Let’s get right to the brass tacks, shall we? You want to get more done. You have clients or bosses to appease, and a list longer than your arm just waiting to be conquered. If you can get everything done, you win: the client will pay you money, your boss will let you keep your job, or your partner will let you sleep in bed rather than on the couch.
And so, like most people, you want to get more done. I know the feeling all too well, myself. I run a very busy design business. I host a weekly podcast. I write books. And I make things. All while being a father and husband. I dream of buying extra time as often as meth addicts grind their teeth.
I’ve managed to figure out how to get more done, though. I cracked the code. And now I want to share one of those tricks with you.
“Aaron”, you say, “I thought you were going to teach us how to get more done. Why are you suggesting we do less?” Well, there are two reasons.
Multitasking Doesn’t Work
The old theory that you can get more done by doing more at once is a myth, and a bad one. Multitasking is only effective at helping you feel stressed and overwhelmed.
For one reason, handling more than one task at once only serves to divide your attention. You simply can’t manage your email and build a quality logo at the same time. Trying to write your first novel while taking a client phone call isn’t going to give your story or your client the attention that each deserves.
According to researchers Teresa Aubele and Susan Reynolds, multitasking can actually decrease your creativity. By hopping rapidly from one input or task to the next, our brains aren’t allowed to stop receiving information and start processing it creatively.
The key, according to these researchers, is focusing on a single task at a time. Multitasking actually prevents us from giving a single task the attention required to complete it well. So while we may appear to be getting more done when we multitask, what typically results is poor quality, and there are consequences to that, such as having to redo the task entirely, or losing a client because of the disappointing results.
Stop multitasking. You’ll get more done.
Scheduling Too Much is a Bad Idea
It is tempting to look at a todo list with dozens of items and try to cram them into a single day. But in order to do that, we end up giving each task less time than it deserves. The result: frustration, confusion and breakdown in the system.
I am a firm believer in booking my day to 90% capacity. There will always be something that pops up, so scheduling in some flexibility helps me trust my list, stay calm and give focus where it’s needed most. But if I bite off more than I can chew, my success is much less guaranteed.
It’s incredibly important to know how long different tasks take you to complete. I’m a designer for most of my day, so I have had to get very good at guessing how long it will take me to design a business card or do the research on a new logo. So, when I look at my list of tasks and see “asset graphics for Client X’s WordPress site”, I know how much time to give allow for it on my schedule for the next day. And the better I get at guessing the times, the more productive (smaller needed-done to got-done ratio) my days become.
Over-doing it leads to under-doing it. Trust me.
I get it. You want (and need) to get as much done each day as possible. Your livelihood may depend on it, in many cases. But our over enthusiasm might actually get in the way sometimes. By focusing on one task at a time and building a realistic and achievable daily schedule you can actually get more done. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s effective. Give it a try this week.
What is friction? I talk about it a lot, so it bears some elaboration. And I’ll be honest with you – this is a mantra that sits at my core, and I believe that this is a universal truth that can be applied across a plethora of disciplines and areas of life.
So, what is friction?
First, there’s the obvious answer: friction is the resistance that an object encounters when moving against another. Think of sandpaper on your skin and you’ve got a good idea of how friction works. When two things come in contact, they interact, and depending on their qualities, some level of friction results. Friction causes rug burns, paper cuts and skinned elbows. And while there are a lot of benefits to friction (architects and scientists know this intimately), most of the places in nature where we encounter friction we also find distress and frustration.
I find that this is true in the non-physical world as well. Friction can pop up in the way you manage a business, or in your relationship with a spouse or friend. In our lives, friction can be defined as anything that slows us down or prevents us from achieving our goals. If your goal is to earn more money in your freelance gig, things like distraction and disorganization can become sources of friction. If your goal is to lose weight, having Oreos and Thin Mints laying around will present major obstacles to that goal. Yep, that’s friction.
So when I talk about friction, that’s what I mean. This is a “core belief” for me, something that I carry with me to the different areas of my life. Whether I’m being a husband or father or home owner or designer or businessman or writer or whatever, I am constantly aware of where friction might be lurking. And if I can kill the friction, I will be paving a smooth path to whatever goals I might have set.
I don’t know about you, but I like achieving my goals. Some people call that “success”. I call it being frictionless.
