Two Habits

by Nate Nicholls · 1 comment

Photo by Cornfield Rock Climber

I wanted to share a couple of tricks I’ve been employing lately to help me get more things done.  I’m no guru, to be sure, but I’m learning some techniques that have really been helping me to cross things off my To Do list and stay (a little more) focused than normal.

10-Minute Rule

I probably have ADD.  Maybe not, but probably.  Even though I sometimes question whether the diagnosis is correct, I have been diagnosed with it by a licensed psychologist.  I’ve got a prescription for Ritalin, the hyper-activity you’d expect…and, I’ve got the stereotypical lack of focus.

I can be so incredibly interested in something one moment – totally focused! – but in the next moment I’m completely sidetracked.  It’s really frustrating.

To help myself get past the distractions and on to successful life, I have started to break my chores and projects into short bursts of (hopefully) hyper-productivity.

I give myself 10 minutes to work on something.  Let’s say it’s doing the dishes – a task I hate.  I commit to nothing more than working on the dishes for 10 minutes.  Once that time has elapsed, I’m done.  I don’t touch another dish, rinse another bowl, or put a fork in the silverware drawer.  I’m done.  D-O-N-E.

This has been a great way to get through mundane chores quickly.  I can usually psych myself up to do anything for 10 minutes.  That’s long enough to get something measurable done but not so long that I completely lose all focus and drive.

I also find that, when given a time limit, I tend to rush a little more than normal.  I push myself to see if I can get all the dishes done in 10 minutes.  I rarely do get them all done in that amount of time, but I usually get through more than half of them.

To put the effectiveness of this in perspective, two sink-fulls of dishes usually takes me around an hour to wash.  But, when I commit to 10 minutes of intense dish cleaning, I tear through the dishes.  It’s a race, it’s urgent.  My brain latches onto the urgency of a deadline and stays focused for 10 minutes.

I know that much more than 10 minutes would be hard for me to focus on, so I give myself a break at that point.  The reason I do this is so that I keep my excitement and my sense of accomplishment up.  I want to know that I gave something my all, even if only for 10 minutes.  I also want to know that I completed a task I’d set for myself.

This might seem like a silly game to some of you, but it works for me.  Some of you are more linear and can’t handle the thought of starting something without finishing it.  For me, though, I know that I will either spend all night working on something that I probably won’t finish anyway; so I choose to get hyper-focused and get most of it done in a few minutes.

I find that I have more time to do other things now.  That’s a good feeling!

The Simple Pleasure Of Accomplishment: Or, What the Worst Job I Ever Had Taught Me

Several years ago I was laid off and had to take a job making significantly less money than I had become used to making.  It was enough to make ends meet, but just barely.  Not only that, but the new job was at a mill, doing manual labor.

Whereas I used to report for work around 9AM, having time for coffee and a glance through the morning newspaper, I was now rising at 5AM, reporting to work at 6, and taking my lunches at the sound of a bell.  I was depressed and embarrassed to be working there, but I had no choice.  I had to pay the bills.

My new job was all about productivity, quotas.  I made furniture for a national restaurant chain.  To be more specific, I made benches for the booths.  I didn’t make the booths themselves – that was for another guy.  I didn’t make the chairs or tables or counters….I made the benches for the booths.  Well, technically, I only made the frames for the booth benches.  I made the frames.  That was my job.  It was shit.

But I noticed something about working every day with a quota.  I noticed that I left the mill every afternoon with a certain sense of accomplishment, a certain sense of pride or satisfaction.  I wasn’t proud of my socio-economic status by any means, and I certainly didn’t give a hoot about the restaurants I built my booth bench frames for.  No, I had no personal investment that caused me to feel urgent about getting these things built.  But, every night when I pulled off my dusty work jeans and sweat-ringed tee-shirt, I somehow felt that I’d done something, something real, something concrete.

The job I’d had before working at the mill was a white collar one.  I was in sales.  I sold a service.  I was pretty decent at it, too.  But, I never saw what I sold.  Every night, I would write my sales on a board for the other sales staff to see.  Often I was even the top-selling salesman, but I never got a great sense of accomplishment from that, because I couldn’t really see the work I’d done.

But, working in that mill, breathing in sawdust and working with my hands, I could see what I’d accomplished.  It seemed more real.  At the end of the day, I’d have a rack full of completed booth bench frames awaiting upholstery.  I could count them.  They actually took up space – they weren’t just numbers on a whiteboard.

Lately, I have been trying to give myself a motivational boost.  I have a lot on my plate in 2011.  I have some pretty scary goals that I know I need to stay hyper-focused on, if I I am going to have a prayer of completing.  One thing that I have been trying to do, is to focus on just getting shit done.  So, I’ve been focusing on getting little things accomplished.  They’re not always really huge, but they help to add up to a handful of things I can cross off my To Do list.  In sense, they take up space.

For example, just before writing this post, I took a minute to oil the hinges on our bedroom door.  It wasn’t a big thing, but I knew it was something that needed to be done and I knew that I wanted to stay psyched about the other things that I wanted to get done that might be harder to accomplish.  So, I did the easy thing first – and quickly!  That added something to my pile of stuff marked “DONE” and gave me momentum to finish the larger things like the time-intensive process of writing this blog post and the frustrating project of training my disobedient dog Pax.

Upon completing the small task, I was energized.  I’d been home from work about 15 minutes and I’d already accomplished something!  I used that momentum to do more, get more done.  I rolled that momentum into writing this post.  I started to lose momentum as I wrote, so I set the time for 10 minutes and did some dishes.  Now, I’ll use the accomplishment of all these completed tasks to ease the pain of getting my stiff-necked canine to respond to my commands!

So, in the spirit of getting shit done, I’m doing just that, 10 minutes and a few small things at a time.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ray February 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm

glad to see you organizing and setting priorities. Glad also that you got me into blogging. I know if I can commit to 10 mins a day of writing on my blog that I should be able to post a new one each week. I am motivated!


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