I have just recently started a new job that I am excited about but it only took me three days to forget a cardinal rule of working in a team, especially when you are new: communicate early and often to build trust.Read More
Recently that there seems to be an increasing culture in the world that promotes verbally and emotionally attacking people who change their mind. But changing your mind means you have learned something new. You have some new facts, data, experiences, or opinion that challenges your previous view so strongly that you are willing to change it...Read More
OTAD (One task a day) is another productivity tip that is a MUST-HAVE for anyone busting their arse on a side project. Whether you are a writer, painter, entrepreneur, singer, musician, programmer, or just planning a holiday, building a treehouse, learning to cook, renovating your house, or some other project in your life. OTAD will help youRead More
New year's resolutions do not work. In fact, wide sweeping resolutions of any kind are destined to fail because they create a pressure for perfection. There is middle ground for resolutions which makes them more likely to fail.Read More
Writer's block is just a lame excuse. To claim writer's block is to shift the blame, to avoid owning the problem. Something else, some unseen and uncontrollable force, is blocking you. If only that block was removed then writing would be so easy! Right?
Often we see things, mostly the behaviour of other people, and we cannot explain it. It seems odd, it doesn't make sense, and we feel frustrated because it doesn't mesh with our own view or ideas. When we talk about these things, when we see someone do something we don't understand, it is common to say they did it for no apparent reason.Read More
After several months of writing effort, squeezed in whenever I had a few spare minutes, it is with great pride that I can say that I have completed the first draft of a screenplay. It is also with great pride that I can say it is completely and utterly terrible...Read More
Everything in life has a series of choices you need to make in order to progress and every decisive moment in can seem like a make-or-break moment, a point in time where you need to make a critical decision that shapes the future, a time where you feel that you must make the 'right' decision...Read More
Time-wasting, procrastination, and a general sense of under achievement are themes that are becoming increasingly common across society. As we move further into an environment that is always “connected”, where we are always within reach of a computer or a smartphone, we are becoming less productive and less happy. The main reason for this is that our usage of time has changed. We feel that we do not have enough time set aside just for ourselves, to do what makes us happy as individuals, and then when we do finally get some “spare time” (I really dislike that phrase) we fritter it away on useless, unproductive, time-wasters.
It is not by accident that two of my most popular articles of all time are on this exact topic: Sometimes We All Need Some Alone Time and The Gentle Art of Not Wasting Time. People want more time and they want to be more productive.
I cannot give you more time in a physical sense but I can show you how to stop wasting your time and start using it in a more productive way. Here are my 3 simple ways to stop wasting time.
1. Set Goals
Goals are a fantastic way to get yourself focussed and achieving more in your life. They guide your everyday decisions, determine what you do with your spare time, and they provide a massive sense of satisfaction when you manage to achieve one.
The biggest trick to setting goals is to make them quantifiable. Your progress and ultimate fulfilment of the goal depends on you being able to measure it. If you cannot measure it then how will you know when you are finished?
But measurable does not necessarily mean that all goals have to be number-based. A yes/no goal is still measurable because you either achieve it or you don’t. As long as there is a clear end-state to your goal then you will be more likely to reach it.
Tips for setting goals:
- Set often, review often - I set my new goals, and officially review past goals, on the 1st of every month. This allows me to see what I managed to achieve last month and plan better for the current month. It also provides the opportunity to push myself by setting recurring goals higher so that I am constantly improving.
- Track progress - I track progress in a spreadsheet which tells me the percentage of progress complete for each task. Every time I do an action associated with a goal I update the spreadsheet to reflect it. It automatically tells me how much of that goal I’ve completed and whether or not that is on-track for the month. Yes, I’m THAT nerdy.
- Small chunks - I set most goals to last 1 month only. If I have a goal that will take significantly longer then I record that under “ambitions”. Then each month I pick some tasks that I can set as measurable goals to work towards those ambitions.
2. Use Todo Lists
Todo lists are the obvious next step. Once you have a set of goals that you are working towards you need to break it down into smaller tasks that you can complete during your day to start building momentum.
That’s what lists are really for. Setting goals is a great thing to do and it provides an initial burst of positive energy but if you do not take regular steps towards your goals then they will feel unattainable. Lists are used to take that initial motivation and provide regular positive reinforcement.
