Journaling is Boss Mode Thinking

Those of you who are familiar with the work we do at Think Productive will be familiar with the concept of Boss Mode thinking. This is the time when you sit back, you review your current projects and commitments as well as make decisions on where your priorities should be. This frees up the time for your Worker Mode self to crack on with the work at hand, safe in the knowledge that you are doing what you should be doing, when you should be doing it. 

On a personal note, I’ve expanded this concept a little and viewers of my Learn OmniFocus live session with Tim Stringer will already be familiar with this. I allocate time-blocks during the day where I solely concentrate on Boss Mode thinking.

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If It's Not a Hell Yes, It's a Hell No

If It’s Not a Hell Yes, It’s a Hell No

With Christmas now a passing memory, I’m hoping that my wallet can recover from the open heart surgery it experienced towards the end of last year. It’s certainly an expensive time when you have a young family - although the rewards trump the cost by a significant factor. 

I’ve found that when I spend money on others, a net result of this is a change in attitude regarding how I spend money on myself. There’s only a finite pool of cash that I can spend, so at times when my loved ones are the focus of my expenditure, I have to be ruthless when it comes to spending on myself. In fact, I’ve learned to adopt a strict strategy when it comes to buying something I like. I ask myself a simple question. 

“Do I 100% want/need this? Is it a Hell Yes?”

If it’s a Yes, then I’ll make the purchase. I trust my thought process enough to answer honestly. More often than not, however, the answer is No (In fact I’d say that 95% of the time, it’s a No!). 

I love this way of managing my purchases. It means I have to be ruthless with the money resources I have available and it allows me to make the best use of them that I can. 

So - why is a productivity guy talking about money management? Well, I quickly realised that this approach doesn’t have to be used solely for my finances. There is another resource that needs closely monitoring to make sure it’s utilized effectively and that’s my calendar

If I spend a little too much money in a month, then by hook or by crook, I can find ways of replenishing the pot - whether it’s by working extra hours, selling household items that are no longer needed - the bottom line is, there is a way of redressing the balance. Can I do this with my calendar? No chance! When the time is gone, it’s not coming back. This means that I need to be every bit as protective of my calendar as I would my bank account. 

This allows me to adopt the Productivity NInja characteristic of Ruthlessness when looking at Projects I have available and requests for my time. I ask myself a simple question. 

“Do I 100% want/need to do this? Is it a Hell Yes?”

If the answer is yes, it goes into Omnifocus as an Active Project and I schedule the necessary time in my calendar to work on the next actions for it. The same approach goes for meeting requests - If I’m 100% required to be at the meeting, then I attend happily. Otherwise, I make a point of requesting the meeting minutes as soon as it’s complete and picking up any relevant actions (which as I’m not at the meeting, is an infrequent occurrence - double win!). 

There are so many demands being placed on us within this Information Age that we live in. We’re all connected, our brains are being overwhelmed with the stuff of life and we need to adopt a ruthless approach if we are going to protect the resources that are dear to us. We don’t give people open access to our wallets - we shouldn’t do the same with our attention.

Protect your attention. Be Ruthless. 

When you create your magic and perform superbly at the office and home, everyone will thank you for it.

The Importance of Thinking Time

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful business magnates and philanthropists in history. He has accumulated a net worth in excess of $75 billion, yet unlike his peers, the majority of that time wasn’t spent working in the conventional sense. 

No - Mr Buffett estimates that he has spent 80% of his time thinking

Crazy, right? Almost counter-intuitive you would think. You don’t see other pioneers such as Elon Musk or Tim Cook following the same pattern. But no, there is a lot of method behind this apparent madness. 

When do you find yourself having your best ideas? Is it when you are focusing on a task? Having a conversation? Running to a tight deadline that you aren’t going to meet? What about in your downtime, do you find inspiration for how to progress the project you are currently struggling with by watching Netflix or your favourite sports team?

I’m guessing that for the majority of you, the answer is No to all of the above. 

