An Archer's Focus

29 Powerful Focus Tools To Keep You On Target

 

Welcome to the last post in our "focus" series where we get to talk focus tools. We spent the last two posts discussing the power of focus. We started with Part 1: why you have so much trouble focusing then moved on to Part 2: key strategies for increasing and strengthening your focus.

If you remember, the 6 key strategies are:

  • Stop multitasking
  • Prioritize your tasks
  • Create the right environment
  • Take breaks to recharge
  • Stay fueled
  • Completely unplug for a short time

Now it’s time to put our knowledge and strategies into action. Thankfully, there are focus tools, which can 2x your productivity.

In this post, I going list out my favorite tools for powerfully increasing your focus. Each of these tools fits into one of the key focus strategies.

Test these focus tools out to determine which work best for you.

Focus Tools To Help You Stop Multitasking

Multitasking can actually feel good, but it will absolutely kill your focus. Sometimes you need tools to force you to stop multitasking. I find that using the Pomodoro technique helps me to focus on a single task for a set amount of time and then take a break when that session is over.  It feels great to see results after a few sessions of deep focus.

Focus tools to stop multi-tasking

Pomodoro is a great technique, so I'm sure you can find a tool that works best for you:

Focus Tools To Prioritize Your Tasks

One of my first suggestions in the previous post was to organize and prioritize your tasks. Sounds simple, but I also know the lure of jumping right in and how much unproductive time results.  This simple but important step helps ensure you don’t spin your wheels on useless work.

focus tools to help you prioritize

Prioritizing your tasks requires some sort of task organization tool. Some of you may prefer old-fashioned pen and paper, but many of you will prefer a digital task organizer. If that’s your weapon of choice, a few popular and powerful focus tools are:

These organizers allow you to create projects, tasks, and subtasks and then organize them.  Don't get lost in these tools.  Just take a few minutes each morning (or night before) to determine what your 3-5 most important tasks (MIT) of the day. Check the list throughout the day as these tasks are your formula for success.

Focus Tools For Creating The Right Environment

Another strategy I recommended in the previous post was creating the perfect environment for focus. This often requires playing some form of ambient background noise to drown out distracting sounds in the environment. By minimizing the assault on your ear gates and eye gates, you can focus on what matters.

Many tools help create the perfect focus environment.

Software Tools

Freedom

Focus tools to create the right environment

Freedom is a multipurpose website blocker for both desktop and mobile. You install it on your device and then select which websites you need to stay away from and when you want to block them.

You should be focusing on your most important tasks first thing in the morning. With Freedom, you can block sites like Facebook from 8:00-11:00 AM. During those crucial hours, you literally cannot access the sites you have blacklisted. This is perfect for when you want to do a deep dive focus session.  Remember, guard your most productive times with vigilance.

If you really struggle with self-control, you can put Freedom into “Locked Mode”. This prevents you from changing settings in the middle of your session.

Self-Control

Self-Control is another web blocker that is free for both Windows and Mac. You can create a set of both blacklisted and whitelisted websites, which allows you to set your internet access for a given period of time.

Here’s the thing about Self-Control. Once you activate it, you have to wait until the timer if up to access the blocked sites. You can’t stop it mid-session.

But isn’t that the point? To keep you from accessing those stupid websites.

Stay Focused/LeechBlock

Focus tools to set the mood

Stay Focused and LeechBlock are web blockers for Chrome and Firefox. One advantage of Stay Focused is that it lets you set a total amount of time for yourself on time wasting sites. If you want to limit yourself to one hour total on brain candy sites like Buzzfeed, you can do that. It also has a “Nuclear Option” which blocks every site on your blacklist and will not let you deactivate it.  Since much of my wasted time is in Chrome, this works for me as I also believe in a bit of brain candy to keep my creativity flowing.

If you’re a Firefox user, LeechBlock should be your browser-based blocker. It has some unique advantages, such as allowing you to set timers for particular sites. If you want to limit yourself to 5 minutes on Twitter, you can do that. You can also set up redirects for time-suck sites, meaning that if you go to Facebook you can have it redirect you automatically to another site.

Rescue Time

Focus tools to track your progress

RescueTime does everything. Not only does it block specified websites, it also tracks exactly how you use your time. It begins by monitoring all the websites you visit and applications you use. After analyzing your time usage, it sends you detailed reports so you can evaluate and possibly alter your patterns.

It also allows you to set goals, such as using the first hour of each day productively.  Use this detail if it helps, but don't get lost in the software.

Zero Willpower / Focus Lock

Zero Willpower and Focus Lock are website blockers for iOS and Android. Zero Willpower has the standard blacklist features and timers, while Focus Lock has the additional feature of letting you block apps that you find distracting.

Given that most people can't seem to pick their heads up from their phones, mobile versions of your focus tools are likely crucial.

Smart Noise

Brain.fm

"Mood" Music actually works to keep focus

Brain.fm creates unique ambient soundtracks for you based upon your activity (focusing, relaxing, sleeping, etc.). These soundtracks are rooted in scientific research and are specifically designed to improve your focus. This is perfect if you work in a loud environment and need to overcome some significant environmental noise.  I've been using this technique with a custom Pandora station, but Brain.fm and the next tool are light-years ahead, so definitely check them out.

Focus @ Will

Focus @ Will creates optimized sound tracks to help you create intense focus. This tool is incredibly useful if you work in an open office or around noisy coworkers. Including 50 different types of sounds and thousands of hours, it’s pretty simple to find a track that helps you lock into a flow state. It has apps for all mobile devices, making it easily portable as well.

