On returning from the summer holidays, iPhone Screen Time showed that I had used my phone for over 4 hours a day.

I hated this idea. That 4 full hours each day in some way were glued to a small screen. There is plenty of facetime calls and zoom calls… but a large portion has become the mindless scrolling down through instagram in particular.

I immediately deleted instagram, facebook and twitter from my phone. I left some of the other apps that were getting a lot of use: WhatsApp, Chrome, Linkedin, Chess.com, YouTube.

It has been a week without Instagram, facebook and twitter. I have not noticed missing anything. I got a couple of emails from instagram saying “you have 3 new messages” – but I can still see instagram when I am at my laptop so it is not that I have left completely.

This week’s iphone usage…

Screen time this week is down 27% from last week (and down over 45% from my peak distraction week!)

It is still pretty high.

…and it is such a powerful distraction.

I pick up my phone to do 1 thing – make a call, send a message… and then spend 10-20 minutes doing a cycle through a couple of apps… I am addicted to deliberate distraction.

I tell myself that I have discipline. I have spent a lot of the last decade working on using time intentionally and effectively… and I am not able to cope with an iphone.

I worry for humanity.

If this distraction were making us kinder, better, more informed, more worldly-wise then this would be a gift. These distractions are not making me kinder… if anything more impatient and rude to those around me.

I have decided that I have a problem. I am addicted. I do not have intentional control over my usage of this device.

It has so many useful features that make my life better – the camera and video in my pocket, google maps is brilliant, facetime with family has been wonderful during Covid times, whatsapp allows coordination of groups and meetings… I will not be getting rid of the iphone.

I will be honest with myself and say that I am not in conscious control of my usage and I need to set limits for myself.

I don’t like admitting it, but I guess this is an addiction.

I don’t like the idea of being controlled by a little device.

…but I am not capable of using it… it uses me.

One of my most read & shared posts ever is 11 Differences between Busy People and Productive People. Productivity is clearly a theme which resonates with you, my favorite reader.

Coffee
Another of my Productivity secrets

Robert Pozen and Kevin Downey write about 3 keys to productivity over at Harvard Business Review. They share a summary of their work on personal productivity with over 20,000 professionals: What Makes Some People More Productive Than Others

Here’s what Robert & Kevin learnt about Productive People

If you want to become more productive, you should develop an array of specific habits.

Focus on what’s Important

First, plan your work based on your top priorities, and then act with a definite objective.

  • Revise your daily schedule the night before to emphasize your priorities. Next to each appointment on your calendar, jot down your objectives for it.
  • Send out a detailed agenda to all participants in advance of any meeting.
  • When embarking on large projects, sketch out preliminary conclusions as soon as possible.
  • Before reading any length material, identify your specific purpose for it.
  • Before writing anything of length, compose an outline with a logical order to help you stay on track.

Develop the Ability to Focus

Second, develop effective techniques for managing the overload of information and tasks.

  • Make daily processes, like getting dressed or eating breakfast, into routines so you don’t spend time thinking about them.
  • Leave time in your daily schedule to deal with emergencies and unplanned events.
  • Check the screens on your devices once per hour, instead of every few minutes.
  • Skip over the majority of your messages by looking at the subject and sender.
  • Break large projects into pieces and reward yourself for completing each piece.
  • Delegate to others, if feasible, tasks that do not further your top priorities.

Engage with the People, not just the Tasks

Third, understand the needs of your colleagues for short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions.

  • Limit the time for any meeting to 90 minutes at most, but preferably less. End every meeting by delineating the next steps and responsibility for those steps.
  • Respond right away to messages from people who are important to you.
  • To capture an audience’s attention, speak from a few notes, rather than reading a prepared text.
  • Establish clear objectives and success metrics for any team efforts.
  • To improve your team’s performance, institute procedures to prevent future mistakes, instead of playing the blame game.

How’s your Productivity?

How do you rate yourself on these 3 areas? What is your Achilles Heel when it comes to productivity?

More Productivity

If you liked this post you will also like How to have a Productive Dayand How to take Better Decisions.

One of my posts over at LinkedIn “11 Differences between Busy People and Productive People” was turned into a cool infographic by an author at Inc Magazines blog.  Given that it has horses and unicorns on it, I wanted to share it here.