That’s not to say that the above actions aren’t important. Far from it, if we are going to be successful and happy, there are times when we need to focus on deep work or chill by watching something we truly enjoy. That’s fine - however, there needs to be time set aside in our week for true thinking. This is the brains opportunity to process. It has room to breathe because it doesn’t need to concentrate on anything else. 

How often do you find yourself having a great idea whilst taking a shower? I know I have and it’s because my brain isn’t concentrating on anything other than getting clean! Well, I can do that pretty much without thinking, so my brain then decides to wake up and remind me of things I have upcoming that I may have otherwise forgotten. If I have a worry, then I can process it, massage it, query it further until I’m in a position to take action, or at least write these thoughts down when I emerge, sopping wet!

When I go for my daily walks, the practice used to be that for every walk I took, I would listen to some form of motivational podcast each time. That’s now changed. I alternate between listening to podcasts and just - being. Walking around the neighbourhood, looking at the sights and just taking in what is around me is a great way to decompress. Invariably, when I take this walk now I have ideas coming into my head that I can capture quickly through Siri on my iPhone. I use this time to process problems I’m having. 

A brain is a tool of creative brilliance. It’s not designed to hold lots of facts and figures, it’s certainly not wired for multitasking in any way, yet when it’s free of distraction and isn’t processing tasks, it’s capable of some amazing things. 

I could give you loads of tips and tricks on how to ensure you have the best thinking time possible but that’s not the point of this post. I like things clean and simple and to give you the chance to develop your own ideas. There’s the opportunity for me to over-complicate this premise so I’m just going to give one tip - the master tip for ensuring you have time to think. 

Schedule Your Thinking Time

That’s it, nothing else. Make sure you know when you’re going to take the opportunity to down tools, take a break and just - think. Just - be

It doesn’t have to be long at first. After all, a good idea can be had in seconds. Imagine what you could do with just ten minutes of peaceful, distraction-free time to yourself. You could solve a problem, work out the next action or have a moment of inspiration that takes your whole life forward. The important thing is to have trust in the fact that this thinking time is going to take place. Then, when you are focusing on a complex task, or just relaxing and switching off completely, you can rest in the knowledge that you will have time to sit back and think. 

Maybe, after reading this, use your first block of scheduled thinking time to look at how you may be able to manipulate your environment, or your calendar to sustain this new habit. Where will you go? Do you need quiet music in the background? Will your best ideas come from walking or exercising as the blood flows freely to and from the brain? 

Be intentional with your thinking and you could go on to great things. 

I’ll finish with one of my favourite ever quotes from Abraham Lincoln:

Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe

Think about it.

Do One Thing Everyday That Terrifies You

"Do one thing every day that scares you". That is a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt and it's as relevant today as ever. 

Comfort zones can be dangerous. Naturally, we can argue that a lower level of stress and risk in our lives is a good thing. However, it's important for us to step out of these zones occasionally and push ourselves in areas and directions that we may have previously deemed impossible. 

We're all scared of different things and fear can come in various forms. Myself, I can say that I am not a fan of confrontation. Social situations can bring on a sweat from time to time and I don't even want to talk about my feelings towards snakes. Some people shy away from public speaking, being alone, spiders, Donald Trump, the Internet, mortality - it's a never ending list. Yet these fears control us and if we don't have control over our feelings and emotions, we restrict our ability to take charge of that particular situation. I don't know about you, but I hate giving up control!

Fear can also prevent us from reaching our full potential. Human beings have an amazing 'fight or flight' mentality which comes into play when we perceive any threat to ourselves and it's this physiological reaction that stops us from stepping out of that comfort zone and taking any risks. If we don't take the risks, we will continue to tread the same path that we have been walking all our lives. For some of us, that's fine, yet for those who wish to grow into something more, this is where the comfort zone is dangerous. 

There are a whole host of things you can look at doing, every day, to help you grow and assume control. 

Talk to a Stranger

This is one I try to do daily now, so much so that it no longer holds any fear for me. It could be the person I sit next to on the commute, maybe the barista serving me at Starbucks. It doesn't matter who, but think of the maxim "A stranger is a friend you haven't made yet" and you'll realise that 99% of us out there are decent, warm human beings who love it when strangers say "Hello" in passing. 

