The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.14

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Drowning in Productivity Tips? Here's a quick fix.

There's so much advice out there on how to get more done, we can feel we're drowning in productivity tips. The good news: there's a fix. The even better news: the fix is fast, doesn't require any systems and will boost your productivity like you could never imagine.

But first, I have a rather embarrassing confession to make.

I used to try and hypnotize myself to be more productive

Don't laugh - I'm serious. Way back in my school days I dabbled with auto (self) hypnosis in an attempt to “soak up knowledge while sleeping”. OK granted, that's a long time ago, but I think that is a solid qualification for nerd of the year. (Unless you can tell me it works in which case I'm really happy to dive in again...ha ha!)

Over my career I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to be more productive. I've had to-do lists, lists to keep track of all my lists and apps to make sure I don't let the most important tasks slip.

And all of this in an effort to be more productive, and get more things done.

The promise at the end of this particular rainbow is something like:

If I can be super-productive, I will produce so much and have lots of time for myself and I will be really, really happy.

Or something along those lines anyway.

I’ve studied just about every technique out there, played with almost every system and built my own productivity tools. But the more I learn, the more I realize that complex systems only invite you to focus on the system - not the outcome. And of course it’s outcomes that matter, not how you got there.

The fix for drowning in productivity tips

All those fancy productivity systems be damned - there's just one thing that really matters.

You can distil productivity down to only one thing you need to get right. That thing is focus.

Here’s what I know to be true:

  • If you can focus exclusively on one thing for 20 minutes, your productivity goes up.
  • Do that for 60 minutes and your productivity will skyrocket.
  • Do that three or four times a day and you’re in life-changing territory.

This sounds almost too simple to be true, so there must be a catch, right?

Here’s the catch

In order to focus, you will first need to get some other things right. In theory these things are not difficult, but most people (including me) don’t get all of them right all of the time.

Here are the top three things you need to get right so you can focus.

1. Know what you need to focus on

In order to focus, you need to know what you need to focus on.

This sounds so simple, but how many times have you sat down to focus on getting something done and realized you don’t quite know what you need to focus on because there’s just too much to do?

In The (no more) Overwhelm Manual I describe the technique I use and teach to get out of overwhelm. Here it is, very briefly:

  • Get everything out of your head (write it down)
  • Prioritize
  • Pick one

It doesn’t matter that much which one you pick - just pick one. You can only work effectively on one thing at a time (what you focus on), so pick one knowing that everything else will just have to wait.

2. Clear the decks

Or more precisely, clear your desk - physical and electronic. Close all other apps you have open and shut down your email and social media. Then close your door, put up a “don’t disturb” signal and put on headphones to drown out background noise.

For some of us, having a pristine working environment is crucial to being able to focus. If this is you, clear away everything so you can feel that sense of calm that comes with the ability to focus.

For others, a messy desk or environment is fine and can even create a warm and cosy feeling. That’s fine too - I’ve done some of my best writing in coffee shops. But keep a watchful eye on distractions - and clear the decks if that helps.

3. Eliminate interruptions

Focus, by definition, means you do only one thing. And to do only one thing, you have to eliminate everything else that can interrupt your focus. So, you will need to:

  • Turn off all notifications on all your devices
  • Learn how to control your mind chatter

The first is relatively easy — and it’s also something we are in control of. Go to your device’s notification centre and turn off all notifications. Or set up a “focus mode” that turns them off for you. (I always keep calendar notifications on.)

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Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

The second is a lot more difficult and takes time to master. When you’re focusing, your mind will wander (right now I’m wondering if my latest post on LinkedIn got any traction, and darn it if I didn’t go and peek). Learn to control this.

Don’t let fancy productivity systems derail you

The more complex your “system” for productivity, the more time you will have to spend “feeding the beast”. Keep your systems as simple as possible, but no simpler.

At the end of the day, there's just one thing you need to do to be highly productive.

If you can get to focus for 60 minutes, three times a day, your life will change substantially for the better.

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