A meditation on Focus

Doing deep meaningful focussed work brings you joy

Man, I just cannot focus. The joy of doing deep focussed work also know as “flow” is lost for me. Up until now, I just didn’t think I had the tools to focus deep work.

But recently I have discovered some wonderful productivity tools like taskheat which helps me plan my projects by breaking it down in to a flow chart. But before you can focus, you need to know what the hell should you focus on. It shouldn’t happen that you focus on some project and then after wasting years you regret it. I am using Airfous for prioritisation.

Once I am decided on the one task I need to accomplish, I use one of the most simplistic app called Flowlist. This app is just amazing to just focus on that one thing you need to dig deep into.

I am an advanced app user. I have never been able to use a paper to jot down my ideas. I am a digital first inspite of belonging to Zen X. If you have been doing this on paper, you are miles ahead of me. But I am catching up soon on getting focussed and experiencing the joy of deep meaningful work.

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Manage your energy not your time.

Time management is passé. The new productivity mantra is about managing your energy and time takes care of itself. If you observe, most critical task don’t take more than 30 minutes. But yes, preparation, planning, de-cluttering , organising are time killers.
If you have the strength of body and mind, you can do a lot in a day. The mind tires the body and vice-versa. You have to make sure, you give energy to your body and your mind.

I have realised giving energy to your body with food could be counter productive. Don’t you feel down right tired after a meal which is oily and greasy? Food remains the most effortless and pleasurable way to boost your energy levels. When our energy levels drops low, our blood sugar levels drop signalling the brain to suggest to us, we need to eat. We all don’t have a planned diet which can give us the critical energy.

Here are some ways you can increase your energy levels, without indulging in a heavy meal.

1) Do a short warm up –

I always do a warm up yoga. This boosts my energy levels and I am able to get my metabolism going to digest a meal. This means I don’t fall a sleep after a meal and remain alert.

2) Some breathing exercises

Breathing is a great way to increase your metabolism, calm your mind. In only a minute of focussing on your breathing we begin to recover our energy.

3) Standing Desk –

I have realised, standing and working on my MacBook is tiring. But I am more alert because of the pain. So I try to finish my tasks as soon as possible.

4) Taking short naps –

I have trouble sleeping. Most days I don’t get good sleep. Somedays I have to lie down in the afternoon or even as early as 11 am for 15 minutes, to get my energy levels up.

5) Reading

Reading is like a reset switch for your mind. If you are mentally fatigued. This is a great technique to get the mental juices flowing to nourish your mind.

There are other things which are dependent on external resource to help to boost your energy levels for e.g..

1) Counselling –

Talking to a competent authority about your problems.

2) A personal trainer

If you have some one who can guide you through a series of physical exercise to aleivate your pains. This could be wonderful.

3) Massage Therapy

Our Body craves for touch. Its the like the food for our stomach. Great way to boost energy levels.

Let me know, if you have any personal hacks to manage your energy levels.

 

No Notifications

I got my peace of mind. In the age of white noise, everyone needs to know how to find their peace.

Here are the actions I took in last month to maintain my sanity

 

1) Stop the incoming notifications –

a) Don’t take unscheduled calls and meeting requests.
Scene – A colleague needs to release his frustrations, he Whatsapp’s you. You spend half and hour talking to him, to make him feel better. The consequence, is you miss out on a timely deliverable which you agreed. The client gets furious, as she has paid you upfront. You apologise and throw in some freebies.

WhatsApp is the deadliest tool of all social tools. Please mute for all notifications. I did, and I am much happier. This is not foolproof because when you need to check a important message and see 2/3 frantic messages from your friends. You are going to ne tempted to read them.

I dislike to use WhatsApp for business, but after many years, I installed it. Every client requests for a WhatsApp number. It has become the replacement for Fax. There is no other ubiquitous tool and some people who came on the internet after 2005 think WhatsApp is the email.

Enough Ranting on whatsapp. 

 

b) Macbook –
My macbook is my place of worship, I make serious shit here, like writing this blogpost, which I decided to finish in an hour. Writing takes 30 minutes and editing takes another 45 minutes. But I will cheat on the editing time.

Macbook has a handoff feature where you see your Ios notifications plus your apps and browser notifications. Which add to the distraction to work. First thing you do is toggle to DND mode.

