Habits > tasks
(Estimated reading time: less than a minute)
Last week I let a few of my habits slip. This is quite unusual for me, but it’s not unheard of. Flicking through my journal I noticed that when I get myself into a ‘funk’, it’s often linked to changes in my routines. This includes irregular entries in my journal.
I know that things like exercise can have a direct bearing on productivity and creativity. But why would a dip in my photography practice be associated with reduced performance?
The best answer that I can come up with is:- regular habits create a rhythm that helps with juggling demands. I’d be intrigued if anyone has other ideas or is aware of any research in this area.
Yesterday I wrote about slowing down to the speed of intention (prioritising and planning). But how do you stay at that speed? How do you resist the temptation of the reactive?
I’m certainly open to ideas on this. My own attempts are still work in progress.
There are a number of tools and approaches that I think are helpful here. I’ve written before about my preference for a hand-written to do list. I recently came across Cal Newport’s approach to daily planning. I like the combination of diary and to do list (handwritten). I particularly like the commitment to blocks of time for specific tasks and deep work.
I’m currently dabbling with a similar approach. My tasks descriptors are a bit more expansive than Cal’s – all starting with a verb. I’m also using colour to monitor the success of my plan.
I’m also experimenting with my working environment in an effort to minimise distractions (when appropriate). For me, this includes closing down Outlook to resist the temptation to check e-mail. (I have designated slots for that purpose!). Also, part of being agile means that I can change my location. This requires a bit of intention, and resisting the comfort zone of ‘my usual place’.
As an aside, there are times when ‘distractions’ are an important part of being a team member and manager. My ‘distraction’ is someone else’s priority. So, being available is important – provided that you control it.
You can find some other nuggets on this approach in this article by Steven Handel.
One way that I use my diary is to ensure that I have time slots each week to allow me to:
- Work on tasks/projects.
These slots are booked months ahead. If someone tries to organise a meeting at one of these times, I will happily say,
“I’m not available. I have another commitment.”
This is true – I have a commitment to myself and to make a contribution to my organisation. Of course, there are exceptions – times when I’ll break my commitment. But, wherever possible, I try to re-arrange my week to find an alternative time to do my thinking/reading/work.
Meetings! Many people seem to love filling their diary with back-to-back meetings. That’s entirely up to them… but not for me. (I find back-to-back meetings drain my energy. So, I try to avoid them whenever possible.)
When I put a meeting in my diary I like to allocate two other slots – one to prepare for it, and one to review it. Preparation goes beyond reading the papers.
Preparation goes beyond reading the papers. It helps me to identify where I’m likely to make a contribution; where there might be a need to clarify; where there might be some tension. In summary, I try to anticipate what might emerge during the meeting. Ideally, I’ll prepare the day before the meeting, to allow some time to get more information etc if necessary.
Reviewing is intended to ensure that I capture all actions allocated to me; to communicate key issues to my teams; and to file the papers properly.
Of course, putting these slots in my diary reduces the space for more meetings. Which is practically perfect!
I have a particular (maybe, peculiar) way of managing my diary. I’m often told that it’s hard to get an appointment with me. And, to be frank, I’m OK with that. For me, a diary is not supposed to be crammed full of appointments.
My diary is a key part of my approach to productivity. I’ll provide some of the rationale for my system in the next few days. In the meantime, here’s a doodle overview.