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Transform: Productivity Mind Hacks to Help You Get Things Done with Daniel J. Lewis

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This week, I’m joined by award-winning podcaster and one of the many contributors to my 2-book set Entrepreneur Mind Hacks, Daniel J. Lewis. Daniel has some simple but amazingly powerful productivity tips to share!

Daniel helps people launch and improve their podcasts and helps them communicate their passions to the world. As an entrepreneur, he knows what it is like to have limited time to work with, and the need to make the most of every second in order to be productive.

Daniel defines “productivity” as simply being able to get things done. It is a combination of using the right tools for the job, knowing how to use those tools well, and discovering new tools or techniques to be able to accomplish the things that you need to in the time that you have without having to sacrifice. When it comes to systems, they are important as long as they are not too complicated.

Whatever system you use to accomplish your daily tasks must be simple enough for you to consistently follow and effective enough that it actually works.

You could have “the best system in the world”, but if you never use it, it’s pointless. Or if it’s so complicated that you’re always using it incorrectly; or you’re spending more time on the tool and trying to get it to work within your workflow, it’s no longer an effective system.

The first system, or better yet, simple tip, that Daniel offers is to SCHEDULE YOUR TASKS. This sounds like a no-brainer, but Daniel goes a bit deeper:

“Often, we don’t have time for something unless we make time for it. We will schedule times to meet with clients or to make important calls, but it is also helpful to schedule into your day things like processing email.

I don’t even receive as many email as other people do – I get maybe 40 or 50 emails a day – but the times that I find that I’m able to process these the best is when I have actually scheduled time each day to process my inbox.

I typically schedule an hour per day, and I try to spend that time doing nothing but that task – focused on handling my email. By doing that day after day, after day, not only does it help to know that this is the time that I do this specific task (in this case, email). But, it’s giving me a regular amount of time each week to accomplish it.

You see, if you set aside an hour per day to process your email inbox, that adds up to five hours per week! Sometimes you might look at your inbox and think, “No WAY! This is gonna take five hours for me to get through!”

But, if you schedule one hour per day on whatever scheduling system you use, then you’ll actually have the accumulated time to accomplish this task.

By putting your own appointment in your schedule, it blocks out the time you need and it prevents other things from happening during that time. So, no one else can schedule a meeting with you during that time; You won’t take other calls during that time; You won’t schedule anything else during that time. And, if you use any kind of digital system, it’s very likely that it will also remind you that time is coming up.

So you’ll have these reminders telling you when to switch tasks or prepare for an upcoming task.”

So, what qualifies as a task worth scheduling? According to Daniel:

“Really, anything that you want to do or maybe anything that you find yourself doing. For me one of these things is participating in social networks. I actually have that scheduled into my daily calendar. For me, that is important for my business because I feel that it’s important for me to go out there and interact with people who are in my field, respond to tweets, check out my Facebook groups…

Image: Justin Pot

Image: Justin Pot

And this isn’t just marketing. Sometimes it’s just helping people answer a question and provide solutions for people. When I interact with my social media outlets, it really builds my brand, and it shows that I’m interested in giving back to the community. But it can be quite a time waster, if not properly handled. It’s very easy get lost in time while surfing around and around and around my various social media spheres.

So, as silly as it seems, I actually have “Social Media Participation” scheduled on my daily calendar.

I have a set time on Mondays when I start preparing for my podcast, a set time when I go live, as well as certain times I prepare for those podcasts. And usually, when I have a project that I know it’s really important – that I  really need to take care of this week – I will schedule with myself to make sure I do it. Then I won’t let anything else interfere with that project. This system is better than just a “to do list” that says, “This is what you need to do today…”

It’s much more specific.

But how would someone use this approach when it comes to projects that could take days, weeks, or even months to complete?

It’s not so much about blocking out the time to complete the task in totality – although it might be. I might decide I’m going to work an hour or two on a particular project on these particular days of the week for a certain amount of weeks. Not only is this a great way to focus and get that stuff done, but it can also be more of an accountability tool for myself.   My calendar will remind me at this time I need to switch over to work on this other task. So I start transitioning over. I start working on the next task. And then, I might continue working on that new task all day. But, I might not have ever made that transition to that task in the first place without the scheduling reminder. I might’ve been chasing all the little fires that surround me each day instead of doing the task. And by the time today’s over, I’d realize that I ran out of time.

The calendar is just a way of me helping myself to be more accountable to the tasks I need to do in that day.

Now, I have found that sometimes I need to make a hard decision between what is worth scheduling into my day, and what I simply need to toss to the trash. Daniel has these recommendations for prioritizing what should be included in your daily schedule and what doesn’t:

Often times, I need to ask myself, “What’s the return on investment here?” and not in on actual dollar amount. Sometimes value can’t be assigned to certain things, like social media participation, for example.

