I have never been diagnosed with an attention disorder, and I don’t believe I have one, and I sometimes find it hard that they exist at all. However, with all the noise we have to deal with today, it’s not surprising that our attention spans have gone way down.
This used to be a typical unproductive day for me circa 2013 (you don’t :
- 8:00 Wake up, think about getting out of bed
- 8:30 Still in bed, still thinking about getting out of bed
- 9:00 Finally out of bed, taking care of dog, self, etc
- 10:00 Answer emails, devise task list for day, rest of week (priorities are ever shifting)
- 10:30 check facebook, chat away
- 10:45 check my feeds, read away, tweet interesting blogs
- 11:00 Finish up emails and task delegation
- 11:15 Answer more emails that came in
- 11:30 take a break and complain on twitter, talk to Matt on Skype
- 11:45 look at task list, groan, open relevant programs and files
- 12:00 think about lunch, discuss with Matt what we will be eating, find spotify soundtrack for the day
- 12:15 Answer a few more emails
- 12:30 decide on lunch, go downstairs to prepare the meal
- 13:00 finish meal prep, Matt is here for lunch, we eat and watch TV
- 14:30 Back to work, start at task list again, groan
- 14:45 distract myself with side projects and things I wish I was doing
- 15:00 answer stray email, create a proposal, maybe an invoice
- 15:15 look at task list, start with the easy quick tasks that are normally not important
- 16:00 really get into the groove with working (finally!)
- 16:30 dog starts distracting me, she’s ready for a walk, check twitter/facebook/blogs again, share interesting things
- 17:00 walk dog
- 17:30 fire up anki, study Japanese
- 18:00 matt comes home, we discuss dinner plans or run any errands we need to after work
- 19:00 dinner is being prepared, or we’re going out to eat
- 19:30 dinner/relax time
- 21:00 thinking about work, side projects I want to complete, lurk around the social sphere
- 22:00 get some work done
- 23:00 walk dog
- 00:00 think about going to bed, work a little bit longer
- 00:30 get ready for bed
- 01:00 in bed, start reading books on Kindle or jsut go to bed depending how tired I am
- 01:30-02:00 fall asleep
As you can see by the breakdown of my day, I was only productive on billable work for maybe all of 3 hours– and that was with majority of work getting done after 10pm! What? Yes, so, something had to change. For starters, I identified I was spending a lot of time in my email, either answering questions, dishing out proposals or invoices, or keeping clients updated and in the loop. I needed to streamline this.
Next, I was spending way too much time lurking on the social sites, especially Facebook– not because I was seeing what my friends were up to, but because I follow a lot of political and philosophical pages, along with hobbies and health and wellness pages. These pages are aggregating content from their blogs. I could not wait to see what the latest news was on the Anarcho-Capitalism pages, or what Libertarian Girl was saying, perhaps I could add into the discussion. My favorite of all time: reading comments. I absolutely love reading people’s input on subject matter that I care about. At times I skip whole articles just to see what people are saying. Most of the subjects I follow are fairly intellectual. I’m certainly not reading dramatic status updates from high school acquaintances about their recent engagement, because frankly I don’t care.
Lastly, the actual work I didn’t care for. Lately it seems all I have been doing is WordPress conversion (i.e. taking a static HTML or Joomla site and converting or migrating it to WordPress, same content, same design). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done these and when I try to interject with recommendations on design or marketing to try and solve some of their business goals, 90% of the time they don’t want to hear and just want the work done.
Listen, we’re just not that kind of firm. We genuinely want to help folks, but not in that way (we want to help them grow, converting to WordPress is a no brainer and the first step towards this, so if you’re thinking long term, we’re your people!). Any WordPress developer familiar with WordPress themes will know how to convert the design to WordPress and migrate over the data. We’re nothing special in that regard if you’re just simply looking to do that. Back to the post at hand, to recap our problems:
- Spending too much time in email
- Spending way too much time being “social” online
- Bored with the work (keeping in mind I’ve been converting designs to WordPress for the last 12 years (at time of posting).
To solve problem number one I’ve come across a few solutions. The first being, to set aside time in the morning or afternoon for emails only, then the rest you schedule for actual work. This also applies to #2. I’m social for a reason: I want to increase my own personal brand, along with my new Self Gov brand (obviously about liberty), and other side projects. So I need to set time away for this as well, without missing anything important throughout the day. We’ll get to #3 in a few minutes, but we’re really focusing on staying on project and on task. It’s important to note that we schedule our interruptions throughout the day instead of scheduling our actual work.
Some basic solutions to being more productive:
1. Close all your browser tabs.
For fucks sake. How many times do we find ourselves lost in our browser tabs. There’s so many of them. Solution to this: close out everything you already have bookmarked or can easily Google and find. Anything you want to save, utilize Chrome’s (or whatever browser you are using) bookmarks. I used to use Kippt, but they shut down, so I exported by stuff and imported it into Chrome, which syncs everywhere. The interface is really nice.