Non-Tech Tools

Sometimes you need a manual solution to a digital problem. Keeping your goals posted in a prominent place can help you remember the great things you’re trying to accomplish. It can also keep you from wasting time on trivial distractions. Hanging photos of your family can remind you of why you’re working so hard to maintain focus - to do great things for those who matter most.

These types of tools don’t just address the practical side of focus, they also foster deep internal motivation.

Focus Tools To Help You Take Breaks

Your brain is like a muscle, and like any muscle, it requires breaks. To work constantly without any rest will lead to burnout and exhaustion. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to remember to take breaks. You may feel like you're breaking a rhythm, but those prolonged periods produce fewer results than periods of intense focus followed by breaks. Some tools that can help are:

Pomodoro Apps

The Pomodoro technique is built upon the concept of intense work sessions followed by breaks. If you use one of the Pomodoro apps, you’ll inevitably find yourself taking breaks every 30 minutes or so, which allows your mental stamina to recharge.

Meditation Apps

Focus tools for the mediation newbie

Meditation breaks allow you to completely rest your brain. Remember, you brain is the ultimate focus tool and if it's tired, you're productivity is busted.  There are numerous apps available that will guide you through meditation sessions, including:

Apps To Get You Moving

Sitting at a desk all day is terrible for your health. Frequent movement breaks not only get your blood moving and muscles stretching but also allows your brain to relax and recharge. Some helpful apps to get you moving are:

Focus Tools To Help You Stay Fueled

Food is definitely a focus tool

Without proper fuel, your brain (and body)  simply can’t keep going. Your mental functions will slip, your focus will plummet, and you’ll find yourself completely unproductive. As a wannabe athlete, it is always frustrating when your mind goes before your legs give out.  Creating some simple refueling habits can significantly boost your focus. Consider:

  • Purchasing a water bottle that reminds you to rehydrate.
  • Keeping healthy snacks around that stay fresh, such as almonds, dried fruit, or chia seeds. Debbie Meyer green boxes work great to keep things fresh.  I practically live on almonds and seasonal fruit during my "power sessions."

Focus Tools To Help You Completely Unplug

While these aren’t exactly tools, they are physical methods to help you completely unplug when you need to. Consider:

  • Putting your smartphone in a drawer or in another room. Sometimes the act of cutting yourself off from the source of distraction can be very helpful.
  • Shutting off your internet. If your task doesn’t require an internet connection, shutting everything down can help you focus.
  • Use a power strip to shut off your computer completely. Sometimes you need to shut everything down and simply think.
  • If possible, get some sun, trees or water in front of you.  For many, nature speeds the calming of the mind.

Conclusion

Enhancing focus requires three things: knowledge, strategy, and tools. Once you know why you lose focus you can devise strategies for fighting distraction and deepening your attention. When you’ve developed those strategies, you can adopt particular focus tools to help you put the strategies into practice.

Denis Waitley said, “Goals provide the energy source that powers our lives. One of the best ways we can get the most from the energy we have is to focus it.”

By acquiring knowledge, developing strategies, and utilizing tools, you can harness your energy to achieve great things.

Let me know what you do to stay focused at @troychristmas or @taskclone.


Strategies to Focus in distracted world

6 Powerful Strategies To Strengthen Your Focus

We all know that creating and maintaining focus is a tremendous challenge in our distraction-laden world. We've got notifications to the left, email to the right, and we're in the middle trying to get stuff done. It's often more than our brains can handle.

Now that we’ve thoroughly identified the problem in The Painful Truth Why You Can't Focus, let's get to solutions. After all, it does no good to highlight a problem if we don’t also chart the way forward.

Thankfully, it's not rocket science.  Get ready for numerous ways to create, strengthen, and maintain your focus even when you’re surrounded by a thousand random stimuli. Expect to develop true focus in a world that is begging you to be distracted.

Apply these 6 time-tested strategies on a consistent basis and soar in your ability to focus with the added benefits of greater productivity and peace of mind.

STRATEGY #1 - Stop Multitasking

Multitasking absolutely kills focus. You need to once and for all accept the simple truth that your brain can’t effectively process more than one thing at a time. I know it may hurt your ego, but get over it.  Studies repeatedly show multitasking creates the illusion of productivity while actually lowering their effectiveness. It may feel good to do two things at once, but you certainly won’t accomplish much.

Additionally, studies suggest multitasking even lowers your IQ, effectively making you dumber. As Travis Bradberry, cofounder of TalentSmart writes:

A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night.

Instead of trying to juggle multiple tasks, focus on a single task for short periods of time. Don’t spread your attention between several projects. Instead, put all your mental energy into getting a single thing done.

To avoid multitasking can be harder than it sounds.  The reason: you don't yet believe.  You don't yet believe that you'll get more done by focusing on one thing at time.  You believe something important will be missed. OK then, try it out for a week and see your results.  Run an experiment on yourself.  Prove the answer to yourself.  I run experiments on me all the time.

Many people find the Pomodoro technique helpful in this regard.  It helps you suspend the fear of missing something by giving you a specific time to take a break.

STRATEGY #2 - Prioritize Your Tasks

Many productivity experts suggest prioritizing tasks. Our tendency is to spend hours doing unimportant work, such as email, only to find at the end of the day that we haven’t accomplished anything meaningful.

Productivity expert James Clear writes:

We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently. And no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important.

This is a crucial distinction. Every day, there are only a few crucial things you need to get done. Prioritizing these tasks allows you to laser focus on accomplishing what matters, rather than letting your attention be hijacked by ten thousand unimportant things.

BONUS:  Prioritize your energy!  Schedule those priority tasks at times when you have the most energy.  For most, the morning works best.  No sense in trying to focus on complex strategy when your brain is exhausted from fighting distractions all day.

