbox to zero so that you can get out of email onto other things and get focused on those other five or six actions that you have to take, you know, from what was 300 emails in the inbox. There are a lot of organizations around the UK where they do their 9–5 jobs, they are on email the whole day, and then they have an American parent company and as they leave their offices at 5 o’clock, America wakes up, so suddenly they then have all the iPhone or Blackberry messages coming in all evening. So I think there is a lot to be said around trying to create sort of team environments where you can talk about what are the ground rules around email. When is it acceptable to be completely off–line? Are you actually supposed to be responding that evening? Is that required in your job? Guess what, it is usually the junior people that believe this is really important... and the senior people go like “dude, no, go to the theater, have your evening”. So culture can very easily get created in quite accidental, but unhealthy ways, I think.
Michael: One of the other traits of the ninja is “camouflage” and I’m also trying to teach folks in my company about it and about how we can stay away from each other to get our work done.
Graham: Exactly. I was trying to write this book along side running a very busy company and I was struggling to find the time... actually writing is a very particular mindset and it needs a lot of stealth and camouflaging, it needs a lot of taking yourself away, “going dark” as I talk about it in the book; and doing that away from everything else. So I ended up renting a little beach cabana in Sri Lanka and just sitting there with literally no Internet connection. I had a really bad, cheap phone that I’d bought there, which could barely make phone calls and certainly couldn’t do anything more sophisticated than that.
In your organization you need to talk about what are the ground rules around email. I spent a lot more time thinking about attention as result of that. And so when I came back from that trip, I was like “how can I replicate that whole thing of it being just about me and me being just much more mindful, rather then me being more connected and distracted and all that sort of stuff”? At about 9 am at home my Internet connection goes down automatically, I turn my phone into the airplane mode, so I’m literally cut off. The idea is that for the morning it’s all about me doing the thing, and creating and all the stuff that
ing returns sets in much earlier, typically about 30 hours. So if you are thinking about what this means, it means that we should really be thinking toward working 4 day a week and having 3 days off. So we started doing that within Think Productive, where we actually still do 35.5 hours but the team has 4 slightly longer days and then they work one Friday in four to top off the hours. For the rest of that time it’s a 4–day– week. And just having Friday as the day when you do your chores, and you know get that thing from the shop or pick up your dry–cleaning and then having two days of proper rest. You know how many times we have a weekend when half the weekend is taken up by shopping and doing chores and all this other stuff and then you go “it’s Monday again?!?”. So having a 4–day week and a 3 day weekend, we have found is just what kept people really fresh and engaged, and it is a much nicer balance I think. really requires me to be in that mindset. Then in the afternoon (around 1 pm) I get to the office, and when I’m in the office I kind of look the other way. So I would feel it would be unreasonable to do all of that in the morning and be ignoring all the other stuff that is going on, and then turn up at the office and say “I don’t have time right now, I’m busy doing something”. So while at the office I’m just available. It becomes more about me facilitating other people’s work at that stage.
Michael: And the funny thing is that when you set these rules, people respect them... and love them. They know for a fact when you are “in the dark” and when you are “for them” and thus they are happy that at certain point in time they’ll be able to have access to you. Graham: Absolutely. And let’s take this even further. Just look at “the law of diminishing returns in productivity”. You know the original Ford studies about
how to reach the ultimate productivity of employees in car plants. You know all that 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, two days off, let them rest and come back and they will be productive and we’ll count that from there. The reason why you have the weekend is that it is the best sort of cycle to be on. To get you rested and get you ready for Monday. A lot of the studies now are saying that whereas in the old industrial age that law would kick in after 37.5 hours – in the kind of work we are doing right now, when we are using our brains rather then our hands, that law of diminish-
We need to be really ruthless around what you engage in.