Thanks Inc 😉

Check out the article over at Inc: The Differences between Busy and Productive People

The 3 most Productive per Hour countries are:

  1. Luxembourg
  2. Switzerland
  3. Norway

The graph below gives one particular view of the level of productivity per hour for the world’s countries.  Mexico works lots of hours with little output, whilst Luxembourg work little hours with very high productivity.

The horizontal axis represents annual hours worked and the vertical axis represents annual GDP per capita in U.S. dollars.

Shades of blue represented relatively high worker productivity while shades of red represent relatively lower worker productivity. Worker productivity is calculated by dividing annual GDP per capita by annual hours worked, which yields productivity per hour worked.

My first comment would be that there is a bit of a flaw in how this graph is put together.  Productivity is divided by hours worked, so there is going to be a mathematical effect that showing higher productivity where cultures encourage people to get out of the office quickly.  The graph is still interesting 😉

The data were collected by Expert Market from the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.

“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers 

That is worth repeating.

“A shallow and unrewarding life.”

That’s bad.

You Need to Learn to Focus

So make it a priority.

Yes it’s hard.  The world is designed to distract you.  Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction.  They invest billions and are excellent at their work.  When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.

Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.

Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine.  If you can see it, you will use it.  If you can hear it, you will use it.  Willpower is not going to get you through this.

There are many reasons why we delay work.  I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today.  I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future.  The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me.  But, what if’s not?  I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.

Who is Good at Focus?

I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety.  These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!

Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.”  In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.

How to Learn Focus?

Simple, noisy timer

Use The Pomodoro* Method.

Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Pick a specific project you would like to work on.  For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
  2. Set a timer for 20 minutes
  3. Work only on this project until the timer stops.  Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer.  Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
  4. Repeat.

Count how many timers you can complete in a day.  I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit.  I didn’t.

Some clarifications…

*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.

If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.

If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.

If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer.  (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)

If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.

I think you get the idea.  Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.

* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.

This week’s Rhetorical Journey video is all about the Ability to Focus

If you are viewing this via email, watch the video on the blog here: the Ability to Focus

Inspired by Derek Sivers..

This was inspired by Derek Sivers in his frequently asked questions.  I recommend a quick read.  It is lots of content in a short bullet point list.

Derek on focus: He shares 3 further tips for improving your focus…

  1. Read the book “Deep Work”.
  2. Read “Trying to pursue many different directions at once?”.
  3. Practice meditation.  Maria Popova of BrainPickings listens to this guided meditation by Tara Brach every morning…

Tara Brach Guided Meditation

Gratitude

Personally, this video about Gratitude is one of my favourite ways to Meditate for a few minutes.  If you are reading via email, check out the video on the blog here: Nature, Beauty, Gratitude.

How many Pomodoro timers can you do today?  Reply in the comments if you get 1 full timer done today!

If you liked this post, you will also like Focus and The Urgent and the Important.

Do you plan your days, or do your days run as a reaction to what pops up?  In Washington DC, one of our EO leaders at the EO Leadership Academy was Christoph Magnussen – here in this he shares a tip we learnt about how to take control of your day.

This is a lesson that was shared with the group by Warren Rustand.  Warren Rustand was a White House scholar back in the 1970s and spent 4 years as the appointments secretary to President Gerald Ford.  This meant that for 4 years, he controlled how President Ford spent his time.

How does the US President Plan his Days?

If you are reading this via email, the video is here: How does the US President plan his days? 

Do your days reflect your highest priorities?  Do you plan how you want to spend your time?

Yesterday I shared an interview with Christoph Magnussen reviewing lessons from #EOLA16.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-23-02-34Here’s another smidgin of wisdom from Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Leadership Academy 2016.  In this video, Rich Mulholland, an entrepreneur from South Africa shares his reflections on two key moments during the leadership academy:  A re-enactment of the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech, and a session with Warren Rustand speaking about his time as Appointments Secretary to President Gerald Ford.

Rich’s message: Take control of your time.

I love Rich’s idea about protecting your time in the short term:  If someone asks him for a meeting, he says “If you want to meet today or tomorrow, I can give you 15 minutes; if you want to meet next week, I can give you 30 minutes… if you can wait 2 weeks, I can give you an hour” – Most people say “I’ll take 15 minutes” and he can hold them to it when the clock ticks to 15 because they chose 15.

