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When More Is Less

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When More Is Less
    Image credit: ImJustCreative

    Too often we look for a silver bullet, one app or one program that will solve it all. For some, this works. All it takes is a quick read of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and they are on their way. For most of us, especially those that tend to read these sites, there is no get-rich-quick approach to productivity. It just isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition for us.

    More often than not, prevailing wisdom and general laziness lead us to try and take powerful, albeit bloated applications like Outlook and attempt to make them work for us. We learn all the bells and whistles, ignore what we don’t want to use and try to manage our contacts, calendars, tasks and email all in one place. And if you are reading this, chances are that this approach did not work for you either.

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    Put Your Own Pieces Together

    So much of what set the Mac apart was the decentralization, yet integration of everything. Address Book for contacts, iCal for calendars and tasks and Mail.app for email. Each one is highly focused, yet deeply entwined with one another. However even this was not enough. While these solutions are often perfect for casual users, many of these stock applications are just far too limited for power users (or even just for particular geeks such as myself).

    Thankfully the idea of decentralization took hold with developers and what we’ve seen in the past few years is a renaissance of highly focused, highly polished applications. Apps that were built from the ground up to integrate with both stock and third-party software, enabling users to create their own personal tapestry of productivity.

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    And How Does One Manage To Do That?

    In theory, the goal should be to find a few apps that solve your needs. Pick a calendar, pick a contact manager, pick a word processor and email client, learn them and move on with your life. But honestly, and I’m speaking from personal experience here, it’s the wrong (yet familiar) way to go about it. You are far better off working inside out. Start off by finding your biggest pain point and identifying the absolute perfect application for solving it (as long as that app plays nicely with others). From there go one problem at a time and slowly build your perfect system.

    For me, that was email and my starting point was Inbox Zero, followed by a switch to both Gmail and Mailplane. For you, that could be tackling your writing projects and you may want to look at apps like nvALT or Scrivener. Perhaps it is constantly forgetting to add things to your calendar, causing you to miss key obligations. If so, quick entry apps like Fantastical can help. Just have an honest conversation with yourself, figure out where you suck and start there.

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    That Sounds Like A Lot Of Work…

    This process will take more applications and take more time, but you’ll quickly begin to notice something. Even though you’re choosing to use more, it will feel (and likely look) like less. The applications only show you what you need, they integrate so seamlessly that you hardly notice switching from one to the other. Many, such as Dropbox, LaunchBar and TextExpander, run in the background and are ubiquitous across your system. Over time this more complicated system feels contoured to your life, to your unique challenges and is far better suited to attacking them. Strange as might sound, it will feel far more a part of you rather than something you are working (or likely fighting) with.

    Consider Yourself Warned

    There are some risks. Other computers can start to feel unfamiliar and frustrating; you’ll potentially have trouble shutting up about how there is a better way (e.g. this blog post and my entire blog for that matter) and there will be some pieces of software you just cannot avoid. There is also the very real fear that you will end up spending so much time figuring out how to get things done that you never actually get anything done. But as long as you are aware of the realities and the potential side effects, you’ll be fine. Combine this awareness with some brutal honesty about where you fall short and start building a computer that might include a lot, but is so personal that you’ll hardly care.

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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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