Michael: That’s really interesting. For me, another great productivity boost was switching my “working positions” from sitting to standing and back. Every day I work a few hours sitting, a few standing and change them often. I love it. Graham: There is a whole chapter in the book about attention management and a big part of that is the physical, how to manage your brain. Your brain is a tool, it needs management, it needs nutrition and it needs air, and it needs sleep and all these things that are going to make it work, and I think that a big part of this is, what I call “change the view”. People who share an office with me know that I rarely sit still for more than about half an hour or 40 minutes. I go grab an apple, or just put the kettle on... that moving around I think is really the key to keeping you thinking and to freshen up your thinking. Changing the view physically is helpful as well. So maybe having an afternoon
We should really be thinking toward working 4 day a week and having 3 days off. a week where you go work with the really beautiful view outside or where, if I have phone calls I try and batch those things together, so I maybe got an hour and a half for the phone calls and then I can do that when I’m walking along... I think keeping your environment fresh does really help.
Michael: Exactly. To wrap this up, let’s talk about this great misconception that many folks still have – the belief that we can still multi–task. We kind of can, but we shouldn’t. All we should do really is mono–task, just like you say in the book. Graham: We have had this one person on our workshops who was quite resistant to the idea of mono–tasking, saying “I’ve been doing great multi–tasking this whole time”. Well, on our workshops part of what we do is to also sit at people’s actual desks. So I’ve said, let’s look at your computer and when she unlocked the machine, the 1st thing we saw on the screen were 9 different windows from 9 different half finished emails. And I just went “Do you see that? That’s multi– tasking, how many of those are actually finished?”. It is actually about getting really focused on one thing and pushing through whatever that resistance is, pushing through whatever that uncertainty is, and just going “I need to solve it before I move on”. And I think that sometimes we do the stuff that is less important as a distraction to feeling like we are being busy.
Michael: Let’s finish this up with the “hacking” mindset of the ninja. I like to hack my “computer workflow” by working on the iPad only and sending stuff to
these other computers that do things for me. I love the mindset of “hacking processes” and “hacking workflows”. Graham: Sometimes you just have to hack your thinking. Like having a checklist to bring you back to really smart thinking even when your brain isn’t set up to do smart thinking. So I have a daily review checklist and a weekly review checklist that are both set up to guide me through thinking what I have already done so I don’t need to do it again. The same with meetings – how do we make the time that we’re spending in meetings actually useful? So I think the stuff you can do to actually hack your meetings would be things like rather then
“the quiet enjoyment meeting”. It really reminded them of the purpose all they way through. In my book, one of the ninja traits is unorthodoxy, and I think that for me a lot of those hacks are really about just thinking about doing things in a slightly different way and maybe not using that most direct route but finding a little shortcut or finding something that feels like, this is an unusual way, but it actually might work.
Michael: That’s exactly my thinking. Thanks so much for doing this and again, for writing your fantastic ninja–themed productivity book. Where can folks get it? Graham: My new book is called “How to Be a Productivity Ninja?”, it’s available at Amazon, as a physical book as well as kindle and also we are selling the ebook version. So all the sales from the ebook go to a charity called “Read Inter-
Your brain is a tool, it needs management, it needs nutrition and it needs air, and it needs sleep... scheduling the meeting for 30 minutes, schedule it for 23 or 24 and suddenly that creates a different expectation. We’ve worked with a guy who does a lot of facilitation with groups like the UN and fair trade foundations stuff and he was saying that he had this particular meeting where the purpose of the meeting was to review a policy around safe– housing within a governmental organization, and so the title of that meeting was something along the lines “come along and let’s review this safe–housing policy” – even the invitation sounded really dull. As the purpose of this policy actually was to give the tenant in these housing quiet enjoyment. So we just changed the name of the meeting to be called
national”, so the idea is for every time you buy a digital book that at least five real books will land in hands of Tanzanian school kids. a
!!Graham Allcott Graham is the author of “How to be a Productivity Ninja” and the founder of Think Productive, one of the UK’s leading productivity training companies, helping organizations across Europe survive information overload and get more done with less stress.
! Links: Graham on Twitter | Graham’s Think Productive! | Graham’s “Productivity Ninja” book
My car navigation uses GTD! To my astonishment, I discovered recently that my car navigation uses GTD (Getting Things Done®) methodology to perform its tasks!
! @standing – when the car does not
move so it’s time to relax; ! @moving – when the car moves and the driver needs accurate driving directions. What’s really important – my car navigation focuses on one and only one Next Action at a time: providing just the very next hint. It doesn’t try to tell me the whole travel plan.
