Yesterday I wrote about how my productivity is fueled by a quote I once heard that goes “If it is important, you find a way. If it is not, you find an excuse.” Since hearing it, I’ve lived that quote - finding time, money, energy & effort for the things that matter to me, while spending far less time, money, energy & effort on those that don’t. As I wrote that post I realized it was a bit misleading to just say that I’m productive because I’m inspired or something like that. Reaching - and more importantly maintaining - a state of high productivity takes a great amount of focus and dedication. It can be overwhelming at times. In fact, it very often is. So in this post I’ll share some of the philosophies I use to make productivity more routine, and tomorrow I’ll wrap up with the tools/resources and specific processes I use to get things done.
Start the day before…well, starting the day
I’m a morning person. I’m up early every morning. I know some of you are grumbling to yourselves “I hate getting up early, I hate mornings and I hate you Coate!” Whoa there. Calm down. Deep breaths. Coffee. Repeat.
I’m not advocating everyone start keeping Amish hours all of the sudden, but I am advocating giving yourself time to wake up and adjust to the day, or you know, get ready to think thoughts. I find that easing into the morning by reading articles I’ve meant to catch up on, or handle emails or social posts that have simple responses makes me feel so much better. I often run in the mornings as well. Regardless of what I do, I make sure I clean out my inbox and look over my calendar every morning so that when I set foot in the door of my office, I’m ready to go. I go into the work day knowing exactly what I need to tackle and already being alert rather than half-awake and needing to calm down from rushing to get ready on time. Morning solitude is one of the greatest things you can ever do for yourself. Trust me.
Work without anyone else around
I love my coworkers and really enjoy the various office atmospheres and cultures I’ve worked in. But while the interactions I have with them are great, sometimes I need to focus on a task without any distraction, which can be a challenge. Proponents for working-from-home often cite being alone as a major productivity booster. I don’t want to work from home every day, but I do want some time where I don’t have to worry. I accomplish this by either being one of the first people in the office or the last to leave. That time I get alone, but still in an office environment without domestic distractions, is usually when I do my best work. I shift my schedule throughout the week to accommodate these times. I may come in at 9:30am, but I’ll stay until 8 or 9pm or later, with a few hours to myself before heading home.
Other mornings I’ll get that many hours in the office before everyone arrives. For me it depends on my running schedule. I tend to do longer runs in the AM because its cooler then during the summer and warmer/lighter out then in the winter. Which brings me to my next point...
A while back I became addicted to running. I regularly put a lot of miles in and would put even more in if I didn’t have bad knees already. The physical health benefits for me are secondary. Though running helped me drop 60 lbs over 2010-2011, it’s the mental benefits I get that keep me running. It’s become a central activity in my life, and among the most important things I do. So much of who I’ve become and what I’ve been able to accomplish in the past two years has been through the help of running.
During long runs or furiously paced runs have come my greatest moments of clarity. You can read more about what this running has meant to me in my post “What a Strange Love: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Run.” I know running’s not for everyone, and while exercise is important for a bajillion reasons, some people struggle to see benefits from it, let along like doing it. So that’s where #4 comes in.
Do something that refreshes you
I’m very fortunate to live in a beautiful place like Boulder, CO. I love my city and state, and I love the life I get to lead here. On occasion I get to do this: I get to get “away”. I’m not yet a “mountains every weekend” person but I do make time every few months or so to go for a long drive or to get away for the weekend from Boulder/Denver. It never fails - these adventures clear me up in a way nothing can. Maybe it’s the scenery along the drive, maybe it’s the fresh smells, maybe it’s the thin air making me loopy, or maybe it’s the history that takes me away from reality for a little bit. The point here, is find something that refreshes you. Dinner with good friends, seeing a thrilling movie in the theaters, copious amounts of wine followed by a lawn dart competition…. whatever it is, set aside mandatory time every few weeks if you can to do that activity and reset. Taking your mind off work or “what ails ya” as my Uncle Liam would say, gives you an opportunity to return to it with new vigor and typically new insights as well. This is how I prevent burnouts. I go "up."
Develop some “knowns” (master your flip turn)
You’ll rarely if ever see me scrambling around the house looking for something. That’s because I tend to know where things are. I learned from Sarge (my father) that everything has its place. If you put your keys, wallet, bag, etc in the same place every day, or you have the same routine for coming/going from your house or getting in and out of your car - you’ll exert far less energy being worried about “where did I put that?” or “what did I do just now?”. Having some set, regimented processes - things that become known - help you have a base or foundation for dealing with the unknown, which frankly is most of what we deal with. Since I know that I always do thing A, B or C I have some structure that I came come back to in order to feel secure when dealing with otherwise uncertainty. I call this idea “the flip turn”.
I swam competitively in high school. At some point I realized that if I did one thing particularly well and I always did that well, it would help my race strategy immensely. So I became really good at flip turns. Like, best in the Conference/Sectionals area good. My main race was the 100 freestyle which involved three of these turns. Through great coaching and so much repetition and tweaking of technique I came to rely on these turns in my races. So no matter how the rest of the race went I knew I could stay competitive because of my flip turns (which was good because I typically had an awful start). I frequently chased down and beat bigger, stronger swimmers because even if they got a good jump on me or I wasn’t feeling strong that heat or whatever the case was, I knew I had a good shot at making up ground (or water) on the turns. I look at my life this way now. I have a couple things that are metaphorically my flip turns, so no matter how the rest of the race goes, I still have a chance to compete because I have something steady to rely on.
In Part 3 tomorrow I’ll go from philosophy to practicality and tell you about the apps/tools as well as some actual methods I use (some of them flip turns) to keep going strong.
What about you? What are some things you do/think about to stay on task or to be most productive?