So that’s what this is all going to be about. Suggestions and ideas about how we can remove the friction from our workflow and business processes. We all want to be better at what we do, and the best way to get there is to hunt down the friction and stop it before it gums up our chances for success.
So stick around. We all just might learn a thing or two.
In order to master your life, you must master your week. In order to master your week, you must first master your day.
It sounds a bit like something Yoda would say, I’ll give you that. But these are words to live by, trust me on this. If I was asked to boil down all of the success I encounter in my work and personal life into two or three key rules, this would be one of them: planning your day means planning to succeed.
So what does that look like? If you’ve ever wanted to tweak and adjust your day to squeeze the maximum amount of productivity out of it, then this is your lucky day. Pull up a chair, because I’m about to break down my time management system for you. And it all starts with blocks.
Everything that happens between waking up and going to sleep is a block. I tend to view my day in 30-minute blocks, but you can cut up the time into whatever works for you. Some tasks take 30 minutes while others need 120 minutes. You just need to keep it consistent.
There are also different kinds of blocks. Some are inflexible or immovable, while others are fluid and pliable. For instance, because I work from home, I have the luxury of eating with my family each day for lunch. This means that my lunch happens every day from 12PM to 1PM, and that’s not negotiable. Lunch is an inflexible block of time. Other examples would be meetings or phone conferences.
Client work, however, is very fluid. Sometimes a project task can take 30 minutes, other times two hours. And most of the time I can place client work anywhere on my schedule as long as it doesn’t overlap with inflexible items.
Know Your Abilities & Limits
Planning ahead, and building a tight, efficient schedule for your day requires having a solid grasp of your skills and ability. If you have a specific type of project that you do often, chances are that you have an accurate understanding of how long that task will take. The true test, though, is learning to guess at how long something will take you when you’ve never done it before.
I build this element into the capture process whenever a new task comes across my desk. When I write down what it is that I need to accomplish, I always add a context to the task that tells me how long I think it will take. Maybe it’s 15 minutes, or 30, or even an hour; whatever the length of time will be, I make sure it is marked down ahead of time. This way, when I sit down to map out my day, I can use those lengths of time to help me build a realistic schedule.
Nothing is worse that ending your day with unfinished items on your list. Rookies think it’s because they didn’t work hard enough, but the reality is that when this happens it’s because you didn’t plan hard enough. Over-booking yourself is the fastest way to frustration and disappointment. Known your limits, and plan accordingly.
Plan for the Non-Project Stuff
Need to make a phone call tomorrow? Plan that into your schedule so that it doesn’t throw off your timeline. Maybe you have a meeting with a client across town at a coffee shop. Make sure you allow for travel time, not just the meeting time; a 30-minute meeting that is 15-minutes across town should take a 60-minute block on your schedule, not 30. It sounds simple, I know. But believe me, it’s a rookie mistake that throws way too many people off their game.
I also plan an hour less than I have to work with each day. My work day is done by 5pm, but I only ever map out my day up to 4pm. Why? Because something will come up. It always does. And if by some rare chance I do finish my work by 4, I will glance at my list for tomorrow and start knocking out small tasks from that list until 5pm arrives. That freedom needs to be built into your schedule.
Putting Pen to Paper
I use OmniFocus to capture and organize my tasks each day, but when it comes to mapping them out and building a schedule, I do that on paper. I use a notebook that offers up the least amount of structure necessary while still providing enough guidance to aid my personal system. And with pen in hand I literally copy my OmniFocus items for that day onto the page, working them into the best order and flow. Having them already in time-based blocks helps this work more smoothly.
I also do this the night before, not the morning of. I don’t know about you, but my mornings are crazy. A bunch of new email arrived over night, my kids want attention and I have coffee to make and drink. I don’t want to start my day off needing to find time to plan. Instead, when I finally get to my desk I simple open my notebook and start on the detailed list.
This helps me find my daily purpose as quickly as possible. Going to bed each night I am fully aware of what needs done, and when, so that I don’t waste time the next day making a decision about where to start. I made that decision the night before. Now I just need to put it to action.
Everyone has a system for getting things done, and each is like a fingerprint, unique and personal. But every good system has a few common elements. Master the art of planning each day, and you will maximize what you can get done, while removing the frustration that comes with not accomplishing everything you set out to achieve. However your own system works, thoughtfully planning ahead on paper can make all the difference in the world.