Some days I think my mind resembles my laptop - 1000 open windows at once. A zillion ideas, each one shiner and bigger than the next, all distracting me incessantly from what I set out to do when I originally sat down in the first place. Ideas are a great thing of course but there’s few things more frustrating than when you look back at what was a seemingly busy day and realise that nothing on your to do list has been crossed off (besides making a to-do list). Or even worse, it’s gotten longer.
So this year, I vowed to myself that 2015 is the year of one thing - focus. I’ve been reading, listening and observing to the nitty gritty daily habits of wildly successful people and I’ve come across three simple practices that have worked wonders for my productivity.
THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
Now, while I do love running, I prefer a marathon to a 100 meter dash. But I have to say this technique of concentration ‘sprints’ has done amazing things for my work day. The creator of this technique, Francesco Cirillo, named it after his tomato shaped kitchen timer that he used when developing the philosophy (pomodoro is Italian for tomato). For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short intense periods of concentration and take breaks periodically. You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes. The idea being that those 5 minute breaks give your mind time to reset, refresh and dive back in with a renewed sense of purpose and ideas. At first I found 25 minutes felt like 25 years but the more I practiced, the easier it became to bash out some pretty impressive stuff when you’re intensely concentrating on one thing, committed to having NO distraction. None. It’s amazing how little you can miss on Facebook in 25 minutes.
CREATING A MORNING RITUAL
I used to have a terrible habit of launching into a chaotic mental to-do list in my mind the minute I opened my eyes in the morning. A lesson I learned from Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Work Week is to try to keep the first 60 minutes of your day relatively scripted to let you focus on setting your priorities for the day. Keep things in a familiar routine first thing in the morning so you don’t burn mental energy on what to have for breakfast when you could be using it later on to write a game-changing proposal or develop a brilliant new way to take over the world. Essentially, trying to conserve your decision-making for later in the day when you actually need it. So now that first hour is just for me to set my sights on a few key things I want to accomplish that day. Not find those shoes from last summer that went perfectly with that skirt (assuming I can get my toes painted before I rush out the door!).
MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
I started slowly with this one because I hadn’t tried it in any capacity before. But as blissful book ends to my day, even just 5 minutes of quiet meditation pays off in droves. It sets the tone, calms the mind and I feel like I can concentrate better with less stress. If you’re looking for some great resources on transcendental meditation (just my personal preference), check out Tara Brach’s book and podcasts or 1 Giant Mind for a free app.
So what’s been the result of this renewed sense of focus? Quite simply, I’m getting more of the right things done at work. And when I’m not at work I’m at home - like actually at home. Not partly on my laptop, partly stressing about something I didn’t get done and partly making spaghetti bolognaise. Closing the windows on my computer never felt so good.
“Luxury is feeling unrushed. It is designing a life that allows you to do what you want with high leverage, with many options, all while feeling unrushed.”
– Tim Ferriss