Category Archives: Getting Things Done

Empty Your Mind for Better Focus

I bet you have a lot of thoughts rattling around in your brain right now. You may think you’re focused on reading this article, but I’m sure at some point in the few minutes required to read this article your mind will start to slip and think about other things you should be doing.

This used to be me. All the freaking time!

I would be working on one task but my mind would be racing back and forth between the current subject and all the other tasks left to be done. It wasn’t fun but it was definitely exhausting. This over activity of the mind would often prevent me from getting into my mental sweet spot where I would be in the state of flow.

But then Getting Things Done came along and changed everything for me. I’m not the biggest advocate of the GTD system as a whole by any means (I’ll save that topic for another day), but I didn’t glean a few golden nuggets from the book that did change the way I operate.

The concept of the brain dump where you get everything out of your psyche turned out to be one of the best concepts I have ever used.

I was being distracted by my mind reminding me of all the tasks I needed to do so that I wouldn’t forget them. The idea of a brain dump to get all these other tasks fleshed out onto paper would free my mind of the reminding duties so that it would concentrate fully on the task at hand.

If you’re having trouble focusing, why don’t you give it a try? Here’s the 3-step solution that works for me every time I find myself focusing on other tasks.

1. Set a timer for 10 Minutes

This isn’t an all-day activity. You’re trying to get thoughts out of your head onto paper as quickly as possible so that you can get back to being productive. To force yourself to do that, I would recommend setting a timer for 10-minutes. Set a timer that’s going to go off. Don’t look at your clock and say I’m going to stop 10 minutes from now.

You’ll spend too much time looking at the clock.

Setting a timer will force you to focus on getting out the most important and reoccurring tasks that are distracting you.

2. Dump every task you can think of to paper

You may have 10 tasks on your mind or you may have 100. Regardless of how big or how small the task, note every single one of them. It’s hard to predict which task your mind will bug you with, so to be sure, make sure you don’t miss any.

Also make sure to include personal as well as professional tasks on the list. Your mind will remind you of all of these, so you may as well capture them all in the brain dump session.

3. Set a reminder for review

You’ve now got all your tasks down on a master list. Awesome! So your mind is free to now remind you that you need to go through that list and start doing your tasks. Damn it. So close!

To avoid this scenario of the constant reminder from your mind, set a reminder on your phone/digital calendar/whatever for later in the day to go through this list and determine courses of action or which tasks don’t really need to be done.

This will allow your mind to relax as it knows that you have a reminder set to come back to it later in the day.

A free mind is a productive mind

Now that your mind is free of the noise that’s generated by other tasks you can properly focus on the task at hand. It will also free up mental resources that will allow you to be more creative.

Remember that the key to making this work is capturing everything You may not realize it, but it’s truly amazing how the mind can focus even on the smallest of tasks. By ensuring everything’s out of your head, you can ensure that you’re working distraction free.

Now that you’ve finished this article, why don’t you give it a try before starting your next tasks? Go do it! Now!

Doing the Essential

Yesterday I posted an article about identifying the essential tasks in your life on a day to day basis to ensure your focus lies on the important tasks in your life that when completed will provide real value to your life.

While identifying these tasks is a great first step, it should not be forgotten that they still need to get done. After all, it defeats the purpose if you identify the same essential task every day because you don’t actually do that task!

So how do you ensure the essential tasks get done?

Do them in the morning

I always try to do the tasks I’ve identified as essential as my first tasks of the morning. The main reason I do this is because I find it sets up my day. If I’ve completed the critical work early in the day I get into a productive mode where I feel like I can do any task that comes my way. It also allows me to stop worrying about what I should be doing and allows me to finish smaller tasks with a guilt free conscience.

Another important reason to do these tasks in the morning is because generally you have more energy at the start of the day rather than after lunch. As the day goes on, more and more items will be thrown onto your to-do list and the likelihood of you doing the essential tasks decreases by the minute.

Work distraction free

You should always try to work distraction free, at all times if possible. This is pretty unrealistic, but if you can schedule a small window of time to work distraction free you increase the chances of you making progress on your essential tasks.

