by Stuart Ridgway, Original Music for Film and Television
Now that you’re set to reclaim two hours of your life every day, let’s make the time we spend working much more satisfying and enjoyable. And much less painful. This article is about getting the most out of those two hours. Once again I include some suggestions for cool toys that really make a difference. But first I’ll summarize then I’ll wrap up the steps we’ve taken to get here.
Two Hours Saved in Two Minutes
You’re doing all this right?…
Stop working out of your inbox
- Use spam filters – work just in time not just in case
- Unsubscribe from everything
- Prioritize emails
- Deal with the immediate emails
- Put the rest in your task list
Check emails at three specific times of the day (or fewer)
- Put the kibosh on email conversations
- Dis-invite yourself from fire drills
Work on your top two or three tasks
- Create your next to-do list at the end of the day
- Focus on just the top two or three tasks
Use fun toys
- Put all your notes and thoughts into Evernote
- Use a Musemee stylus to capture your handwritten notes
- Use the 7notes app
- Automatically convert notes into text
- Automatically save notes into Evernote
Wrap it up
Just to keep things tidy, here are two more quick thoughts. First, at the end of the week, I review all my notes in Evernote and make sure I’ve addressed everything. If not, I put some action items in my to-do list. If so, I put a √ at the end of the title of the note so I can quickly see that I’ve dealt with everything in that note. Second, I book as many meetings as I can stand in one day. That way I preserve those other blocks of time to do solid work.
Okay, two minutes are up.
Killing the Distractions
Ahhh, three hours of uninterrupted time to work. Not the same as sitting under a palm tree with a Corona, but it beats fighting fake fire drills. It’s up to you to determine what an optimal stretch of productive time looks like. For me, two to three hours is great and four is awesome if my obligations (and stomach) allow. The first issue is always getting started. There’s nothing worse than a blank piece of paper sometimes. The fourth article in this series addresses dealing with deadlines and procrastination, but for now let’s assume you’ve been able to get yourself started.
Keeping focus is a learned behavior. We may have killed some of the time-sucks that prevent us from having uninterrupted work time, but that doesn’t mean we’ve killed the distractions. It’s easy to let Facebook or your phone or the weather pull you out of your work, but that’s not a diss on your character. It just means you haven’t developed a strong enough anti-distraction muscle. Do yourself a favor and turn off what you can:
- Social media
- IM and texts
- Email (it’s already off, right)
- Music and TV
- Browser – unless you need it for your work then keep the number of windows open to a minimum
- You get the idea – help yourself and turn stuff off ‘til it hurts.
You can always turn them back on…
The Key to Successful Stretches of Work
I found a great app called i-Qi that I use for a work alarm clock. Anything similar will do, but I like i-Qi because it’s super easy and quite pleasing to use. I tell it how long I want to set the timer for and what sound it should make when time’s up. There’s a countdown clock if I want to see it and I have a choice of several nice chime sounds.
There’s no magic here, yet I get two big bangs for my 99 cents:
- This prevents me from working non-stop without a break, which can be deadly. We’ll get to that in a moment. Also, I find that knowing roughly how long I’m going to be working is less daunting then a rock it ‘til you drop approach.
- It actually pushes me through those moments when the distractions start knocking. If I know I have 20 minutes left to work, I’ll power through before I let a distraction win me over.
I do not set the timer to my max work time, though. I usually set it to about an hour. That’s when I know I’m going to start to get really distracted. But more importantly, that’s when I know I need to give my body a break. A break does not mean a two-hour lunch. It means five minutes of clearing my head and setting myself up for the next hour. These little breaks are the key to really successful stretches of work.
How to Take the Right Break
As I mentioned in the previous article, there are loads of articles that talk about the benefits of sustained focus. The question then becomes: how do I make the breaks between those stretches of work truly beneficial? Again, no magic in this list, but the combination of all of these little efforts has striking results.
For God sakes get some sun
If you have a window stand up, walk over to it, and enjoy the view. If you don’t have a window, then go find one. You could use the vitamin D.
Choose a stretch and go
The Mayo clinic has a quick slide show on eight different stretches you can do at your desk, or better, while you’re getting some sun.
Un-focus your eyes
By the time you hit 40 your eyesight will plummet. Staring at a computer (or whatever) exacerbates that ten-fold. Okay I made that up but you know it’s no good. While you’re enjoying your view, let your eyes go and look at things far, far away. Notice that there’s a world outside that’s moving with or without your little project.
You may not have enough time for meditation, but deep breaths, and I mean deep breaths, mean more oxygen, release of tension, a clearer head, need I say m…
Get up and get some water
No, not more caffeine. Good old water. The outputs are good too.
If your coworker won’t do it for you, then try some self-massage to release tension. I find that massaging my forearm muscle does a lot to relieve my wrist from all the mouse and typing tension.
Releasing is masters-level relaxation. Pick a topic and do a release a la the Sedona Method. These are powerful techniques for letting go of unconscious, mental blocks that hold you back. It’s worth the time spent to learn about methods like these.
If you have to fidget with something, try Lumosity instead of Facebook. Lumosity lets you play a handful of quick games that help you strengthen your attention, memory, speed, problem solving skills, and mental flexibility.
Five minutes of any of these, even just one, and you have replenished your reserves for another hour. Don’t forget to reset the i-Qi timer.
Do you have to do them all the time? No. But I find that getting into the habit of doing these builds my own anti-distraction muscles. And doing more than one gives me that much more benefit. I knock things out much more quickly, I enjoy my work time, and I’m less prone to agonize over what I have to do. Those are pretty good payoffs from some simple adjustments in my work habits.
So you choose. What works for you? I’d love to know.