Want a Productive Day: Get 12 Hours Out of 8 (Unusual Ways)
To have a productive day, do things differently for once. Experiment. Don’t assume that all the tried and true techniques are always right. Challenge your time assumptions.
We are all so familiar with the “normal” way to think of time. I simply wanted to push your mental envelope, and hopefully, in doing so, help you to reposition yourself—if only a little—with the force we call time. In our exploration of time, admittedly, some of what I share with you is a little tongue-in-cheek. That was done intentionally to make you rethink time.
- To Have a Productive Day, Take Care of Your Human Needs. Do the first thing on your “to be” list. You are a human, not a machine. Everybody will die with a “to do” and a “to be” list—make sure your “to be” list is complete and your “to do” list is not. In other words, die being a person you can be proud of being, and die in the middle of an unfinished project. Sometimes to be an effective human being you need to be an inefficient machine.
- To Have a Productive Day, Avoid Isolation.
Seriously, the principle here is: avoid isolation. Isolation breeds panic. The more you think about the problem, the bigger it gets. And sometimes the more you work on it, the worse it gets. Ever been unproductive because something kept nagging at you in the back of your brain? Sometimes “giving in” to a conversation to talk about the “nagging” allows you to let it go. Remember when you were a kid all by yourself in a dark room with scary shadows? The longer you were there, the bigger the monsters got. Our own mind left solely to its own mental loops, loses objectivity. Get out, socialize, swap stories, and listen to other’s versions. You’ll get closure and then you can get back to work and get results.
- To Have a Productive Day, Follow your heart, your head, and your gut. And then make sure your feet do it. Not all right paths, procedures, or points come from outside information. Sometimes, they come from inside. As an example, many inventors have gotten their breakthrough that saved them years of work in a dream. The man that discovered the benzene ring dreamed of a snake swallowing its tail; and thus, he realized that the benzene molecule was a ring. One dream, one insight, one gut-level intuition can save you enormous amounts of time because it prevents you from wrong turns, wrong paths, and wrong ideas. Allow for your heart and your head and your guts to speak, but don’t depend on them. Depend on your feet. Your heart, head, and guts will speak to you as your feet move.
- To Have a Productive Day, find your Rhythm and Flow. (Follow Your Fit™)
Your pace isn’t someone else’s pace. Flow will create more things for you than imitation. Some rivers splash, some meander, some flow. Some songs are written to have four beats/minute, some to have three beats/ minute, and some to have two beats/minute. Each is doing what it is supposed to do at its own pace. And each makes great music. You aren’t someone else.
While I prefer to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I have a friend who prefers to take the stairs—one step at a time. She slowly, quietly, methodically, deliberately climbs each step—one right after the other……never even taking two at once. Sometimes this method proves much better. While I am picking myself up off the asphalt and dragging myself back to my original flying perch, she is still just step, step, stepping her way onward to her final goal.
Other times, a quick response (quick leap) is needed. And I am in a much better position to respond. After all, I’m already on the perch, I already have the cape, and I already have way more experience in the fly-flop method than she. This gives me a decided advantage in response time.
So, if you are a racehorse who spends your time snorting and pawing the ground when things slow down too much if you must constantly find or create new challenges, and if you get bored easily, that’s your pace. So be it. If you are the big, strong, methodical draft horse who loves precision, order, and 4/4 time in all things, so be it. Find your own pace and rhythm. That is where your own personal “flow” will be. Find and follow that flow.
- To Have a Productive Day, Make sure you do all the low-priority items first. This has the added value of creating pressure for those all-important tasks—an added benefit that is sure to help provide that all-too-needed motivation. Seriously, when was the last time an Olympic athlete didn’t warm up before his/her event? Ever heard the time management axiom, “Do the hardest task first?” I do know some people that this axiom works for them, but I also know of many for whom it doesn’t work. They need to “warm up” first—sometimes that means doing low-priority tasks, sometimes it means a morning ritual, sometimes it means doing a mindless task first that helps them be “in motion” but allows them time to ponder what needs to be done on the hard task. Don’t do the hardest task first. Momentum is a valuable commodity. Build momentum and motivation by doing easy things first. Slide gently into the hard stuff when you are fully warmed up, psyched up, and on a roll.
- To Have a Productive Day, Make sure you do tasks at your “low” peak time. Save your high-energy times for fun and creativity and other more significant ventures than just “getting it done.” Seriously, task stuff should be done when the energy ebbs are low. Creativity and thinking should be reserved for the high peak times. If you want to charge a dead car battery, you have to make sure the “red” goes to the “red” and the “black” goes to the “black.” If you don’t connect the right hooks to the right part of the battery, you will never get voltage outta that thang! What something is connected to is important! High-energy times (red) go to creativity and thinking (red). Low energy times (black) go to tasks (black).
