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When More Is Less

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 March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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