Let me tell you about a simple trick that revolutionized my entire workflow. One simple change increased my productivity tenfold. Sounds like magic, right? Hell yeah, because it is!
Nah, just kidding. It’s not “magic”, but it’s definitely something simple. Note that I said simple, not easy. So, “What is this trick?”, you ask. Actually, it’s a two-part trick, and without further ado, here it is:
- Every day and every week create list of tasks you want to achieve. This first part may not be new to you.
- Every day and every week ruthlessly remove anything that’s not immediately actionable.
The second part is the key.
Another way other people put it is “Only create tasks with an action in it”. Instead of having this kind of task list:
- Blog post
- New design
- More clients
Consider listing your tasks like this:
- Do the laundry tonight
- Finish writing new blog post draft today
- Come up with a new design by the end the week
- Find more clients
See ? You have to be precise, and adding a time constraint is even better.
But it’s not sufficient. See those 2 last items ? Get rid of them.
Yes, only two tasks will remain. But those 2 last aren’t really actionable. If I were to tell you, right now, on the spot, to “come up with a new design”, how are you going to do that? If you’re rather creative, you might be able to instantly produce a rough idea, but it’s unlikely that it’d be the perfect, final version of what you have in mind.
Same thing for “Find more clients”. How are we supposed to proceed? Snap our fingers and make clients appear? I wish it was this easy. These things aren’t actionable right now. You want to only list tasks that you can execute immediately without thinking. A good way to determine if one task is of the right kind is this: when you sit in front of your computer, ready to tackle your next task, are you staring at it for more than 5 seconds? If yes, it’s not an actionable task. Get rid of it or turn it into something truly actionable instantly.
By doing so, you’ll probably get rid of most of your todo items. And it’s fine. It’s great. This is how you’re going to be able to truly focus.
And if you really have a hard time letting go of all these un-actionable, non-immediate tasks, you can still create a backlog. Have a file somewhere, a Trello list or an Evernote note (the format isn’t important) where you put all these non-actionable, non-immediate tasks.
This will improve your focus and productivity so much you’ll wonder how you did before. Having a list of only immediately actionable items enables you to sit and start working right away, achieving your tasks one after the other in a fraction of the time you would spend before, trying to figure out how you should start or what to start with.
Declutter your digital life
Then, in the same fashion, get rid of the clutter. For each and every thing that comes into your digital life, remove anything you’re not going to use immediately and for something important. I learned this from Tim Ferris in his book The 4-hour Work Week. It’s been an incredible time-saver and productivity enhancer.
There’s just so many things we pile up in our digital life. Because it’s not physical, we tend to ignore the clutter. But it actually take up space, more precisely brain space. The digital clutter takes its toll on our brain by occupying a space in our conscious and subconscious. We know it’s there, we just choose to not look at it.
Let’s start wit your emails. How many emails do you have in your inbox? How many do you truly need to sit in your inbox? You can archive them and still find them later. How many do you really need at all?
The same reasoning can go for many other things. Bookmarks, “I’ll read it later” articles, apps installed on your phone or computer, files sitting in your Downloads folder. You get the point.
For every single one of the things you encounter online, make an automatism of asking:
Is it going to serve me immediately and for something important ?
You may think it’s too much to ask this for every single thing you come across, but by doing so you’ll avoid dragging along hundreds—if not thousands—of things you don’t really need or use. This is how you’ll declutter your digital life, and doing it will bring you clarity as your brain won’t be encumbered anymore by too much stuff.
Apply this to the real world
Finally, once you get the hang of it and have decluttered your digital life, I strongly suggest you do the same for real world things. You don’t have to be a minimalist, but applying the same reasoning (Am I going to need it now and for something important) to real world stuff can also be beneficial. Having a uncluttered and clean workspace, for example, tremendously helps concentration, focus, and gettings things done in general.
Often, keeping things we don’t need at the moment come from a mindset of worrying. What if I happen to need it some day? What will I do if I don’t have it by then? This is exactly what prevents you from reaching your best focus and clarity. This constant worrying (even if it’s not a lot, but just a little, subtle and subconscious form of worrying) hinders your intelligence and creativity.
Not having your house filled up with things don’t really need or never use not only will make it cleaner, but it will free you, giving you a sense of space and lightness. Remember: clutter in your environment means clutter in your brain. And you gain clarity by decluttering your brain, so you need to also declutter your environment.
How many things can you get rid of? I know it, you have things right now in your house you haven’t used in a while or even never used. You could sell them, give them or just throw them away. Why keep this stuff if you’re not using it? The more things you have, the less you’re actually able to use them, let alone enjoy them. You don’t have to get rid of it all in one shot of course. For instance, you can commit to part with one thing every day.
So there you have it. One simple question to ask for everything you encounter, wether it’s in your digital or real life. After a while this becomes an automatism, almost a second nature. And this is when your mind will gain clarity and focus, which will make you incredibly productive.