When you’re catching up with a friend over lunch or chatting on the phone, do you wind up talking longer than you meant to? Usually, that’s fine. But there are some days when you just can’t afford the time. That’s why it can help to schedule an “out” for yourself.
If a friend wants to meet you for dinner on “deadline week” and you suspect that your meeting could result in a critical loss of time, why not schedule your meeting for an evening when you already have later plans? Simply schedule early enough to provide adequate time. Make sure to begin your dinner date with a mutual understanding of the limited time frame, so the two of you maximize your available time.
When you part ways, there will be no need for impoliteness or guilty feelings.“I need to steward my time” IS a legitimate excuse to decline a dinner invitation, but it never sounds as legitimate as “I have to attend my cousin’s birthday party.”
set fake deadlines
I’ve never used my hand to chop a board in half—with anything less than a Jigsaw in my grasp. But I’ve heard that karate masters accomplish this impressive feat by punching through the board—literally aiming their hand at an imaginary point behind it. So why not swing through your goals and deadlines? Don’t just meet them, overachieve!
It’s been said that projects naturally expand to fill up the time you allot for their completion. So, trick the system! If you know you can finish a project before it’s due, set a personal deadline, and free yourself from bondage ahead of time.
If you’re writing in a coffee shop or another public place, use noise cancelling headphones. Listening to trance music, dubstep, nature tracks, soft piano music, easy listening or white noise can all be great ways to get in the zone for writing, but fellow students have told me that putting headphones in their ears—without playing music—keeps them more focused by “linking” them to their computers. People are also less likely to strike up a conversation if you’re wearing headphones.
get a planner
I’m a fan of electronic calendars such as the IOS calendar or Google calendar, because both can be easily viewed by friends and family, they can be instantly integrated with electronic calendars for schools, businesses and sports teams, and they are ideal for project collaboration among project group members. However, regardless of whether you prefer the electronic or traditional route, a calendar is an indispensable tool for staying organized and keeping on top of deadlines.
Randy Pausch, a professor from Carnegie Mellon and famous for his “Last Lecture,” told students the most valuable time efficiency tool he owned was a Bluetooth headset, which enabled him to make all of his business calls while biking around the neighborhood. A Bluetooth device gives the wearer “cordless range” and frees his or her hands to organize a workspace, perform menial household chores, or even draw while they talk on the phone. In addition, I suggest doing some hands-free pleasure reading by purchasing an audio book and playing it while you travel, or even as you drift off to sleep.
become your own time accountant
Log your time for a week—to whatever level of specificity you feel is appropriate. At the end of the week, take a look at how you spent your time and brainstorm ways you could improve your allocation of time so you can be more efficient in the future.
work hard, play hard
By managing your agenda tightly and working shrewdly, you can actually make time for spontaneity. Budget your time with the stinginess of Ebeneezer Scrooge when you’re working on projects, and you’ll be liberated to give your time away as generously as Fezziwig when the occasion arises.
Set ambitious goals for yourself to get ahead of schedule, and then treat yourself to a worthy reward that can be shared with friends. A friend of mine works a day ahead and then breaks up his “free day” into one-hour segments and spends each hour with a different person.
set yourself up –the inertia theory
Human productivity is subject to the same law of “inertia” that acts on objects. As you may recall from physics, inertia is the law that “objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” For the sake of this analogy, let’s consider writing projects as large lead balls—some bigger and heavier than others.
When you get a particular project ball “in motion,” you may experience slight hesitation when it’s time to quit—especially if you’re called away before the project is finished. That’s “project inertia”—the tendency of a project at rest to stay at rest. You may even be working on a task that you’re not enthused about (in which case, the project would be harder to get rolling–it has a higher tendency “to stay at rest”). However, in many cases, even when you find it challenging to get a certain project ball rolling, you’ll also struggle to bring it to a halt when you need to quit. This is another form of inertia: the tendency of a project in motion to stay in motion.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say it’s time for dinner. If you’re like me, dinner is one project that defies the laws of Physics. “Operation: Din Din” is never hard to get in motion (I can get in the mood for dinner very quickly), yet it can be challenging for me to bring the dinner ball to a halt again. Even when I’m no longer physically eating, I tend to remain in a depressurized “dinner mindset,” the mood brought about by good food and pleasant conversation.
Ten minutes before dinner, when I realize it’s time to leave my project, inertia causes me to resist the idea of leaving my project incomplete. My mind is still absorbed in my writing, and my momentum is trundling along smoothly. I have ideas for how I’d like the writing project to develop, but I need to eat. So, instead of implementing those ideas right away, I write a few notes to myself–reminders for later.