Each Next Action is determined after successful execution of the previous one. When not everything goes as planned
© Pincasso / Shutterstock
When I don’t follow the directions (it happens from time to time) my car navigation doesn’t complain – it just creates a new plan to reach the destination as efficiently as possible and returns to the Next Action doing loop.
Getting Things Done at its best Isn’t it a GTD pragmatism in its crystal– clear form? I wish we all could perform GTD so easily as my car navigation does it, don’t you? a
By Krzysztof Wysocki
Defining a trip When I define a new trip destination my car navigation immediately puts it on its Someday/Maybe list because there’s nothing more to do about it yet.
Maybe list to the Projects list and determines: ! the Successful Outcome (the car reached the destination); ! the first Next Action (for example “turn left”).
Entrepreneur and GTD enthusiast. Founded his first startup when dinosaurs ruled the
Each Next Action is determined after successful execution of the previous one and put on the @moving context list.
Starting an active project When I decide to drive to one of the already defined trip destinations my car navigation moves it from the Someday/
world. Worked for big, medium and small companies. After discovering GTD in 2003, he now spreads the word as the author of the
popular blog “Biznes bez stresu” and “Zen To
My car navigation uses two “contexts” for its operation:
Done” summer course (in Polish).
! Links: Krzysztof on Twitter | Krzysztof’s Blog
Productive! Magazine â€“ like Wired Magazine now also available as aâ€Żnative iPad app!
...just like your favorite Productivity Application: Nozbe.com
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Akrasia, The Planner Self and Lazy Self
Many of us have a problem following through on our intentions. And it’s more than just a difficulty in predicting our future desires. It’s not like “Gee, I thought I wanted to get in shape but it turned out there was always something really good on TV!” By Daniel Reeves and Jill Renaud
o, even in hindsight, you regret not doing what you said you wanted to do. It’s not even that you’re merely conflicted about what you
want. The trade–off you made – more TV watched, still not in shape – was patently ridiculous. You somehow don’t do what you genuinely want to do.
What is Akrasia? Philosophers back to Plato and Aristotle have a fancy term for this paradoxical
failure of the will: akrasia. It encompasses procrastination, lack of self–control, lack of follow–through, and any kind of addictive behavior. Another way to define akrasia is by generalizing from procrastination to include preproperation as well. Procrastination is the irrational delay of tasks with immediate cost and de-
layed benefit. Preproperation is the irrational not delaying of (overindulgence in) activities with immediate benefit and delayed cost. People who suffer from akrasia are often chronic planners – they say “I will do x, y, and z tomorrow” and instead do a, b, and c. How do we solve this problem? The answer is self–binding, that is, the use of commitment devices. The term commitment device is from game theory and applies to strategic situations. It refers to a way of changing one’s own incentives to make an otherwise empty threat or promise credible. But it’s hard to characterize as ra-
version of yourself just wants to surf the web and/or eat pie. So that’s what you do, when the chips are down. The only way to be immune to lazy– you thumbing its nose at your planned intentions is self–binding with commitment devices. Successful anti–akrasia tricks will involve commitment devices. That’s because, by definition, a commitment device meaningfully constrains your recalcitrant lazy self’s actions. Commitment contracts allow you to make a “law” related to a goal that you want to achieve – if you fail to meet your goal, you must pay a penalty. If you opt for it, the penalty is a monetary fee.
Akrasia encompasses procrastination, lack of self–control, lack of follow–through, and any kind of addictive behavior. tional the use of self–binding with no one but oneself… until you appreciate that there’s in fact more than just one self. The first self is the planner, who wants you to lose weight, clean the house, watch less TV, and be more productive overall. The second self is you in the now, who wants to eat candy, drop their clothes on the ground, watch TV, and laze about. The You that the planner wants to be is often in direct conflict with the lazy “now” You. Why do today what can be put off until tomorrow? So what’s the antidote? There’s an endless stream of advice about how to beat akrasia but most of it misses a very fundamental point that renders it nearly useless: The lazy now self that thwarts your intentions is every bit as smart as your planner self. You can make lists and set rewards and break tasks into small chunks, or plan diets and buy treadmills and establish routines, but mostly your lazy self will see right through all the tricks and just won’t give a damn. That
Since these devices make it possible to discipline your lazy self, your planner self has a chance to reach its goals. Allowing for external punishments of your lazy self, you slowly become the person you want to be. Even your lazy self likely doesn’t want to give money to a stranger just so that they can sit on the couch.