The best way to use lists is on a daily basis. Each day starts with a new list that contains everything you would like to get done in that day. If you didn’t complete a task from yesterday then bring it forward onto today’s list. There are no “rules”. It’s just a list of actions.
As you complete each action you then cross it off your list, put a tick next to it, or whatever else makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, because feeling that way is the real point of having a list. Each time you finish a task you get an immediate jolt of satisfactions and happiness that motivates you to keep going. That is how goals get fulfilled.
Tips for using todo lists:
- New list every day - I write a new todo list out every day. This is done either the first thing after waking up or, when I have been particularly productive, just before I go to bed the night before. I don’t spend too much time on it here (5-10 minutes) as I just want to get a basic plan for the day.
- Carry it everywhere - My todo list is now in the form of half an index card cut down to fit in my wallet. It goes everywhere with me. This allows me to have a constant reminder about what I wanted to achieve for the day, get that immediate feedback loop going when I finish something and can cross it off, and it means I can flexible. If my availability for the day drastically changes then I can update my list to remove/add tasks that I expect to complete.
- Each day is different - I plan differently each day and I only build a todo list based on how much time I will have to work towards my goals for that particular day. I make sure my todo list reflects my actual day because there is nothing more unsatisfying than ending a day with a todo list filled with incomplete actions.
3. Create a routine
Routines are the mechanism to ensure you are crossing things off your todo list and moving towards your goals. They are critical for maximising your productivity and helping push through the inevitable periods where progress feels that it has stagnated.
By creating a solid and persistent routine around your goals you force yourself into constant action. If you can get into a positive routine of productivity then you are guaranteed progress towards your goals.
Turning a routine into an ingrained habit can take about 4 weeks so no matter what the routine is I recommend committing to it for at least month. It doesn’t matter if you want to go to the gym 3 days per week, spend more time on your start-up business, or just improve your fake tan. You need to commit to doing it consistently for a month.
Tips for creating routines:
- Go daily - I find daily routines easier to maintain and quicker for them to become part of our everyday habits. If I have a routine that requires a day off then I still try to fill that timeslot each day with related activities to enforce the ritual. For example, when creating a new gym ritual I will use my rest days to read up on what's new in the world of fitness.
- Pick your best times - I create my routines for the times of the day that give them the best chance of succeeding. When it comes to writing I am at my creative and productive best early in the morning so now I get up early and I write for an hour. Because morning is my most productive time I have noticed a dramatic increase in my output which means I am way more likely to maintain the early-rising routine into the future.
- Finish your tasks - When I am creating a routine I make that time solely about being productive towards my goals. The positive feeling of crossing something off your todo list can be almost addictive, and doing it every single day means the routine is way more likely to become habitual.
There you have it. That’s 3 simple ways to stop wasting time and start being productive. Now I’m wondering, what do other productivity-fanatics like me do to help them stay focussed and achieve more in life?
Life requires energy. Just like moving a car across the road, or a plane through the sky, our actions in daily life require energy to achieve any momentum. We need energy to run our daily lives, to perform actions, and to make changes. We need energy to meet deadlines, work towards our goals, and achieve success. Simply put, we need energy to live. But often we use the wrong type of energy. We take the easy (but ultimately flawed) path of tapping into negative energy sources because it can provide instant results. Instant results come at a price though and that price is long-term unhappiness. To overcome this we need to shift our focus. We need to develop the ability harness the positive energy sources in our lives because these come with a much set of side-effects: happiness, fulfilment, and success.
Negative Energy Sources
Negative energy is energy derived from stress, anger, anxiety, hate, and fear. These energy sources provide a quick burst of explosive energy which can be useful in certain situations, like running from pack of ravenous lions. In obvious fight-or-flight examples the usage of negative energy is simply a survival mechanism but do we have a need for such a mechanism in our current society? I don’t know about you but my encounters with ravenous lions (or any creature that is about to eat me) have had a pretty low incidence across my entire life. Zero.
Our society has progressed since simple fight-or-flight times and we no longer experience life-threatening situations on a daily basis. So without the foreshadow of possible death hanging over our heads you’d think we would all be happily smiling and laughing while we skip around town singing Kylie Minogue‘s “I should be so lucky”.
Instead we create other means to justify accessing negative energy sources. Maybe it’s a tight deadline at work, or a disagreement in a relationship, or an upcoming presentation to the board directors. These are not exactly dangerous situations (i.e. they do not have a direct link to our possible death) but we still tend to tap into the negative energy wells to power these activities.
