Unleash the Beast; How To Get More Stuff Done

get stuff done logo

I would never think of myself as lazy, but I have already posted something about napping, and to take all that time to nap in a full time schedule has meant I have had to learn how to use my time well! Do you ever have those days were it just doesn’t feel like there are enough hours to get everything done? You could be a single parent trying to juggle work and family life, or perhaps a young graduate on your first rung at a big company and trying to make a big impact. Hell, you could just be a freelance writer looking to make more time in your day for daiquiris and dancing.

Humans can be tangential beasts, and these wandering minds can often lead us down mental rabbit holes, blocking us from finishing some of the multitude of tasks we need to. Do you know what I am saying?!

So, whether you want more time for work, for general life, or even just to say you can, this post should go some way toward giving some examples of successful methods, or at least giving you some inspiration to get you thinking of your own way.

Go on...

Go on…

Keep it Simple

Ok so this isn’t really a technique per se, in so far as it doesn’t have a fancy author or a book to go with it. What it does do is draw on common sense ideas that should seem obvious, and it hopes to use these to build your energy, productivity and ability to think clearly; a combination of which should lead to greater output and a ‘to do’ list full of ticks!

So, make sure you: have a good nights sleep (7-8 hours), focus on the task at hand, stay hydrated, get an early start, turn key tasks into habits, eat healthy, exercise, eliminate the non-essential, lock yourself away and be sure to take breaks during work.

Just by making sure you follow these simple pieces of advice could increase your productivity. Sometimes the little things make all the difference, and can be easily overlooked.

Pictured: How NOT to work (but how to have fun)

Pictured: How NOT to work (how to PARTAY)

Stephen Covey’s Priority Matrix

Few have had the impact on time management that this man has. Over his lifetime he was able to craft together several different approaches to making the most of your time, but he is probably best remembered for his two best-selling books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First.

Essentially, Covey’s methods focus on his understanding of universal truths, or ‘principles’. It can be shocking how much we are willing to do to avoid doing some tasks, and often we can actually do less and be more effective. Truly, one cannot have a conversation about time management techniques and not mention the late Covey, whose work to this day still inspires millions. Website here.

I used to clean toilets

I used to clean toilets

The Pomodoro Technique

This was a personal favourite of mine at university, and I have had great feedback from students who I have recommended this to since. Invented in the late 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, the simplicity of this technique is one of the main reasons for its effectiveness. It gets its name from the Italian word for tomato, as the timer used by it’s creator was a tomato shaped kitchen timer.

The technique breaks work into 25 minute slots, separated by 3/5 minute breaks. Each slot is called a pomodori (the plural Italian word for tomato) and put into categories of four. After four pomodori (called a set) a longer break is taken, typically 15-30 minutes.

The general principle is that you choose the task you want to do and then set the timer. You then work continuously for the full slot, only stopping when the timer rings. If you finish before, then the rest of the slot is for ‘over-learning’, or getting more finished that is relevant to the task. Website here.

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’

This is not the first time in my life I am taking advice from Jerry Seinfeld, but this is one example when he really does show wisdom. The idea is simple; every day you perform a task, then mark a cross on your calender to show you have done something. Over time, a chain will develop, and this will increase your desire to keep working as you don’t want a blank day on the calender (and therefore a break in the chain). This technique has a greater motivating effect the longer is is followed, and so eventually you should be in a state of perpetual work as you don’t want to let yourself down. Find it here.

Don't be that guy

Don’t be that guy

Zen Habits

This method revolves around the idea of not having any goals. I know this seems like it is the opposite of what you want, but hear me out. By removing the focus on goals and deadlines, this method frees the spirit to embrace opportunity and chance. You still know what you want, you just aren’t tied to a certain path and can be flexible in your approach, relying instead on intuition, instinct and passion.

This is clearly one for the free spirits, but a worthy mention none the less. Ponder it here.

This is definitely more productive than just waiting for things to happen

Getting Things Done

Back to the self-help books, and another best-seller. David Allen, its creator, focuses on thoughts, goals, ambitions and tasks and lumps them together into one system that can get the best from you. The nature of its structure means it is very flexible, and almost anything can be pinned onto it and worked towards.

In its simplest form, it is essentially five steps; capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage. That said, there is much, much more to it as you advance. Find more info here.

“Can I use my own steps?”

App That Task

We live in a digital world guys, and predictably there are already apps available to help you organise your time too. Everything from to do lists (Evernote) to time-wasting tracking apps (Rescue time), and avoiding distraction (focus booster) to syncing work and home devices (dropbox). You can literally find an app for everything, including some of the techniques we have already mentioned (such as Pomodoro!)

It’s the digital age, man. Embrace technology and find yourself much more productive. After all, it’s why humanity invented the stuff! Find a great list of time saving apps here, courtesy of LifeHack.

Which app tells me where I left my keys...

