6 Steps For Getting Things Done

20112780_f32189c79d

Photo Credit: lorrainemd via Compfight cc

Let’s face it – we’re all experts at putting things off. Or maybe we just don’t know how to handle the seemingly unconnected mass of demands that daily life places on us – so we don’t do anything. Over the years I’ve left a trail of dead blogs and websites, neglected running plans, late bills, and abandoned projects. It’s easy to be enthusiastic about a new idea or to put together a to-do list, but actually getting things done is another matter. I’m pretty disciplined about my life now, but I wasn’t always that way. A personal hobby I was becoming frustrated with changed how I approach my whole life.

My interest in productivity strategy began when I was searching for the most effective ways to learn the Japanese language. I’d spent a few years without making much progress and needed to learn, well, the best ways to learn. I started studying books and articles about time management and how the brain works. I was able to apply this knowledge not only to learning Japanese, but to the rest of my life as well. And I’ve been amazed at how well it works.

So here are my six favorite strategies to keep my life from losing momentum and to keep myself on track

1 – Know When You Work Best

I used to be a night owl. It wasn’t unusual for me to stay up until 3a.m. most days. Now that’s changed. I have an early commute to work in the city and I like to wake up early on weekends because I’m a long-distance runner. Staying up late doesn’t work for me anymore.

Find a time when you work best – when you aren’t mentally groggy and feel you can really get into your work. I like to wake up at about 5a.m., make some coffee, read articles, and type out a rough draft or two for my next week of writing. Obviously some tasks do have time constraints – you can’t make business calls at 2a.m. – but set aside some of your important tasks for when you feel most alive.

2 – Know Where You Work Best

My apartment isn’t noisy or distracting – it’s just me and my wife here. But something about being at home and in familiar settings just doesn’t work for me. I prefer to go to a library or coffee shop when it’s time for an important task. I find that having a set-apart place to work helps me focus. And because going out requires a time commitment, I’m more likely to stay focused on my work.

Go somewhere with the intention of getting things done. Maybe that’s the coffee shop or maybe your home office works for you. But try new locations now and then to prevent becoming too familiar with a place. This will keep your creativity stimulated and keep you from getting bored.

3 – Eliminate All Distractions

All of them. No phone. No Facebook. No email. No notifications. Many studies have shown that multitasking is terrible for productivity. Do you know that feeling you have when you’re really getting into your work? Time flies by. Your mind is clear. Distractions totally kill that. Even a few seconds of distractions bring you out of that mental sweet spot.

Keep everything turned off when it’s time to work. You’ll be surprised at how creative you can be when you give your brain a chance to focus on one thing for a while.

4 – Finish Important Tasks First

Make a list of everything you need to get done – but pick out two or three tasks that you would feel real good about getting done that day. Put those on the top of the list. Remember when I said I like to wake up early? I love to learn new things and keep up with my writing, so those are the first things I do every day. And when I get something I love done at the beginning of the day, it sets a positive momentum for the rest of the day.

5 – Set Aside 90-Minute Chunks Of Time

Even the best of us can only focus for so long before our brains need a break. After about 90-120 minutes our ability to focus, to retain new information, and to solve problems is dramatically reduced. So set aside 90-minute blocks of time throughout the day for focused work. Then take a break.

I use a modified Pomodoro Technique approach: work 25 minutes, 5 minute break, repeat until 90 minutes has passed. After that – take a 15-30 minute break. Repeat as needed. When I first started using this approach, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to get done each day by setting side times for focused, distraction-free work.

6 – Coffee, Beer, or Water

It hardly goes without saying, but the caffeinated brain is more alert than the uncaffeinated brain. Caffeine is very beneficial for keep focus. Less commonly known is the ability of beer to help you be more creative. Alcohol relaxes the part of your brain that processes new information and helps you focus on making connections between existing memories and knowledge – the key to creativity and originality.

Don’t overdo it though. A caffeine crash is self-defeating for focus, and too much beer just makes you a drunk. Keep it to once or twice a week – and no more than two cups a day. For those who don’t drink caffeine or beer – try a big cup of water. Water has been shown to increase mental focus and give energy. So there’s help for everybody.

Go Do It

Now review these steps and get your day started. Write down everything you do for the next few days using these steps and the time it took you to complete them. See if you notice how much more efficient you are. And with all that time you save – make sure to take a little bit of time to relax and do something you enjoy. We’re not machines.

This is a system I’ve learned and developed over the last couple years to keep my creative momentum moving and to make sure my daily tasks all get done. I’ve found that I’m much more productive with a few hours of focused time than with a whole day of just winging it. And my Japanese got better too.

What strategies do you use to get things done? How have you implemented some of these strategies in your daily life? Leave me a comment with your thoughts and tips. Check out my Facebook page and Twitter account. And be sure to share this article with someone who needs it.

Four Steps to Mastering Fear

2404322784_273899d891

Photo Credit: Cynan Jones via Compfight cc

Fear has a way of getting me into a confusing mental mess. Not too many things feel worse than having my mind attack me with a thousand “what-ifs” and not even knowing where to start. Fear kills my creativity and leaves me feeling drained. It also affects me physically – I always get a headache. And not only that, but fear also gets me stuck in my own head. People can tell I’m stressed when I go silent.

But we don’t have to let ourselves get beaten down by fear. Here are a few steps you can take to get things under control:

1 – Stop everything!

Turn off the phone, Facebook, music – everything. Shut down the computer if you have to. Get away from everyone. Stop. Even if all you have is a few minutes.

Fear tends to have a snowballing effect that gets into all your other thoughts and everything else you need to get done for the day. If you don’t step back for a minute, it will only get worse. When you notice that you’re starting to feel stressed and overwhelmed – just stop.

2 – Get it out.

