“We are constantly trading off what we are doing now against what we might do in the future. As long as we are doing that in a reasonable way, it doesn’t matter that we are putting some things off.”—
Frank Partnoy reports on how experts in different fields view procrastination in Procrastination Rules. He describes how a journalist manages time by managing delay:
For projects that require different amounts of time, Guerrera makes separate lists. He describes a technique he and many other journalists use: “We have two sets of notebooks, a small one and a big one. The small one is for immediate day-to-day stories, the work we have to do right away. The big one is for big thoughts, features and stories that have some time. There’s an actual physical distinction between our immediate stories and the ones we can wait on. The physical form of two notebooks is our way of saying it’s too overwhelming to do both at the same time.”
Managing delay or, yes, procrastination, can be positive, reasonable behavior depending on what you’re actually trading off.
A 2005 study by the International Labour Organization found that nutrition habits do indeed directly influence work productivity. Mindflash’s infographic offers some great brain food suggestions. We’re always up for eating more dark chocolate, avocados, and blueberries - yum!
“[T]ime management isn’t primarily about using minutes well, it’s about using yourself well. And using yourself well means spending most of your time in your sweet spot, which is at the intersection of your strengths, weaknesses, differences, and passions.”—
Peter Bregman found that many people “agree or strongly agree that they don’t spend enough time at work in their sweet spot, doing work they’re really good at and enjoy the most.”
Focusing at work isn’t just about concentrating on the tasks at hand, but also about focusing your talents. Stay in your sweet spot longer.
“[W]e have one reservoir of willpower. It’s a highly limited resource, and it gets depleted by every act that requires its use.”—
Tony Schwartz, proponent of maintaining your energy levels for sustainable productivity, offers a Master Plan for Taking Control of Your Life back from all those temptations that ultimately deplete your tank of willpower.
His two tips related to eating and sleeping are great reminders to attend to your physical health in order to give your best during the day:
4. Sleep as much as you must to feel fully rested.
Enough with the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality. That just makes you a zombie.
6. Eat energy rich foods in small doses at frequent intervals.
Schwartz recommends refueling at least every three hours. Skip the mocha choco latte yeah yeah and donuts, and snack on lean proteins and complex carbohydrates for longer lasting energy boosts. Here are some helpful meal and snack ideas.
Leo Babauta of zen habits is all for killing time. To Leo, “killing” is a misnomer.
Reframe killing time as enjoying time.
Is this what our lives are to be? A non-stop stream of productive tasks? A life-long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine?
What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals.
In this modern age of gizmos and gadgets, the best productivity app is you.
Benjamin Franklin, that historical grand master of productivity who did pretty well without an iPhone, knows why:
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
Our capabilities for self-analysis, awareness, and perception are what separate us from robotic worker drones, punching in and punching out without rhyme or reason. But our limited notion of productivity ignores those capabilities, focusing simplistically on output and end results, on just doing it and getting it done. We know the destinations in our work are important, but all too often, we ignore the journey and the process. We ignore ourselves.
Fuel growth and progress by keeping a work diary.
It makes sense that Franklin was a regular diarist. He was obsessed with personal growth and progress. Every evening, Franklin set aside time for “examination of the day” and to ask himself, “What good have I done today?”
The daily exercise of reflection and asking such questions are powerful, as Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer have found that the most effective motivator at work is the sense that you are making meaningful progress. Integral to fostering that sense of progress is a positive “inner work life”, which is “the mix of emotions, motivations, and perceptions” that form feedback loops in reaction to workday events and affecting how people perform at work.
Amabile and Kramer’s research shows that the quality of your inner work life impacts your “creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality.” People with positive inner work lives are engaged in their work. Meanwhile, disengaged people are less present and less productive, more worker drone.
Keeping a work diary enables you to pay attention to your inner work life, ensures engagement with your work, and helps you make meaningful progress.
How does this work?
Amabile and Kramer offer four explanations: focus, patience, planning, and, especially, personal growth. We build upon those here:
Health: Expressive writing helps cognitive processing and thus enables adaptation, resulting in better emotional and physical health.
Focus and Memory: Journaling distills the thoughts running around your head, helping to identify, clarify, and preserve. Even though you’re influenced by work events all the time, it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint how or why you were impacted more than a day later. Details get lost in the stream of busy. Keeping a work diary captures them.
Patience and Planning: With a more accurate picture of where you are and what you have done, you can plan better for your future and have more patience to insulate you against the monsters of pressure, frustration, and anxiety that time can unleash upon you. Daily journaling will also build a record and improve your ability to see the long-view. Look backward at any time to forge ahead more meaningfully and productively.