This is not adequate since you might still accidently go to Facebook or twitter. This could be taken care with Freedom and Cold Turkey apps. They block these websites, which might make me loose focus.

c) Three Tasks per day.
I use Focuster app to focus on one task at a time. The concept of focuster is that you can do to the best of your ability 3 task every day. In Focuster, you can list and schedule these three task and make sure, you finish them. This idea has made me
immensely productive.

d) Ipad –
Never use multi-screen when you are working. Hide your Ipad when you are on the mac. But if you do lighter tasks on the Ipad. You need to to mute all the notification. I have muted all notification except the one’s in the notification center.

Freedom app can block all your websites, and can make you go hysterical, so I suggest you go slow, and build a separate block lists as per your priority.

e) Iphone –
I make it a point to avoid all unscheduled calls. Even if its the most trivial of conversation, I use one of my AI scheduling assistant like Amy or Cortana to set up a time for the call. This works 90% of the time. Pre-digital generation has trouble accepting this protocol. One of my friend in his 70’s, felt hurt when I told him, that you need to take an appointment to speak.

2) Psychology of Focus –

 


a) We get stressed when the INPUT > OUTPUT.

When the amount of work is more, then the input is greater than the output. You will get stressed. We need to deliver quality work, and one cannot do over 3 or 5 tasks per day. But our todo list which goes in the 20’s. There are also demands from Bosses and colleagues.

b) Prioritise –
This is where prioritisation kicks in. We rationalise how much we can deliver every day. I fixed mine at 3 fantastic jobs per day. You can do maybe 5. I am talking about work which needs skill and energy, not tasks like tele-calling. I am speaking about serious managerial work.

c) Put your foot down –
You choose what you can do. One cannot manage the input, but can sure control the output of your work, right? Ignore all pressures from anyone to deliver, you are accountable to yourself and no one else.

Could less sleep make you more productive?

Unsplash / Pexels

Yesterday I worked for 36 hours continuously with intermittent naps in between. I was so worked up, that I could doze of for like 20 minutes, get up and again start working. I never felt this driven.

Today morning after almost an 8.5-hour sleep, I feel driven to distraction, while writing this post I cannot focus. There is so much energy in me today, that I feel like making calls, replying to my social media feed and doing some other work instantaneously.

The feeling after a good night sleep is that I can conquer the world, but I cannot do it, because I am too distracted and don’t know where to begin.

In contrast, yesterday in a sleep-deprived state, I was so in the flow and focused on what I am doing, that I wouldn’t even bother if the house was on fire.

Earlier people would brag about working prolonged hours and being sleep deprived. I am not bragging about my lengthy hours; I am just pointing to that wonderful focused work zone where we all want to be in.

The new-age wisdom, stresses on having a good night sleep, the great Ariana Huffington has written a book on sleep deprivation.

I am not recommending you deprive yourself of sleep especially if you are into driving or doing manual work like using a machine. However, if you are a desk worker who can snatch a few winks, do try to deprive yourself and see if it helps you focus.

How I manage my tasks

You know there are thousands and thousands of articles on productivity, and I might have read a few thousands of pieces. So here is my take on how to manage tasks. Maybe you will find some wisdom in this? (Leave comments)

Ok, first I classify the task into mainly two types

1) Algorithmic Tasks
2) Heuristic Tasks
3) Dated Tasks
4) Location Based Tasks

An algorithmic task is simple straight forward for, e.g., – Call XYZ or email ABC

For, e.g., – Imagine you are a dog, and your Boss is your master who throws a ball in front of you and asks you to fetch it. Simple right? Yes, that’s an algorithmic task.

A Heuristic task is a complex task, it includes a lot of googling, thinking, and finding the best method to do the same, knowing that there could be an even better way to do that task, but you are running out of time.

For Eg – If you are a dog, and your boss says he has thrown a rubber ball, and you have to jump into the ocean and retrieve a golden ball in record time because he is calculating ROI

Warning – If you are are accepting any new project, try to gauge what would be the proportion of algorithmic and heuristic tasks, if the percentage of heuristic tasks are higher, you should demand higher pay from your client.

Dated Task – These are the task, which only gets activated on a particular date, like paying your broadband or electricity bill.

Location based Task – These are tasks which are location dependent, for, e.g., you are travelling next week to Pune, and you need to do a few things to do there. So this folder contains that task. Task managers like Todoist have a GPS based Task Manager, which reminds you of a task when you reach a particular location automatically.

I use an app called todoist to manage these two types of tasks.

I also use another task management app called Meistertask to manage my tasks filtered on the basis on projects. Task by projects comes 2nd in my task completion workflow; my first attack is always tasks based on the above four criteria.

Also use email folders to file emails if there is task associated with it, many email apps like Airmail have an integration with todoist where you can assign a task straight from your email client.