I saw this in my Tweet stream this morning:
and I had way more than 140 characters to say about it, so I was inspired to write a blog post about it today. Thanks @alexismadrigal, I hope this helps!
First, I suggest very selective and short-term time-blocking. YOU are the first person you’ll cancel an appointment with, so sometimes time-blocking can be tricky. But there are three rules that help make it more effective:
- Don’t block your time too far in the future, because it’s too uncertain. To get important things done, block time on your calendar today, or tomorrow, but go too far in advance and your priorities will change. And you’ll end up breaking those appointments with yourself. One exception to this: if you have an important deadline in the future, it’s helpful to block some time a day or so before that deadline in order to finish up the project, add final thoughts, or give it one last once-over (or actually do it, if you’re a deadline junkie!)
- Use time-blocking very selectively – only for very important things, and only once in a while. If you try to do it too often, it will just get in the way, and become routine. You’ll start breaking those appointments with yourself, and then you’ll have lost the effectiveness of the technique.
- Don’t make your time-blocks too long. It’s very difficult to block out a whole day, for example. Focus waxes and wanes, things like hunger cause distractions, the desire to “check on things” (voicemail, email, Twitter stream, etc) become too tempting. I find time-blocking works best in 2-hour chunks or less.
Ok, next tip. Even if you haven’t time-blocked, when you decide you are going to spend some time on an important task, ELIMINATE any possible distractions! This seems like a no-brainer but I’m always surprised at how uncommon it is. Close your email client, shut off any Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (etc) notifications, silence your ringer, shut off the television, etc. If you need noise, play instrumental or classical music. Song lyrics tend to send our brain off in distracting directions, as does the tendency to sing along. Another option: white noise. Turn on a quiet fan, or go outside to the sounds of nature. Small personal rewards can help motivate you as well: If I spend 30 minutes on this, I’ll allow myself 10 minutes of a video game, or blog surfing, or a grande mocha latte, or whatever appeals to you.
One last tip…if you have something important to get done, but you just can’t seem to get your head in the game, grab a piece of paper and a pen and try “stream of consciousness” writing. This helps to eliminate mental clutter and uncover those intellectual gems you know are in there somewhere. Don’t censor yourself, and don’t try to organize as you write. Just write whatever comes to you, and chances are before too long your brain will find its way back to that important thing you’re trying to get done. Or the worst case is you’ll end up with some other pearl of wisdom or great idea. Our brains are much better at creative, strategic thinking and problem solving than they are at remembering details, and if we clear our mind of the minutiae (mental clutter), the “good stuff” often appears.
I hope you found this helpful!