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The New Lifehacking #3 – Avoiding Failure With Improvement Goals

The New Lifehacking #3 – Avoiding Failure With Improvement Goals

In the prior article in this series, I shared that it’s important to figure out the nature of your current time management system before running to the Internet, books, or programs to find random tips, tricks and shortcuts. I emphasized that when you conduct a random chase, you could end up becoming a tip-a-holic: someone who frantically searches for the latest tip with no real purpose in mind.

For most people, doing an assessment is a good start, but it’s hardly enough. Even the very best assessment that reveals your faults might take you in the wrong direction because there’s an assumption made by the creator that you can’t escape: her/her concept of “ideal” performance. Their particular ideal may not be the same as yours, however.

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After the assessment is complete and you have received the results, the next step is important. In the training I conduct with clients, I describe a range of skills from low to high, using a scale of martial arts belts ranging from White (beginner) to Black (expert.) I issue a warning at the same time: “The point is not to become obsessed about gaining the highest belt possible in the shortest amount of time.” In fact, that’s a good way for you to fail. Instead, you need to set your own goals using the tool’s results. Ideally, your goals should cover each of the behaviors from the assessment, and incorporate a realistic time-frame in which to accomplish them.

Why is this important?

Consider what happens in the life of young tennis players: As they proceed up the ranks, they set goals that are appropriate for their age group. Some just want to enter the top 10 in their city, while others want to dominate their national age group. Neither goal is betterthey are just different.

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As professionals, we need to take the same approach to improving our time management systems. We are all different from each other, and don’t need to have the same level of productivity in order to be effective in our lives. I might be quite happy with a Yellow Belt; a level of accomplishment that might produce havoc in your life. I might not need an upgrade for another ten years, while you might need to put one in place every six months, just to keep up with a fast-changing life.

This may all sound like common sense, but it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom. There are many productivity systems being sold today that promise to “Triple Your Productivity Overnight.” It’s like selling a 10-year old tennis prodigy on the idea of “Winning Wimbledon in 2 Years!” We laugh at outrageous productivity promises but they come in different guises and offer no form of actual measurement: “Save 30 days per year.” “Stop wasting 2 hours per day.” “Instantly double your income by 33.3% by managing your time better.” “Implement this one time saving tip and…”

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Fact from Fantasy

Turning away from outlandish claims, how do you know whether your improvement plans are sound? The following checklist can be used to separate fact from fantasy.

  • Have you done a diagnosis of your current skills?
  • What are the symptoms (if any) that your current level of skills are too low for your life’s demands?
  • Do you know the level of demands to be placed on your time in the future? (personal, business, community, etc.)
  • Are the goals in your plan realistic, and gentle enough to almost guarantee success?
  • What role does changing technology play in bringing new demands in your life?

As you can imagine, a part-time graduate student who is single and has a 5-year-old, has completely different needs than a 24-year-old who’s just entering the workforce. Unfortunately, most books and programs fail to distinguish between them. In their one-size-fits-all thinking they assign them all the same goals… and no idea how quickly they should be accomplished.

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This is a huge disservice. Many, many people fail because they try to follow someone else’s goals at the pace they recommend. They come to learn the truth that researchers have learned: implementing behavior change is tough work and advertising that “It’s Easy!” may provide a catchy headline that sells, but in the end it leads to customers feeling guilty, or that something must be wrong with them.

Let’s back the heck up. We are all different to begin with, so we need to set unique goals that suit our needs, and we need to attempt to achieve them at a speed that almost guaranteed success. It’s time for us to stop failing at time management, and take our destinies into our own hands.

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Published on July 17, 2018

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

What is compartmentalization

To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

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Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

Reframe the problem as a question

Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

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For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

Choose one thing to focus on

To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

Comparmentalization saves you stress

Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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