STRATEGY #3 - Create The Right Environment

Resisting distraction requires your limited energy.  Better to structure your world for focus.  There are numerous actions you can take to optimize your environment for maximum focus:

  • Close all unnecessary applications, such as email and chat
  • Silence your phone
  • Use an internet blocking software to block access to distracting websites like Facebook
  • Use ambient background noise to drown out distracting sounds
  • Set the temperature just cool enough so that you’re comfortable

I used to worry about being "unavailable" during periods of focus.  Nonsense unless you're a fireman or something.  Just schedule a reasonable check-in period when you'll check your phone for "emergencies" or authorize only 1 person to interrupt you if absolutely necessary.  Remember, your goal is to create an environment with minimal distractions to maintain intense focus.

STRATEGY #4 - Take Breaks To Recharge

Studies have consistently shown that willpower functions like a muscle. Consistent and lengthy use depletes the strength of your willpower. Just like your arms get worn down by curls at the gym, your willpower and focus decrease the more you use it.

This means that in order to sustain focus for extended periods of time, you need to take recharge breaks.  Breaks can be as short as 5 minutes, but I recommend 10-30 minutes, moving your body and getting some fresh air if possible.

University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras explains:

…Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused. From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!

STRATEGY #5 - Stay Fueled

The American Psychological Association suggests that low glucose in the brain can cause waning focus.

The brain is a high-energy organ, powered by a steady supply of glucose (blood sugar). Some researchers have proposed that brain cells working hard to maintain self-control consume glucose faster than it can be replenished. In a study lending support to this idea, obedient dogs made to resist temptation had lower blood-glucose levels than dogs who did not exert self-control.

In order to maintain consistent focus, you need to properly fuel your body. Consistently eating small amounts through the day allow your brain to have the necessary fuel to power through challenging tasks. Think of your brain like an engine, constantly requiring input in order to generate energy.  However, eat a big meal and your body will be too pre-occupied with digestion to give your brain what it needs to focus.  Remember the after-lunch coma.

Coffee and energy drinks can give you a short-term focus boost, but as soon as your body processes the caffeine you’ll find yourself crashing. Some more natural alternatives are:

  • Avocado
  • Salmon
  • Leafy greens
  • Water
  • Mackerel
  • Peanuts
  • Blueberries
  • Granola
  • Popcorn with coconut oil

STRATEGY #6 - Completely Unplug For A Short Time

In our hyper-connected world, some people find this suggestion unreasonable, but you can achieve a miraculous amount when you completely unplug from all communication for a short time. This means shutting down email, completely turning off your phone, and closing out all unnecessary applications and windows on your computer. If you have an office, close your door and ask for no interruptions.

After a brief moment of panic, I enjoy the peaceful bliss of turning my phone all the way off!  This doesn’t need to be a long period - no more than an hour. However, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of work you can achieve when you’re not receiving incessant notifications.

As Jan Bruce, coauthor of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, says

Even if you live and die by email, do yourself a favor and logout for 30 minutes either in the beginning of the day or for a period in the afternoon. You won’t believe how much you can get done when you’re not always interrupting yourself to return emails.

This kind of temporary digital detox is becoming increasingly necessary to get any meaningful work done.  Beyond the productivity benefits, you leave your brain less depleted for whatever comes next.

Remember, you might be able to power through some deep work despite distractions for an hour or two.  But, that you might leave yourself fried for the rest of the day.  Your brain will have spent so much effort fighting distractions for that brief period, the rest of the day is a total waste.  Don't do it.

Sometimes You Need Tools

One of the few great things about a lack of focus is you're not alone.  It's an increasing problem worldwide.  That means researchers and entrepreneurs are working overtime themselves creating awesome tools and gadgets to help you increase and maintain your focus.

In the next and final post in this series, I'm going to give you a list to some powerful tools that you can use to boost and maintain focus for an extended period of time. These tools, combined with the above strategies, will allow you to hyper-focus on your most important work.


What is focus?

The Painful Truth Why You Can't Focus

Remember when you were younger and it was really easy to focus? You could get lost for hours doing the simplest thing, like riding your bike or reading a book. Well, if you’re like me, that ability to focus waned as you got older.

Now, it’s really tough to get in the zone at work. Every ten minutes, your email is dinging, your phone is buzzing, or someone is pinging you on Slack. It’s hard to get much done, let alone develop anything like deep concentration.

Over the next three posts, we’re going to take a deep dive into the issue of focus and concentration. Specifically, we’re going to explore:

  1. Why focus is such a challenge
  2. How you can train yourself to grow in focus, and
  3. Tools to help you maximize focus on the things that matter most.

Alexander Graham Bell said, “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” By the end of this series, you’ll enjoy the peace and satisfaction that come from maximizing your time "in-the-zone."

Two Systems, One Brain

The brain is an astounding organ, capable of unbelievable things, including processing massive amounts of information. Unfortunately, we regularly push it far past the breaking point. When it comes to the science of attention and focus, we must understand two challenges of our brain.

The brain relies on two different systems to manage everything thrown at it. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman labels these the “Automatic System” and the “Reflective System”. The Automatic System is always on and takes all the stimuli around you and processes it. When you hear your name and turn your head, that’s your Automatic System at work.

The Reflective System takes what it receives from the Automatic System and directs your attention to it using something called “executive attention”. Think of executive attention like a teacher in a classroom. Rather than allowing everyone to say everything at the same time, the teacher decides who gets to speak and thus who receives attention.

Your brain uses executive attention to determine what gets your focus. If you’re sitting in a coffee shop pecking away at your computer, your brain sends signals to your locus coeruleus telling you to focus on your computer and not the couple next to you debating their vacation plans. This top-down method of focus allows you to stay somewhat focused and not go crazy because of too many stimuli coming at you.

