With a tiny adjustment here, another one there, your day (and your life) can go from zero to transformed. Call it your private butterfly effect.
There will be good days and bad days, productive and unproductive ones. What matters is the kind of days you have more often. You can tilt the scales in favor of the productive days by making some simple changes to your routine. Here are three of them to get you started. Pooh pooh them at your own risk, because they can build up over time to have as much, if not more, positive impact as major changes do.
Make Certain Tasks Non-negotiable
In an attempt to work on some creative muscles, I decided to take up the Morning Pages exercise, in which you write three pages of longhand first thing in the morning. I tried it thrice, unsuccessfully, for varying durations of time. Sometimes I stopped at one page, and at other times I did not write at all, until I abandoned the exercise altogether.
Recently, I decided to give the morning pages another shot, with a tiny clause thrown in. I made the exercise a non-negotiable part of my day. Well, what do you know? I have crossed the 20-day mark, and even look forward to the exercise somewhat, because it helps get my thoughts in order before I begin my day. What worked this time was the rule I created for myself. Now every time I feel tempted to give up the exercise midway or skip a day, some taskmaster in my brain whispers “Non-negotiable”, and I’m able to push through the resistance to finish the exercise.
You might think that if you are the one making up the rules, it’s quite easy to give yourself permission to break them. Usually that’s true. But if you set the rule “in stone”, through some magic in your mind you’ll be reluctant to disobey yourself. Take advantage of this quirk. Create a daily ritual and adopt this approach to make it stick. If you’re trying to pick up a new habit or replace a bad one with a good one, this method can help you stay on track with your efforts.
Of course, don’t use the non-negotiable clause for every other task you want to get done. It could backfire and then you’ll be back to square one—ignoring all of your own rules.
Often, the biggest roadblock to getting a good day’s work behind you is the steady stream of decisions, both minor and major, that you’re called to take. Make it easier on yourself by putting decision-making out of the equation everywhere you can.
I was in the habit of using multiple apps for writing. My ideas and words were scattered across Writer, Simplenote, Litewrite, and WordPress. Every time I sat down to work, I had to recall where the ideas relevant to my current article were stored, decide which app to fire up, and steer clear of the temptation to go hunting for yet another shiny writing app. Clearly, that unnecessary decision-making was interfering with my main task — putting words to screen. So I did away with it. Now I use Simplenote for all my ideas and drafts, and my workflow is much simpler and saner.
Do you use multiple apps to accomplish the same thing? See if you can make do with one. If you’re reluctant to give up the other apps because they’re useful in some way, try using each app for a different purpose. Continuing with the writing example, blog posts can go in Writer, additions to that novel you’re working on can go in Scrivener (our guide to the ultimate writing tool), to-dos can go in Trello, etc.
Use a single app when you can, or at least don’t use different ones to work on the same task. That decision eliminated is really time and thought saved. Extend this approach to other areas of your work, be it keeping track of your ideas or communicating with your colleagues. Narrow down your choice to ONE and stick to it.
Make Your Weekends Special
Having the liberty to work at any time of the day and week as long as you meet deadlines is great. But it comes at a price. It splits your workday into out-of-control fragments. If you’re a master procrastinator, as I certainly am, it’s tough to keep your work from spilling over into the weekends.
This is where the traditional 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday work routine can rescue you from yourself. It may look and sound boring, but its rigidity is a godsend. It forces you to work within a daily and weekly time frame. If you make the best of it, you have a work-free weekend ahead of you, and you can put it to good use.
Flexible work timings or not, plan ahead and line up something interesting for your weekend, whether it’s as exciting as going to a party or as relaxing as curling up on the couch with a book. It can spur you to wrap up your work on time. The point is to give yourself something to look forward to — something that you always rue you don’t have enough time for. You could even tackle a few smart home projects or build a stunning cloud lamp as a weekend project.
Small Changes, Big Dividends
Excuses to procrastinate are always lurking around the corner and unfortunately, we’re prone to taking advantage of them rather than ignoring them. We have experienced the satisfaction of getting things done well and on time. But somehow, reaching that point seems like a mammoth task every single time. It need not be so. Take baby steps and make minuscule, non-threatening changes as outlined above.
From personal experience, which tiny change would you recommend for a more productive day? Share a piece of your workflow in the comments.