Look at your graph for trends. For example, just because your weight goes up one day doesn’t mean that you’re failing to meet your goal. Daily weight fluctuates. Consistent (daily) measurements allow you to discern a meaningful trend from your data.
Based on the trends, identify what’s working for you and what isn’t. If you see that you may fail to meet your current goal as long as you’re still making progress in the right direction!
Share your progress with a loved one or friend. Having a friend to cheer you on really can help!
Reward yourself if you meet your goal! If you fail to meet your goal, pony up the money to whoever you made the contract with and try again. With the use of commitment devices, the “planner” You can defeat the “lazy” You. a
!!Daniel Reeves Daniel Reeves is the Co-founder of Beeminder.com. He worked
6 steps to thwarting your lazy self:
as a research scientist
at Yahoo on incentive
Make a contract (with one of these tools) that involves something measurable. For example, your weight, distance run or time spent doing certain actions. You need to commit to recording/reporting values for this daily to effectively track your progress.
Graph all of your fancy data so that you can easily visualize your progress. You can use Excel or a pencil and paper or a tracking program.
systems. This makes him a (self-proclaimed-but-he's-kinda-serious) Expert on Akrasia.
!!Jill Renaud Jill Renaud works on the Beeminder support team. She got interested in the company as she wanted to get in better shape.
! Links: Daniel on Twitter | Beeminder’s web site
Kick time management to the curb and focus on your attention management “Time Management” is a twentieth–century term that has far outlived its usefulness. And, the longer people continue to frame their productivity in terms of time management, the less efficient they will be. By Maura Nevel Thomas
ur problem isn’t having enough time to do everything. Instead the challenge is to learn how to regain control of our attention at specific times so that we can achieve our desired outcome: our significant results.
Defend Your Attention How do you feel when you’re having coffee with a friend and she’s checking her email the entire time or texting with someone? Was this the visit you envisioned? Just because you’ve set aside time on your calendar to do something doesn’t mean you will always realize your intended outcome. Your time only matters to the extent that you also apply your attention to the person, task or item in front of you. If you are distracted while completing a task, then your experience or result is likely to fall short of your intended goal. The real secret to defending against the constant demands on your attention is learning control. And the most important place for you to exert control is over your own attention.
When you control your attention, you control your life. Once you’ve mastered attention management, then you can more directly affect your productivity.
External Demands The volume of information in the world and on the web is not the real problem – the real problem is that information is no longer passive: it demands our attention and action in ways that weren’t possible before current technology. We have the world at our fingertips – literally. Whether we’re on the computer, on the phone, on a smartphone or tablet, watching TV or standing in line at the store, there is something blinking, buzzing, talking or beeping at us. When we constantly react to that information, we are working on other people’s priorities, and squeezing out our own. How do we manage the constant distractions? Let’s start with some tips for dealing with one of the biggest external demands – Email: Change your email so the messages don’t automatically download, and only check it a few times per day. The benefits are that it puts you in control over your technology and communication by allowing you to review your message when you decide
to, instead of being interrupted constantly. Now you are also focused on your email when you’ve planned time to react to what you might find in your in–box. Keep your phone on Airplane Mode when you need to concentrate on the task at hand. It works even on the ground and the ringing or downloads and their respective alerts will instantly stop, yet you’ll still have access to many of the tools you may need.