Overloading Your Reflective System

Problems begin to happen when your reflective system starts to get overloaded with information. It’s like when a classroom slowly begins to spiral out of control. The teacher tries to keep control but can’t handle all the kids at once. Suddenly, she’s on her desk yelling, the kids are all talking and chaos has taken over.

When the filter of your Automatic System starts passing too much information to your Reflective System, your focus starts to weaken. Worse, concentration is like a muscle, so if you overuse it, the more tired it becomes. If your Reflective System gets too much input, your concentration will suffer and your brain will begin spinning in circles.

Think how difficult it is to read during a loud television commercial.  Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at M.I.T, says:

It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong input like a television commercial. If you’re trying to read a book at the same time, you may not have the resources left to focus on the words.

But it’s not only sensory things that kill your focus - emotional issues can too. Daniel Goleman says:

It’s not the chatter of people around us that is the most powerful distractor, but rather the chatter of our own minds.

In other words, both internal and external distractions can overload the Reflective System, leading to a complete crash in concentration and willpower.  Remember trying to study when you were anxious about a test?  Same problem.

Stimuli All Around You

Are you starting to see why you have so much trouble maintaining your focus? If you’re like me, you are probably surrounded by dozens of stimuli. You’ve got your phone in your pocket, delivering hundreds of notifications each day. You receive thousands of emails per month, your coworkers want to chat over Slack several times per day, and you keep getting all manner of distractions from so-called friends on social media.

From the moment you awake to the second you hit the pillow, your executive attention has to fight against a horde of incoming stimuli, all vying for attention. By the end of the day, your brain is completely fried, exhausted not by deep, meaningful work, but simply from fighting the tide of distractions.

It gets worse.  Once you break your focus, it’s not as simple as diving right back into your project. Researcher Gloria Mark estimated that it takes around 23 minutes to return to a task once you’re distracted. If you break focus ten times per day, then you’re losing around 230 minutes of total time. Really!?

Given human, electronic and internal stimuli we face, it's not surprising you wonder how the day ends with so much time lost doing so little!

So How Do You Fight?

How do you overcome your environment and train your brain to focus on what actually matters? Great question that deserves a thorough answer, so that’s where we’re headed in the next two posts.  First, we'll focus on proven strategies for fighting distraction and developing deep focus.  Then, we'll turn to tools that make it much easier to get there and maintain it.

Until then remember, we all get the same 24 hours, but if your brain is overwhelmed with stimuli, you're wasting most of that time spinning in circles.


9 Powerful Strategies For Achieving Goals

New year, new you, right? This is finally the year you’re going to…

  • Increase your revenue
  • Finally get into shape
  • Learn a new language

The new year is a new slate and you have big dreams. Things you’ve been wanting to do for years. Goals. Ideas. Big plans.

But how do you ensure you actually achieve your goals? After all, around 90% of people never make their dreams a reality. How do you ensure you’re in the 10% that do?

In this post, I’m going to give you 9 simple tips for crushing your goals this year.

1. Make a Commitment

Suit up to achieve goals

Be honest here: are you really going to do something if you don’t make a firm commitment to it? No way. You can’t “kind of” want to achieve your goal. You need to be passionately, firmly, unwaveringly committed to crushing your goal. There’s no room for wavering here. No half-hearted attempts at “being a better person”.

You don’t do this just by getting yourself fired up. The solution isn’t to scream yourself into a frenzy or listen to loud rock music while punching a slab of meat (See Rocky). Rather, you take the following concrete steps to structure your life to win!

2. Be Specific

The first, most important step is to create a specific goal. Most people use generalities when setting goals. They want to lose some weight, run more, get healthier, be happier, or read more books. All these are noble, vague goals that have a low probability of being completed.

When setting goals, be concrete and specific. Specify:

  • Exactly what you want to accomplish (lose 19 pounds)
  • When you want to accomplish (by July 1)
  • What steps you will take to accomplish it (low carb diet, etc.)

Creating specific steps dramatically increases the likelihood of reaching your goals.

3. Write It Down

Write down your goals

Those who write their goals down have a higher chance of achieving their goals. Why is this? Because writing down a goal puts all your focus on that goal and reminds you of it on a constant basis.

Of course, it’s not enough to just write a goal on a sheet of paper and then throw that paper in the trash. You need to review that goal consistently. Some ways to do this:

  • Write the same goals anew every morning, yes every morning
  • Write the goals on an index card and carry them in your wallet
  • Make a Post-It note and stick it to your computer or mirror
  • Write the goals digitally and make them the background on your phone.

Master motivator Brian Tracy says:

I discovered that if it is powerful for you to write down your goals once a year, it is even more powerful for you to write down your goals more often.

The main point is simply to put the goals onto paper and then keep them at the front of your brain at all times.

4. Track and Measure Your Goal

Constantly tracking and measuring your progress allows you to stay motivated. It also allows you celebrate your victories, and get back on track if you stray. If possible, keep a visual representation of your progress in a high visibility to keep your goal in mind and keep you focused on moving forward.

Some simple ways to visualize your progress:

  • Enter your data into a spreadsheet and then create a graph out of that data.
  • Write your numbers on a whiteboard.
  • Use an app like Exist.
  • If your goal has a visual aspect, such as losing weight or putting on muscle, you can easily record photos or videos of yourself. This guy wanted to learn guitar in one year and made a video diary of his progress.

The point is to engage actively in collecting and reflecting on the evidence of progress.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehWeiliDy4I

5. Set A Deadline

Set target dates for your goals

Hard and fast deadlines can supercharge your progress and add a sense of urgency to any goal. A deadline can also help you understand how much incremental progress you need to make each day or week as you move forward. For example, if you want to lose 30 pounds in 6 months, you need to lose 5 pounds per month, which is a little less than a pound per week. Once you know this information, you can track your progress each week against your deadline.  Don't overuse this tip though as your mind will resist false deadlines (see The Surprising Reasons Why Due Dates Suck).

