Getting things done on time
Note as of 2013: This article was written two years ago. People are in different places spiritually and morally at any time in their life. Many things have changed since then. Therefore, the opinions and observations spoken about in this article may no longer reflect the author's current observations and knowledge. However, this may still serve those people who are going through similar changes in their lives to the ones of the author of this article at that time.
Vision without action is just a daydream. Action without vision is a learning experience. But putting your vision into action is hard work. This productivity article explores a few ideas that may help you become more efficient at making your visions come true.
Sometimes in life we wait too much. We wait for a perfect job. A promotion or a raise at work. We wait for making more money with our websites. We wait for a perfect web design client to come our way (one that is not needy or difficult to work with.) While we wait, our time is running out. That means we have less time to help other people.
We wait for things to happen to us. What we don't realize is that, when we do this without putting action behind our thoughts, it is inevitable that a "Too late" moment will come. A too late moment can range anywhere from something insignificant like forgetting to take the trash out to something more important.
It's possible to wait subconsciously. Procrastination can do that sometimes, mislead us with something else. Have us carried away listening to music or watching a favorite TV show. There is nothing wrong with being entertained, but if we don't control our instincts we might spend too much time doing things we don't really need to and lose our track of what's important.
When we lose track of what's really important, undersirable things will happen, which can set off an entire chain reaction of events we don't need in our life. When we forget to take the trash out, the garage will stink. When we forget an important meeting, we lose credibility and respect of others. Losing respect of others can cut us off from meeting that perfect web design client who has the money to spend and won't give us grief after the contract is signed.
You can say that I am a little obsessed with productivity. It's important because without it I couldn't have ran a jQuery newsletter, I couldn't have written my book. So, I constantly try to come up with ways that improve my flow of action. I can't say that I am perfect. But making small adjustments in your life can make a tremendous difference in the long term. What are my favorite methods of productivity I have discovered over the years?
We all want to accomplish many things. It is exciting to start a new project. It's a good feeling that makes you feel empowered. However, we know deep inside that everything we have ever started can result in not being good enough. Or it can result in lack of inspiration to finish it.
The problem here is the wrong way we distribute our focus. Many people don't realize that focus is a limited asset, and just like other things, it needs to be managed. People get carried away managing time, but what they do during that time is not looked at through the lens of focus distribution. Focus distribution is slightly more complex than time management.
Distributing your focus is extremely important. You can think of this as our brain having a limit on how many things we can do at one time. But it doesn't mean that just because we are limited to one thing at a time, that we must start trying to outsmart our own brain and try to get more things done with our limited focus, which really physically cannot be split in two at any one time. That's the thing about focus. It's called focus because you can only converge on one thing at a time. In order to understand how to effectively distribute focus we need to understand the few things focus works together with.
Focus and time are related to each other by the need to do something. You can't take trash out over and over for an entire day. It has to be done at a specified time, probably in the evening after work. You can think of it as - this is the time when it needs to be done.
What we need to do is determined by our belief system. Not by the way things "should" be. Some people take the trash out in the morning, before they leave for work because they return home late at night. But at the same time, we are still limited, because the garbage truck only comes on Wednesdays and Saturdays (let's say.) So our choice is still limited to a timeframe we are not in control of. We can't make the garbage truck show up on a different day. Someone else controls that. So we have to deal. But it is within this timeframe we will work on distributing our focus.
You can take the garbage out every day. But it's not very useful because the garbage truck will only come on Wednesday and Saturday. We can use other days to do something else. For example, create more garbage :-)
In the same way, like the garbage truck, our brain will limit us in terms of when it is wise to make a choice in the first place. By tuning into our brain's function (by accepting that the garbage truck only comes on Wednesdays and Saturdays), instead of resisting it, we can flow naturally and accomplish much more. I don't believe brain likes multi-tasking or switching from one task to another quickly at any one time. In this scenario, then, what is the solution to becoming more productive? The solution lies in the following metaphor.
Driving at Night
By far one of the best solutions to this prouctivity dilemma and limitations in the brain function is the Driving at Night metaphor. I highly recommend that, if you are not already using some other form of this metaphor, that you start.
If you care about accomplishing a lot of things in a short period of time, you must think about your work in terms of driving a car at night and focusing only on the road in immediate distance, right in front of you. This concept is at the core of productivity.
I am not saying that this concept will be easy to follow. But it is possible to adapt to it over a period of time and compeltely change your current behavior patterns. Once you do, you can accomplish pretty much anything you can think of. So let's take a look...
The Original Instinct
It is easy to be excited about starting a new project. It's easy to imagine a vision you have for it. In your mind, it can seem as if it is alreay done. But when the time comes to actually start working on this vision, people often lose control because they focus on too many things at once. They don't have a method. In other words, they don't know what to do. And sometimes they don't want to accept that they don't. But things like procrastination, running out of time, not having enough money, etc. are enough to move us off course and become uninspired.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that we try to accomplish everything at once. Instead of focusing on one thing at a time. It's hard for us to let go of the idea that we don't have to do everything at once. If we don't get everything done in one day, it doesn't mean that we can't do the same thing in two days. But spreading the work over a period of time, rather than trying to do everything in one day is a perfect solution.
Two days is really not that much different than one day. People who have a mindset that tries to get as much as possible in one day are less productive than people who have a long-term method. The term long-term can sound scary for some. Who wants to wait a long time to get anything done? But it's funny that people who have adopted the long term method get things done exponentially sooner than those who want to get everything done today.
Focusing Only on What's in the Headlights
When we drive a car at night, we only focus on the road within the immediate distance from us. In other words only what we see in our headlights. If we have our night vision on, we need to deal with the deer crossing the street if we see them. But the point is that thinking about problem solving in this way allows us to focus on what we need to get done right now.
