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A simple system for eliminating distractions and staying productive

Distractions are everywhere.

Plus, with all our mobile phones and gadgets, they are ominously inviting. At every turn, they lure you like hawkers at an Indian market, diverting you away from important tasks.

Apparently, distractions cost businesses money too. According to this article , a “2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year”

Aside form the monetary costs, distractions can also make you frustrated and unhappy creating a vicious cycle of stress and poor performance.

So how can you beat pesky distractions and show them who’s the boss? The answer is laughably obvious. Monitor and eliminate the distractions. Just the act of  writing down your common distractions will make you conscious and attuned to the ways in which you waste you r time during the workday.

Quick plan to end all distractions

  1. Make a list of all your distractions. Write down every last little bugger.
  2. Keep this list somewhere accessible.
  3. Across from each distraction, list a possible solution
  4. Just before you sit down to work, review this list.
  5. The more you use this technique, the more mindful you will become about distractions and the opportunities for eliminating them.

 

Here is what my list of distractions and solutions looks like:

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I found the results of this exercise surprising. Many of my distraction problems had common solutions. This little insight saved me a lot of time in the long run because the million distractions we think we are up against, really only entail tweaking a few common things in our daily routine or environment to optimize productivity and eliminate distractions.

 

So I put together a final list after compiling the solutions that fell under a common theme, and here is my final list:

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Final thoughts

Identifying and elimination distractions is as simple as writing down everything that is keeping you from a productive workflow and then analyzing your results to see if you can come up with a master plan of sorts.

To go one step further and make this even more intense, you can write your final list of distraction elimination solutions on to an index card and laminate it. Keep it accessible at all times near your workspace. Then, review it every time you sit down to work. This frequent review will burn the solutions into your subconscious over time. Eventually, you won’t even need the list in order to tackle the distractions you come up against. The beauty of using repetition to change or build habits is that it doesn’t take much more than a small measure of effort on your part to bring about big changes.

You just have to be consistent.

Change things in small increments until the cumulative effect helps you build momentum towards the new habit(s).

Over to you – List your distractions and solutions in the comments below. What did you learn about your own workflow? Our favourite reply will get a shoutout in the next post.

Happy Sunday!

pen-and-paper

A Low-Tech Way to Boost Productivity

The humble pen and paper. 

They seem to have lost their popularity in our tech-immersed era, but there is a lot to be said about working with simple tools that will open up your creativity and make you come up with innovative solutions for your problems. 

There is something organic about using pen and paper that makes you  come up with unique solutions to your issues. From learning a language to coaching football players, more and more of us seem to be drawn to the organic nature of pen and paper in a world where everyone else is opting to streamline their work and learning onto laptops and tablets.

Look at the following surprising benefits of using pen and paper:

Boosts Memory and Recall 

In a recent study, researchers Pam Mueller (Princeton) and Daniel Oppenheimer (UCLA) found strong evidence suggesting that laptops, even when used solely for taking notes (as opposed to shopping on Amazon), can impair learning and facilitate shallower processing.

Contrast this to pen and paper, whose slower pace seems to solidify understanding and promote better recall

Slows You Down

The slower pace of using pen and paper can actually help you process, understand and create content that is deeper and of better quality. In fact, David Allen, the author of the book Getting Things Done talks about the productivity benefits of slowing down in order to overcome the busy-making nature of our work-lives in order to really step back and put our priorities into perspective.

So paradoxically, by slowing down, you’re setting yourself up to work more efficiently.

Boosts Creativity

Author Lee Rourke talks about his twitter conversations with other authors and speaks to the creativity that stems from creating slower,  more thoughtful work where the focus of the writer is more on creating good sentences and prose than on tap-tap-tapping away on a laptop in a state of corporate-like anxiety. 

I have to agree. As a fiction and non-fiction writer, I often feel anxious staring at a blank screen and then even more anxious when I hear myself pecking away at the keyboard in a frenzy of half-baked ideas. 

Facilitates Unexpected Connections

The organic nature of writing is highly conducive to doodling in the margins, drawing circles, squiggles and creating unexpected connections that you ouldnt even notice on a laptop, mobile phone or tablet. In fact, this high school teacher encourages writing creativity in his students by asking them to doodle stick figures into the margins of their writing notebooks. 

Unmatched Portability

How easy is it to grab a pocket notebook as you step out the door? No batteries, no charger cords, no desperately looking for power outlets in public places. Most importantly, no worries about losing expensive gadgets if you leave them lying around at a table while you go grab another coffee. The portability and novelty of using pen and paper in our constantly connected world is unmatched.

No Delete Button

That’s actually a good thing.

The fact that you can’t instantly edit and hit a delete button can help you salvage those crazy ideas that may first seem far fetched, but on second thought might be potential nuggets of brilliance! Ali Hale, a freelance writer for the Daily Writing Tips blog, says that the inability to delete when using pen and paper also forces you to take a bit more time crafting your sentences and word choices.

More Personal 

For those looking to stand out in networking relationships (and lets face it, who doesn’t need networking?), using pen and paper to reach out to clients, co-workers and even potential mentors can make all the difference between creating a memorable connection, making a sale and landing a lucrative deal or letting your connections go cold and die out.

In the networking world, the novelty of pen and paper can also be used to persuade, to sell and to convince stakeholders. Roger Dooley, a contributor at Forbes magazine talks about the selling power of pen and paper. 

Declare a laptop holiday for an hour. Or make the room a computer/tablet-free zone, if you can get away with it… The people who use pen and paper will absorb more of your content and your message will be more persuasive.

In an era of permission marketing and the soft sell, the ability to convince your audiences to use pen and paper while you are at the podium is as valuable as that ubiquitous email list of customers.

Pen and Paper Exercise

If you are not used to pen and paper, using them can feel clunky and awkward at first. An exercise I found highly rewarding when I first started out using pen and paper was Julia Cameron’s famous Morning Pages exercise. You sit down every morning, writing three pages of free writing. No stopping, no stalling until you finish your three pages of legal paper. Just do a colossal vomit of all your thoughts and worries. At first, it will just be a jumble of complains and worries that you can’t tell anymone else. But as you keep at it, looking back you will get a lot of insights, creative ideas and even solutions to complex problems that you will be able to use in your everyday life.

This simple exercise from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists’ Way, has been the single most effective productivity hack I’ve tried in the past 5-10 years. The Morning Pages essentially got me started with the daily writing practice that eventually launched my freelance writing career.