This action can also help boost your confidence and self-esteem.

Disconnect From Your Phone

Guess what? You know how important and crucial to everything you think you are? Well, you're NOT. Next time you're away from the office, spending time with your family, just switch your phone off. Maybe even for an hour at first. You'll realise that no matter how scary this is, the world will still be turning when you switch it back on and you will have spent some quality time with the people that matter most to you, rather than just waiting for the 'ding' notification. 

Ask For Help

This has always been a tricky one for me but I'm getting there. I hate asking for help, having always seen it as a sign of weakness. Far from it - I now know it's a mark of true strength to know that in order to get to where I where I want to be, I'm going to need some help. I ask for help on certain projects daily and I know I'm in a far better position for it. 

Eat Something New

I find myself saying this to my kids so often. "Go on, you'll never know you like it until you try it". It's true though. Yes, they don't always take to the new food they are trying and may even go to spit it out at times, but each time they try, they step outside of their comfort zone and try a little. 

I'm not trying broccoli though. Ewwww. 

Say Sorry

Tough one for so many people, but being the bigger person and apologising when the situation merits it helps you grow. The scariest bit has been completed before we open our mouths - that's acknowledging the fact we are in the wrong. The rest should then be plain sailing. In fact, people's perception of us will largely increase because of our perceived humility. 

Change Your Hairstyle

I can put this one down safely because, given the rate my hair is going, I could do with a change! Do something radical, make a change, maybe even ask your hairdresser to recommend a style and just go with that. The results will surprise you and may even yield a lesson in having faith and letting go. 

Tell Someone How You Feel About Them

So what's the worse that can happen? You are positive, you tell that girl you've been mooning over for years that she makes your kettle boil and she runs away as fast as her legs can carry her. Well now you know, it won't be in your head anymore, interrupting your thought processes. You never know, she may feel the same way and boom! Life is good. Don't ask, don't know. 

Conversely, it can be a conversation of a negative nature. The confrontation you have been dreading. Well, until it's out there, it's in your head and you are picking away at it like a loose thread on a cushion. This is a horrible situation to be in and does nobody any good. The sooner the conversation is done, the sooner you can work on remedying the situation. 

Jump Out Of A Plane

Yeah, I hear you, this isn't exactly something you can do every day. What a marker to lay down though, at some point in the future, wouldn't you agree? The idea of jumping out of a plane terrifies me. All I have to do is look over the side from the top of a tall building and my legs start to feel numb as that cold shiver travels down my spine. In truth, I'd rather sit in the corner of a dark room bouncing bricks off of my head whilst waiting for Windows to update on a laptop I'm relying on for work. 

I'm going to do it though. Mainly because I'm an obstinate so and so who refuses to let this fear get the better of me. 

I know that if I can do this, I can do almost anything - and when I'm planning on cutting the cord on contract life and moving solely into freelance coaching and writing, that's an important thing to be sure of.

Hello Future Me

You know this situation well - I can almost guarantee it. 

It's time to go through your to-do list and start taking action against the tasks, or actions, you have decided are outstanding and need to be completed. You're pumped, ready to go and start owning the day. 

You've got your coffee next to you, the ambience is great because your pumping some appropriate tunes through your headphones - chill-out music if you need to concentrate or something more hardcore if that's your thing. 

You're in the zone, ready for the flow to start. 

You look at the first task. Looks pretty easy. 

Phone Dave

Erm...right. OK. I can do that but...why did I need to phone Dave again? 

Tell you what, I'll push that aside until I remember what I needed to speak to him about and move onto the next one. What have we got? 

Schedule Meeting with Marketing Team

Hmm, what was this meeting about? Was it about the issue I have with Project A? Hang on - didn't my line manager call me last week asking to arrange a meeting? Why did I need to do that?

Oh dear, this isn't going well. 

Sound familiar? I know this to be true because I've been there so many times in the past. Looking at entries in OmniFocus 2 (that meant something to me when I created them, yet mean absolutely nothing now!

My workaround for this is very simple, yet has multiple benefits at the same time. 