How do you keep yourself on pace to hit a deadline?

  • Countdown apps make it easy to set a date in the future and start the countdown.
  • Crossing off days on a paper calendar gives you a tactile reminder of your approaching deadline.

6. Get The Support Of Others

There will be many times when you feel like throwing in the towel. Giving up on your goal. Calling it quits or just cheating on the process. This is common. We all get worn out and discouraged when we have to fight upstream against our ingrained habits.

During our weak moments, we need the support of others. We need friends who can encourage us and remind us not to quit. When you initially set your goals, tell at least one or two close friends. These CANNOT be friends who are going to sympathetically let you off the hook when you’re struggling. They need to be the kind of people who will push you to be the best version of yourself.  They might even be a bit competitive with you.

If you also want to add an online community for support, Coach.me offers some great options.  The point here is encouragement and accountability.  If you're afraid to tell some friends, it's a sign you aren't ready to commit.

7. Turn Your Goals Into Habits

Whenever possible, turn your big goals into small, easily repeatable habits. For example, let’s say you want to read 20 books in the coming year. There are some simple habits you can establish to make it easy to accomplish this goal:

  • Begin your morning by reading 3 pages of a book.
  • Listen to audiobooks on your way to work (yes, today this counts as reading).
  • Join a book club.
  • Unwind at night with a few pages of relaxing fiction.

Once a goal becomes a habit, you begin to regret the times you can’t indulge your habit. This is the power of habits. They turn difficult goals into an unmissable part of your daily routine.  Definitely check out Duhigg's, "The Power of Habit" to learn how creating a few new habits could revolutionize your life.

8. Visualize Success

visualize your goals everyday

Elite performers constantly visualize their success. They paint a mental picture of what achieving a goal will look like and then they obsess over that picture. Their first thought when they wake up and last thought when they sleep is about the reward of their goal.  I first learned this as an athlete and later found it works in other areas of life.

If you want to achieve your goals, create a detailed visual in your mind of that success. What will you feel like it? How will you celebrate? What will other people think when they see your success? How will your success improve your life.

Don’t hesitate to write all this down and put it somewhere prominent.  The more real the vision, the more achievable to your mind.

9. Stretch Yourself

Set ambitious goals that are going to greatly stretch you over the next year. Success comes from pushing yourself hard, and stretch goals push you to be your best. Many people make the mistake of setting too many goals rather than a couple big goals.

What is the next big step you need to make in your life?  Pick one or two until you get good at it.

The Reality Of Making This Your Best Year Ever

Thomas Jefferson said:

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

If you follow the 9 powerful strategies above, nothing will stop you!  You will be drawn like a magnet to the goals you visualize and rehearse regularly.  You'll build habits that reinforce success and create the platform for even greater success.  This can be your best year ever. You’ll look back and marvel at the importance of your accomplishments.  That's what I plan to do.

What are you going to do with the time you're given and the knowledge you've obtained?


Due Date and Deadline

The Surprising Reasons Why Due Dates Suck

Most popular books about productivity or time management talk about the importance of due dates. You set a due date and it keeps you on track and accountable. Almost all the productivity tools I’ve tried also incorporate due dates.

And on the surface, it makes sense. After all, due dates ensure that I finish my projects when I’m supposed to. Or do they?

What if due dates actually harmed your productivity and sense of success? What if due dates can actually undermine productivity?

In this post, I’m going to show you why due dates can be bad, what you should use instead, and what tools can help you make the change.

Why Due Dates Suck

Most of the time, due dates are artificially constructed. We decide that something needs to be done by a particular time so we assign it a due date. Or, someone asks us to do something and we want to get it to them in a timely fashion, so we give it a due date. This is how almost everyone in business works. I did it for years.

Due dates create late nights

Then I read some material by a man named Michael Linenberger that rung true to me and shifted my thinking.

Speaking of due dates, Linenberger says:

...if you set a date that’s fake you’ll know it’s fake and you’ll ignore it. In fact you may miss some important deadlines because you’ll get in the habit of ignoring all due dates you write down.

In other words, if you arbitrarily set a due date, there’s a good chance you’ll ignore it because you know the task isn’t due on that date. You know that there won’t be any issue if you get to the task later and so you ignore the due date.  You essentially tried to outsmart yourself and failed.

Keep this up long enough and you’ll begin ignoring all your due dates.

I’ve also discovered that artificial due dates can lead to unproductive guilt. Have you ever opened your task app to a sea of red indicating overdue tasks?

 

due dates cause overdue tasksGuilt and overwhelm can easily set in, but there is no reason to feel guilty if you made the correct decision to do something else with your time.

Beyond unnecessary guilt, the focus on due dates undervalues a core skill in the modern workplace; adaptability. Life and business are moving faster and faster. Everyone needs to be flexible. Life happens, things come up, and priorities need to shift. Surely, changes in priority should be communicated, but often arbitrary due dates make it harder to adjust to current reality.

Again, to quote Linenberger:

...when the [due] date arrives you’ll know—you’ll recall—that it’s arbitrary. And then you’ll likely skip it. That’s because in a busy work environment there is nearly always some other fire drill going on that requires more attention. Think about it. If you’ve got a client screaming for attention, and at that moment a task to clean your desk drawers pops up, which are you going to pay attention to?

