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How To Get Things Done While Being Mindful

How To Get Things Done While Being Mindful

    As you venture your way into 2012 and try to reach the goals, make the habits, and finish up the projects that you have outlined for yourself, you may start to see a bit of stress and overwhelm building up in your life. You become so concentrated on what you have setup for yourself to accomplish during the year that the “less important things” fall by the wayside.

    Most productivity gurus will tell you that this is a good thing; to make sure that they things that you are working on are the things that you want to do, are good at, and are important. It makes sense to concentrate on the things that keep you energized and creative. But, we may that because of all the attention we are giving to our “big ideas” we start to lose touch with some of the other things in life that are important.

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    We have to accomplish the things that we have set out for ourselves all while staying mindful of what is important to us in our lives. And, boy, it can be tough sometimes.

    Make a list

    David Allen talks about our “Areas of Focus.” These are all the areas in our life that we deem important and that need attention to ensure that we are operating at a certain level of productivity with the least amount of stress.

    GTD is so useful, at least for this geek, because it concentrates on the lower levels of productivity first; tasks and projects. It’s a bottom-up approach that helps one “clear the decks” so they can start to look at the higher levels of their lives (ie. Areas of Focus).

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    This is where some GTD practitioners get stuck. They concentrate on the task and project portion so much that they forget the higher levels. It’s important to get your deck clear as soon as possible, that is, closing all your open loops and making sure that you have everything on the task and project level accounted for.

    Then you can list the areas of your life and start to find balance.

    I make the list of my Areas of Focus in a mindmap and then review it at least once a month with my weekly review. Sometimes, especially if you are feeling extra unbalanced in your life, you may need to pull this list out to re-ground yourself.

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    My list:

    • Work
    • Home
    • Husband
    • Lifehack
    • DevBurner
    • Finances
    • Health and vitality
    • Spirituality
    • Learning
    • Pets

    Take some time and quiet yourself

    I noticed yesterday that most times I only think of myself. What am I going to do today? What am I going to write about? How will I have enough money for that? Am I going to make it this year?

    This constant, selfish self-talk had me wake up with a slight realization. I need to stop. And when I stop, I will think of others in my life. I don’t mean thinking of others in the way of “how am I going to do ‘x’ to help them.’ I’m talking about an honest look at the person or situation for what it is.

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    You’d be surprised how often your mind is selfish. What will surprise you even more is that when you stop and think about others, many things that you may have been ignoring start to show up like realizing your anniversary is coming up, that you haven’t seen your friends in-the-flesh for several weeks, or haven’t talked to anyone in your family recently.

    Wash, rinse, and repeat

    The only way to stay mindful while accomplishing your goals this year is to make sure that you get in the habit of reviewing your Areas of Focus and stopping to reflect and think of things other than yourself.

    Our minds are constantly on; analyzing and troubleshooting everything around us. It’s a good thing that they are so powerful. But we have to use them vigilantly to ensure that we are paying attention to the right things and doing the right things in our lives. You can only make sure this happens by repeatedly evaluating your focus.

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    Conclusion

    If you have been on the productivity kick for any period of time, you know just how hard it can be to stay focused as well as focus on the right things. The only way that I have found to keep this going is to make sure that you have defined what your focus should be and then stopping yourself and become mindful of it. Hopefully with this type of practice you can accomplish your goals this year knowing that what is important to you isn’t being ignored.

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    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 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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