This blog post is a bit different from what I would normally ever publicly write about. I felt it might be interesting to share because over the past few months I’ve had a few identical conversations about productivity and focus with people at Imaginet.
I thought I would share one of my practices that has really helped me become more productive, and more importantly, productive in the right areas and on the right things.
I have a very short attention span (I blame MTV). Yet, early in my career, when I was writing code, my extremely short attention span didn’t get in my way. I was able to focus for hours and hours losing myself in code. I found the same to be true when I wrote articles and books – I could write for hours and hours completely losing myself and everything around me. What a GREAT feeling! I call it “The Zone” – a feeling where time goes away – there is perfect clarity – you don’t feel hungry, tired, thirsty or anything. Interruptions are death to The Zone – as it would take me anywhere from 10-15 minutes to get into that state of mind.
There has been lots of studies on this state. Some call it “The Zone” some call it “Flow” – some say this is the secret to happiness such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (YIKES – and I thought _my_ last name was hard to pronounce).
Working Hard, Not Seeing the Outcomes
It seemed, however, that in all other areas of work and life, I had an “event driven” model – responding to the constant stimulus around me (email, meetings, hallway conversations, ideas, etc). I did a LOT of “stuff” during the week – I worked my ass off. I struggled to find time for my family, myself, and yet I felt like every day was like running on a treadmill – I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was working super hard but not producing results. When I stopped writing (code or words) I found that I was never in the zone. And if flow is linked to happiness – I was never very happy either.
Getting S#!T Done
I poured myself into trying to find out how to take control of this. I have read dozens of books on productivity – however, two stand out: The Four Hour Work Week and The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. (There is another influence here.. but I’ll cover that in another blog post).
Let me distill all of this down into a few rules:
- Multitasking is horrible – it is bad – it will kill you and prevent you from achieving anything.
- Focus is key – the opposite of focus is bad
- Best way to focus is to have a challenge, not an objective
- Embrace the fact that work and life are intricately intertwined
- Being productive isn’t about time management – it is about energy management
- You must have rituals to sustain good habits that lead to amazing productivity
- Think BIG and long-term, work backwards
From this I created 2 forms in PowerPoint to help me focus.
Long Term Planning
The first one I use to create a long term vision for the year (yet, I look at it and update it every quarter).
The second I use weekly (well, most weeks).
I’ve attached the PDF versions of these sheets for you to see and use if you like.
Here is how I use them.
I print them off. Yes, I could fill these out electronically, however, when I’m on my computer there is Lync, Email, Google, and a whole bunch of other sparkly things that distract me.
I fill them out away from a computer and all other electronics. When I tried to use these (and other) tools in their digital form I found that I paid more attention to the technology than planning. I am also easily distracted and found that I would end up on Facebook or Google News half way through planning.
I schedule planning in my calendar. I’m horrible at creating and maintaining habits. I’m really good at attending meetings though. I had to create meetings for myself to ensure to enforce these habits (ironically, Becky does this for the leadership team – she had to schedule a “meeting with ourselves” each Friday to ensure that each person on the leadership team got time to fill out our Rhythm status).
I have a meeting with myself on the following schedule:
- Sunday evenings (30 minutes): To think about the week ahead (Most important)
- Every morning(10 minutes): To think about the day
- Once a month(30 minutes): To review my long term goals
- Once a quarter(30 minutes): To review and adjust my long term thinking
- Once a year(A few hours and some scotch): To set aside time for me to plan again
These practices are very similar to practices I try to employ at a team level.
- Scrum: Gives us rituals to plan, review and communicate – however, more importantly to focus and “chunk” our end goals into bite sized pieces
- Rhythm Method that we use at Imaginet is almost identical to this – inspired by the Rockefeller Habits book. Rituals, long term focus, short term execution – all key ingredients to this
- Lean and Kanban: Limit work in progress (aka… focus), limit waste, focus on value production
Establishing the Habit is Hard
These worksheets won’t really help you be more productive. You may need none of this. You may need to create a system for yourself like I did (rather than simply adopt one). I am always _tweeking_ this model, however, the key to all of this is to give yourself time to thinking long term as well as short term and make sure that everything is aligned.