Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and felt the exhaustion of working a whole day and having pretty much nothing to show for it?
Maybe your work wasn’t any good. Perhaps you were stuck all day trying to learn how to solve one problem and could never quite get there.
I have a personal rule I try to keep in these situations to solve this problem. Instead of wasting a day, getting frustrated, or feeling exhausted, I tend to walk away with more energy and solve my problems faster.
Let me explain.
I think you’d probably agree with me that when you work on one thing for too long you end up losing your initial target. Whether you just can’t get something to sound like what you want it to, or you can’t figure out a line of code or problem you’re having.
You start, and 6-8 hours later you’re not really any further down the line despite having worked a bunch.
You know you probably should’ve gotten up to take a break, but you couldn’t pull yourself away long enough to reset.
You probably even think you know what you should’ve done instead of slaving away at your work. You might be right, but I’m going to give you a system that actually works.
How to get it all done
Step One: Turn off your phone and all notifications
Personally when it’s work time, I do my best to silence my phone. I have a setting for “do not disturb unless your my wife” and flip my phone over.
Additionally, all desktop apps are silenced and notification icons removed.
Web browsers get closed
If you can manage it, turn the internet off to your computer.
You will panic. But focus begins with ruthlessly eliminating all distractions.
Step Two: Pick an action
I generally have a running list of things to accomplish. Once a week I set personal goals and tasks, and I review those things daily. Work is a constant running funnel of things to do.
So I break those down into their smallest core actions, and from there I pick one.
For example, “Review VO Script” was a task I recently had. Now I know for me this only involves reviewing a small number of updated lines for QA and is completely manageable. Something like “Integrate sounds”, if you have thousands of sounds, is way less manageable. Instead it needs to be “Integrate XYZ 20 sounds”.
The key is picking something you’re pretty sure can be accomplished in about 30 minutes. If it can’t be, you probably need to break down the task further into smaller parts.
For example if your goal requires research, content creation, testing, and Q&A, each of those things too big to be its own task. For “research”, “watch 2 youtube videos” might be your first task and only completes a tiny chunk of the overall goal.
Step Three: Set a Timer
Once you’ve turned everything off and picked a task, then you need to set a timer. I tend to go for 20-30 minutes at a time.
Here’s the rule I have to abide by: If I’m not done when the timer goes off, I save and walk away.
Read that last part literally. I literally stop right where I am, hit save, and then physically walk away.
I also don’t walk right back to the task. I break for 5-15 minutes, which means physically being in a different space than where I was working. After my break, I move on to a different task.
Can I come back to what I was working on? Yes, but not immediately. Otherwise, there’s no hard and fast rule.
To me, I hate getting locked into one thing for a long stretch of time. It exhausts me.
That doesn’t mean I don’t focus and don’t accomplish things. I actually get a ton done. Regularly people say “I don’t know how you do it all”.
Part of it is that I really enjoy most everything I do, most of my hobbies involve “working”.
The other part is I focus and I’m smart with my time.
But what about when I have to dig into something? I have a big topic to learn, or a huge task to do that just like you – I tend to want to grind on. It seems like the timer would hurt and not help this situation.
But it’s actually the exact opposite.
You know where you tell yourself you should take breaks and just walk away for a while? At the very least you should “reset” and “refresh”, right?
Well you can do that even when working on other things. New tasks make your mind think in different ways with new possibilities. You’ll suddenly find that your subconscious will solve problems that otherwise you’d end up slaving away on.
Maybe you don’t solve your biggest problems or tasks immediately, but you tend to do it faster than by staring at it for hours straight.
When I do this daily, I get so much more done than by just sitting down and opening email.
Try it! Then let me know how it goes for you!
Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.