- To Have a Productive Day, Make sure you “scatter” and do 10 things at once. This provides interest and ‘cross-fertilization” of ideas. It is much more exciting and intriguing than linear stuff that makes sure A always follows B. Going back and forth between projects makes you see their interrelatedness and helps you see the “whole picture” in a way that you might not have seen before. OK. I admit that there are some things that must be done in order. For instance, it’s a good idea to get dressed first and go to work second. But for many things, doing tasks out of order creates wonderful new possibilities and interrelationships among all your tasks.
- To Have a Productive Day, If you can’t do it today, do it tomorrow. Great inventors have always understood the value of the “percolation” or the “simmer” stage. I’ve even seen an acronym for this: IFS: I is for Immerse—immerse yourself in the project, read, study, analyze, debate, research, and bury yourself in it. Then F is for Forget—get away from it. Put it off. Do something else. Ideas can be elusive creatures: sometimes the harder you push for them, the less they make themselves welcome. Relax. Think of something else. It will come to you. And finally, the S is for Stimulate—get back to work with a fresh perspective. The “S” is when you once again start prodding and poking those ideas related to the task back to the surface. So, you see, there is some value in the truism, “Only do today, what you can’t put off until tomorrow.”
9. To Have a Productive Day, Don’t Focus.
It’s the stuff passions and dreams are made of. Focus will get you there, but daydreaming will help you see it and think of it—which must come first. I remember reading an article once that said today’s kids don’t have enough “daydream time”—they are simply rushed from one activity to the other. The author went on to say how much his “daydream” time as a youth set the course for his life and how essential it is, and yet how absent it is in today’s youth.
It always amazes me how I can attack my “to do” list–persistently boring through mountainous piles of work; then when I finally collapse from not being able to go another minute, I end up on the couch or the bike or the outdoors. And in that unfocused place, after a time, great solutions drift in quietly from my unconscious mind; almost so quietly I don’t recognize them. And then I get so excited, I zip back to work in a flurry, hoping to capture and translate each tiptoeing idea into reality. Why didn’t I think of that when I was so intensely focused on the task? Because I was so intensely focused on the task. That’s why. Daydream. Don’t focus.
10. To Have a Productive Day, Don’t put time limits on your goals. Life has its own pace. There is nothing more that needs to be said about this than to share with you my favorite quote. It is from an out-of-print book that is called, “Bunkhouse Logic.”
“The only way to wage your life successfully is to make time your ally.
With time as an ally, the whole problem of accomplishing and achieving takes on a new ease and grace. With time on your side, you can acquire a new serenity about how life will flow, and how the rewards will flow from that new serene life.
What does it mean to make time your ally? Many things. It means that you must never rush the natural rhythm of life. You should not live in slow motion, but neither should you attempt to impose your own speed on an immense planet. There is a pace to the affairs of men. Let that be your pace as well. Do not break yourself on the rack of frustration by trying to do more in less time than anyone has ever done. Instead of battling time, let time carry you. Making time work for you is neither more nor less than a pleasurable necessity.”
Jackie Joyner Kersey, Olympic champion, when asked about a timeline for her goals, simply said, “I don’t put time limits on my goals.”
Bonus Tip: Time is Subjective.
Remember that time is an incredibly subjective experience. There is probably no other entity that exists in life that is sooo concrete and objective and yet also, so amorphic and subjective. As Westerners, we tend to cut, slice, and dice time into little compartments. And then like a well-shaped, exactly shaped, fitted glove, we slide the task into its designated compartments expecting it will fit.
I don’t know about you, but I have experienced lots of frustration when my task and time didn’t fit. Drove me crazy! One day it occurred to me (in the middle of one of these exact experiences) that maybe my “paradigm” for time was wrong—that instead of thinking of time as little compartments, I should think of time as a river. Try putting a river into neat little buckets. In other words, stop trying to always contain it, and just flow with it. I decided to start working on “time flow” instead of “time management.”
If you think time isn’t subjective, just study for a while the different ways that different cultures deal with time. For instance, is a New York second the same as Manana Time? And it isn’t just culturally, but also individually, and experientially that time differs significantly—at least in a subjective way. The old axiom, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Or another succinct quote: Time is…too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice. Time is indeed both a very objective and subjective phenomenon.
To have a productive day, do things differently for once. Experiment. Don’t assume that all the tried and true techniques are always right.