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Don’t Be a Minimalist: Regain Focus With Technology

Don’t Be a Minimalist: Regain Focus With Technology

    We all hear the “minimalist” zealots screaming at us from on high,

    “Sell your stuff, get rid of everything that isn’t important, use paper for everything, and be as minimal as possible.”

    All this so we can regain focus on an important project as well as the things we have to do.

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    Sounds like a great idea, that is, as long as you work for yourself and work to sell the idea of being minimal. Don’t get me wrong – I try to minimize certain things in my life, but there are times this idea can be taken too far. We all can’t get rid of everything and many of us have to focus on things that we don’t want to do.

    Instead of getting rid of all your stuff and “going minimal”, here is how you can use technology to stay focused and productive.

    1. Create a system that supports, not complicates or simplifies

    If you want to stay productive and focused in your complicated life you need a system. We have discussed many times at nauseam how to create and use a personal productivity system. Some say that we should “toss productivity out”. I couldn’t disagree more.

    As long as you are creating a system that is just complicated enough to support your complex life but isn’t overcomplicated, you are good. Use one of the many awesome productivity tools that you have at your disposal.

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    2. Choose your notifications wisely

    We here at Stepcase Lifehack prefer to keep notifications to a bare minimum, but don’t believe that they should be completely turned off (of course, that is other than email). What is more important is choosing your digital notifications wisely.

    If you are working on a project during the day, it may be the best time to mute your phone or just turn it off all together. Maybe you want to turn email notifications off for a set period of time. There are also some awesome apps like Tasker for Android that allow you to setup all kinds of smart notification options based on time, calendar entries, and even location.

    3. Setup times for “distractions”

    Distractions is in quotes for a reason. I consider a distraction anything other than important projects that I must get done. This can be Twittering, IMing, SMSing, chatting, etc.

    One of the best things that I have tried to implement during my day is that instead of blindly checking RSS feeds or tweeting something that would piss someone off anytime I want, I schedule that time instead. Schedule it in to your calendar and have time setup to “distract” yourself rather than focus on a project.

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    4. Guard your productive times

    This is the other side of the “distractions” coin. We have to make sure that we protect our productive times with our life and limb so we can keep our focus. If you work in an environment where others can see your calendar appointments, make sure to block out some time during your day as a “meeting” so you can get stuff done.

    5. Create and follow an “ignore list”

    I’m a list maker, mostly because I can make them in almost any app I choose. Something that I heard on a recent The Accidental Creative podcase was from Peter Bregman about creating an “ignore list”. The idea is simple. Just make a list of all the things that you want to ignore. Done.

    This is a great thing to do, especially if you are the geeky, technical, or creative type that wants to play and mess around with new stuff. That stuff wastes your time. Add them to your ignore list and then reevaluate the list every so often so you don’t break your focus.

    6. Automate to get rid of the mundane and mindless

    Using technology to automate things that we can do mindlessly is a great thing. This helps us recoup time and energy for other things as well as keep our focus our currently active task. Actions like paying your bills online, renaming photos, and even filing digital files can all be done automatically now with help of online payment systems and tools like Hazel.

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    Of course there are going to be important things to think through, but you might as well use technology to automate as much as possible.

    You don’t have to lose the shirt off your back and give up your iPhone to regain focus. You can simply use amazing tools that are at your disposal to keep your focus on the things that are important and that you must get done.

    (Photo credit: Stack of grey massage stones via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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