Yes, due dates have their place; when an item is really due on a certain day. When everything hinges on you getting that thing done or when the fallout from re-prioritization isn't worth it.  NOw, I know some of you will insist lying to themselves about due dates prevents procrastination. If you don’t have enough tasks to keep you engaged, that’s possible. But, for most of us, we have more on our plates than we could possibly finish which means realistic prioritization, not due dates, makes sure we doing the right things.

Of course, all this raises the question: if not due dates, then what?

The Beauty of Start Dates

Start dates are a much better alternative because they are focused on now and less on the future. They give you a sense of when you should begin a project without boxing you in.

calendar tasks with start dates instead of due dates

A start date provides more focus on what you should be doing now and peace of mind by allowing you to hide tasks until it’s time to begin thinking about them. Linenberger talks about start dates this way:

Essentially, what the future start date tells you is when you first want to see the tasks or when you first want to start thinking about doing the task. So, in essence, this is not a due date but rather it is a “DO” date. It’s the day you want to start thinking about doing the task. Tasks postponed to a future date like this I call Defer to Do tasks.

When I see a task appear on my list, I know that it’s time to begin planning, strategizing, and organizing for that task. It’s time to send out initial communications, take the first notes, and gather resources. This allows me to a huge jump on things in terms of productivity. Instead of hurriedly trying to complete a task before a due date, I’m way ahead of the game.

Writer Belle Cooper talks about the benefits of start dates in her life:

...since using start dates, I don't see those due dates so often. Because I set my start dates far enough in advance to complete the work early, I'm procrastinating and bumping up against deadlines much less often. What a relief.

That’s the beauty of the start date. I’m bumping up against deadlines less frequently, which lowers the stress and unproductive guilt. I can focus on what matters now, and I can prioritize about what I should be giving my time to. I’m also slowly building my ability to forecast how long projects will take to complete instead of making up arbitrary dates. Finally, using start dates forces me to weigh the opportunity cost between starting one thing versus starting something else.

Apps That Work With Start Dates

If you plan out your tasks on paper or in a notebook, you can write in your start dates. But if, like many people, you use a task scheduling app, it’s not always as intuitive. Fortunately, there are several outstanding task apps that can handle start dates (or, at least something close).

Todoist's take on due dates

Those apps include:

On this list, Wunderlist and Todoist don’t exactly have a start date feature, but they do allow you to set reminders to begin a task. Todoist even has a Smart Scheduling feature that helps you schedule and reschedule tasks.  The best situation is when you can hide or filter out future start dates to focus on current priorities.  That's what creates peace of mind.

Conclusion

None of us will be able to complete all the things we want to in life (unless we lower our desires considerably). This means that we must be able to both prioritize and be flexible when it comes to tasks. We must have the ability to adapt as life interrupts our well laid out plans. Most existing productivity systems seem to ignore this reality. The result is artificial due dates, unproductive guilt, and less well-being.

So go with start dates. You’ll get more done and feel better through the process.


Gratefulness kills procrastination

Why Gratefulness Is The Ultimate Procrastination Killer

It's Thanksgiving here in the USA, but I bet many of you struggle with gratefulness regardless of the season.  Let's face it, when surrounded with the daily challenges of life, it's easy to forget to be grateful. In fact, you may not even want to be grateful because it may feel out of place with the challenges and stresses of your busy life.  I definitely get it.

Despite how it might feel, I've discovered gratefulness is a powerful weapon in the fight against procrastination and for peak performance. Peak performance requires visualization of success, calm confidence and a willingness to take risks. If you struggle with procrastination, you know it kills all three of these elements of peak performance.

Practicing gratefulness improves overall health, confidence and the ability to live in the moment, which together crush procrastination and unleash peak performance.

I want us all to operate at our peak, so let's dive into:

  • The science behind gratefulness
  • 10 ways to practice gratefulness on a regular basis

My goal is to help you see the importance of gratefulness as well as provide easy ways for you to begin this key practice of success.

The Science Behind Gratefulness

First, gratefulness isn’t some mystical, zen mumbo-jumbo that’s only useful for monks. Science has proven that gratefulness can dramatically improve both your daily life and your productivity.

In a study in 2003, one group of young adults was instructed to keep a gratitude journal and another group was told to keep a journal of all the things that annoyed them. The results were rather shocking:

The young adults assigned to keep gratitude journals showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy compared to the other groups.

Gratitude has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep, reduce depression and anxiety, increase blood to the brain, improve relationships, enhance empathy, improve self-esteem, improve mental strength, and increase dopamine levels in the brain.

As Amy Morin wrote in Forbes:

...gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.

Clearly, gratefulness is both a tool and a weapon.

If you find yourself operating at less than peak performance and procrastinating about important projects, the solution may be as simple as increasing the amount of gratitude in your life.

10 Ways to Fight Procrastination with Gratefulness

It’s one thing to know that gratefulness improves performance and helps you fight procrastination, but it’s another thing altogether to practice gratefulness on a regular basis.

With that in mind, here are some simple ways to incorporate gratefulness into your daily life:

1. Keep A Gratitude Journal

Procrastination no match for gratefulness journal

Take a few moments every day to write down a few things for which you’re grateful. Consider people, circumstances, personal strengths, challenges overcome, and things soon to come. Sometimes, just waking up on this side of the dirt is worth appreciation.  Also, don’t feel the need to write in beautiful prose; a few simple bullet points will do.

2. Make A Promise Of Gratefulness

Research has shown that when we make a promise or vow, that action is more likely to happen. Therefore, write the following vow and post it somewhere you are sure to see it: I promise to be grateful today and to count my blessings. This simple note will always remind you to be grateful. No excuses.

3. Speak Words Of Gratitude

Using words of gratitude, such as blessing, gift, fortunate, and thanks, increase the amount of gratitude in your life and put your focus on what others have done for you rather than what you’ve achieved. Thank somebody for something. It’s easy.