Which app tells me where I left my keys…

Kanban

One thing I love about this method is the fact it gives you a visual chart of your progress to gain instant gratification, and see how productive you are over a period of time giving you a sense of pride and achievement.

Created by Taiichi Ohno from Toyota, based largely on the Toyata JIT (Just In Time) production method for its cars, this system works by tracking your to do list in a series of columns which are divided into done, doing and backlog. It looks complicated at first, but it is a method worth sticking with. Track yourself here and see how satisfying it is to see each achievement as it happens. Nothing beats that feeling of finishing the annoying little jobs.

“All emails answered!”

Eat the Frog

Mark Twain once wrote, “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”. Essentially, get the worst stuff done first, and the rest of the day will feel much better.

This is the basic idea behind the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. It offers 21 tips on ways to avoid procrastinating. But even if you don’t fancy splashing out on the text, the simple idea can be easily placed into any daily routine; get the greens down you first, then enjoy your steak. Go ahead, eat that frog!

Not literally...

Not literally…

Amalgamate, You!

Nothing above catching your imagination? No worries, just put your favourite elements together to make a super system. A recent online poll showed that many people’s preferred method was actually to put together various techniques and craft them into a much more personalised approach. Pomodoro mixed with getting things done and not breaking the chain is a very popular combination, but you could easily mix eat the frog and some apps. Go full digital and you could even combine various apps together too! After all, more heads are better than one.

We couldn't have done it without you Carl

Give me a T, give me and E…

The possibilities are endless, and ultimately you are the master of your own destiny. But I feel your pain, internet. I know  from personal experience how hard it can be to get everything done that you need to. Sometimes you can be working at your peak, and still find yourself falling short. It’s true that in life we can sometimes face challenges that are beyond the possibilities of human endeavour. That said, you can prepare yourself better for them with a little life shuffling, and perhaps even increase your personal time if you have got all the important stuff out of the way.

Do you know another method you want the world to know? Or do you think that these methods are just for the lazy and procrastinators? I’d love to hear your comments!

Special thanks to adamr, koko-tewan, marin, stockimages, supakitmod, imagerymajestic and watcharakun @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Too busy to read? Here’s how to make more time for reading in your day.

reblog reading This is a re-blog. To celebrate 6 months of ItchyQuill.com, here is the first post we ever did! Enjoy 😀

Haven’t finished a book since you graduated? Keep making excuses about not enough time and being too tired? Reading has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 68%, and it could lead to a significant reduction in your chances of developing dementia in later life, not to mention the advantages it gives you in terms of ability to communicate, understanding of new concepts and cultures, and countless other problem solving, intellectual and communicative advantages. Reading is an almost essential part of getting a higher wage and personal advancement, and yet nearly half of British and American adults no longer read for pleasure.

We’ve all been there. It could be that you are a lover of fiction, but every time you finish work you are too tired and would rather veg out in front of the TV/Netflix than get your nose in a novel. In the UK, nearly 4 million adults work 48 hours a week or more. Things such as this extended work schedule could be to blame, but reading is a fantastic use of your time, no matter who you are. If you are an up and coming exec, there are plenty of non-fiction tomes to rifle through for tips and information, and plenty of fiction to help you relate to other’s experiences or escape completely from the busy week. If you are a budding writer, there are tons of books to get you inspired. If you merely want to find another way to relax, fear not! There are myriad stories out there waiting for you to find them.

It’s ok world, itchy quill has your back!

1. Maximise your time (duh!)

The first thing to consider is all that micro time you have. By this I mean the time that you have between other activities; the gaps and cracks in your schedule where minutes are not used to their full potential. It might be the ten minute bus ride to work, it could be the five minutes while the kettle boils in the morning, or it could even be the fifteen minutes on the loo. Who knows. But making a rough list of how your time is used during the day can give you an idea of where you can utilise your time better. On average, most of us have about 1.5-2 hours of micro time a day. That’s crazy, right?! Imagine if you spent an hour of that a day reading your book? If we assume that your reading speed is equal to the average, then you could read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in just over ten days using this method. Or, if you fancy something a little more contemporary, how about reading all three of the Hunger Games books in seventeen days? Using this otherwise redundant time is a great way to increase your reading. But trust me, it gets better.

But this is my thinking time

But when am I supposed to find time to wear my hats?

2. Leave yourself reminders

Some people are list people, some people are doers, some are just plain happy to wander through life confronting things as they arise. I am a bit of a memory jerking kind of person. This basically means I have to leave myself clues and visual prompts to remind me to do something. I like to leave a stack of unread books on my coffee table, so whenever I look at them they remind me that I should pick up my book and read. This works especially well with library books, as the challenge of trying to read them all before they are due back motivates me too. You could just as easily set a reminder on your phone, just like you would for a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. The biggest struggle for many of us is finding routine, and sometimes activities that are not habitual can be hard to make time for. To stop reading being another big plan that falls by the wayside, why not set goals, like finishing one book every fortnight (which translates to 24 books a year)? It’s easy, right?

