I was quite amused when my parents asked me how do you get all this stuff done? I was even more amused (and actually initially disregarded it as a joke) when they asked me to write a short document explaining my methods. Apparently there’s secret to how I juggle my activities, and people want to hear it.
This got me thinking a little bit about what motivates me to pursue my goals. Other methods, such as those suggested by the Ultimate Productivity Blog (which teaches you nothing but how to be a workaholic), or perhaps David Allen‘s famous GTD (Getting Things Done) which promotes a complex hierarchy of life planning techniques, or even the whimsical Good Fucking Design Advice-esque techniques of getting over creative blocks (of which no other systematic approach can cure) – well, none seem to be the answer.
I find they aren’t the answer because each requires the individual to mould themselves around a system. Some may find it easy and natural to mould around that system, but there will come a point when that system is inappropriate. So I thought about what I did instead, and put together a list of my answers. Perhaps they help.
I put this first simply because it’s obvious and true. Nobody wants to be unhappy, and as a result we always do things better when we’re happy. If you are happy throughout the day, you will accomplish more with that day.
Be proud of what you do.
It doesn’t make sense to do things you aren’t proud of doing. I find that by only doing the things which I’m proud of, that answers the questions of “why am I doing this” and “is it worth it” and all of those other questions we ask when we don’t feel motivated enough to do something. This also makes you happy working on what you need to do.
Don’t look at the time.
This may seem a little counter-intuitive. Surely people who have busy lives run by the clock? I disagree with this. I have a binary watch, which makes checking the time fashionably inconvenient, and half the time (well, we can never know for sure!) I forget where I last put my watch anyway.
The logic is simple. There is no such thing as not enough time to fit everything into 24 hours. Usually the problem is that we’re not motivated enough on a task to get it done proficiently. As a result, we find ways to distract ourselves, delay, and worry about unnecessary details rather than simply sitting down and actually enjoying the task for what it is, then proudly finishing it. When you’re happy and proud of what you do, you’re too busy having fun doing things until you don’t have to worry about the time any more – things get done!
Excuses are silly.
I find that we all love to fill in the blanks to this sentence “I need _____ before I can _____“. From the downright stereotypical of “I need my coffee before I start my day” to “I need to wait for person X’s input before I do Y” or even “I need to finish task X before I can be happy and stop worrying“. This isn’t bad per se – it’s something natural that we all do and helps keep us sane because it describes how our world works in the simple terms of X causes Y. I myself say “I need fuel before I can work happily” (fuel = food).
However, it’s good to realise that sometimes our understanding of X causes Y does not necessarily imply that Y requires X. So whenever we notice something of this X->Y structure, it’s good to question whether X is really a prerequisite or simply just an excuse we’ve made up. Normally it is the latter. If it isn’t, then stop worrying about it- which brings me to my next point.
Stop planning in your head.
I tend to stress when I plan in my head. I think it’s because I’m constantly repeating a whole list of things that have to be done. This can be overwhelming. Find a system that works for you to take this strain off your head. For instance, get a piece of paper and jot down a to-do list for the day, choose a task, then forget about about the rest of the items.
I personally use a system called RememberTheMilk (discovered back in 2009). I like it because it’s easy to use, has a sane priority ranking (high/medium/low), and is very accessible – it works on all phones, as a widget on my computer, and even via command line.
What I do is whenever I have a brief flash something I want to do pop into my head, I immediately dump it on my RTM list so I can forget about it. Anything with a deadline gets rewarded top priority, anything without a deadline medium priority, and anything long-term or as a passing fancy as low priority. I right now usually have around 60 tasks at any one time. Each task should be able to be completed within a day. Anything longer and it has to be broken down, unless it’s a long-term goal. Every morning I pick a few tasks I want to do for the day, put them in a separate list, then forget about the rest.
Right now I’ve got “build an oil lantern” in my low priority list. I’ve no idea how it got there – I guess one day I was inspired to make a lantern. Maybe one day I shall :)
If you use a system, use it. If not, scrap it.
People make systems and techniques to solve productivity problems. Often the problem isn’t with the system, buut instead that the person isn’t disciplined enough to use the system effectively. For example, some people can’t make using to-do lists a habit – perhaps because it isn’t their nature.
I find it’s important not to get too attached and wrapped up in the system – it makes you dependent and inflexible. This is why I moved towards the be happy, be proud, and enjoy what you do technique, because it makes sense and it’s impossible to go wrong with it no matter what happens to disrupt your schedule throughout your day.
Tackling those creative blocks
I don’t think I have any thing special that I do. The hardest challenge when getting things done seems to be getting over creativity blocks. They can easily frustrate you and there isn’t a set way to solve it. I have no solution either, but in general when I’m happy I get over it, and when I realise I’m not progressing anywhere, I hop over to do something else. Sometimes some fresh air and chocolate is good for my creative issues.
In a nutshell
Reading over this post, I realise I could delete everything in it apart from the first point of being happy. It’s probably not something people place a lot of emphasis on when looking a techniques of getting things done, but it should be.