Recently, there has been a lot of research about personal efficiency. It led to great insights and practices to getting more done in a given amount of time. Various experts such as David Allen, Leslie Perlow, Tim Ferriss, and Tony Schwartz propose solutions that work when correctly applied. In this post, I would like to summarize some of the key ideas and present some of my own learnings of effectiveness. I believe that getting things done is not only about the professional life, it is about being an athlete. Here the key points of efficiency (at least the ones that work for me).
Write it down. As proposed by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, the basis of productivity is to create todo lists. Not only the todos of the day or the week. No, the lists should contain the todos for the whole life. Therefore, whatever I want to do one day, I write it down. Starting with writing email to team, or reading Marc’s monthly report, until subscribing to Japanese classes, or crossing Pacific Ocean via Marquesas islands. Multiple lists sorted by projects or fields of responsibility guarantee some level of overview even with thousands of todos. The greatest fun is when defining my most ambitious projects (or dreams) and then break them down into single, feasible todos. The fun part is that the first todo converts the dream into reality. For example, if the project would be to sail around the world then the journey already starts with looking up sailing courses on the Internet. Read more about this approach on my previous blog posts about productivity.
Start eating frogs. In his book Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy proposes to start the day with the most annoying todo item in the list. The idea is actually simple, it is all about discipline, regardless whether you start or finish the day with the todo that sucks most. Without discipline and rigorous execution, the best plan remains nothing than a plan and there will be no outcome. Discipline is the first and last ingredient to effectiveness. Define goals (projects) and work towards achieving them (one todo after the other) needs discipline. Often it’s fun, but sometimes it sucks. Best way for me to be more disciplined is called “don’t think, just do!”. It’s a similar state of mind as before jumping into cold water. Allow your body to jump while your brain says “No!”. This state of mind lasts only for a short moment when you have to let go. Once started, you can start thinking again. That’t the best way I can describe it. If you want to feel it, just do 10 push ups, go, right now, don’t think, do it.
Add some rhythm. Nobody can be 100% productive, 12 hours a day, 24/7. This would be unnatural, and not really sustainable. The rhythm of our life starts with the first heartbeat about 21 days after conception. The heart alternates contraction and relaxation in order to transport oxygen to all the organs. Oxygen comes from respiration, another rhythmic movement. Everywhere is rhythm. Also working needs rhythm. “More than 50 years ago, the pioneering sleep researcher Nathan Kleitman discovered something he named the basic rest-activity cycle — the 90 minute periods at night during which we move progressively through five stages of sleep, from light to deep, and then out again.” Our work rhythm is 90 minutes, Therefore, Tony Schwartz proposes a break after 90 minutes for energy renewal. For me personally, this one needs the highest level of discipline. However, it really works. But I don’t stop here. Rhythm is not only important during the day, but also during the week, the month, and the year. As for athletic training units, I try to start the week slowly and increase intensity during the course of the week to result in maximum workload on Friday. In order to guarantee a slow start, I try to fix meeting on Monday and some on Tuesday. Business trips, which are most exhausting, I try to schedule for Thursday and Friday. The monthly rhythm is difficult to realize. Athletes often have 5-week rhythms. First week easy, second week hard, third week harder, fourth week full steam, fifth week recovery. The yearly rhythm again is easier due to European summer holidays and Christmas. Typically, the year starts slowly and increases in intensity when approaching summer holidays. Then after summer holidays, same story again until Christmas. Feel the rhythm!
Live a healthy life. Live like an athlete. This means, in order to be highly productive, our organism needs to run at 100%. We therefore need things such as a healthy sleep (quality and quantity), healthy food, healthy drinks (avoid alcohol during the week and even on weekends), and some physical exercises. The physical exercises should be well balanced and include endurance, muscle training, stretching, and physical relaxation. Living like an athlete favors hormone production, quick regeneration times, strong nerves, less sensitive to tress, enough oxygen in the brain, etc.
Breathe. One can live for weeks without eating, several days without drinking, but only a few minutes without breathing. In general, eating and drinking gets a lot of attention by any athlete, but breathing is highly neglected. However, it is by far the most essential action. Therefore, one should pay more attention on breathing. Controlled breathing leads to shorter recovery times, more active metabolism, higher level of attention, and better brain power. The effect is immediate. But proper breathing has to be learned. Several Yoga exercises (Pranayama) help to learn correct breathing techniques. Start breathing, you will love it.