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

3. Spread your interest

Scattiness can often be a problem for me. I have a mind that likes to race off on tangents, and my attention can be easily caught but, alas, easily lost also. I often keep two books or more on the go at once, normally of completely different style and genre so as to avoid confusing plotlines and characters. Some books, such as non-fiction, may be more suitable for the morning time, as they require a little more alertness to process, while a steady paced novel can be more suitable for pre-sleep reading. Don’t overload yourself though or you could lose track of what you have read. Speaking of which…

I really don't want to take these back tomorrow

Right, so Frodo killed Aslan with his horcrux. Got it.

4. Bookend your day

Make time to read when you wake up, and before bed. The benefits of reading before you sleep are well documented, the greatest in my opinion being the fact it forces you to put the day behind you and escape from cares or troubles, but it is what it stops you from doing that is more important. A lot of us are guilty of checking emails, Facebook and other social media and distraction apps like Buzzfeed and Instagram in the moments before sleep. Though it might seem fun to read these before we sleep, we are actually forcing ourselves to confront innate insecurities, worries and negative emotions in a time when we should be dumping the day’s detritus and preparing to reset. Reading forces your brain to train itself on a continuous narrative, not just a random assortment of scattered information, and this hypnotises us into a sleepy state, channelling all emotion and feeling into that of the characters we are reading about, and deflecting the minor antagonisms of the self.

There isn't a Playboy tucked behind this novel. This isn't Back to the Future

There isn’t a Playboy tucked behind this novel.

5. Arm yourself

Ok, not literally. By this I am of course saying that you should never been found wanting for something to read. I keep a book on me at all times, but I also have my kindle by my bed for am/pm reading, and a kindle reader on my phone in case I end up in some unforeseen circumstance where I cannot reach either of the former (such as a nuclear disaster or, more likely, a queue for a sandwich).

Say hello to my little friend

Say hello to my little friend

6. Join others

The internet is the greatest resource in the world for most things. One such area it exceeds in is uniting us with others of a similar mindset. There are countless websites dedicated to bringing together readers of a similar taste, where novels can be read at a pace everyone can follow and then reflected upon in open discussion. This gives you the polite pressure of needing to stay on pace so as not to fall behind, but also gives you the chance to discuss techniques and characters and really get to grips with the book you are reading. If you prefer to be a little less social, why not try an on line reading challenge? This gives you the deadline without the social aspect.

I can't even read but damn this whole book thing looks good on me

Chicks dig dudes who can read

7. Keep it interesting

I know we all wish we could finish the classics like War and Peace and Ulysses, but the truth is they aren’t fitting for everyone’s tastes. To really get into the habit of reading, and find the motivation to read at all, you need to be reading things that grab your attention. Make sure you seek out authors who write books that you are drawn to, or that you read non-fiction books about topics that actually mean something to you. I wish I could read up and become an expert in stocks to make a bit of money, but I have such little interest in how the system works that it would take me the best part of a century to finish the book.

Equally, you should stick to books that are of a length that won’t scare you off. Start small, and work your way up. Challenge yourself, sure, but be aware of your own attention span. You may discover a fantastic Russian author from the turn of the century, whose 1,000 page epic fully explores the state of humanity and the notion of the self, but will you be satisfied chipping away at it in fifteen minutes slots over the course of three months until you finish it?

John snow did whaaaat?

John Snow did whaaaat?

8. Practise speed reading

This is a much easier skill to pick up than many realise, and even a little practise can increase your reading speed significantly. Are you willing to put in the time to practise, however? When studying at college, speed reading was the only way to finish the tremendous amount of titles we were expected to read. In my first semester alone I read around 30 novels in six weeks. When I graduated, I made a promise to myself to relax more and take my time with reading to fully immerse myself in the text. For some, this is what reading is about. It is not the desire to finish as many books as possible, but to enjoy the escapism and journey of a story. It is important to remember this. It is also crucial to remember that even though it can be a lovely feeling to finish a hundred books a year, it is even more fun to be able to discuss them and remember them. Never sacrifice your understanding for speed, or they will merely become titles and summaries, and you will miss the very point of reading in the first place, and gain nothing. Over time, you will naturally get faster, so just stick to a pace that you are comfortable with.

It's supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

It’s supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

That said, there are currently apps in development that could increase the world’s reading speed by as much as 600%! In theory this should increase our ability to fully digest books and by extension, information. Whatever happens, starting reading today can greatly enrich your life. Words, and their use in the hands of authors, can be powerful in many ways. Don’t let yourself miss out on these experiences.

Now, no more excuses. It’s time to get yourself a book, figure out what works for you, and get reading. Enjoy!

Special thanks to adamr, Goldy, marin, duron123, photostock  and imagerymajestic @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015