Internal Demands Scientists say juggling email, phone calls and other incoming information can change how we think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information thrown at us at all times. Multitasking is becoming the norm and many people believe “this is just the way it is now”. It doesn’t have to be this way. Multitasking, or, more precisely, cognitive switching, is the act of constantly switching your attention among tasks and thoughts as they arrive. This has three major detrimental effects: 1. Activities take longer 2. The quality of your output is lower 3. It contributes to your feelings of distraction and stress
© James Thew / Shutterstock
The brain needs quiet time to grab hold of an idea and let it ruminate, consciously or subconsciously. Additionally, you aren’t giving yourself time to just sit and think. The brain needs quiet time to grab hold of an idea and let it ruminate, consciously or subconsciously. This idea is at the center of how we learn and grow as people. If information is constantly swirling in our heads then there are constant distractions standing in our way. If you find yourself addicted to the fast–paced, multitasking, chaotic environment that you have created for your-
When you have a system that defends your attention and manages the information coming into your world, you are bound to enjoy the increased productivity that you earn along the way. a
self, you’ll benefit from thinking about how you can begin to change the behaviors that fuel this “addiction”. Limit your external demands and get your responsibilities out of your head where you can see them and therefore effectively manage them. Create lists that are actionable, by being specific about the action required, and organizing by the type of action, such as Projects vs. Next Actions vs. Waiting For. Your Attention is your greatest asset.
!!Maura Nevel Thomas Maura Thomas is the Chief Trainer and founder of RegainYourTime.com, and author of the new book Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention... and regain control of your life.
! Links: Maura on Twitter | Maura’s “Regain Your Time”
Focus... and how to improve it every day
© Viktor Gladkov / Shutterstock
Most productivity authors are fairly consensual about the most important, valuable and limited resource for getting results: Focus! In a world that grows overwhelming each day, some effective strategies may help you improving focus and escaping the permanent attention battle that’s set upon many of us.
By Gonçalo Gil Mata
ocus is a measure of attention, or mental processing power. It refers to how much of your brain capacity is assigned to a certain mental activity. We are more or less focused on something. That something, that brain activity, may have multiple possible origins. It could be processing an outside input entering your sensory channels – for ex-
ample when you are reading this text, and a part of your brain is processing it, giving it meaning, rearranging stuff inside your mind. If an email alert waves at the bottom of your screen – “New message from John Smith!” – at least a part of your focus will address it, even if you continue to read. Your phone ringing or someone calling your name in the room will also demand a focus redistribution, probably more abrupt and effective. There are many other examples. An internal dialogue or concern, for instance
digesting some recent discussion, reviewing what you should or shouldn’t have said. Or computing a decision, evaluating options. Or conducting a complex activity involving muscles like playing a difficult piano piece. Or a biological alert for food or sleep or simply an excruciating tooth pain making it impossible to think properly on anything else. All these would require at least a part of your mental processing power to be assigned to them. They get a part of your focus.
Limited “mental RAM” = limited focus Usually many of these activities happen simultaneously, sharing focus between them. If too many of them fight for our limited mental resources, none will be done well. Like a computer running too many applications, it eventually the job gets done, but painfully slow. In our brain things also slow down if we overload it. Important decisions start taking ages, and simple operations drag themselves all over the place, no matter how hard you try rushing things around you. The walk in the park doesn’t feel so nice, food doesn’t taste so good, and your kid asks you to close your laptop and really give him some decent attention. Simply said, you are overloading your mental RAM and getting “out of focus”. Very likely your outcomes are sub–optimal. Accepting focus limitation improves your choice ability.
It always takes a final leap of faith, even some bravery, to dive into whatever you choose, forgetting everything else for a bit. Focus and Safety Focus depends heavily on safety, a really important human value. Focus on some activity will be higher or lower according to how safe you feel about not doing other activities that need your attention as well. If you suspect it’s not OK to be not doing the others, you’ll just keep an eye on them, internally assessing how dangerous it can be not
Too much emergency communication usually means lack of planning or unclear responsibilities. doing them instead. This possible trap involves new inputs as well, having us confronting the current choice with the new “threat”. It’s a constant surveillance that costs a bunch of your focus, mental energy and even joy! It can have you wasting a whole weekend thinking about how you might be getting some work done, and risk losing on both sides: no work done + no truly relaxed weekend without thinking about it...
Focus top 5 strategies
Improve safety of choice. Keep a good collection of what you are not doing, building trust on each moment’s bet. It always takes a final leap of faith, even some bravery, to dive into whatever you choose, forgetting everything else for a bit.
Pace new inputs evaluation. New demands will weaken the trust of your choice and make you reassess options again. Keep them paced, with some kind of rhythm, like traffic lights, holding them outside your world until you are ready for more. Turn off any kind of email alerts, checking it fewer times and at more regular intervals. New thoughts and concerns will also pop inside your mind, distracting you from full focus. Be attentive and write them down, to be assessed later.
self to disconnect from everything. Be creative: try for example scheduling meetings with yourself in hidden rooms.
