Manage Your Day-To-Day

Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, is an excellent read that shows how to build a rock solid routine, to do what matters the most for us. Following is the summary of my understanding.

Its’ time to stop blaming our surroundings and start taking responsibility. While no workplace is perfect, it turns out that our gravest challenges are a lot more primal and personal. Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it specifically, it’s out routine(or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather reactively and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.

1. Building a Rock-Solid Routine

Building great things takes time. It requires thought, craft and persistence. But in reality what most of us do?

No one likes the feeling that other people are waiting impatiently – for a response. At the beginning of the day, faced with an overflowing inbox, an array of voice mail messages and the list of next steps from meetings, it’s tempting to “clear the decks” before staring your own work. When you’r up-to-date, you tell yourself, it will be easier to focus.

But there is a problem with this approach.

The trouble with this approach is it means spending the best part of the day on other people’s priorities. By the time you settle down to your own work, it could be mid-afternoon, when your energy dips and your brain slows.

Remember all energies are not created equal. The output produced per unit of energy decreases as the duration of the task increases.

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large of chunk of time everyday for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.

Once we have allotted a large chunk of time we need to jump start our creative work. How? We can use associations a power psychological force to help us. Establish associative trigger such as listening to same music or arrange your desk in a certain way – that tell your mind it’s time to get down to work. Next we need to repeat this every day. In other words we need to harness the power of frequency.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in  a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently. Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British Postal System, observed, “A small daily task, if it is really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habits of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.

Remember, What I do everyday matters more than what I do once in a while. Which psychological force is behind this? It is Commitment and Consistency. Taking frequent breaks during creative work helps us to renew our energy levels.

Our bodies follow what are known as ultradian rhythms – ninety-minute periods at the end of which we reach the limits of our capacity to work at the highest level. It’s possible to push ourselves past ninety minutes by relying on coffee, or sugar, or by summoning our own stress hormones, but when we do so we’r overriding our physiological need for intermittent rest and renewal. Eventually, there’s a price to pay.

Remember to

Show up, whether you feel inspired or not. Don’t wait for moods.

2. Finding focus in a distracted world

At work I get over 100+ emails every day. This is a big source of distraction. Creative minds are highly susceptible to distractions. Human brain is not good at multitasking.

Studies shows that the human mind can only truly multitask when it comes to highly automatic behaviors like walking. For activities that require conscious attention, there is really no such thing as multitasking, only task switching. The process of flicking the mind back and forth between different demands.

In the middle of the work imagine yourself using the social media. The context switches will not let you focus on the task at hand. You will be doing a lot of activity but would not have learned anything. Watch this video on ‘What is Internet doing to our brains”. Courtesy: farnamstreet

Why is Email such a great temptation system?

Answer to this question is given by one of my favorite psychologist, Dan Ariely.

The psychologist B.F.Skinner came up with the idea of random reinforcement, where you give a rat a lever and every hundred times it presses the lever, it gets a piece of food. For the rat, that is exciting. But if the number is a random number – any number between one and one hundred – it actually ends up being more exciting. And the rat keeps on working much, much more, even if you take the reward away altogether.

What psychological force is at play here? It is the near misses which the casino’s employs.

I think that email and social networks are a great example of random reinforcement. Usually, when we pull the lever to check our email, it’s not that interesting. But, from time to time, it’s exciting. And that excitement, which happens at random intervals, keeps us coming back to check our email all the time.

So what do we do? Dan Ariely tells that

It would probably be best if managers went to the IT department and asked that email to not be distributed between eight and eleven every morning. The idea that the best to communicate with people is 24/7 is not really an idea about maximizing productivity.

3. Taming your tools

A recent study by the Mckinsey Global Institute found that the average knowledge worker spends 28 percent of his or her workweek either writing, reading or responding to email. Few rules we can follow to recover some time

  1. Setup rules so that your email can sort itself.
  2. Unsubscribe from excess groups and newsletters that you do not really need.
  3. Limit your emails to five sentences or less.
  4. Close your inbox when it is not in use.

We all have long term goals. In doing our daily chores, we lose track of long term goals. In order to keep the long term goals in view, post your complex, long term goals by your workstation. Use the availability rule to your advantage.

Social Media

Most of us are in mindlessness state while using social media. It takes a concentrated effort to be mindful with social media – to be proactive instead of reactive. When we are mindful we’re aware of why we’re logging on. Few questions to ask for being mindful.

  1. Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living it now?
  2. Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
  3. Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catch up? Can I let go of yesterday’s conversation and join today’s instead?
  4. Do I just want to have mindless fun for a while?

Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken – Warren Buffett

In this excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg teaches, how to break bad habits

Remember that

You have a choice in where to direct your attention. Chose Wisely. The world will wait. And it it’s important, they’ll call back.

4. Sharpening your creative mind

We decide our time to please everyone in delivering on their expectations, but we never get around to do what we actually want to do.

When was the last time you made something that someone wasn’t paying you for, and looking over your shoulder to make sure you got it right? When I ask creatives this question, the answer that comes back all too often is, “I can’t remember.” It’s so easy for creativity to become a means to a very practical end – earning a paycheck and pleasing your client or manager. But that type of work only uses a small spectrum of your abilities. To truly excel, you must also continue to create for the most important audience of all: Yourself

Exercise sharpens brain activity.

Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least 2 hours afterward.

How to produce great creative work on a daily basis

Stefan Sagmeister, a graphic designer writes

I try to do the most difficult things early in the morning. If I start with easy stuff, meaning if I start checking and answering email it is very difficult to then convince myself to do difficult things later on

Which psychological effect is in play here? It is contrast effect.

Love your limitations

Look at constraints as a benefit, rather than an impediment. They activate our creative thinking by upping our ante.

Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating – John Cleese