Personal Growth: Gain insight into your work habits and relationships. Command more control and autonomy because you are better able to learn from mistakes, change course, and recognize what might be standing in the way.
Daily recording and reflection also yields an honest overview of what you’ve done during the day. Instead of focusing miserably on ghosts — the to-do’s you feel you failed to accomplish — you can reflect on the reality of all the stuff you got done that day. Small wins, too, are significant to the sense that you’re making progress.
How to keep a work diary.
It’s super simple! Here are a few tips to get you started:
— Try it out for at least a month, since it takes time to build up a habit.
— Don’t use lack of time as an excuse to skip out on journaling. Amabile and Kramer recommend five to ten minutes a day. You probably spend more time during the day in the bathroom.
— Show up. Try not to miss any days. It builds the habit and you don’t have to deal with the memory problem.
— Use whatever methods and style you prefer. Pen and paper are fine, as are any kind of word processor or text editing program. Electronic tools will probably make searching and review easier but it’s up to you. Write in short fragments, bullet points, or full paragraphs. Journal in the morning, noon, or night. Whatever works.
— Follow Franklin’s example and start positively. What good did you get done today? It’s too easy to get mired in the negative and you don’t want to forget those small wins that can end up making a difference in the long run. Remember that you’re looking to cultivate a sense of progress. Celebrate your accomplishments, big and small, and unleash your inner Oprah to explore what you’re grateful for.
— Turn negatives into progress fuel. If your day had setbacks or you felt crummy, think about what caused negative performance or feelings and what could be done to improve such situations.
— Review regularly to gain the maximum benefits. Note patterns for what supported or detracted from your work, your level of engagement, and your moods. Having written proof grants you stronger footing to implement change.
Maintaining a work diary engages you in your work and reflects the journey of your inner work life. You’ll stand out in your outer work life for the finer work you produce and improved relationships you foster. You and your work diary make up the most effective and efficient productivity tool. From a fraction of an hour, you receive incredible gains — more momentum and meaningful progress to carry you onward and upward rather than going ‘round and ‘round the hamster wheel!
Audrey Tan, founder of Waggit, has a neat productivity trick she calls “dip the ink" that keeps the work flow going after breaks and interruptions:
If a friend asks me to take a coffee break or someone starts hovering at your desk as a sign they want to chat, I say - ‘gimme one sec’, get to a good stopping place, PLUS a little extra work on my next task. I simply dip the ink. If I’m writing an email, I’ll finish the one I’m doing - then I’ll start composing the first few lines of the next email. This way, when I come back - I avoid having to think about what to do next. It’s easier to dive back in and my work flow is less disrupted.
Check out the rest of Audrey’s blog for a look behind the scenes of the startup life.
Recently, we highlighted a method of planning your day that consisted of asking yourself what you’d say “No” to. Just as important is to ask yourself “Why?” when it comes to the items on your to-do list.
Psychologist Michael V. Pantalon recommends making a Why-Do list to increase your motivation on those items that just never seem to make it off your to-do list. The key to Pantalon’s “Why?” exercise is keeping it positive. So instead of asking yourself negatively charged questions like, “Why can’t I do ____”, focus on the reasons why you wanted to do it in the first place and why those reasons are important to you.
This way, you may see how some to-do items don’t belong on your list and be more motivated to accomplish others — which connects back to knowing what to say “No” to.
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”—
Tim Kreider writes about modern life’s worship of busyness in The “Busy” Trap for the New York Times Opinionator.
Find the balance between idleness and hustle, for “Life is too short to be busy.”
“Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most. And yet, attending to others doesn’t just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world.”—
We’ve said before that the ultimate true lifehack is to figure out what to pay attention to. Anderson explains the positive impacts of being conscious how we devote our attention on not just ourselves but those around us.
Paying attention to others is the path not just toward being a better leader but leading a better life.
Tips and tricks aside, lifehacking neither reaches the roots of the how’s and why’s nor the wants and cares of life. The ultimate true lifehack is to figure out what to pay attention to. Then, pay attention “effectively, meaningfully, and relatively unselfishly.”
One of our awesome users, Nate Graves, basically performed the web equivalent of taking the time to return some cash he found on the ground to whoever dropped it.
He landed on idonethistoday.com by mistake, realized it wasn’t registered, bought the domain name, and passed it onto us.
Here’s the email we got back in the beginning of this year:
So, today I got my daily reminder from you guys. I saw it pop up on my phone with the from address showing “IDoneThis Today.” Without really thinking I typed idonethistoday.com into my browser and off I went to…nothing. I realized and righted my mistake pretty quickly. But, later I checked the whois on idonethistoday.com and saw it wasn’t registered. It is now and is pointing to your site. I’ll be happy to hand it off to you if you’d like (free of charge of course). Just figured you might have some folks out there like me who wound up in the wrong part of town, and I didn’t want them to miss out on your great service.