We are only aware of the road and cars within the area of 100-200 feet or so. Even if we see the "road work ahead" sign we don't think about slowing down yet. It's just a reminder that there are changes to be made shortly. That we will need to switch to a different method of driving (or do a different type of work.) But in that moment, it doesn't matter. We keep that in mind, but simply continue focusing on our current task until we finish it.
When driving to the city on a Saturday night, I often think about my experience of being there as I drive. Visiting different restaurants at night, people-watching, just having fun. On my way there in my car, I think about that experience. That is my inspiration. This is why I chose to drive there in the first place. However, at the same time, I am only ever focused on what's ahead of me on the road, one 100 ft. segment at a time. And this is how you should think about your problems you are solving.
In a practical sense, you should just choose one task of the many you have, and work on that thing until its done. If you have many tasks, prioritize one above all the others, and finish it. Then move on to the next 100 ft. stretch of road. Never slow down. Keep moving.
In my experience, following this method made all the difference on my ability to accomplish what I wanted. So why then do we commit this mistake with our work habits? It's because...
It Feels Counter-productive
When we actually start implementing this as part of our behavior, this method has a funny side-effect of making us feel that it is counter-productive. You must simply ignore this thought. It is not true, and it is really our mind just telling us: What are you doing? You have not done anything like this before. I am not used to this! Well, mind, you better start getting used to it.
It's perhaps the toughest battle about this method. But once won, and yes, it can be won, and will be...you will start reaping rewards you never thought were possible. You will start getting done more things in a shorter period of time. And you will feel good about your newfound power of accomplishing a lot of work.
Using this method, that is how I was able to write over 30 good quality tutorials and articles in a period of 2 months. Just one person. It was definitely worth switching to this method. It took me a while, but by constant pursuit of adapting to this method, I finally switched over. And it's fun.
Once you get something done, it's forever to be that way. My book will always be published. At any time in the future someone can buy it. The work is done. I am moving to the next thing. Things add up like that, and before you know it, you'll see that you have accomplished more than you can understand. And that's good. Just keep at it. Keep driving. But you can't keep driving without commitment.
This mataphor of driving a car will not, in a million years, be useful to you unless you fully commit to it. Not just think about it. Fully commit to it like it's the only way you are going to get anything done from now on. It won't be easy but once you start getting it right, I guarantee that you will see some extraordinary results in as little as 7 days. It is quite incredible. Getting there will take longer than 7 days. It might take you a month, or even longer. But I assure you that you will not regret this new way of getting things done.
It's easy to feel false pride, but the truth is we can't give ourselves credit for things we have not physically accomplished. it is just not how the reward mechanism of our brain works. So I suggest that you start integrating this metaphor into your daily activity.
1. Start doing one thing at a time. Never caring of the amount of work ahead. There are always thousands of hours of work ahead anyway. Why bother thinking about it?
2. Stop tracking progress. As long as you are taking action, you are already making progress. There is no need to watch it anymore. One day you will wake up with more organic traffic sent to your website. One day you will wake up with more money in your bank account. Tracking statistics can sometimes be limiting, because you expect the same thing to happen. Not a greater thing.
Just let go of statistics. Feel freedom of being able to do anything you want and stick to the driving at night metaphor. It's that easy. Don't even track statistics or make notes of your accomplishments. Stick to this method for 30 days no matter what, develop it and integrate it into your behavior. Practice it until it becomes a part of your methodical process. That is how you commit to it.
3. Remove all distractions. Ignore all people and thoughts that prevent you from pursuing the method of being disciplined to accomplish one thing every day. You can't continue lying to yourself that you are actually doing any work when you're only procrastinating. That needs to stop. Even if you spend 3 hours of real work per day, that's 90 hours of work per month. But it is the hours of real work, not procrastination of just sitting there.
4. Stop doing purposeless things. Stop tweeting. Stop watching or posting messages on Facebook. Stop watching TV, and playing video games. Stop doing things that don't matter. Your life is on the line. Do you want to play video games on your death bed or do you want to accomplish lifetime worth of achievements? These things are very rewarding. Things that are not purposeless are the things that other people find helpful. Entertaining yourself in moderation is not bad in itself, we all need a break, but don't get carried away. Don't make entertainment become your reward. Your reward is respect won by the people you create things for. We're all doing things and helping each other. Avoid situations in which you are spending time helping only yourself.
5. Forget about money completely. You need to pay rent, you need to buy groceries, you want to have enough left to buy things you want to buy. And all of that is fine. But you have to understand that thinking about materialistic things is not okay with the "driving at night" method. Remember, we must forget everything and fully submerge into seeing only what is in front of us at one time. It's okay to do this because our increased productivity will always bring us more of what we need. More money, more time, even. This doesn't mean that you are always stuck with this method. On the contrary, there will be days when you will realize you have more freedom to do what you want. As long as you eventually return to your disciplined worth ethic, you can allow yourself to take a day or two off.
6. Be helpful to others. It just sounds counter productive at first. But if you consider that every time you fully accomplish one thing and move on to the next one, that you are making a physical impact in the world, or in someone else's life, this means that your efforts will not come unnoticed. A friend or coworker you helped will be more willing to give you work references (web design clients, perhaps?) if you help them first. Building this momentum of getting helpful things done is essential. That is the entire purpose of this method. Stick to it on a daily basis, just keep getting things done, one at a time no matter what, and I guarantee that the response rate from people will increase. And with this response rate your social network will strengthen in value.
7. Have fun. Work doesn't have to be monotone. Being able to accomplish more in less time will give you a sense of accomplishment. This is your brain rewarding you for your hard work. Try to remain in this cycle without interruptions, and steadily move forward every day.