DAY 23 – Heading back to L.A. at 2am. Soo tired, but I’m gonna post the last of this article from Steve.
So let’s say you’ve got a little free time from dumping the unimportant stuff, from prioritizing, working smarter not harder, ready-fire-aim, yada yada, and you’re not sure what you should be doing with this newfound time.
Apply the 80-20 rule.
The 80-20 rule states that 20% a task’s effort accounts for 80% the value of that task. This also means that 80% of a task only yields 20% the value of that task. In college I was ruthless in my application of this principle.
Some weeks I ditched as many as 40% my classes because sitting through a lecture was not often the most effective way for me to learn. And I already noted that I would simply refuse to do an assignment if I determined it was not worth my time. There was one math class that I only showed up to twice because I could learn from the text book much more quickly than from the lectures.
I only showed up for the midterm and final. I would pop my head in at the beginning of each class to drop off my homework and then again at the end of each class to write down the next assignment. I actually got the highest grade in that class, but the teacher probably had no idea who I was. The other students were playing by the rules, not realizing they were free to make their own rules.
Find out what parts of your life belong in the crucial 20and focus your efforts there. Be absolutely ruthless in refusing to spend time where it simply cannot give you optimal results. Invest your time where it has the potential to pay off big.
Guard thy time.
To work effectively you need uninterrupted blocks of time in which you can complete meaningful work. When you know for certain that you won’t be interrupted, your productivity is much, much higher.When you sit down to work on a particularly intense task, dedicate blocks of time to the task during which you will not do anything else. I’ve found that a minimum of 90 minutes is ideal for a single block.
You may need to negotiate with the other people in your life to create these uninterrupted blocks of time. If necessary, warn others in advance not to interrupt you for a certain period of time. Threaten them with acts of violence if you must.
In school I would lock my bedroom door when I needed to work, so my roommates would know not to disturb me. While each individual bedroom in the two-bedroom dorm suites was designed for two people (four people per suite), I paid a bit extra to have a bedroom all to myself. This way I always had my own private room to work. When I had time to be social, I’d leave the door open, sometimes playing computer games with one of my roommates.
If you happen to work in a high interruption environment that’s negatively affecting your productivity, change that environment at all costs. Some people have told me that giving their boss a copy of this article helped convince him/her to take steps to reduce unnecessary interruptions.
While for some people it’s helpful to block off a specific period of time for a task, I find that I work best with long, open-ended stretches of uninterrupted time. I’ll often allocate a starting time for a task but usually not a specific finishing time. Whenever possible I just allow myself to stick with a task as long as I can, until I eventually succumb to hunger or other bodily needs.
I will frequently work 6 hours straight on a project without taking a break. While frequent breaks are often recommended to increase productivity, I feel that suggestion may be an artifact of industrial age research on poorly motivated workers and not as applicable to high-motivation, purpose-driven creative work.
I find it’s best for me to maintain momentum until I can barely continue instead of chopping a task into smaller chunks where there’s a risk of succumbing to distractions along the way.
The state of flow, where you are totally absorbed in a task and lose all sense of time, takes about 15 minutes to enter. Every time you get interrupted, it can take you another 15 minutes to get back to that state. Once you enter the state of flow, guard it with your life. That is the state in which you will go through enormous amounts of work and experience total connection with the task.
When I’m in this state, I have no sense of past or future. I simply feel like I’m one with my work.
While sometimes I suffer from the problem of the task expanding to fill the allotted time (aka Parkinson’s Law), I often find that it’s worth the risk.
For example, when I do optimization work on my web site, I’ll frequently think of new optimization ideas while I work, and I’ll usually go ahead and implement those new ideas immediately.
I find it more efficient to act on those ideas at the moment of conception instead of scheduling them to be done at a later time.
This happens to me all the time in songwriting. Sometimes when you get the creative juices flowing, you gotta go with the flow.
Work all the time you work.
During one of these sacred time blocks, do nothing but the activity that’s right in front of you. Don’t check email or online forums or do web surfing. If you have this temptation, then unplug your Internet connection while you work. Turn off your phone, or simply refuse to answer it. Go to the bathroom before you start, and make sure you won’t get hungry for a while. Don’t get out of your chair at all. Don’t talk to anyone during this time.
Decide what it is you should be doing, and then do nothing but that. If you happen to manage others, periodically ask them what their #1 task is, and make sure they’re doing nothing but that. If you see someone answering email, then it should be the most important thing for that person to be doing at that particular time. If not, then relatively speaking, that person is just wasting time.
If you need a break, then take a real break and do nothing else. Don’t semi-work during a break if you feel you need rest and restoration. Checking email or web surfing is not a break.
When you take a break, close your eyes and do some deep breathing, listen to relaxing music and zone out for a while, take a 20-minute nap, or eat some fresh fruit. Rest until you feel capable of doing productive work again. When you need rest, rest.
When you should be working, work. Work with either 100% concentration, or don’t work at all. It’s perfectly fine to take as much down time as you want. Just don’t allow your down time to creep into your work time.
Whew! I think that’s the bulk of what my new friend Steve had to say. Sorry to post someone else’s thoughts on here, but he had the right ideas when I really needed to hear them.
OK, now time for sleep. We’ll try again tomorrow.
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