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: Rich Mulholland: Take your Time

If you liked this post, you will also like Becoming Strategically Unavailable and Jedi Productivity #4: Obi Wan’s Guide to Saying “No”.

I have learned 3 things about getting good work done:

There is no magic app:  My lack of productivity was never down to a missing app, or not implementing Dave Allen’s GTD system correctly, or not having the right colour pens and post-it notes.  I have everything I need to be productive with a keyboard and a text editor (I write).

Willpower is weak:  I have good willpower days (few) and bad willpower days (many).  Willpower depends on a good nights sleep, an absence of urgent messes to deal with, nobody letting me down and the Irish rugby team delivering a stunning performance.  These days are rare, and the likely self-flagellation and frustration from feeling like I am an especially lazy human being are very painful.  Willpower doesn’t work over the long term.

Triggers matter:  Instead of storing my good intentions inside my head, I write them down and put them around me.  Instead of waiting for motivation, I have a list of people to call who will leave me inspired after 5 minutes of conversation.  Instead of rethinking every day why I do this, I have a 1 page description of why my work matters.  I write blog posts when I see my blog window open.  I write in my notebook when I see it with a pen next to it on my desk.

I wrote a long series of posts on Productivity back in early 2014, with a tongue-in-cheek inspiration from my favourite childhood movie.  Here’s the full list of posts.

Published Jedi Productivity Posts

  1. Jedi Productivity Presentation
  2. Jedi Productivity 11 of 11: We need you. The Jedi must Prevail over the Evil Empire and why you matter
  3. Jedi Productivity 10 of 11: ”Luke! you switched off your targeting computer!” making time for yourself
  4. Jedi Productivity 9 of 11: Yoda’s first rule: Do or do not, there is no try
  5. Jedi Productivity 8 of 11: How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings
  6. Jedi Productivity 7 of 11: R2D2, C3PO and the Power of Delegation
  7. Jedi Productivity 6 of 11: “Use the phone Luke…” Master the telephone
  8. Jedi Productivity 5 of 11: Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)
  9. Jedi Productivity 4 of 11: Obi-Wan’s guide to say “No”, (these are not the droids you are looking for…)
  10. Jedi Productivity 3 of 11: Deal with Darth Vader’s Evil “Urgent” Interruptions
  11. Jedi Productivity 2 of 11: The Emperor’s guide to Goal Setting and the 20 Mile March (LT, ST, habits)
  12. Jedi Productivity 1 of 11: Obi-Wan says “Be Systematic” if you want Productivity (and balance)

 

“Inbox zero?”

I haven’t seen anything near zero for a decade.

I think email is a hugely useful tool, and also a massive black hole that can suck up my time and energy.  I haven’t tried to manage email for the last few years on the view that almost nothing of great value ever arrives or is achieved purely through email.  Anything important for me is achieved by getting face to face with the key person.

I have found a simple email idea that is working for me.  It is not complex – which was often the failure of the “Getting Things Done” type systems for me.  I think if I already had the systematic disciplines that you need to follow the process, then I wouldn’t need the getting things done system anyway.  I am not organised.  I never have been.  It takes enormous effort on my part to keep things tidy.

Ari Miesel shared this one simple idea for email management that I have been using successfully now for 2 weeks.

The Optional Folder

I have 1 new folder – called the “Optional” folder. I have some rules that automatically move new email to this folder if they contain anything similar to the word “unsubscribe”.

Here are the actual rules that my Apple Mail program uses to move email into the optional folder:

Basically anything that has the word “unsubscribe” anywhere in the email is probably a newsletter, an offer or something that is not urgent.  In my own case I have various versions of unsubscribe in spanish and english and have been tweaking these rules so that today the only emails that remain in my inbox are ones that are sent to me from a specific individual. It allows me to focus on the emails that do really need my attention.

I often do a scan through the optional folder, but with an open, curious mind that is not stressed by the thought that an email might be important and require my full attention.

Thanks to Ari!

https://instagram.com/p/3_w8G8wSBr/ Ari Miesel describes the plan here on his blog.  Ari is on a mission to be efficient with our time.  Check out Ari’s TEDx talk for more.  I met Ari when I was at the Growth Summit Europe for my annual dose of inspiration, wise ideas and reflection at IESE Business School a couple of weeks ago.

Do you have any email tips that are 1) extremely simple and b) help you focus on the important emails?  I would love your thoughts in the comments.