I create tasks by delegating them to my future self

I imagine that the future Lee knows nothing about the present Lee and I think about the information that he is going to need in order to be able to get this work completed. 

Let's take the first one - Phone Dave. The action title itself will be something along the lines of Phone Dave to discuss the testing that is required for 64-bit Office 2016 in our Head Office Procurement Department. That's a good start. Then, the notes section will have Dave's number or Skype name as well as some key bullet points that I need to cover. 

When I come across this on my Actions List, there is no need for deferment, I can action this straight away. 

If there are links to documentation that may need to be referred to, I'll add these in as well to save gathering them at the last minute and losing time. 

Even better than this, if for whatever reason I cannot make this call, I can delegate to someone else, safe in the knowledge they have all of the information they need. After all, when I created the action, I delegated it to my future self in the first place. 

Remember that the future, better version of you will have a lot going on in his/her head and will not be able to remember the context that the action was created in. You cannot be too detailed when creating an action and if helps you pass actions on to other people in your team, that can only benefit everyone.

Give Yourself A Break

Like all of you reading this post, I'm a human being. A human being that gets frustrated when I'm unable to achieve everything I set out in my todo list. One downside of being an incorrigible planner is the negative feelings that manifest when life gets in the way and things don't go to plan. 

The intentions are so great when you wake up. You bounce out of bed, ready to attack the day and make progress on the list you created the night before - after all, you're a Productivity person, you want to be the best version of yourself that you can be. 

Then that call or email comes in - the one you didn't expect, from a client, a colleague or a family member, that throws the plan you had meticulously created into disarray. All of a sudden, the commitments you had made to yourself need to be reviewed and shifted. You may have to let somebody down who is relying on you, or postpone an event that you were really looking forward to on a personal level. Some of the goals you had set yourself for the day may not now be achievable. If you are not careful, the day can slowly start to unravel and sure enough, as your attitude becomes negative, so too does your focus on the hours ahead. 

I know the above is a familiar scenario to you. I know this because I am just like all of you and, as I really am my own worst critic, I go through the above emotions more regularly than I would like. 

However, when I do, I think back to a phrase I was told by a former line manager when I was starting out in the world of Project Management. 

Life happens sonny - appreciate that and enjoy it because it's a lot better than the alternative

The fact is, he is so right. Tomorrow is a new day and if I'm lucky (and sensible), there will be a lot more of them to come. No day is going to be the same as today, so plan as normal and roll with the punches when they come. The chances of two days being disrupted to this extent are slim and, if they are, then the chances of three are slimmer still. 

So keep going. Remember that productivity is all about doing the right thing at the righttime. So you need to pick up your child from school because they are ill? Well yes, it throws your afternoon out, but when you make your decision on what needs to be done based on priority vs urgency, you go and pick up your child. Everything else can move. 

Give yourself a break. Life happens and that is such a good thing.

Scheduling Brain Dumps

 

I look forward to my Friday wind-down time. This is usually spent either travelling back from a client site or, if I'm working from home, stretched out on the sofa carrying out my weekly review. 

Why do I look forward to this so much? 

I love this time because part of my weekly review involves a scheduled brain dump - thirty or so minutes that are spent simply emptying my head of all thoughts and feelings. 

I open up Day One on one of my devices (often this is the iPad as it's great for this scenario) and create an entry within my Inspiration journal (with a tag named Brain Dump) and just...write. 

What do I put in there? 

Anything and everything that comes into my head. 

It could be thoughts about my day at work, worries about the weekend, reminiscing about conversations I've had that are, somehow, still playing on my mind. Maybe there is something you need to research in readiness for next week, or you've had an idea for a project you want to work on but seems ridiculous at this moment. 

Any of these things can lead to inspiration and forewarn you of situations that are not as they should be at this moment. 

Once everything has been extracted from your grey matter and displayed in front of you, magic can happen. 

