— February 8, 2019
This post is another of my learnings on my personal learning journey on micro improvements.
There are two habits I’ve realized are critical to my productivity that are enormously simple, but it’s taken a long time to recognize them. One is hugely simple to implement–it really focuses on my mindset. The other is theoretically easy, but takes a lot of practice to make it real.
Let’s start with the easy one. It’s really about establishing routines that get my day started well. I’ve discovered, if I start my day right, things tend to go really well. At the end of the day, I feel very productive. If I don’t start my day right, I will struggle hitting my peak productivity. Eventually I’ll “muscle through,” but it’s a constant struggle.
You might be thinking, “Dave’s discovered how to set his to-do lists, how to really prioritize…..”
It’s simpler than that, the magic to a great day is taking a shower and shaving.
I started to notice that I have very different routines when I am in my office and when I travel (which is about 75% of my time). I’m a very early riser, I know my peak productivity is in the morning. Typically, whether I’m at home or traveling, I wake up no later than 4:30 am. Regardless of whether I’m at home or traveling, I do a quick, light workout. Only about 15 minutes. I always do it, it’s a habit.
But afterwards, my routines separate really quickly.
When I’m traveling, I take my shower, shave, get dressed for a day of meeting with clients. It gets my routine kickstarted. Typically I finish that a little after 5 am, I have roughly an hour to do emails, write a blog post, and prep for the day (A few minutes thinking about my meetings and what I want to accomplish). By 6 am the hotel restaurant has usually opened and I get breakfast, then I’m off running for the day.
When I’m home it’s different. I rise at the same time, I do my workout, then I wander down to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, say “Hi,” to the cats, then head to the office for email, phone calls, virtual meetings, and stuff.
I end up getting distracted by starting to work, but somehow, I don’t seem as focused. Typically, I have calls and virtual meetings, but it may be as late as 9 am before I take my shower. While it’s all in my mind, the trigger to “starting my day,” is showering and shaving. Despite all that I may have done, I don’t seem to kick into high gear until I take my shower.
As a result, I’ve changed my routine. I get up no later than 4:30 am, do my 15 minute workout, then take my shower, shave, get dressed and I’m ready for my business day–regardless if I travel or I’m in my office.
That simple change is more about my mindset than anything else. It took me a little while to discover it. Actually. I didn’t recognize it until I reread Twyla Tharp’s, The Creative Habit. She knows her habit for a productive day starts every morning when she leaves her house to hail a cab to go to the gym to work out. That habit of hailing the cab initiates all the routines for a productive day.
For me, that habit turns out to be taking a shower and shaving. Everything is keyed from completing that activity.
If you think of a row of dominoes, taking a shower and shaving, is that first domino, when it’s hit, all the other dominoes fall in sequence. It’s a concept called “habit stacking.”
The second is tougher. It’s not allowing myself to be distracted. I do everything I can to minimize distractions. I close all the windows on my computer except for what I am working on. Whether it’s writing, prospecting, prepping for a meetings, developing a presentation, writing a report, I close all the windows that are not focused on that task.
I switch my phone to silent and put it out of my eyesight. I get to work.
But then I create a distraction. Inevitably, I reach a point where I’m stumped. I have to think a little, I have to figure out what’s next. For example, so far in writing this post, I’ve had to stop and think about what I want to do twice.
This is where I create a distraction for myself. I want to “fill that time.” Rather than working my way through whatever I’m doing, I may take a quick look at email, or look at my texts, or look at a social channel. Pretty soon I find myself diverted, even if it’s for a few minutes.
I go back to my core task, but there’s a restart time. I still have to think about what caused me to stop initially.
Pretty soon I realized, that I had started a lot of things, there was a lot in process, but I was slow in getting them finished.
I started paying attention to this. For example, every morning I write a blog post, I was attentive to how many times I stopped to think/reflect and that I started something else. I realized how much time and productivity I was losing by the distractions I created for myself
I still get stumped. I need to stop, reflect, and think. But now that’s just what I do. I concentrate on doing one thing at a time, finishing it, then moving to the next.
Even if I stop and am doing nothing, I stay with that task. I’m so uncomfortable with doing nothing, I quickly figure out what I needed to figure out.
I’d be dishonest with you if I claimed to have mastered this. As I mentioned, in writing this post, I’ve stopped twice. I allowed myself to be distracted once (I’m sure you appreciate the irony of me writing about this and still getting distracted.)
But I’m doing it less, I’m consciously deciding not to let me distract myself. And I’m getting better and more productive.
It turns out productivity isn’t about the big things like setting your priorities and establishing your to dos. It’s all the little things. It’s creating rituals and habits. It’s about not letting yourself to distract yourself.
It’s a continuing journey…….