With Meetup’s sense of community and a natural bent for crowdsourcing ideas, maybe it makes sense that Nate is such a good web Samaritan. Still, we were quite thankful for his gesture! We chatted briefly with Nate about his act of kindness and ideas for our shiny new domain name gift.
When many people would have input a web address to nowhere, shrugged, and carried on, what made you decide to actually act after landing on a dead end?
There have been times where I’ve registered a domain for a side project and hadn’t realized there was something I was overlooking that might have confused people, like whether it’s singular versus plural, or just how to spell it. There’ve been domain names that I’ve wanted that have been registered already and people are asking for just crazy amounts of money for not amazing domain names.
I thought if I were in this situation and there was a chance that I was losing some traffic because of a fairly simple thing, then I’d love to have that extra domain.
It could be used for something like codeyear.com. Codeacademy launched it at the beginning of the year and said, if you’ve always wanted to learn how to code, here’s how you get started. Maybe idonethistoday could be something along those lines - a targeted landing page to get people to start using idonethis.
Great idea! And though we’re still sending out emails with the “from” field of IDoneThis today, how do you use the service?
I use it as a reminder to be working on something everyday, trying to push myself to be developing something. I started one also for Grammarize ‘cause there’s a friend of mine who lives in Oakland who’s been helping out. I can certainly watch his commits but rather than having to dig through messages or the actual code that he changed, it’s nice to have a summary.
It’s great that it’s so simple and that it lends itself to so many different uses. I’ll be interested to see what you do in the future and how you build out the product so that it continues to be useful but has more to offer.
There you go. Nate Graves, good web Samaritan and awesome iDoneThis user. Do you have ideas on how to use idonethistoday.com? Show us in the comments!
“Life might be a race against time but it is enriched when we rise above our instincts and stop the clock to process and understand what we are doing and why. A wise decision requires reflection, and reflection requires a pause.”—
"If you don’t give a damn about anything, no one will give a damn about you."
— Jessica Hagy offers great advice and brilliant illustrations over at Forbes on How to Be More Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps). Her points are also spot on for how to get awesome stuff done. Our other favorites? Embrace your inner weirdness and ignore the scolds!
Look at the progress of the day towards the end and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?”
Answering that question is liberating….
It feels good to be productive. If yesterday was a good day’s work, chances are you’ll keep the roll. And if you can keep the roll, everything else will probably take care of itself.
37signals’s David Heinemeier Hansson writes in his post, A good day’s work, about the frustration from those ever-continuous waves of work that seem to lap up against our mind’s shore.
David’s helpful suggestion to deal with that worried and anxious mind is to simply reflect on the day that’s just passed. Oftentimes, you’ve done a great day’s work. Leave your work knowing that you’re ready and primed to have a great day of accomplishments tomorrow.
Of course, we’re all for reflecting upon your work day. Use iDoneThis to ask yourself, “Have I done a good day’s work?” and keep that roll!
The key to success is not just focusing on what’s important but knowing what to ignore, to say “No” to. The decision to achieve something requires decisions not to achieve other things.
HBR’s Peter Bregman recommends looking at Focus and Ignore lists every morning to direct your day to success:
List 1: Your Focus List (the road ahead)
What are you trying to achieve? What makes you happy? What’s important to you? Design your time around those things. Because time is your one limited resource and no matter how hard you try you can’t work 25/8.
List 2: Your Ignore List (the distractions)
To succeed in using your time wisely, you have to ask the equally important but often avoided complementary questions: what are you willing not to achieve? What doesn’t make you happy? What’s not important to you? What gets in the way?
“We always assume that you get more done when you’re consciously paying attention to a problem. That’s what it means, after all, to be ‘working on something.’ But this is often a mistake. If you’re trying to solve a complex problem, then you need to give yourself a real break, to let the mind incubate the problem all by itself. We shouldn’t be so afraid to actually take some time off.”—
Jonathan Schooler explains his forthcoming paper on the power of daydreaming in Jonah Lehrer’s blog post, “The Virtues of Daydreaming”. According to Schooler and Benjamin Baird’s research, questions need time to marinate and incubate in your brain in order for you to come up with better and more creative solutions.
Like doodling, daydreaming is put down as a waste of time, when in fact you’re getting stuff done. Your unconscious is still hard at work while you can let your mind wander and take a break without the guilt trip!
This 1932 quote from FDR may be about the U.S., but it stands as pretty good personal advice too!
The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
“Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”—
English teacher David McCullough Jr. delivered a rousing commencement speech at Wellesley High School, advising the graduating class to reach for achieving something good and genuine rather than for accolades.
