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The Daily Grind: A Matter of Momentum

The Daily Grind: A Matter of Momentum

momentum

    If you want to understand personal productivity, you’ve got to understand the concept of momentum. For all the organizing systems in the world and early rising skills in your time zone, you’ll only ever get so much done without bringing momentum into play.

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    Some people say the purpose of productivity is to give yourself more free time to spend relaxing, not working. I disagree. The purpose of productivity is to give yourself more time, whatever you choose to do with it. You should definitely have downtime regularly, but one thing momentum allows you to do is work faster and faster with each completed task throughout the day. In this case, we’re talking about being productive so that you’re even more productive in the hours following.

    The Big Difference: Productivity With and Without Momentum

    You start the day with a coffee and by making a list of the tasks you need to get done. At nine in the morning, you start working, slowly picking off the tasks on your list as and when you feel like it, so long as they’re completed by the time you have to clock off. It doesn’t matter if you do them in a slow and relaxed manner, it just matters that you don’t have to stay back late. This determines your maximum working speed.

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    On the other hand, you could start with a list you prepared at the previous day. This helps with one thing in particular: it removes any obstacles to getting started and building momentum. You start with the first task on the list and set a timer. You’ve set a dash: you’re going to work furiously and unwaveringly for ten minutes, and then reward yourself with a two minute break. If at any point in that ten-minute period your concentration wavers, you start from scratch and delay your break. There’s incentive to work not just quickly, but without distractions.

    You set the timer again for your break, but unlike most people you don’t take the whole two minutes having a cigarette or looking up jokes; you give yourself one minute to stretch your legs and one minute to review your tasks, mentally preparing for the next dash — which is going to be twice as long, but with a twice as long break.

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    This is just one method for keeping yourself focused, on-task, and working pretty quickly. The key point is that it gets you working a little longer, a little harder each time, and you only get to reward yourself if you succeed at working hard.

    Why Momentum Matters

    If you’re in an employment situation, there might not be much incentive for you to work as hard as possible and build momentum throughout the day. If I could offer one good reason to train yourself in working harder and faster as the day progresses, it’s that one day you might find yourself self-employed and you’ll discover that time is money.

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    For every minute you’re slacking off, you’re not earning money, and let me tell you: the habits you built working for someone else will persist even when you work for yourself.
    There can be a staggering amount of work to do in this situation, whether you’re building a business (whether as a freelancer or as a company) or maintaining one. I know of way too many freelancers who start working before most people are awake and don’t clock off until nine or ten at night.

    Many of these people are working at full-blast all day, but the truth is that most people who work insane hours could probably work a lot less if they just applied the concept of momentum-building to their work day. If you’re well-organized already, it’s easy to begin. If not, you need to get started with a system like Getting Things Done, because if your next actions are not known to you before the start of your work day, you will spend time figuring out what to do next and losing any and all momentum.

    Get Prepared the Day Before

    If you don’t do anything else, do this one thing: map out your tasks the day before. Before you finish up work each day, make it your final task to set up a to-do list for the next day. There are so many benefits to working this way: anything tasks you need to complete from that day are still fresh in your mind, you give your mind twelve hours to mentally prepare for the next day at work, and you remove the biggest obstacle to being productive, and that’s not knowing where to start.

    My preferred system is to use Things on the computer for planning projects and capturing tasks, and then transferring daily task lists to a paper-only format to aid in focus.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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