Tapping into the negative energy sources can become the default choice for many because these energy wells typically lie just beneath the surface and are easy to access. It’s like drilling for oil when we know that we have an oil reservoir sitting just under our backyard. We know it’s there, we know how to access it, and we know it will provide a quick burst of energy. We’d be silly not to tap it right?
But this is completely the wrong way to look at it. Just because something is easy doesn’t make it right and using negative energy sources actually has a raft of negative side-effects on our lives.
Negative energy sources are “dirty” energy sources. The side-effect of using them is that they pollute the surrounding environment, degrading it, and making it unusable for anything else. And in this metaphor that environment is our life.
By tapping into these energy wells we release the latent negative energy that is stored beneath the surface. Some of it gets burned up, providing us with a short-term burst of fuel, but more of it seeps out through every nook and crevice and begins to infect our life. Before we know it, the wonderful garden that we had worked so hard on is dying and we are left with a barren plot where nothing can grow.
Worse still is that once we start tapping into negative energy it becomes highly addictive. The nature of this energy is that it provides a quick-burning explosive release fuel. It sustains us in the short-term but after the initial "high" the effects rapidly wear off and we are left with a conundrum. We could spend time seeking alternative energy sources but we already know exactly where the negative energy wells are and we know exactly how to tap them. So we tap it again. We burn more negative energy, we get the explosive “high”, and we achieve short-term goals. It’s pretty easy to see why this becomes addictive.
But this addiction is very near-sighted. It only focuses on achieving short-term and immediate goals and does nothing for our long-term ambitions. That is why we need to use positive energy sources.
Positive Energy Sources
Positive energy sources are things like happiness, contentment, excitement, love, and these sources produce a slower, longer form of sustainable energy when compared to the quick burst that negative energy provides.
It is this slow-release feature that makes tapping into positive energy wells so much harder, psychologically speaking. There are no quick-fix results with this energy. It does not provide instant gratification and reinforcement of our decisions. Choosing positive energy sources is a long term commitment.
Because of this the initial process of tapping into a positive energy well will seem so much harder. If negative energy is like the oil reservoir lying just beneath the surface then positive energy is like solar power. The sun exists and we know that we can technically derive energy from it but doing so takes up a lot of time, effort, and money. And the initial energy returns always feel diminished in comparison to this upfront cost.
That is exactly what tapping into positive energy is all about. Setting it up initially is a lot of work and the immediate results are not in proportion to this effort. The results will seem weak when compared to the explosive fuel that comes from negative sources but the key difference is that positive energy sources are permanent. They provide positive energy forever.
With negative sources we are constantly going back to the well to get that short burst of energy. But eventually the well dries up and we have to move on and find another negative energy source and restart the whole process. We tap it, we get addicted to the short-term burst, we constantly tap the well until it dries up and then we move on. Ad infinitum.
This is where we start seeing the true benefits of positive energy sources. Once we have gone through the initial setup we do not have to do anything else every again. We will just receive a constant stream of long-lasting positive energy.
The other benefit of this positive kind of energy is that we can easily store it to build a backup supply of energy. Each day we tap into positive sources our storage capacity of positive energy increases. This is what people talk about when describing a happy person as “bursting with energy”. Those people have managed to build up such a strong storage of positive energy that, when compared to others, it seems like happiness is just flowing out of them.
And that’s not the only reason we store positive energy. On bad days we can use our backup of positive energy to sustain our daily life. Instead of being forced to look elsewhere for energy we have a reliable and constant stream just waiting to be used. Or, in those times that we face negative situations we now have the choice to “burn” our positive energy to provide the quick solution needed rather than having to tap the negative well. Solving negative problems with positive energy? Now we’re talking!
Finally, there is one more benefit to using positive energy sources – what it does to our surrounding environment (i.e. our entire life). Positive energy sources are clean. They are our natural state and they promote a happy and healthy attitude in our lives. They provide long-term, long-lasting, slow-release energy and they do so with a relatively small upfront “cost”. It does not make sense to choose anything else to power our lives.
Think about the energy sources you use in your life. Are they negative or positive? Do you feel like you are running from one stressful situation to the next with no rest? Or are you in a state of blissful happiness where you are just bursting with positive energy? More importantly, which one would you rather be?