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5 Practices for a more productive life

By Michael Cameron. On Feb 15, 2018.

Photo Credit: Steve Csorba

Productive people manage their time well.

As a guy who thrives on variety I do a number of different activities in both my personal and professional life. I am also a chronic over sharer so most of you are likely familiar with the myriad of things that I do. If we have not met, here are a few of the things that are Mike:

  • Engaged Father of two teenagers
  • Managing partner at Axiom Mortgage
  • Ice/Rock climber
  • Yogi
  • Endurance running
  • Writing
  • Podcasting
  • Speaking

The most common question that I get asked is “How the fuck do you have time for everything?”

So I will tell you.

Time Awareness

It all starts with Time Awareness. Like so many things, if we don’t know what’s broken, it makes it impossible to fix.

I started to look at where I was actually spending my time and what kind of results those activities were generating. If I wanted to get serious about increasing efficiencies I needed to start tracking what I did on a regular basis. Once I did that I could take a look for the obvious non-producing activities and systematically start to eliminate them.

I realize that this can sound tedious. For those of us (ahem, me) that like to fly by the seat of our pants and are fiercely proud of our spontaneous nature, this can be a very intimidating task. Fortunately, there is an app for that! Yippee! I get to add another distraction to my attempt to bend the space-time continuum and become more productive.

Seriously though, it became very simple to track what I was doing. Whether you do it online or in app on your smart phone, there are a ton of different options available. For me I choose Toggl to track my time.

Forbes put together a list of the top 20 time tracking applications you can read it here. All it takes is getting into the habit of clicking stop/start every time you change activities. In fact I am using it now as I write.

This has the added benefit of ensuring you do not waffle back and forth between activities. The energy expended toggling between activities can be an extreme waste in and of itself.

Cut the Crap

Most of us are familiar with the Pareto principle. You know, the one that one that says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. The one that posits that for many events 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In other words, most of your results come from a very few actions.

This is an important thing to remember when looking at time management as a strategy for productivity. What would your life look like if you could remove 80% of your activities and only lose 20% of your results? What would that do for your life? What would you do with that additional time?

Prioritize

For me, this is critical as I can get lost in unimportant but enjoyable tasks and easily waste the entire day. What I do is put the things I least want to do at the top of the list. Once I get through the ‘hard stuff’ the rest becomes easy. I feel like I have tackled lots and the momentum rolls.

One of my favorite principles is to take the top 3 things I want to get done for the day and do them before 10 am. It is amazing what that self-imposed deadline can do and even if the rest of my day is unproductive for whatever reason I have still had a ‘successful’ day.

Chunk Your Time

For me, I tend to work best in spurts. I have a hard time thinking in terms of an 8+ hour work day and really need to break things down into more palatable chunks of time. As with many things in my personal life I use the analogy of competing in a triathlon or other endurance run. If I have to think about running a 50-mile ultramarathon & the amount of time, energy and effort that is required, it becomes something that starts to weigh very heavy on my mind.

It is easy to become discouraged before I even start. The same holds true for any large personal or business endeavor.

To further the running analogy, when I first started to run I followed John Stanton of the running room. He had a philosophy of running 10 minutes at a time and walking for a minute for recovery. This made it easy to wrap my head around it. Running for 10 minutes was certainly not insurmountable.

When I registered for my first marathon, I knew I would need something like this, not only from a physical standpoint but more so from a psychological one. In my mind running for 10 minutes was an extremely easy task. Running a marathon on the other hand absolutely was not.

As I would get farther and farther into the race it became increasingly more difficult to keep moving forward. Instead of my inner voice cursing because I still had x number of kilometers left I changed the conversation with myself. All I had to do was shift my focus to running for 10 minutes. I had successfully chunked my race into 10 minute intervals allowing myself a 1 minute rest at every interval. Not only did this make the races more comfortable but it actually made me more productive. Over the next couple of years I experimented to see the results.

In 2013, the year I trained for a full iron distance triathlon, I registered for the Vancouver half marathon and while I had always run ten and ones, I was curious to see if running the entire race without these intervals would actually improve my finish time.

Now in all fairness this was probably not a great experiment because, while I had never actually run a full race straight, I had also never been so prepared for a race either. I had trained hard since December first and race day was May 1st. I was by far in the best shape of my life.

No surprise, I posted a personal best. It is important to note that while I had run the fastest race of my life, I also felt like absolute crap crossing that finish line. I was completely spent, exhausted, ready to hang up my runners. It was not really a race that I enjoyed all that much crossing the finish line.

In 2014 when the time came to run the BMO half once again, this time I made a decision to run the race using the ten and one principle. I would walk every aid station which was approximately 2 km’s apart. At a 1:45 half marathon pace that would put the aid stations approximately 10 minutes apart. I had my best race to date. I wasn’t nearly as well trained this year as I was for 2013 yet I shaved off a few minutes from my time. More importantly, when I crossed the finish line I felt like a rock star. I was on fire and felt as if I could have done cart wheels after crossing the line. Chunking my time had certainly paid off for me this time.

The same holds true for me when it comes to daily productivity and time management. If I look at the day and the list of things I need to do, it can become completely overwhelming and absolutely unmanageable. Some days it gets to the point where I sit at my desk and stare at the cursor blinking on my screen wondering how I am going to possibly get everything done in a single day.

Once again I change that internal dialog and I chunk my time. I break down my task list and arrange them in order of priority. I then sit down and commit to working on whatever project I happen to have in front of me for 20 minutes. That’s it. All I have to do is stay focused for 20 minutes. The reality of a concentrated effort for eight hours on one or two projects is not going to happen. Twenty minutes however is a much more palatable reality. I can ignore email, social media and my phone for 20 minutes easily (alright maybe not easily but I can do it).

The net result is that I will often spend far more than the allotted 20 minutes once I get into the activity and therefore become that much more productive.

Repeat

As with most things we start our practice tends to ebb and flow. Writing this is a great reminder for me to revisit this practice and start from scratch. In fact I think I might actually schedule the ‘Awareness’ exercise as a recurring monthly task so I stay on top of it.

It is about making time for the things that matter most to us. Try changing your vocabulary and see how that feels.

Summary

If you can master these items I can guarantee a more productive life. It is less about what you have time for and more about what you make time for. Try changing your vocabulary and instead of saying “I don’t have time for x” try on “I haven’t made time for x” and see how it feels.

Let me know what some of your best productivity practices are!

 

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