2. Actually have some sort of planned workflow for your day
As I’ve mentioned before. Plan when you’re going to answer emails, when you’re going to do phone calls. Nothing I can’t stand more is getting phone calls that interrupt my workflow. I usually have my phone on SILENT during the day so I can actually get work done. I like to answer emails 3 times a day: morning when I first sit down, afternoon after lunch, and in the late evening, I use Boomerang and I answer emails and schedule them to send in the morning, so it looks like I responded first thing (but I’m actually comfortably sleeping in my bed, mind you).
With emails out of the way, do the same thing with phone calls. I like to talk to people either just before my workout, or about an hour or two after lunch. So, if I’m returning a phone call, it’s usually after 2pm, or if it’s a scheduled call, then it’s at like 11am, or after 2pm. I’m not a morning person, so I generally avoid speaking to anyone in the A.M. Also, by the time 4pm hits, I consider my talking to clients time OVER.
Now, all that correspondence junk should only take you a fraction of your day – maybe an hour for all emails, and if you’re lucky 0-60 minutes of actual calling people, but that greatly varies. If it’s a scheduled call, I would expect you to have made an agenda, and stick to it. Sometimes calls are going to take an hour and half. That’s life. Spontaneous call-backs for me are usually 10-15 minutes. So all this varies, obviously. Some days I have zero calls, which is how I like it. Other days, I’ve spent 3 or 4 hours on the phone.
3. Use a calendar to block off your day
This works well for me, so maybe it will for you. First of all, use an app called Sunrise for your calendars. It will be a lifesaver if you manage multiple things that involve dates and times. It integrates with Facebook, Meetup, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, etc for a complete calendar solution. I get a high level of WTF I’m doing each day, week, etc. So what I do is create a calendar event for each “block” of time I’m working on. Smaller tasks can be broken up into 25-30 minute sprints, and larger ones can be several hours, with intended breaks to get up and stretch, get a beverage, walk around, whatever.
So, as you can see, my day is packed up with the things I need to do. The top two is an hour worth of emailing. I had emails backed up and I knew I was going to spend upwards of an hour responding or crafting correspondences. The next major blocks were two projects I needed to work on that morning. Once one block is ending and the other is starting, your calendar app will alert you that the next block is starting soon. So wrap up what you’re doing (unless you’re in a groove) and move on. Sometimes I am in a groove and I’m really focused. In that case I keep going until I can no longer go.
Next blocks are all personal: workout, then lunch, and I have 30 minutes of “mid day improvements”. This is me time, but normally it’s spent browsing Facebook, chatting on Slack, or what have you. What it was supposed to be for was meditation or reading. However periodically throughout the day I do step outside and get fresh air.
The afternoon is spend calling leads and doing other lead related work (remember those phone calls I mentioned? here they are, scheduled). This particular day I think I had 3 leads to call back and another to email, so that’s why there’s so much time blocked off. After that the rest of the evening (provided I have any juice left), is entering in expenses into Quickbooks. I don’t have a bookkeeper, so I haven’t had a workflow for entering this stuff in for a while (this is being fixed next month).
4. Use a project management tool to manage your day
Just as the calendar solution above, you can use a project management tool to schedule the same stuff on your calendar, although it’s not as straight forward as just dragging an event on your calendar. In Trello, you can have workflows setup for what you’re doing that day or week. Heck you can even use a piece of paper. I don’t care, point is write down what you’re doing for the day and stick to it. I like using Asana for our client projects, but Trello is becoming a favorite again to manage high level items.
If you’re really in a funk, write down simple goals for the day. I have a small notebook that I write in every night, stating my goals for the next day. I’ve put down goals like “hydrate” or “take vitamins”. Why bother? Because it feels great to have accomplished something on your list: Yes! I stayed on top of my water intake today or yes! I worked out. Wahoo! I did that stupid small task that was lingering for weeks even though I did it in less than 10 minutes! You get the gist.
I also write down my weekly goals every Monday, then re-type them up in Trello so I know what I’m doing for the week, the goals I want to accomplish, so I can schedule my week accordingly. I only schedule up to two days in a granular fashion. On Wednesday, I schedule the next two days since things would have changed and my goals need to be adjusted at times to be more realistic.
5. When you procrastinate or get bored, do this
Sometimes we procrastinate because the actual task we are doing is just…annoying, or it’s grunt work, or whatever the stupid reason. The most sound advice I can give you is this: do not focus on the obstacle, focus on the outcome. The outcome is usually something awesome: getting paid so you can do xyz, never having to think of that stupid task again, more time to do other things and RELIEF. When we procrastinate we tend to distract ourselves, and sometimes don’t even know it. How many times do you find yourself being distracted looking at your phone or suddenly on Facebook or Twitter? Shut it down and get the crap done and reward yourself by checking something off your list and giving a sign of relief that it’s DONE and soon you’ll be getting paid to go on that vacation! Yes!
So there you have it, my chaotic unproductive life went to incredibly structured fairly quickly with a few simple methods: setting weekly goals, daily goals, and focusing on the outcome, not the obstacle.
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