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Focus on the Process and Not the Tools to Get Things Done

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Focus on the Process and Not the Tools to Get Things Done


    We live in an incredible time. Thanks to the genius of Steve Jobs, the way we communicate, the way we get things done, and how we look at design have been dramatically changed forever. That is the upside. The downside of course is that through the creativity of app developers across the world, we have a tough time deciding which app will best help us become more productive. We end up spending more time finding the right app and less time getting things done. The result is something I like to call “App Attention Disorder”!  In this post, I will talk about how combat this problem by focusing in on the process and not the app.

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    The problem with getting things done on a smartphone app is that some very smart developer created a program designed the way he or she thinks we want to be more productive. The downside of course, to no fault of their own. is that we end up “hacking” their app. We tinker. We tweak. We complain on their site that there is no:

    • sub-projects
    • workspaces
    • due dates
    • notifications
    • integration with Google Calendar or Google Tasks
    • sync with Dropbox or iCloud or Evernote
    • …and the list goes on

    Feeling as if we can still force a square peg into a round hole, we continue to tweak. Eventually, we realize we have spent more time playing with the app and less time actually tending to our commitments. So how do we get around this epidemic to our productivity? By focusing on the process and not the tools.

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    Whether you are a follower of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, Pomodoro technique, Personal Kanban, Franklin Covey, or some combination of all of these plus your own system you’ve invented, stick to it. Research them all to figure out what will work best for you and then choose one organizational system and become a master of its principles.  Make the process a habit. Once you’ve picked a workflow, the question becomes of course, but which app do I use? In my consulting work, I always tell folks to focus on the process and the tool will come to them. What if we didn’t have an iPhone or Android? What if you just had paper? How would you organize your tasks, projects, and goals?

    Take a giant step backwards and ask yourself these big questions:

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    1. What few things must absolutely go right in order for you to have a productivity workflow that works for you? 
    2. What challenges have you had in the past?
    3. What has gone right for you?

    Being able to honestly answer those questions will allow you to better understand which app (or paper) may work best.  That is the key: just knowing what works for you and what will keep you motivated and productive in conjunction with a structured time management system will help you best understand what tool(s) you need to help you get things done.

    Once you get that right, you will undoubtedly have a “mind like water” and will be well on your way to getting things done!

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer 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.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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