So, I have to decide is this really worth my time?

I need to work on treating myself like I should be treating the people who work for me – assigning myself one specific task during a specific time to focus on.

So, in essence, Daniel has set up a system that helps him stay disciplined.

Some people don’t struggle with that as much as I do I know that my biggest struggles are procrastination and time management. I put things off. I get distracted by all the shiny new things I run across. This extra structure is what helps me to stay on top of things and accomplish things; and when I see that I’m falling behind on the tasks I need to do, it is usually because I wasn’t following my structure as much as I should have been.

The second trick that Daniel shared in my book is to USE A TIMER TO AVOID DISTRACTIONS.

Image: Dale De Leon

Image: Dale De Leon

Any kind of timer that you have – even if you grab your kitchen timer or use an alarm clock – can be sued as a timer. Or, use the timer on your smartphone or tablet. Or use a website like e.ggtimer.com. What a timer can do is help you focus via what is called the “Pomodoro Technique”.   You set a timer for yourself for, say, 25 minutes and you focus on whatever task you are on and nothing else for those 25 minutes. This gives you extra mental freedom because you’ll inevitably get distracted during that time, but you can defer those distractions. You see, if I am half-way into a 25 minute period and I get a distraction, like a quick thought of a possible email coming into my inbox, or an alert of some sort… I can look at my timer and realize NO! I need to focus. And I can check my email in 12½ minutes. I can wait 12½ minutes!

It’s kind of like when I used to teach small children. It almost always happened right in the middle of a lesson, at least one kid raised his hand and asked if they could go to the bathroom.

Each time, I would immediately ask them, “Can you wait?”

And the answer, almost always was, “Yes.”

It’s a similar situation with these little distractions that can wait. You can wait to reply to that tweet or check your email or let someone go to voicemail and call them back in 15 minutes…

By deferring those things, you offer yourself more mental freedom to focus on that task right then. And when your timer runs out, you can then pursue those distractions (if you want to) Or, you may find yourself in a great zone because you’re focused! You’ve spent so much effort on focusing for those 25 minutes that you are now in a “productivity sweet spot”.

If this is the case, simply reset your timer for another 25 minutes, or however long you want, and you can get really productive work done during that time.

So much of what we do in trying to get stuff done is often just the transition into it.

I’ve seen multiple studies that said it takes up to 15 minutes – sometimes people say it’s up to half an hour – for you to really transition your brain from one task to another. So, if you’re focusing for 25 minutes, a lot of that is your brain transitioning into that task and you may find yourself in a great point where you are just “in the zone”, writing like crazy… podcasting… or whatever the task is!

You’ll find yourself in that “zone” because you’ve disciplined yourself with what seems like simple disciplines. So, when your timer does end, you may find yourself not wanting to pursue your distractions and instead stay focused for even longer in order to get more accomplished! 

All this begs the question of whether or not there are tasks that DO NOT work well with Daniel’s timer.

I think the tasks that have an indefinite amount of time, or where you don’t need to focus much on it, fall into that category. For example, one-on-one consulting or talking with someone on the phone. I think it’s actually disrespectful to set a timer and have the mindset that in exactly 15 minutes, this interaction must end.

To be conscious of the time is one thing, but to make someone feel like they’re on a timer is another. So, if you’re interacting with other people, especially face-to-face or voice to voice, that’s not when you should use a timer technique. But instead, maybe just a calendar technique and block out that chunk of time in your day.

Other tasks might include tasks that you’ve been dreading. A better way to time these out is with the “timer reset” technique.

This is a technique that I learned from Stever Robbins – The Get it Done Guy. This is a way that I’ve been able to clean up my office and clean rooms that I would have never otherwise cleaned. The flipside of the psychological thing of using a timer is when you tell yourself, “I’m going to give myself only 15 minutes to work on this task.” Then it seems very attainable. You give yourself those 15 minutes. And you work on that task. If you then DO reset the timer after that, and continue working for another 15 minutes, there might be a psychological switch that goes on that the next time you need to work on that task (or continue working on that task) you might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time right now.” And really it just takes 15 minutes. But you’re conditioning your brain to think “A 15 minute task actually means an hour”. So, those may be times when you might use the timer… but don’t reset it. And I suggest that when you do those things that you really dread – set a timer and when the timer is done, you’re done. Or, at least wrap it up as quickly as possible. That way, the next time you have to do the task, you know you only have to do this for 15 minutes!

And if you think about it, over the course of a week at only 15 minutes per day, you’ve actually spent 75 minutes doing something quite easily rather than dreading it for an hour in one shot.

For more amazing insights from Daniel, check out danieljlewis.com!

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