To work distraction free, make sure you close your email, put your phone on silent so you don’t get notifications, close any IM applications, shut down your social media outlets and focus on your task. You may feel some initial resistance and an urge to open them back up, but let those feeling pass. After a minute or two you’ll start to fall into a state of flow where you’ll make some real progress.

Set a timer

This is definitely one of my favorite ways to ensure I get my essential tasks done. When I start work in the morning, I’ll look at my list of essential tasks and pick one out that I’m going to get started on. But instead of just slugging away at it, I’ll set a countdown timer for as short amount of time as I think it’s possible to get the task done. I promise myself that the amount set on the timer is the total amount of time I plan on spending on this task today.

What this does is make me focus on doing the essential pieces of this task and worry less about smaller details that will make no difference to the overall outcome. When possible, I try to make these firm deadlines so that I don’t think in the back of my mind that “I can always go over the time limit.” Treat the timer as the drop dead time for you to finish this task.

There will be times where you will have underestimated the time necessary and you need to continue on. In cases like these, make sure you reset your timer and treat this like an absolute deadline.

The key point is to not let a task go on for an indefinite amount of time, otherwise it’ll swell in complexity and time required to actually finish it.

I can promise you from personal experience that if you start focusing on identifying and doing your essential tasks your going to see amazing results in your life. You’ll start to feel your life getting under control and you’ll start making progress in areas of your life that may have been stagnant.

So starting tonight, make a promise to yourself that you’re going to identify 1-2 essential tasks you need to complete and make sure you follow up tomorrow to get these done. Repeat this process day after day and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in my free eBook Boost Your Productivity Instantly.

How to Just Start

One of my favorite articles on productivity was written by Leo Baubauta on his ZenHabits.net site.  The title of the post was “Best Procrastination Tip Ever.”  While the title of the post seems more than a little aimed at getting some search engine love for people searching for anti-procrastination tips, the message of the post resonated deeply with me.

The essence of the post was that getting started is difficult, but by just focusing on getting started on the first piece of work you can overcome the initial resistance and build some momentum towards getting some serious work done on an important project.

Leo is much more eloquent in his delivery of the message and I encourage you to read his article, but I just want to add my own thoughts on this subject.

If you’ve been an avid reader of productivity articles on the internet, I’m sure you’ve read about the state of flow.  It’s that critical point in your work where time seems to slip away as you’re solely focused on the task at hand.  You may not always be aware of it, but think of times when you’ve been at your desk and you glance at the clock, notice that it’s 4:15pm and you wonder where the day went.  Chances are you were in a state of flow all afternoon when you were churning through your work.

Flow is really the state in which you get most of your work done.

Doing the work when you’re in a state of flow is easy.  The key is figuring out a way to consistently get yourself into a state of flow.

This is why Leo’s tip of “just starting” is brilliant.  He encourages you to just get started for 30 seconds or a minute, just to get things moving.

It’s like a snowball that starts going downhill.  Initially you have to start rolling a snowball down a hill.  But it quickly starts picking up momentum, becoming bigger and bigger and moving faster as it continues to roll downhill.

If we look at an example, consider a report you may have to write.  When you’re getting started, you look at that report as a monster that’s going to take copious amounts of work and use up your precious time to get done.  Getting started on this type of project is a challenge because you really fear the amount of work it will take.  So often you will put starting on this project off until a later time, much closer to the deadline.

If you were to just start however, maybe you could look at opening your computer and saying that you’re just going to open your favorite word processing software and create the file that will be your report.

So you’ve named your file and you’re looking at a blank screen.  From here you might think, “well it wouldn’t be too painful to maybe write an introduction.”  So you type for a few minutes and the introduction is drafted.  It didn’t take too long.  So then you decide to outline some topic ideas for the various sections that may require some additional research.  And you proceed from there.

Do you see how this works?

Most often, the hardest part about work is getting started.

You can really use this in almost any area of your life where you find yourself having trouble getting started.

The key is to remember to focus on just the first step you can take towards moving your task forward.  Identify the smallest element of that task and focus on doing that smallest piece.  If you feel a desire to move away from that task, acknowledge that desire but don’t let it consume you.  It’ll pass shortly and you can re-focus on completing your first task.

Do this consistently when getting started on tasks and you’ll be much more likely to spend more time in the state of flow