  • You can review what you've written and make decisions about how/if to progress them. Is there a problem that needs to be resolved? Create a project in your task-manager of choice and work out what the very next action is that needs to be completed to edge you closer to resolving. This process alone lifts the pressure from yourself and allows you to wrestle control of the situation from your sub-conscious. Let's face it, your subconscious would have been happy to keep hold of that negative thought and let it pick away at you, slowly, over time, driving you nuts! Not anymore - take control. 
  • You can revel in the glory and take the time to feel good about things. That's right - we're allowed to do that sometimes! If you have achieved something great or were thinking about a special time you had with your family when you performed your brain dump, take the time to re-visit this thought and think about what it means to you. This could be the most productive thing you do all week as there is no greater motivator than positive thoughts. 
  • You have freed up your brain to have more ideas. I've lost count of a number of times I've created a project after a brain-dump and, as I'm working out the actions required to meet my objective, other ideas find their way into my mind and start knocking at the door, desperate to be let out. This often happens during the brain dump process itself. Creativity begets creativity. 

If you schedule a brain-dump at least once a week, you open yourself up to a lot of possibilities for self-improvement and focus. How long it takes is up to you. Sometimes, I'm done after fifteen minutes. Other times, I'm still there after two hours, ideas pouring out. 

Give it a try - let me know how you get on.

Multitasking Is Rubbish

I'm supposed to be good at this stuff, yet it's amazing how many times I'm guilty of failing to eat my own dog food. In fact, I wouldn't be offended if you said that I can be a real idiot at times when it comes to being productive. 

Hey, at least I can admit it and recognise where I've fallen down I guess! 

Just this morning, I fell under the "I can multitask" bus and this is how. (Hands up if you've done the same....)

I'm sat in an office with one other person, dialling into a conference call via Skype For Business. It's a call that doesn't need my attention for the entire forty-five minute duration, so I make the usual pleasantries at the beginning, mute the microphone and use this as an opportunity to process my email from the previous day. 

Mistake. 

In fact, count the 'productivity' mistakes through this sad tale as you read. 

I've got one ear listening to the content of the call whilst I'm looking at an important email that is going to take some serious troubleshooting over the course of the day. I'm reading through, and for some reason, I think I'll concentrate on the email a little easier if I take one of my earphones out and reduce the volume of the call I'm participating (!) in. 

My office mate then sees the removal of the earphone as a sign to ask a question he's been keen to ask for days. Being a quintessentially polite Brit, I have difficulty saying that I should concentrate on the call I'm on (as well as the important email I'm trying to process) and so I engage. 

We chat for a couple of minutes until I hear a voice in my ear.

"Lee, did you catch that? I think you're on Mute". 

Naturally, I have no idea what was asked, and so I abruptly cut off my office mate, apologise to the conference call lead for the network issues I just encountered (!) and ask them to repeat the question, wasting the time of everyone on that call while the events I missed are recanted. 

So I now have a call that is being extended unnecessarily, an email that is no further through being processed yet is now in the back of my mind due to its importance, tugging away at my attention like a puppy playfully trying to free a toy from the hands of it's owner, as well as a colleague who feels awkward having been cut off mid-sentence while I deal with something that is clearly 'more important'. 

All in the name of trying to do more than one thing at once. 

The brain is not designed to multi thread, like a modern day CPU. Multitasking is simply a myth. When you try and work on more than one thing at a time, all you end up doing is switching your attention multiple times - and all of that attention-switching takes energy as well as time. Each time you shift from watching TV to writing a text, to checking your Twitter timeline - your brain is initiating a stop/start process each time. It's fast, it's rapid and it can give the illusion that you are doing more than one thing at once, but have you ever been listening to a podcast whilst checking Twitter and found that you'd missed something that was said? Of course you did! You weren't listening whilst reading, you were listening then reading - your brain was switching rapidly between one task and the other. 

 Was I able to complete any of those tasks earlier to the best of my ability? Not a chance. Yet the example I've given above is repeated by people in both the workplace and domestically time and time again. Myself included! Admittedly, this morning was a rare occurrence and I'm usually highly focused and able to work on items singularly without an issue. This morning I just - fell off. I thought I could do it and was pleased, in the end, to see that I couldn't and the theorising we read about multitasking is indeed true. 

There is a great test you can do at the following site that tests this theory - I urge you to try it out.