There are a couple of things that I want to accomplish: deep work, writing, exercise and creative pursuits. So I am trying to create the conditions that result in more time spent doing the things that I care about.
I have been taking a Productivity Hacks for Writers course on Udemy by Jessica Brody. I can’t say enough good things about her and this class. A lot of the course focuses on developing good habits to be a productive writer but really it’s a great class for anyone who wants to develop good habits. Something that I learned in my Learning How to Learn course is that relying on willpower to get things done is not very efficient — you will just deplete your willpower stores too quickly. Instead, you have to access your zombies, the parts of your brain that will do things for you without resorting to willpower. This is done through habits and rituals. Habits and rituals signal to your brain that it’s time to do something and it’s up to you to develop the habits that lead to the life you want. Brody offers a number of hacks — for your routine, your devices, your workspace, even your brain! — in order to write more.
Deep work is another concept that I learned about via Learning How to Learn, and I just finished reading the book of the same name by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown. Basically, the idea is to structure your time so that you do more work that feels in the zone or a state of flow. It’s not easy because we live and work in a distracted world and for many of us, our days are fractured by email and social media. Jessica Brody’s class is also a great jump start for operationalizing deep work.
What gets tracked gets done
There’s a work adage about metrics and success that what gets tracked gets done. Something that will help or inspire new habits is starting with some basic metrics about how we spend our time. A couple of apps or pen and paper will help you develop your baseline. I used a FitBit tracker to measure activity and sleep, a Pomodoro timer (I use the Marinara Chrome extension) and an app that tracks phone usage.
I can tell you that despite my beliefs about what’s important to me, I scored poorly on all fronts.
Newport suggests rethinking our relationship with social media and email. This is easier said than done of course because we live in an always-on digitally connected world. He suggests quitting social media for 30 days so that you can assess without the influence of daily addiction. And if you want the shock of your life, install a time-tracking program on your phone and see how many times per day you pick up your phone and how many hours of your day and life you spend on it. In Deep Work, Newport cites research that people grossly underestimate their screen time and in my case, that turned out to be true. I decided that I need to limit access to my phone, so unless I am expecting a work call, I leave it out of arm’s reach. And I am switching to an old-fashioned alarm clock so I can keep my phone off my nightstand. I am also thinking very carefully about how I want to use social media going forward.
Brody also describes a number of apps that help track habits as well as apps that remove temptation and distractions or keep you from feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list. It’s work to change old habits and develop new ones. But as John Gorka would say, work brings more good luck.
Here’s to a focused and productive New Year!