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Productive Interview Series: Andy Mitchell

Productive Interview Series: Andy Mitchell

Productive Interview Series is a quick four questions interview, targets on productive people who have been changing their work/life style with life hacks and self-development tips. The following are the answers from Andy Mitchell, author of GTDGmail.

Andy Mitchell

    Who are you?

    I am Andy Mitchell, best known as the humble author of GTDGmail and Bumble Search. I also go by other such titles as Engineer of Systems and Tinkerer of Businesses.

    I am a Brit, but a Brit who in the past two years has spent nearly as much time out of my country as in it. Thus all common stereotypes – be they tea at four, a penchant for colonising small countries, a passion for top hats and fopsy politeness, or indeed, tap dancing chimney sweeps – can be neatly sidestepped.

    What cannot be sidestepped is my personal organisation.
    I am disorganised.
    As with all problems, admitting it to myself was the hardest part. Since my ‘awakening’ several months ago, I have been enthusiastically – bordering on obsessively – attempting to reduce the overload. Wherever possible I have tried to share my progress with others.
    Which brings us neatly to this interview…

    What have you done to increase your productivity?

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    I gave myself a pretty rigorous interrogation, and eventually confessed my true working practices. If you read no more of this interview, I heartily recommend you at least work out your own ‘style’. In productivity, one size certainly does not fit all.

    Build a Framework…

    • Simple. Structured.
      I follow simple guidelines. Complex rules and massively long lists on ‘how to be productive’ are precisely the kind of clutter I try to avoid.

      If I use any software tools I only pick those that are straightforward. If I have to read a manual, or feel overwhelmed by the functionality, I get really rather angry. Your tools should be working for you.

    • Lay the Foundations
      The single greatest productivity aide I employ is to know what I am going to do next at any given place (a similar concept to David Allen’s Contexts and Next Actions).

      In particular, I like to decide what I am going to do the next morning, before I go to sleep. Otherwise, I wake up with all the mental acuity of Herman Munster and spend an hour scratching my head and wondering what I should do first.

      Forward planning is also great for getting more done – a.k.a. doing a better job. Take these two examples for planning to visit the gym:

      • I will go to the gym today
      • I will go to the gym at 8pm and do 30 minutes of running and 3 chest sets

      The first example means I may make it to the gym and will probably just have a nice chat and a sauna when I get there.
      The second example means I will go to the gym, and when I am there I am certain to have a great workout.

    Clear the Clutter…

    • Be regular and keep your system clean
      It is a fact everyone knows: spend just five minutes each day tidying and it will never get on top of you. So why do we not do it?
      In my case, it was “only five minutes? that can wait until tomorrow…”.

      My solution was simply to ‘get tough’.
      I picked the same time each day for a tidy up and stuck to it. In case I am too busy, I also picked a back up time (I am second-to-none when it comes to deluding myself that I’m too busy to do something).

      ‘Setting a time’ is a basic psychological trick, but it is certainly effective. Since removing the stress of clutter – both mental and physical – the sky has been bluer, the air fresher, and small children wave at me as I float past.

      Tidy Ups
      Typical tidy ups include condensing scattered notes into my wiki, tearing up finished hand-written diagrams and ideas, responding to outstanding emails and dumping any tasks/ideas that are still in my mind.

    • Decide what you least want to do. Do it
      If there was a task I did not like, I would find other tasks to justify not doing it. The very essence of procrastination!

      The problem is that the boring task would linger over me like an executioner raising his axe. It was stopping me fully concentrating on any other tasks. It was causing me to worry about not having done it.

      Tackling what you dislike is the not-too-distant cousin of David Allen’s two minute rule: you are clearing the niggles so you can focus on the tasks that matter.

    And for Extra Merit…

    • The Mega Mini Challenge
      I am most likely to procrastinate when there is no pressure; and for me, there can be no pressure unless there is a deadline in a few hours.

      Therefore, mundane daily events have to become deadlines. Lunch cannot be taken until X is done. The call of nature cannot be answered until Y is satisfied.
      It certainly sparks focus, not to mention weight loss and exemplary bladder control…

    • Embrace Procrastination (if you can’t beat it, join it!)
      So, you want to see if there is a new post on Lifehack.org? Then check it!
      (Bear with me, this is not an attempt at subliminal advertising…)

      Quite simply, if you deny yourself you will just become obsessed with it, and then you are no better off than if you had just checked it in the first place.
      The trick is to only spend a few minutes or less doing it… little & often!

      An excellent idea is to try one of the many personal timers that are available, and monitor your work habits. (I personally like the web-based SlimTimer). Record the bits where you are not working as you should. Do this for no more than two days – otherwise you will get bored and not do it properly.
      You may even find you waste far less time than you imagined – and thus your stress levels will come down even more.

    What is your best life hack?

    My favourite life hack – which has little to do with productivity – is the gym.

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    I have been engaging in a somewhat self-inflicting relationship with my local gym for many years; but it is only recently that I have come to appreciate the positive effect it has (beyond giving me the excuse to squeeze one extra bacon sandwich into my daily ritual).
    The biology is fairly straightforward – you train, you get endorphins, you burn fat and you feel accomplishment. This all leads to a nice sensation of confidence and control that lasts for several days.

    It is the last two – confidence and control – that make all the difference. They enable me to enthusiastically bluster through tasks and overcome even the stuff I have been putting off.
    Sadly, I only notice this when I have not been getting my daily dose. Without exercise, I get overwhelmed more easily and procrastinate more readily. And I do not get my bacon sandwich. Which makes me very angry indeed… (There is a distinct possibility that all of the above is hokum, and my complete productive existence is indeed tied to nothing more than a sandwich… the shame!).

    What are your favorite posts at lifehack.org?

    That would be “On Ho’ohiki: Keeping your Promises“.

    A short, sweet and perfectly accurate framework on the best way to remedy a broken promise. I particularly like the honesty – it does not encourage you to cover up your mistake but to actively address it.

    Previous Productive Interview was: Patrick Rhone

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    Last Updated on February 21, 2019

    How to Stop Information Overload

    How to Stop Information Overload

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

    And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this:

    Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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