In part 1 of this series, I said that it’s okay to be unproductive for a chunk of your day, but at the end of your day, you should always have accomplished something. How do you do that if you’re unproductive at some parts of your day? Read on.
When do you work best? Morning, afternoon, evening? Take a minute to find out when you’re most productive. Find our zone. This will be the foundation of this post.
The best way to be productive during your zone is to work towards your strengths. Schedule your work and/or thinking time during the times when you feel most in the zone. Do menial tasks or firefighting when you’re not in your zone. That way you reserve your best efforts to the things that actually create better things. Try it out and give me feedback. (Of course if your work is all about firefighting, do it when you’re in the zone.)
But scheduling your work to your preferred time is not enough. Make sure you’re in the right situation when you’re in the zone. Everything has got to be right. It’s like a marriage proposal (married friends can you vouch for this?). Your zone, the situation, your work, they all have to be in sync. Otherwise it’ll be hard to find the right moment again.
Eliminate distractions. Face the wall, put on earphones, turn off your cell phone, lock your door, whatever it takes. Other people will have to learn to respect your work time, even your boss. Discuss this with your boss and get her on board. You’re not paid to be busy, you’re paid to get things done.
I’d push this and say that even your clients should learn to respect your work time. If you keep accepting calls from them, how can you get what they want done? Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4 Hour Workweek, discusses this point in better detail, and I love his suggestions for getting others to respect your work time.
Right now I only check emails 2-3 times a day. I close my email client and focus on getting things done. It feels liberating.
Use tools to help keep you focused. There is no shame in using these tools to help keep you productive, no matter how simple they are. Whatever others say, you’re you and they’re them.
There are lots of helpful apps you can use to keep yourself focused. Most of these tools are available for the Mac (which is why I 150% prefer working on a Mac than on a Windows laptop), for example:
1) Focus Writer – great for writers. A plain grey screen with typewriter sound effects when typing. For Macs and Windows.
2) Think – keeps your background dark so you won’t see your desktop. This app has a Windows version.
3) SelfControl – Blocks URLs for amount of time you set, even if you restart your laptop or delete the app. This app is stricter than your company’s IT department.
4) Time Out – refreshes you every few minutes by greying out your screen and telling you to take a 15 second break. This is a double-edged blade, you may lose your zone, or you may refresh your focus.
5) Focus Booster – this uses the famous pomodoro method that is based on keeping focused for 25 minutes before taking a break. Last I heard, pomodoro was pasta. You can be productive with pomodoro, it seems. This works on both the Mac and Windows. Alternatively, just have a stopwatch that alarms every 25 minutes.
There’s more about these apps on The 99 Percent.
Remember, do whatever it takes (as long as you’re not stepping on any toes). No one can dictate how you’re supposed to work. That’s why you have to master how you work, so you can be confident about getting things done.
Watch out for what else you can do when you’ve mastered your work habit in part 3.