A Perfect World
Most likely, you have different levels of energy during the day. At times youíre sharp and focused; at other times youíre thoughtful; and sometimes youíre flat tired. Similarly, tasks vary in intensity level. Some chores are dead boring; others require intense concentration; and others have a relaxed pace.
If you can match your tasks with your energy level, your ability to produce results will skyrocket. The large gains come from eliminating mismatches -- those times when your mind just doesnít seem to engage.
The first step towards optimizing your activities involves identifying your personal cycles. List your daily attention and concentration levels. The following descriptions are common, but feel free to add your own variations.
Common daily cycles descriptions:
Next, list out your daily schedule by the hour and match your cycles to the times.
The above listing points out several periods for concentrated work during the day and a slow down in the evening. This seems like a common profile, although some people donít focus well in the morning but love to work well into the night.
Tasks fall into categories based on their focus level.
Again, possible task categories:
For each category, list specific activities from your regular work day.
A Perfect World
In a perfect world, the tasks would automatically fit into their matching spots, and you'd work at your highest efficiency. That may well be possible in the long term, after youíve had a chance to train the rest of the organization to your schedule. More likely, youíll find it difficult to change your colleagueís habits.
Not only will others resist your changes, but youíre in overload and donít have much leeway in moving your schedule around. In fact, fitting the right task to the perfect time of day may seem impossible. There are too many intervening factors; too many things already up in the air; and too many habits set in place.
Donít worry. There are alternatives to wholesale change. Letís say, for example, you have ten types of tasks you would like to rearrange in your daily cycle. From that list, pick two that are important. If you could do these two better and easier, life would improve.
Ignore the others, and work the top two into your day. If a particular event disrupts your task, find a way to eliminate it.
If two items are too many, focus on one concentration task.
On Taking Action
Shifting your tasks to fit the best time requires you to take action. That in itself is not always easy. Knowing you should do something is different than actually doing it.
For that reason, itís worth turning to psychology for insight. Motivation theory and behavior modification boils down to the following common sense terms.
Stated simply, people take action for three reasons:
Each of these has both benefits and a negative side.
Finding the best way to stir yourself to action may well determine the success of your efforts.
The traditional path to change requires discipline. Itís the old "no pain, no gain" system. Getting up at 4:30 every morning to train for the swim team, or changing eating habits after years of following the same diet are examples. They would take discipline.
Discipline is the act of forcing yourself to overcome an urge to take another path of action. It requires strength of will to resolve the conflict between options. It might be whether to get up when the alarm rings, or get another half hour of sleep; it might be whether to watch the ball game, or finish the chapter on inverse matrices. Discipline is the personal act of will that carries you through less than pleasant acts.
Typically, discipline comes from a mix of training, commitment, and desire. It would be easy to say: "Make a commitment to these methods and show some discipline. Just do it." Unfortunately, the "strength of will path" offers a high risk of failure. If you have a bad week and your emotional strength is low, your resolve may slip. When you rely on discipline to pull you through, your chances of success drop.
2. No Effort
When something requires no effort, you can just do it. If there is a leaf on the car hood, you just brush it off; if a pencil fell out of the jar, you just put it back. There is always some step you can take that requires no effort.
The effort needed for a given action can change depending on the circumstance. Letís say you had left your pencil on the other side of the room. Now that would take some effort -- to get up, go over, and pick it up. But if you picked it up the next time you came into the office, that would be no effort.
Taking advantage of No Effort involves altering your target actions to eliminate effort.
It becomes a matter of shaping situations into actions that arenít difficult. Making something into No Effort is nothing but a big setup. Itís a trick. The goal is to break difficult tasks into segments that can happen naturally.
Getting up at 4:30 AM to swim laps is a strain. However, if you went to sleep at 8:00, youíd be tossing and turning at 4:00. By 4:30 youíd be happy to get out of bed. It may be that turning in at 8:00 has its own set of difficulties, but it shows there is nothing inherently difficult about getting up at 4:30. Most hard-to-do tasks are not difficult in themselves, itís a matter of how you structure them.
The ideal is to be driven by an urge that you canít resist. This type of motivation gives you that bounce out of bed each morning. With the right desire, projects engulf you, and every chore deepens the embrace. If you encounter this enthusiasm, capture it the best you can. Remember the point of view and the vision. With luck, you can ride the energy for years.
These visions are dulled by overload and daily conflicts, but there is hope. Pull yourself out of overload, and the old thrill can return.
Ride desire whenever you can. Use discipline if you must. And make everything else effortless. That is the path to action.
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