4. Live In The Moment

Live in the moment to stop procrastination

Settle in your mind that living in the moment gives you the best chance of success.

[pullquote align="right"]Settle in your mind that living in the moment gives you the best chance of success.[/pullquote]

Planning time is critical, but once engaged in an activity, constantly looking to the future or regretting the past kills both gratefulness and productivity. Instead of always wanting to be somewhere else, savor every moment of every day. Make a concerted effort to be mindful and present even if you’re in the midst of a task you don’t particularly enjoy.

5. Highlight The Positive

With every person and in every situation, emphasize the positive rather than the negative. Be thankful that a cold room will keep you refreshed and awake. If a person laughs in a way that annoys you, focus on how much joy they have.

6. Make A Gratitude Board

Gather pictures, quotes, and anything else that inspires you to gratitude. Put these items on a board and then put the board in a place where you can see it. Start small just by remembering to save these items. Once you have enough for the board, add to it on a regular basis and you’ll soon see just how many things you have to be grateful about.

7. Refuse To Compare Yourself To Others

Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” All of us face the regular temptation to compare ourselves to others. We compare our looks, wealth, jobs, cars, and just about everything else. Few things increase unhappiness and decrease performance like comparison. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on the blessings in your life.

8. Focus On Helping Others

Instead of always thinking about yourself and what you don’t have, take the time to help others. I’m serious.  Schedule it and get it done.  Not only does this increase your own motivation, but it also reminds you of all the wonderful joys in your life.

9. Give At Least One Compliment Every Day

Charles Schwab said, “The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.” At least once per day, compliment someone. This practice will dramatically improve your relationships, which in turn can have a positive effect on your career. Plus, it takes your focus off what annoys you and puts it on why you do appreciate people.  If you take your eye off of deficiencies, there's lots to appreciate.

10. Go Through The Motions Despite Your Feelings

There will be times when you don’t feel like being grateful. Frankly, complaining can be a release, but it's a release that deflates and destroys. Despite the temptation, it’s in those moments you still need to go through the motions of gratitude. This will keep gratitude at the forefront of your mind even when you don’t feel it in your heart.

Conclusion

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.” Wooden may not have known the science behind gratefulness, but his 10 NCAA championships prove that he understood the close tie between gratefulness and operating at peak performance.[pullquote align="right"]“Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.” -- John Wooden[/pullquote]

Procrastination will slow you down, kill your performance, and make you an unhappier person in general. Gratefulness, on the other hand, empowers you to get more done, live confidently, and enjoy every moment.

Yes, gratefulness is a choice, but when you consider the benefits, why wouldn’t you choose it?


Crowdsourcing Productivity

Celebrating Crowdsourced Productivity

 

This post is a celebration of our clients.  In this era of crowdsourcing everything, it’s should be no surprise that there are benefits of crowdsourcing productivity.  In a world awash in productivity apps, I'm clear productivity is more about doing the right things and doing them efficiently.  For our company, what crowd better to suggest what to do and how than our clients.

Earlier this week, we released a new “feature” that resolves a significant frustration for most of our clients.  It essentially removes an extra step so they don’t have to remember it in their workflow and they save time by skipping it. We knew about the pain point and had devoted hours trying to find a remedy, but the solution came from an innocent comment in a conversation with an existing client.

Why didn’t we find the answer ourselves?  Because, we were too close to it. Ouch!

In the end, it was a remarkably simple change with profound implications not only to improve the experience for clients, but to minimize the likelihood of errors in our software. It wasn’t even technically difficult to implement, requiring only 5 lines of code.  Ouch again!

After the embarrassment of not figuring it out ourselves, I was reminded of how productive crowdsourcing improvements can be.  We could do more to seek good ideas from our "crowd".  The fact is, we can't see everything. Sometimes we give up after trying to find a solution but looking in the wrong place.  

Our clients aren’t burdened by the assumptions we carry. This is one of the many reasons I spend significant time personally responding to customer service requests. Every new client comes at a problem with fresh pain, but also fresh perspective to help us learn.  

At TaskClone, we pride ourselves on client service.  In fact, it’s why we use the term clients and not customers or users.  We are not just trying to sell a product but genuinely provide solutions to client productivity challenges.

While it may seem our software is just about note-taking and tasks, we see it as a vehicle to understand client challenges.  It is a privilege to get to know their challenges and get the opportunity to help them.  We’re all trying to get a little bit better every day and helping each other along the way makes it all the more rewarding.

 


Happy New Year from TaskClone

New Year's Productivity Plans not Resolutions

Never rest in making people better! That's a catchy resolution, but it's not much of a plan. As 2015 begins, we want to share a bit of our productivity plans to make you better. We built the plan using steps 3 & 4 of our 4-step productivity feedback loop mentioned in my last post - Why increase productivity anyway?

  1. Clarify goals
  2. Take action
  3. Measure results
  4. Reflect & repeat

Reflecting on your feedback, we created three pillars of our plan for 2015.

Make It Easy

As we've moved from early adopters to mainstream, we definitely see the need to constantly find ways to make things easier for clients.  In 2014, we significantly simplified initial setup and added "guidance emails" based on usage.  We will continue this in 2015 and also streamline the use of TaskClone.

For example, currently to use multiple apps you must input a unique code to each task. While effective, many have found it cumbersome. Soon, the tag you use in Evernote will determine where tasks in that note will go. You could tag it "Todoist" to go there.  Tag it "Asana" and it goes there.  You decide the tag and the destination.