Be honest about everything that’s going through your head. Write it down, type it down, or just have a conversation with yourself. What fears do you feel right now? Why?

As an exercise, when you’re writing or speaking out the fear, take it to its worst possible conclusion! This might sound like a bad idea at first, but it could help put everything into perspective. (I once had a professor who had a minor disagreement with his wife. He thought for sure that he would be divorced and flipping burgers to pay child support by the end of the week).

3 – Evaluate.

Try your best to evaluate your fear. Don’t take it too personally – try to see it from a bird’s eye view. When you wrote down every possible disaster that could ensue – how much of it is likely and how much of it is unreasonable? It’s okay to have fear about a situation, but don’t think the worst is about to happen just yet.

Where can you make decisions? Look for things you can do something about, and look for things you can’t do anything about just yet. Focus on what you can do. Then make a decision.

4 – Get over yourself!

Fear loves isolation; it thrives on isolation. Fear loves it when you think you’re strong enough to get through it on your own.

Get out of your own head for a while. Go have lunch with a friend or make a phone call to someone you trust.

Don’t have anyone you can trust on that level? Well, that might be why you’re struggling with fear in the first place. Make some intentional steps towards building a small community you can trust with your life. Find a church. Join a club. Start going to a meetup group with people who like what you like. Do whatever it takes to get people into your life.

It’s not weakness to tell other people when life feels like too much to handle – it’ll keep you from going crazy.

None of these steps will take your life to instant perfection. If you find yourself struggling with the same things all the time, you might need to pick around for some deeper issues. Conquering fear and knowing yourself takes time. You’ll have to work at it for a while. But these are some steps that you can take to set things in the right direction.

What fears have you had to overcome? Remember, fear loves isolation. Share your fear story and how you’re overcoming it. Like this article? Leave a comment or send me an email. Share it on Facebook or Twitter with someone who needs it.

Also: check out this LifeHacker article about how positive thinking can boost your health and skills.

How to Create a Personal Mission Statement

1814156778_f5b7e6ac12“I will always be creative, curious, and contribute things of value to other people – and they will be invited to share in my wonder. I will use my gifts of curiosity, wisdom, creativity, and encouragement to build platforms that will heal and influence people. Those around me will feel genuinely valued and supported in accomplishing their passions and goals. I will not try to fit myself into a niche, but rather, I will cast aside fear and create something out of who I really am – out of genuine passion. My family will take priority above all the other responsibilities of life and will never feel that I am absent or unavailable.”

That is my personal life mission statement. A little over a week ago, I wrote a post about the importance of knowing who we are and what we have to offer to the world. Knowing this is the key to living a satisfying life and making an impact on the people around us. One helpful way to do this is to write a personal mission statement. Businesses and organizations almost always do this to show potential clients what the business has to offer, screen new employees to make sure they pick the right people to accomplish company goals, and keep the business on the right track when making important decisions. It’s no easy task, but there are questions you can ask yourself to get started.

Personal:

  • When have I felt most successful and satisfied in life?
  • When did I feel dissatisfied? Why?
  • What can’t I stop doing no matter what?
  • What are my core values?

Professional:

  • What have I liked about my past and current jobs?
  • What did I dislike? Why?
  • What would I want my employer to say about me?
  • In my field of experience, what would I like to change?

Relational:

  • What people are most important to me?
  • What do I want to contribute to them?
  • What would I regret not accomplishing in their lives?

You can use the answers to these questions to write down a mission statement about what is important to you, why it is important, and how you will apply that to the people you want to influence. 

If you still aren’t quite sure how to actually write this all down, head over to Franklin Covey. They have some great sample mission statements and a survey to help you create your own. The survey shouldn’t take you more than 10-15 minutes. At the end, you will have a personal statement you can use to keep yourself on track with what is most important to you. I might recommend editing the resulting statement a little bit, but it’s a very helpful resource.

Leave a comment with your personal mission statement. We’d love to know who you are and what you’re about. Don’t forget to share this article with others who need it.

Think You’re Not an Artist? Think again.

48518049_9ffe73705a

Photo Credit: wader via Compfight cc

Even after formally studying creative writing, photography, and graphic design – I still just couldn’t see myself as a real artist. I don’t seem to fit what an artist should be. I don’t paint. I don’t know poetry. I can’t quote a word of Shakespeare (actually this was the first time I’ve ever spelled “Shakespeare” correctly without spell-check), and the only thing I’ve ever drawn in my whole life was a terrible self-portrait and a sketch of my left shoe.

It seems like I’m not alone in this. Quite a few people struggle to see themselves as creative. I’m more of a left-brained person. I study linguistics, analyze everything, make plans rather than just wing it. How could someone like me be a real artist?

Maybe we don’t need to change who we are. Maybe we just need a bigger definition of what it means to be an artist.

Jeff Goins wrote a great blog post for writers who struggle with knowing what to write about. Jeff says, “Most writers believe that what they write about is more important than how they write. And they are wrong.” I agree. Good writers aren’t good because they pick the right topic. They’re good because they can create something that connects with universal truths and core values: Grace. Injustice. Love. Internal conflict. The dignity of humanity.

Maybe you don’t think you can write a novel or a screenplay, but if you can create anything that touches me on a foundational level, you can consider yourself an artist.

What can you do that can touch someone on a foundational level?

Even if you don’t plan on being a full time artist, you can still let the beauty from your life show in what you do and what you create. And you should – because we need to see what you see.

You have permission to be an artist. You are included. You can create something that moves people. And you already have everything you need – you’re life and what you’ve been through.

So what can you do that will touch someone? What can you create that will show us what you see?

Leave me a comment and tell me what you’ve been creating lately. If you liked this article, retweet it, post it on Facebook, or email it to someone who needs it. And be sure to check back on Monday for another article on my blog.