The entire speech is worth a read, or watch the video:
“Motivation and inspiration can go a long way toward helping you get where you want to be. Sometimes blogs and books and in-person meetings give me that push or ah-ha moment I need to get moving. But when it comes to creating something awesome, whether that’s a book or a business or some other exciting project, you have to step away from all those sources of energy and create.”—
Alexis Grant writes about how the way to kick your butt into gear isn’t by doing other things, no matter how helpful they seem.
Step away from the push itself and get stuff done!
“Productivity — the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy — is often viewed as the engine of progress in modern capitalist economies. Output is everything. Time is money.”—
In a recent NY Times op-ed, Tim Jackson reminds us that with a narrow definition of productivity and the fact that "we’ve become so conditioned by the language of efficiency," we risk neglecting parts of our lives that matter, such as a focus on care and craft.
We tend to agree. What is your definition of productivity?
“Years ago, when I was researching an article on research into stress, one social scientist passed on a simple tip: “At some point every day, you have to say, ‘No more work.’” No matter how many tasks remain undone, you have to relax at some point and enjoy the evening.”—John Tierney, NY Times columnist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, in an interview with Gretchen Rubin.
I’m sure we’ve all worked at companies where the loudest guy gets the biggest bonus. In most companies, compensation is determined by a cabal of execs—guys that you may never have met—evaluating work that happened up to a whole year ago. Bonus compensation ends up being a function of politics, not performance.
51% of employees feel that the performance reviews upon which bonus compensation is based are inaccurate according to a 2011 survey by Globoforce. A 2010 literature survey in Psychology Today concluded that 87% to 90% of employees hate performance reviews because the feedback is not useful, the whole process is stressful, and they’re left demotivated as a result.
Incredibly, despite widespread recognition of its failure, a recent Wall Street Journal article found that 99% of companies still go through the process of ritualized demotivation.
At Shopify, an e-commerce software startup that’s doubled to a 100-employee headcount in a year’s time, they’ve reinvented the process and turned bonus compensation on its head. They distribute bonuses every month — not once a year — and that compensation is determined by peers, not by the management team on high.
Shopify crowdsources their company bonuses.
We spent a week with Shopify at their headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, after the company began using iDoneThis. We learned that their use of iDoneThis was a small part of a bigger philosophy—to put power in the hands of employees, the ones closest to the ground, to make consequential decisions, crowdsource business intelligence, and build their own unique company culture.
To crowdsource company bonuses, the Shopify team built their own internal system called Unicorn. Here’s how it works.
When Serena does something awesome, Daniel gives her thanks by going into Unicorn, logging her accomplishment, and giving her one, two or three unicorns. Everyone in the company sees Serena’s plaudits and can pile on more unicorns if they agree that she did an awesome job.
At the end of month, every employee in Shopify gets allocated a proportion of the company’s profits that are set aside for Unicorn bonuses. Daniel’s allocation goes to Serena and anyone else to whom he’s given unicorns over the course of the month. In other words, Serena’s bonus is determined by the gratitude of her peers for a job well done.
Whereas traditional bonus compensation schemes assume that management knows employee performance better than employees themselves, Shopify’s system seeks the wisdom of the crowd to determine who the top performers are. The upshot is that Unicorn isn’t merely an administrative tool that doles out bonuses, it’s a business intelligence platform for employee performance.
It’s the difference between management hindsight on the one hand and data and genuine insight on the other. CEO Tobi Lutke told me that Unicorn discovered top performers among employees who might otherwise have been overshadowed by more charismatic colleagues.
Perhaps the most amazing fact of Unicorn is that Shopify has transformed the process of workplace feedback, performance evaluation and compensation from a source of fear and dread into a fun way to recognize a colleague’s good work. The power of crowdsourcing is that it can take a back office function like traditional HR and put it into the hands of every person in the company. The result is that Shopify’s culture of performance, gratitude, and quirkiness is baked into everyday life at the company.
“The world is full of people who are waiting for someone to come along and motivate them to be the kind of people they wish they could be. These people are waiting for a bus on a street where no buses pass.”—
It’s not just the number of hours we sit at a desk that determines the value we generate. It’s the energy we bring to the hours we work … . Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy – physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually – requires refueling it intermittently.
Schwartz’s insistence that real productivity requires real rest, recharge, and renewal is in tune with Ken Robinson's focus on energy. Robinson suggests that having passion for your work is a built-in energy renewal system. Schwartz's point on sustaining personal energy levels is even more basic, whatever your passion (or lack of passion) is for your work — simply take more meaningful breaks.
Get outside, move around more, and please, stop eating lunch at your desk.