Support, Support, Support

Starting out we knew client support would be critical to our success, but not for the reasons most think. We need to learn our clients and their needs well, sometimes even before they know it.  Great client support has allowed us to begin this and learn so much about our own service.  We'll be expanding this in three main areas:

  1. Better team. Grow the client support team for hours we don't yet cover and make their job easier with great tools
  2. Better communication. Interactive slideshows for quick tutorials that allow focus on a single step on each slide.  More beneficial content including blogging, emails, videos, newsletters and a survey.
  3. Better analytics.  This will allow us to understand better how you use our site and service

Spread the word

With a marketing budget of $0,  it's not surprising many loyal clients asked, "Why didn't I hear of you sooner?"  Just the other day, I got an email exclaiming, "Now, just kindly market this product so that this business can be wildly successful and continue to solve my problems."  Our plan is to do just that, but in a way that rewards you![pullquote align="right"]Now, just kindly market this product so that this business can be wildly successful and continue to solve my problems.[/pullquote]

How? All of the price increase already indicated on the homepage will go to support our new Referral Program.  By sharing a simple link, clients can earn back their entire subscription plus more with just a few referrals.  This should be the ultimate win-win.

There will also be the aforementioned blogging and newsletter. TaskClone was created out of my desire for an Optimized Life. I'm now clear others are seeking the same thing and TaskClone aims to help.

But what about new features?

While we'll focus on simplicity, we haven't entirely forgotten those feature junkies out there. Three small but significant updates coming soon.

  1. Web and local links.  Send both a hyperlink (https://) and local Evernote link (evernote:///) to your app. You'll be able to choose "Both" and click on whichever link works on the platform you're using at the time.
  2. Same task, multiple destinations. Send the same task to up to three destinations. For some, this will allow an email record of each task.  In apps like Asana and Wrike adding the email of a colleague assigns the task to them.  Cool, we love delegation!   Using the tagging feature mentioned above, you'll be able to assign tasks to the right person just by adding your chosen Evernote tag (e.g. toDavid).
  3. Evernote business.  Evernote is in the final stages of updating their new developer kit. When it comes out of beta, we'll launch Evernote business support shortly thereafter.

We are planning to do our part so 2015 is a productive year for you. We want you to live your Optimized Life.

Happy New Year!

 


Productivity Journey to Productivity Nirvana

Why increase productivity anyway?

Productivity Nirvana

In 2013, no one should have to type the same thing twice. That was my thought back when creating TaskClone as a simple way to get tasks out of Evernote and into my favorite task app. Like many beginning entrepreneurs, I was surprised there wasn't already a solution to this “obvious” productivity problem.

My market research led me to many others who seemed on a never-ending quest for productivity nirvana – a state of Zen-like efficiency and automated bliss. Pouring over blog posts, forums and social media, it was clear this quest was worldwide and source of much frustration. [pullquote align="right"]The automated bliss fantasy seemed a response to varying degrees of overwhelm driven by too many things to do and no time or energy to do them. [/pullquote]

From Destination to Journey

The automated bliss fantasy seemed a response to varying degrees of overwhelm driven by too many things to do and no time or energy to do them. Too many responsibilities, too many great ideas, too many interesting things to explore and too many expectations from themselves and others.

Verdict: Guilty!

My own quest has certainly passed through the overwhelm stop with a few return visits, but I have reframed my thinking from a destination to a journey. Through a few wise souls and lots of self-reflection, I found a roadmap that has brought much-needed peace – the Life Plan. Being the geek that I am, I converted Michael Hyatt’s Life Plan Workbook into a spreadsheet with tabs for 1, 5 and 20 year timeframes. The question – What do I want my life to be and how do I structure the next 20-30 years so IT IS?

The 20-Year View

A 20-year view actually reduced lots of pressure. Everything didn't need to be accomplished in year 1, year 5 or even year 10. I didn't need to learn to speak Spanish in the next 6 months. I didn't even need to start. I noticed some goals were related in a progression – building a strong marriage could lead to a marriage ministry serving others. There were also seasons of life to consider like raising children or caring for elderly parents. And then you’re dead! Sounds morbid, but the certainty of an end oddly led to an epiphany. . .

The Optimized Life

My productivity journey is about living an Optimized Life while I’m here – the best life I can live based on my own goals, aptitudes and context. That’s how I’ll measure my life. It’s not in comparison to others nor based on a perfect me that doesn't exist. I use “optimized” to acknowledge the competition among priorities as well as the ongoing personal growth that will modify both goals and the methods to achieve them.

[pullquote]The Life Plan wasn't that hard when freed from the idea it needed to be perfect or wouldn't evolve. [/pullquote]

The Life Plan wasn't that hard when freed from the idea it needed to be perfect or wouldn't evolve. What did I want to contribute? What did I want to experience? By when? In an Optimized Life, productivity is about getting the most meaningful things done using the appropriate time and energy. You’ll understand why I say “meaningful & appropriate” if you think about a productive anniversary dinner or productive weekend getaway.

Productivity & The Feedback Loop

Most productivity talk is actually more about efficiency or how to get the most done in the least time. This seems to make sense because time is finite, but don’t forget, so is energy. Either way, you’ll find the most improvement using a simple feedback loop:

  1. Clarify Goals
  2. Take Action
  3. Measure Results
  4. Reflect & Repeat

Productivity Feedback Loop

The cool thing is you can jump in anywhere within the loop. Along the productivity journey to an Optimized Life, getting better is all about this loop. Most productivity talk is about Step 2, but through many life experiences including recently losing 40 pounds, I can attest there is amazing power in Steps 1, 3 and 4. That’s what I’ll share on this blog – How do we improve on all four toward our Optimized Life.

Whether it’s how to structure your week so you move forward on your key goals or how the latest wearable device helps you measure your fitness, I want us all to enjoy our Optimized Life.

Back at you

What’s your “WHY” to be more productive?