The art of crafting a flexible time and attention management system.
In today's fast-paced world, productivity has become a buzzword, and everyone is looking for ways to get more done in less time. One book that massively influenced how I manage my life is "How to Become a Productivity Ninja" by Graham Allcott. I will summarize some of the key takeaways I got from this book and how I used them to create order in the chaos of modern life.
The Art of Mind Management
The first thing to focus on is mastering the art of mind management. Our minds are constantly bombarded with distractions, and we need to learn how to manage them effectively. One of the best ways to do this is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. By doing this, you can eliminate distractions and increase your productivity. Part of the way you can become more present is by not having things weighing on the back of your mind. We will discuss how to do this shortly.
Compress your time
I stole this Idea from Ed Mylett. I break my day into 3 days. This motivates me to accomplish far more during shorter periods of time. It also creates breaks in my day where I get to start over. For example we all know the saying “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed”. Everything is going wrong, we aren’t getting done what we planned, and this cycle usually continues until we go to sleep and wake up the next day. But if we consciously END our day at a predetermined time each day, and start over again as if we just woke up, then that cycle often breaks. I get THREE fresh starts each day instead of one! I also value you my time a lot more when I only have a little bit of time in each “day”. Instead of scheduling things by the hour, half hour, or 15 minute mark, EVERY MINUTE COUNTS. Maybe I’m alone here but in the past if I finished a meeting or project 5 minutes early I would be tempted to give myself a 5 minute break to scroll Facebook or some other equally useless pursuit. Now the second I finish something I grab my list and get to work. I'll touch on lists shortly. But first I want to talk about inputs.
Manage Your Inputs
As noted in the “Art of Mind Management”, we are constantly bombarded by too much information each day. We need to collect, process, and do something with all that information. It sounds overwhelming, but it actually takes far less time than NOT managing it. So, what information do we need to worry about? Any information that might require us to take some action. This information might come from your brain, an email, a letter, a coworker, a boss, a text message, etc etc etc. Stop what you are doing right now and write down EVERYWHERE you get tasks from. Maybe you have a CRM that automatically fills up with tasks. A shared trello board? EVERYTHING. Now get ruthless and figure out what things you can eliminate. Chances are you have a few inputs you can remove or condense. Once you have done that make a checklist of your different inputs. You are going to assign how often you will check each one, and DO NOT check it more often than that. Also make sure you check it as often as you said you would. This might look like, I check the mail once per day, I check my email twice per day at X time and X time. For text messages I will read personal ones as they come in, but work related ones will get managed 3 times per day. I will ignore the message until the assigned time comes. This might sound harsh, but if you keep dropping the project you are working on to add new things to your plate, you won’t every clear your plate off and nobody benefits from that. I suggest adding a notepad or some similar thing to your list of inputs where you can write down anything that can't be ignored till later. For example some idea in your brain, or a verbal request for action from someone. This way you can forget about it until later when you are ready to manage that information. I quickly want to point out that writing down ideas as they come to us is very important. This should also be coupled with brain dumping. Brain dumping is when you just sit with your thoughts for an allotted amount of time and write down everything you find floating around in your head. I generally do this when I first wake up, and before I go to bed. But please don’t wait until your brain dumping sessions to write things down you may forget them, or they will weigh you down in the back of your mind as you try to accomplish other tasks. It's kind of like keeping a browser tab open. So now we have all this information how do we manage it? What do you do now? Welcome to the power of lists!
The Power of Lists
Creating lists is one of the most effective ways to manage your time and increase your productivity. I created a master list of all my tasks and then tag them for organization. I use Todoist, that allows me to break down my list nicely. It also allows me to very quickly add tasks or ideas from my phone, computer, apple watch, or even Alexa when i'm in the shower. I use the Inbox tab to organize “Categories”, I have Personal, Business, and Hobbies. EVERYTHING in my life fits into these. All health, fitness, family etc goes under Personal, all work goes into Business etc. When I add items into Todoist I just quickly add them to my “today” list, and then spend a few minutes each day dragging them into the appropriate categories, sometimes they get finished before they get sorted and that's perfectly fine. I just want to make sure when I am planning my day or my week that I can look at categories separately. The next step here is to spend some time the night before AND every morning going through your WHOLE list. Ruthlessly eliminate anything that doesn’t actually need to be done. Delegate everything else you can and tag those “waiting”, check your waiting list as often as you deem necessary. Everything that is left over is stuff you have to do personally. If there is a specific date they need to be done ON then tag them with that date. Do NOT tag them with the date they need to be done BY. This will ensure you are always under the gun to get things done and that is not the point here. Tag everything else as due TODAY. This way all your tasks that can be done today all show up in one list. I add tags that show if they need to be done in a certain physical location or during business hours. This allows me to quickly sort what tasks I can do in any particular location, and if it's 4pm, I should prioritize items that need to get finished during business hours etc. Don’t worry if you don’t finish everything on your list. At the end of your work day simply move the due date for work related tasks to the next day. Since we are doing them BEFORE their actual due date this gives us plenty of room to breath and you will find you can accomplish a lot more than you thought possible. Mostly because its all organized. One key takeaway that I really want to hit home is that the biggest productivity boost you will see is by simply saying NO to everything that isn’t critical. This will allow you to make real progress a lot faster.
To recap, mindfulness helps eliminate distractions and increase productivity. Compressing time motivates to accomplish more in shorter periods. Managing inputs and creating lists help focus on what's important and eliminate unnecessary information. Saying no to non-critical tasks and ruthlessly eliminating unnecessary information will massively increase productivity.