One of the most useful skills I learned attending university was how to schedule my day and manage a lot of time-consuming tasks within a small available time frame (which was even more cut down since I commuted for most of my studies). However, a lot of times I would find myself frustrated with not meeting my own set goals and expectations. These day-to-day failures also proved to be very effective in promoting procrastination. In early 2017, however, I started my minimalism journey and had some useful insights from the greatest minds in this day and age.
Cal Newport and Deep Work
Cal Newport is a legend within the scene of productivity guides. His book „Deep Work“, in my humble opinion, is a must-read to everyone who seeks to perform better within their profession, or in life generally. So called deep work is a state a lot of people call flow. It is about focusing so deeply on a given task that you can achieve the best outcome possible. It is likely that you experienced the flow state yourself while reading, playing video games or creating. Time flies by and you don‘t even notice it until it‘s 4 A.M. and you wonder, where it has gone.
Deep work can be practised by reducing the level of distractors in your life during work and creating a space where you can allow yourself to forget about everything around you for a set amount of time. I could go on for hours, but if you‘re intrigued on how this works exactly, I highly recommend the book. I read it in one sitting and gained insights that benefit me ever since.
But how exactly can you implement deep work and the flow state into your life?
First, use the airplane mode on your phone as soon as you have to do serious business. Same goes with e-mail clients, chat clients and basically everything that could pop-up out of knowhere and pull your thoughts away from your task.
Second, try to create a work space that enable you to focus. If your work relies on a computer or tablet, put only the useful productivity apps onto your dock / taskbar. Put video game consoles and any kind of entertaining distractions away from your work space (at least, while you plough through tasks). And no music, unless you are creating. If you live in a loud area like a dorm (or just have to cope with awefully noisy neighbours), try to find a silent place to study (e.g. a library, where talking is not allowed). Research showed that for most tasks music is distracting.
Last but not least, use a notepad or a digital assistant to set reminders for things that pop-up in your mind during your tasks. By writing down these spontanious blobs, you get them out of your system and can continue to focus on what‘s important, until you are done.
Elon Musk and Time Boxing
Musk is without a doubt a very impressive figure: Tesla and Space-X are about to revolutionise the way we live as human beings. Also, the man is very busy, working an 80 hour week and spending time with his kids. This can only be done with a great productivity system.
Musk uses the so called time boxing system. Basically you plan out the entire day (including spare time activities) in your calendar in order to fill it up entirely without a blank spot. This makes you more concious about what’s important to you and what’s not. If you feel like an activity you do everyday, like using social media for hours every night, is not worth scheduling, you become aware of that and can find more useful substitutions that benefit your long-time goals.
Scheduling sparetime activities sounds ridiculous to you? It is likely to be more useful than you can imagine. If I schedule that I want to watch Star Wars V at 8.00 PM I don’t waste time scrolling through Netflix for half an hour until I found something intriguing. It also helps with not being tempted to go on a procrastination-binge. You have defined the exact amount of time you allow yourself to relax, which makes it easier to just stop on go on with working or going to bed.
Do you need to work on a certain task for about three hours? Put it in your calendar. Do you want to have a break? Put it in your calendar. Do you want to play a video game in the evening? Put it in the calendar. Fill it up. But don‘t be afraid of re-scheduling.
If a task takes longer, just adjust the rest of the day afterwards and go on. Don‘t beat yourself up because you couldn‘t keep up with your own expected schedule. While planning out the day you cannot forecast unpredictable interruptors. Just accept that we have to deal with surprising tasks every day and just schedule your day accordingly again. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: „Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Steve Jobs and the Rule of Three
Apple, love them or hate them, are a company heavily influenced by the obsession of Steve Jobs with minimalism. Jobs used to wear the same custom-designed outfit every day. He once threw an iPhone prototype into a bowl of water and insisted on a re-design after blubbles reached the surface, visioning a product that was so well engineered and efficient/minimal in design that there literally was no room for air. And most remarkably, he had a productivity system which aligned with his passion for minimalism: The Big-Three Rule.
Three tasks a day and not a single more. Jobs truly believed that success is based on great performance and this can only be achieved by focusing on the tasks which matter the most. He believed that 20% of the input into work should bring 80% of the output. This can only be done by focus.
But how can you apply the rule of three? Every monday, I write down all the tasks I have to get done by the end of the week. If something pops up that I didn‘t see coming, I will just add it. Every day I pick three of the tasks I need to get done at the given date. (If I have to get done four things, I will obviously try to do four). By reducing the amount of things I need to do, I can focus on the more important things and will not be distracted by other tiny things that do not need to be done by the end of the day.
Steve Jobs is an overall interesting person and has tons of useful habits and routines that might improve your life. If you want to find out more about Jobs, I can recommend an excellent article written by Dan Silvestre: http://www.dansilvestre.com/steve-jobs-success/
Do you have useful tips to add? Feel free to share them with us in the comments.