Reduce responsiveness. Having unanswered emails, calls, text messages, ..., can intuitively make you feel somehow at fault. Resist it. Go for reliability instead of quickness: answer always, but in a paced fashion, especially for emails. Strongly discourage emergency requests by email (or other “slow–paced” channels), and remember that too much emergency communication usually means lack of planning or unclear responsibilities.
Reduce options. Dramatically reduce options in front of you. Close windows and tabs on your pc. Remove paper documents from your desk. Hide your huge to–do list and make a quick guide for the day with a maximum of 2 or 3 options. Be proactively in charge of narrowing focus options towards what you really want to accomplish. a
!!Gonçalo Gil Mata Gonçalo Gil Mata is an executive coach, speaker and author. Dedicated to enhancing top performance
Have a “tunnel mode”. Frequent interruptions and focus redistribution may limit your focus depth. Use at least a part of your day to deep– focus high–value activities. Allow your-
with individuals and teams, he bases his methodologies in neuroscience investigation. He's the founder of Mind4Time.
! Links: Gonçalo on Facebook | Gonçalo’s Website
Can Yoga Make You More W Productive?
By Sinead Mac Manus
hen I tell people that I co– wrote a book on business and yoga I get one of two reactions. The first, from the non–yogis is an understandable one thinking that the book is about doing a yoga class at work to help unwind and be less stressed. But increasingly I am finding the second reaction is broader than this as many professionals are seeing their yoga and meditation practice having a direct, positive impact on their work. Yoga is much more than throwing some pretty shapes on a mat. At its heart, it is a deeply practical philosophy for living a better life and its principles and practices can help those of us living busy 24/7 connected lives to be more resilient, focused and positive in the workplace. Let’s take a look at some of the ways yoga can help us be more productive and happy at work:
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Attention and Focus
Here in the West we sometimes think of yoga as being for tofu–eating, bendy people, not us busy professionals. But can the practice and ideas of yoga help us be more productive in our work?
The essence of yoga is bringing our attention to our breath. When our attention wanders off the breath, and off the mat, into what we are having for lunch, we gently bring our focus back. Over the 11 years I have been practicing yoga, this skill of bringing focus back to what I am doing over and over has meant that I am able to work in a much more focused way than many. Yes I still get distracted by emails, social media and other tasks, but now I am able to recognize these distractions quicker and gently bring my focus back to my Most Important Tasks. Try this for yourself today. Start to notice the pull towards your inbox or your social media feeds. This is the neurotransmitter dopamine tricking you into thinking there is exciting things within that you can’t miss. When you start
to feel this urge, take three deep belly breaths. The urge will diminish and you can get back to work.
The Power of Ritual Last year, at a yoga retreat in the Kent countryside, I met an ex–Zen Buddhist monk. Quietly spoken, he told me of his time in monasteries in Japan, where the elaborate tea rituals played an important part in the monks daily meditation. Ritual and routine are important in our yoga practice too. By practicing yoga we become more disciplined; by discipline, it becomes easier to practice yoga. Just as the rituals and routines of getting on the mat or the meditation cushion are a great way of instilling new habits into our life, so are they useful in a work context. I use a series of morning, working and evening rituals to focus my day, and ingrain positive working practices. The most important to me, is my morning ritual. Without fail every morning – before I open the computer and start work – I write down my one to three Most Important Tasks that I wish to achieve that day. I pick the one with the highest priority and work on that uninterrupted for around 90 minutes. My phone stays on silent. I don’t open my email account. I don’t engage in social media. I focus on the task and execute it. After around 90 minutes, it’s time for a break. This forms another important ritual. Tea and Twitter time! A digital treat before returning to my priorities for the day. What rituals can you build into your work day?