My inner drive for closure urges me to finish my current paragraph, or my current sentence. But I DON’T. Why? Because finishing my current paragraph will put me at a disadvantage in terms of inertia. I want to harness inertia in my favor.
Understanding my own inertia tendencies empowers me to expedite my transition out of a producte mentality AND back into it again when I return from dinner. I do this using a simple trick I call “setting myself up.”
The longer I stay and write, the harder it will be to leave. Quitting my work mid-sentence is beneficial because it prevents me from being late to dinner. Better to rip off the Band-Aid quickly. This is beneficial in terms of punctuality and mental transition. But the real payoff for quitting mid-thought comes later.
When I return to the room and resume writing, it will be fairly easy to start mid-paragraph with ideas that were already “rolling.” I “set myself up.” In contrast, if upon returning, I had to start a new paragraph or begin a new sub-topic, I would have to work harder to regain my momentum.
tidy up your workspace
Put away magazines and other distractions. Close Facebook. Get rid of anything that would feed the depressurized “dinner mentality” that you’ll be in once you return. In order to make your difficult, inertia-laden transition back to productivity mode as quick and painless as possible, you want to leave the room empty and your project open on the computer screen. When you return, you probably won’t be eager to get started again, but that’s why you must make starting again your only option. With no immediate alternatives, you’ll get back to work, reluctantly. And before you know it, the inertia ball will be rolling in your favor again.
be a rebel: do stuff you shouldn’t be doing
I am writing this post in a half-lit concrete niche beside a maintenance closet at a revival retreat in Kansas City. All my friends are next door worshipping Jesus, but I’ve decided to come over here and write this post for my friend, Michelle. Why write it now of all times? Because it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing.
Writers take a special pleasure in finding their ideal writing habitat. One common theme I’ve heard among many writers is that they are most creative in an uncomfortable environment. I’m not talking about discomfort, rather un-comfort: an environment suffused in semi-stress that can be channeled in a positive way.
So. Why am I sitting here beside this maintenance closet? Because it gives me a small thrill to be writing when I should be singing. In my defense: the conference I’m attending includes more than four hours of worship every day for four straight days. I needed a break from singing, and I knew that my writing would be maximized by the thrill of “doing stuff I shouldn’t be doing” in an unfamiliar place where I probably shouldn’t be doing it.
I could have obtained a more gratifying “stuff-I-shouldn’t-be-doing” thrill by logging onto Facebook, but I’d rather be a productive rebel.
Maybe you’re not crazy like me. Perhaps, if you were in my shoes, you’d have scheduled your time better and written this post before coming to the conference. Maybe you don’t enjoy writing in a stressful, unfamiliar environment like a maintenance closet, the woods, a rooftop or on a tightrope above rush hour traffic. Fine. You should still consider changing your setting.
Earlier this week, I spent a couple of days working in a study room at my local library. If I would have tried to work at home, I would have been a lot more distracted. And I also would have defaulted to a relaxed mentality that wouldn’t lend itself to work. For me, home has an aura of relaxation so I relax when I’m there. In contrast, a 10′-by-10′ room with just a table and chair has an aura of productivity, so I’m productive there. Is it worth $2 in gas and a 15-minute round trip? You bet!
Experimentation with time and place are the main “unfamiliar setting” techniques I use for generating positive stress and unique sensory stimuli to keep my productivity high. Not only does a unique environment promote productivity; it can also generate a creative mode and an emotional mood that I can project into my writing.
There are other ways of creating stress that are conducive to high efficiency, such as waiting until the last minute before your deadline to write something. I don’t recommend that technique—although, it happens to have played a part in the creation of this article.
Get in the zone to work by taking a cool or a cold shower. When you’re working at your computer, try kneeling on a cusion instead of sitting in your chair. As long as you’re comfortable there’s no urgency to finish—that’s why you end up on YouTube watching cute kitten videos instead of writing. Set the room temperature a little bit cooler. And don’t wear sweatpants, wear jeans. Little things count.
eliminate the online mirage
Keep wandering off to Twitter or WordPress? Put your iPad on airplane mode and switch off the Wifi on your laptop.
What helps YOU stay productive?
Drew’s Bio: Drew is a PWR major at Taylor University (with minors in Bib Lit and Business Marketing), hopes to work in the Christian publishing or nonprofit field and then become a professional writing instructor at the college level. He enjoys playing tennis, boating, and eating his mother’s scrumptious Snickerdoodle cookies. He hails from Bluffton, Indiana, where he lives with his parents and two sisters.
Drew is currently working on a science fiction allegory called THE BUILDER as well as a techno-thriller called FORESHADOWS. To watch his You-Tube video PITCH for FORESHADOWS, click HERE