Workologism #10: Start from a Place of Strength

If you're trying to "get organized" or declutter an area of your life, instead of tackling the gnarliest possible project, start with something super easy. Find one area of your life where you're already very organized and build out from there. For example, try starting with one of your hobbies.

Let's say you enjoy fishing. Presumably, if you enjoy fishing you keep your equipment in a relatively orderly state. Now, what is another area of your life that slightly intersects with this hobby and needs some attention? Maybe your car (I'm guessing you drive to wherever you go fishing)? Now your fishing gear and your car are in good shape. What's next? Garage? The dresser where you keep your fishing clothes? Keep radiating outwards until you encompass more and more of your life.

Once you get a handle on these physical spaces it may be easier to begin wrapping your arms around the more ephemeral aspects of your life (work commitments, goals, aspirations, responsibilities, etc.).

Photo by tunnelarmr

Workologism #9: Batch

If you're not batching together simple, quick, and/or boring tasks then you're likely fracturing your attention and ruining the level of attention and care you can bring to your work that actually matters -- and that sucks.

Batching is simply saving a bunch of small things to do all at once instead of doing them as they show up. Here are a few of the things I regularly batch:

  1. Responding to emails (usually once daily).
  2. Checking email (a handful of times daily).
  3. Processing my snail mail (weekly).
  4. Paying bills (once every couple weeks).
  5. Processing notes out of my notebook and into Things or Evernote (once every couple days).

What could you start batching today?

Photo by Satoshi KAYA

Workologism #8: Use Your Workspace as a Tool

Actual photo of my workspace as it exists in November 2014. 

When you look around your workspace what do you see? I think our workspaces should not simply be a space where we get our work done, but a tool to help support us in actually doing our work. Everyone's space is a unique extension of themselves and I would never argue that we should all have the same type of space. I do think, however, that there are a few things that should characterize every knowledge worker's workspace.

If you're a knowledge worker I think you should be able to look around your space and easily see:

  1. The plan for what you're going to do this week.
  2. The plan for what you're going to do today.
  3. Your "hard landscape"
  4. Some projects that aren't active but you want to "percolate."
  5. And at least one thing that inspires or motivates you.

For me, this looks like:

  • A whiteboard that has a list of the projects I'm working on this week, any upcoming due dates, all my "hard landscape" items for this week, and a short list of "percolating" projects I want my subconscious to work on even though I'm not going to actively work on them this week.
  • An index card that has my daily plan written on it and it is clipped to the front of the notebook that sits on my desk.
  • A picture of my four younger brothers, which motivates me to work hard and be a good role model.
  • A meaningful quote either written on the whiteboard or written on an index card and stuck to the wall.

Photo by me

Workologism #7: Get Serious About Ubiquitous Capture

That awesome idea you just had? You aren't going to remember it in 10 minutes. I promise you. Get it out of your head and onto something a little more stable than the jelly-like organ that's working hard to keep you alive and not just remember your seemingly incredible ideas.

  1. Your smartphone has a reminders or notes function. Use it. Bonus points for learning how to voice activate it. I can say "Remind me to do X," to my phone and it will automatically add it to my Things inbox.

  2. Small notebook, back pocket. Small pen, front left pocket. This may only work for the fellas but it's relatively easy to carry a small notebook (Field Notes or Moleskine are good) in your back pocket and a small pen (like a Space pen) clipped to the inside of a front pocket.

  3. Use some kind of software on your computer that makes it easy to quickly record an idea. I use Things which allows me to hit CTRL + OPT + SPACEBAR to bring up a quick entry box that will immediately put whatever I type into it in my Things inbox. This plus muscle memory will allow you to record every good idea without overly distracting you from the task at hand.

Photo by photophilde

Workologism #6: Keep a Shipped List

Cultivating a sense of progress is important when you work in a highly autonomous job. Without progress you don't know if you're heading in the right direction and feeling directionless is a one way ticket to frustration and burnout. Help create a sense of progress by keeping a "shipped list." As you finish medium to large projects add them to the list and keep the list somewhere relatively visible. It's nice to have an artifact that shows you are indeed doing something (and if you notice you haven't added anything to it in awhile then you have some useful data about whether you're spending your time as well as you could be).

Photo by ana campos

Workologism #5: Make a Daily Index Card

This is my hard landscape for the day. Everything else I want to accomplish this day will be added below these items.

Start your day by writing down the things you're already committed to doing such as meetings, time sensitive phone calls, appointments, etc. (the stuff David Allen calls the hard landscape) on an index card. Now, add 1-3 other things you want to get accomplished today. If you can't fit what you need/want to do on one side of an index card you're probably biting off more than you can chew.*

* A normal sized index card -- not one of those 5x7 monstrosities.

Workologism #4: Write Emails Outside of Your Email Client

Email is a junction where information comes in and information goes out. It is not a café where you just hang out all day and see what happens.

I'll often keep a list of the emails I need to write in my task management system so I can open a text editor and just crank out my responses without having to look at what's already in my inbox or what might come in while I'm writing. When I'm done drafting all the emails in my text editor I'll open up my email client and copy/paste the messages over and send them on their way.

Photo by Ryan Blanding

Workologism #3: Use an End of Day Shutdown Routine

Fewer and fewer jobs have clear signals about when work is done for the day. For most of us, the work never really ends. For that reason I think it's really important to create some kind of routine that signals to yourself that the end of your day has happened and you can transition into non-work mode. Some ideas for inclusion in this routine include:

  • Spend a few minutes planning for tomorrow.
  • Clear off your desk and put all work materials away.
  • Spend a few minutes writing in your journal about the day.
  • Turn off your computer.
  • Do something to help you transition from work mentality to home mentality (read something unrelated to work, play a short video game, listen to some music, etc.)

The details don't matter as long as it helps you feel like you're making a transition from one part of your day (productive/work) to another part (not work/relaxing/home).

Photo by Nir.

Workologism #2: Use a Morning Start Up Routine

The way you start your day can have a huge impact on how the rest of it goes. Don't leave it up to chance. Instead, create a checklist of 2-3 activities you know you should complete every morning to get your day started on the right foot. Some ideas include:

  • Spend 15-20 minutes working on an important task.
  • Make a plan for the day.
  • Write in a journal for a few minutes.
  • Exercise.
  • Meditate.

Things you probably don't want on that list:

  • Check email
  • Check social networks

Let's be honest, those are going to happen throughout the day no matter what. Focus on doing the things that make you feel productive, get meaningful work done, or help you develop as a person.

Photo by Ann Fisher

Workologism #1: Multiple Types of Work, Multiple Locations

Have multiple types of work to do throughout the day and access to multiple locations? Try slightly shifting your work environment to stimulate your brain. A recent day of work for me looked like this:

  • Read newspaper and drink first cup of coffee while sitting outside.
  • Stand at my desk to do some administrative work and get organized for the day.
  • Move to outside bar/countertop and a tall chair for second cup of coffee and a couple hours of writing.
  • Respond to emails in recliner in the living room.
  • Move back to standing desk to do a couple coaching calls.
  • Take care of some business reading in hammock on back porch.
  • Go to office on campus to meet with student and do some academic writing.
  • Finish off the work day by doing some editing and more emails sitting at the kitchen table.

Your mileage may vary depending on the types of work you have to do but try expanding the various locations you're willing to work in throughout the day. No need to make massive location changes -- even just changing locations within your office or house may be enough to get your mind moving in novel ways. No reason to chain yourself to your desk if you aren't getting the level of productivity you think is possible.

Edit - Great minds think alike? Cal Newport just published an article with a similar idea he calls a "concentration circuit." Check it out!

Photo by me