Effective Action and Quiet Reflection In the Western world, many yoga classes focus solely on the asanas or postures that make up the physical practice of yoga. However, without the aspects of pranayama (breathing practices), and the balance of action and reflection that make up a fuller engagement, our yo-
Don’t start your week, or your day, without a clear idea of what you want to achieve. ga can become little more than a keep fit class. It’s the same in our working practice. How do you respond when people ask you how work is? For most of us the word “busy!”, is our first response. In our 24/7 culture, we wear our busyness as a badge of honor. We spend most, if not all, of our working day being “busy” – focused on action and delivery, leaving little or no time for “quiet reflection”. However, it is in these moments of quiet reflection that our best ideas for “effective action”, can come to us. I think there is a real distinction between filling your working hours with unimportant work, and actually doing work that is important to you and your business. Research has shown that workers can spend up to four hours a day on email alone. Is this a good use of your time? Social media can also be a huge time–suck in our working and personal lives. Are you actually seeing a value in the connections you are making online, or are you just plugging away for the sake of it?
We may be “busy” but are we actually achieving anything? How can we ensure that we make time in our day for “quiet reflection”? Many successful business people I follow have embraced meditation as a tool for having a daily practice of quiet reflection, but this perhaps is not for everyone. Instead, just taking the time to stop and reflect during your day can provide new insights. Here are some ideas on how we can stop the “busywork”:
Be clear on your priorities. Don’t start your week, or your day, without a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Spend some time on Friday evening, or Monday morning, taking a strategic look at your to– do list and decide on your focus areas for the week.
Reduce first, then eliminate. Focus on reducing and eliminating repetitive busywork tasks like checking your email every 10 minutes or reading newsletters or RSS feeds that aren’t adding value. Take the time to actively unsubscribe; remember you have to invest your attention to reclaim your attention.
Question yourself. Question yourself at regular stages during the day. Go beyond asking yourself, “Am I being productive or just active?”, and ask yourself, “Am I doing Great Work or just Busywork?”. Why not set a timer to chime every hour, and take a minute to refocus, refresh and recalibrate. a
!!Sinead Mac Manus Sinead is a digital wellbeing and productivity expert, specializing in helping busy people work better using yoga and mindfulness. Her new book The Business Yogi: How to be Happy at Work is out now in paperback, Kindle or PDF.
! Links: Sinead on Twitter | Sinead’s Website
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Power of Unschedule and Pomodoro Technique
I’ve written time and time again on my blog about how I love the Pomodoro Technique (do something for 25 minutes and take a 5–minute break) and recently, after reading “The Now Habit” I love the concept of an Unschedule calendar. In this post I’ll show you how they work together beautifully to help me improve and get things done. 18
By Michael Sliwinski
The basic concepts of “Unschedule” calendar:
If I slacked off, I use the BLACK color and write honestly what I’ve been doing... or not doing.
! You divide your calendar into 30–min-
ute–slots and leave them blank. ! You put “meetings” and all the calen-
dar–like events that have to happen at certain time (I use “red” color for this) ! You put cool things you want to do (like training, watching youtube... small rewards you want to have – the cool stuff – I use “red” or “orange” for this) ! You leave everything else blank and fill it out once you’ve done with your next half–an–hour slot and you “check in” what you’ve done in the last half an hour. So the concept is really cool – you only schedule the “cool stuff” and the “must–happen” stuff. And you fill out the blanks as they go. This way you know how many “blanks” you have until next “must–be” thing happens and you can “schedule rewards” for yourself, like watching some cool youtube videos for 30 minutes or reading. Or gym.
You only schedule the “cool stuff” and the “must– happen” stuff. And you fill out the blanks as they go. Good rule of thumb: Schedule 2 hours of work and 30 minutes of “reward” – meaning – put a “reward” or “meeting” every 2 hours and leave the rest blank.
Your work–day won’t be boring and you’ll get a lot more done in the 2–hour blocks you have.
The Pomodoro Techinque fits nicely with it This fits perfectly as this technique means 25 minutes of “focused” work and 5 minutes of resting. I normally use a traditional “kitchen timer” as I like the “old–school” touch it brings to my home office.
When you fall... you dust off every 30 minutes The cool thing of the Unschedule is that even if I have a “slower slot” of time and I put “nothing” in black, I can dust off and try again in the next half–an–hour slot. I just don’t have hours of a slow day anymore, because one view of my Unschedule calendar motivates me to shake things up and start getting things done. Give it a try, you’ll love it. Pomodoro and Unschedule work great together! a
Together these techniques make me more productive... and fit! Finally I manage to schedule “gym time” which was very hard for me before (I’m busy all of the time)... I just know I get to work 2 more hours and then I need to go to the gym, or run. Finally I’m actually doing workouts every single day. Same goes to reading. Apart from audio– reading (while running) I’m also catching up with blogs and old–school books as I schedule my reading time.
I always can dust off and try again in the next half–an–hour slot.
My work is more focused I actually print an Unschedule calendar every week and put it on the wall and use a ballpoint pen in different colors to fill it up. This way I can see the blanks, I can see when I slack off... and when I had a great and productive day... and how much time I really have ahead of me each day. Once half an hour is gone and I worked on something I put it in one or two words in BLUE color. If I slacked off, I use the BLACK color and write honestly what I’ve been doing... or not doing.
!!Michael Sliwinski Michael Sliwinski is your chief editor of the Productive! Magazine and a host of the magazine’s Productive! Show. Every day he’s trying to help people get more done with his web application Nozbe – also available as a native desktop app for Windows and Mac as well as mobile app for the iPhone, iPad and Android.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog | Nozbe – Simply Get It Done!
Productive! Show Videos
Double your productivity, Remember people and become a ninja As always, here are the three new (and very short) Productive! Show videos to help, inspire, and motivate you to get even more done.
By Michael Sliwinski
2xProductivity Thanks to using 2 monitor screens you can easily double your productivity.
Scanning Business Cards How I use my computer’s built-in camera to scan business cards and ensure I’d never forget anyone again.
Graham Allcott Interview Full, 15–minute interview with this issue’s star Graham Allcott where he explains the path to being a “Productivity Ninja” – enjoy!
! Links: Browse all the past episodes of the Productive! Magazine Show
Why Killing Time Isn’t a Sin I recently read a travel tip from someone who reminds himself that “killing time is a sin”, and so makes the most use of every bit of downtime, even on an airplane: “read a good book, learn a new language with Rosetta Stone, write to my friends around the world who haven’t heard from me in too long”. By Leo Babauta
have no objections to reading books, learning languages, or writing to friends. It’s the idea that downtime must be put to efficient use that I disagree with. While I used to agree with it completely, these days I take a completely different approach.
Life is for living, not productivity There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the minute they awake. I know because not too long ago I was one of these folks. Got time on the train or plane? If you’re not doing work, maybe you can be enriching yourself by learning something. Got time before a meeting starts? Organize your to–do list, send off some
emails, write some notes on a project you’re working on. Driving? Why not make some phone calls or tell Siri to add a bunch of stuff to your calendar? Why not listen to a self–help audiobook? Watching TV with the family? You can also be answering emails, doing sit–ups, stretching. Having lunch with a friend? Maybe you can talk business to make it a productive meeting. This is the mindset that we’re supposed to have. Every minute counts, because time’s a–wasting. The clock is ticking. The sands of the hourglass are spilling. I used to feel this way, but now I see things a bit differently.
Is this what our lives are to be? A non– stop stream of productive tasks? A life– long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine? What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals. What about freedom? Freedom from being tied to a job, from having to improve yourself every single minute, from the dreariness of never–ending work? Killing time isn’t a sin – it’s a misnomer. We’ve framed the question entirely wrong. It’s not a matter of “killing” time, but of enjoying it. If we ask ourselves instead, “How can I best enjoy this moment?”, then the entire proposition is reframed. Now we might spend this moment working if that work brings us joy. But we might also spend it relaxing, doing nothing, feeling the breeze on the nape of our neck, losing ourselves in conversation with a cherished friend, snuggling under the covers with a lover. This is life. A life of joy, of wonderfulness. a
Is This What Life Is To Be? It might seem smart and productive to not let a single minute go to waste (they’re precious, after all), but let’s take a step back to look at the big picture.
!!Leo Babauta Leo Babauta lives in San Francisco and is married with six kids. He’s a writer and a
There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the minute they awake.
runner and a vegetarian and he loves writing blogs: “Zen Habits” and “Minimalism”. He’s a published author of a bestselling book “Power of Less”.
! Links: Leo on Twitter | Leo’s Blog “Zen Habits” | Leo’s Blog “Minimalist”
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