Tuesday February 5, 2019

Quick survey on what’s coming:

  1. When ‘Inbox Zero’ is too much (of a sacrifice, for example).
  2. Organize Your workspace with a single keyboard shortcut.
  3. “Where do You want to go today?”
  4. Don’t bother with remembering things.
  5. Always prepare ‘The Exciting Next Thing’.
  6. “Hidden Magic”.
  7. Stay diversified.
  8. The power of feedback.
  9. Exercise Your mind with Anki,
  10. Care about habits (if there is something worth to turn into it).

I find the matter of optimizing Your work habits crucial and definitely worth attention. It may significantly impact both Your work’s quality and quantity, distinctly affecting the amount of time and effort necessary to achieve various tasks. Whatever You do, it may become more fluent, so - in the long run - it may improve Your whole life (the better You feel while working - the more content You may feel on a daily basis).

Over the time it is quite likely for one to recognize opportunities for improvements - and then to invent the better way to handle various things, and apply this new knowledge. This way You create a sort of a “life hack”: a smarter way of living, so to speak. And the nice thing is that once You have invented those “tips & tricks”, You may share those with others, who also may benefit out of it. So, in other words, You can make other people’s life better - as well as Yours.

First of all, when I wondered about this article every now and then - I’ve realized that my “life hacks” should be split into two categories: the universal ones - and those which are writing-related. Since I work on several different areas - some of those discoveries and conclusions are not strictly attached to any specific matter - while the other are clearly referring to more concrete profession (in this case: writing, mostly articles of various kinds).

Besides it is also worth mentioning that I’ve gain inspiration to this article out of Lifehacker’s “How I Work” series - which consists of interviews with various - I suppose mostly business - people, unveiling their own experience. The series is still going on, so in case You’d like to expand Your knowledge on working-related life hacks - I’d definitely recommend it.

So - back to my Own discoveries - let’s start with the universal life- or mind-hacks.

When ‘Inbox Zero’ is too much (of a sacrifice, for example).

When I first read about the ‘Inbox Zero’ concept I felt excited. This is a new approach to Your e-mails - in which Your inbox remains empty - thanks to constant redirecting all the messages to the proper sub-folders. It requires to create a new habit of instantaneous categorizing each and every message - but it’s easy to predict that it definitely may give You a completely new quality of e-mail experience.

There is, however, one serious drawback here: this approach is easy to apply if You just begin to use e-mail box as such. But in case You are already using it for a (long) while, having gathered many messages (several years’ archive?) - it is much harder because You need to do something with all those messages first. Even if You create several filters and apply them to do a significant part of the job by themselves - probably there still will be many items to sieve, and therefore much time-consuming work.

So, regardless of how appealing the idea of ‘Inbox Zero’ could appear, it seems to be not so easy to harness. “Sadly true,” I thought. But then, some time later, I had a brainwave, regarding an Android e-mail app I use, called AquaMail . One of it’s features is called a “Smart folder”. To put it simply: it’s a kind of an improved inbox in case of which You decide what it will show You. For example, You may set it up to display only messages from the last week. What an excellent way to avoid all the clutter ;) ! Thanks to this brilliant notion chances for You to be overwhelmed with the mail are far lesser. Besides, what may be even more important, it helps You to stay focused only on the current threads, without being distracted by an impressive length of past messages.

As a result I find this feature to be a remedy for my unfulfilled ‘Inbox Zero’ dream :) : now my inbox is always pretty slim - and on the other hand I hadn’t need to re-organize the whole archive to accomplish this kind of effect.

Organize Your workspace with a single keyboard shortcut.

To this day I am impressed by the essential idea behind the Windows OS concept - in which each task may be represented by a single window with its own characteristics. Moreover, You can arrange those small independent “workspaces” into one larger, complex environment. It is highly probable that over the time You’ve gained some habits which make Your work easier, faster, more convenient and efficient. There is only one drawback to this: Windows usually doesn’t remember all those useful habits - placing various windows spontaneously. Besides, it doesn’t always remember Your preferred size of windows.

So if You’d like to benefit from Your habits, it could be a little bit annoying that every time You turn on the computer or just launch some app - You may need to arrange the whole thing from scratch.

What if a single keyboard shortcut could do all of this for You? Arranging each and every window exactly as You prefer - regarding both their location on the screen (or screens) and their size. It could be like magic :) - but more importantly: it could save You a lot of effort and attention, especially on the long run. On top of that You can save multiple independent sets of windows - keeping in mind different tasks or work You used to be doing. What a beautiful idea :) !

The brilliant app behind this is called WiLMA and You can download it from here - or read more about it there.

“Where do You want to go today?”

I remember this sentence from some IT ad published several years ago. It is also a good way of putting the idea behind my next life hack, which I find helpful most of the time.

The thing refers to the very beginning of Your day. In the times before applying this little trick I just used to be engaged with whatever crossed my mind at the moment, doing probably many various things during the day. But some time later I’ve realized that sometimes it is harder to achieve what I’d like to achieve, because of various obstacles or limitations (it could be even such a simple thing like Your energy level, how do You feel right now, etc.). Since I usually have some tasks which excite me and are important enough - I would like to make a tangible progress, or, to put it more precisely, development of those things. But if I do many different tasks during the day, it’s really hard to say will those important ones will be accomplished? - because, for example, I never know what will cross my mind (“which way the wind blows” ;) ), what will excite me at the moment, or simply what energy level will be accompanying all those intentions in action.

As a result I decided to define a kind of a “secure theme” attached to each day on their beginning. This “theme” consists of (usually up to three) things which I really care about at the time, which I feel excited most when it comes to visualize that they could be completed - or at least that I could reach some significant milestone in their development.

At this point one thing is worth noticing - here You are a quote which renders it well:

Never ever write down a ‘task’ that cannot realistically be done in a single sitting of work. ( the source )

I find this pretty convincing: it’s a really good point, which, if applied, may assure You that whatever You choose - it will be done. Moreover, on the other hand, when You are in the middle of a bigger project - with this approach kept in mind You are free of its overwhelming scale. You are simply focused on its well-tailored part, which is dedicated to Your current session, that’s all. It is amazing how much a simple change of thinking could affect how we feel (in terms of contentment, encouragement, focus and distractions).

In my case it is usually not difficult to pick up tasks for my “secure theme”. What is more important is that this usually gives me a high level of probability that, indeed, I will accomplish what is important at the time - and, therefore, at the end of the day I could feel tangible fulfillment.

I’d like to point out that there is nothing wrong in spending/organizing Your day on a totally spontaneous basis - I’ve practiced it for several years and it had been wonderful. The reason I decided to change my mind - or, I should say, to improve my perspective - is awareness of limitations, starting from time-limited character of Your life here. Usually we don’t know how much time we have to do for whatever thing we may want. There is time we don’t care about it much - and, I suppose, there is time when it crosses our minds. You don’t need to reach some significant older age to feel it - experiencing various obstacles and/or limitations could do the trick even much earlier, and this is a good thing, because it allows You to improve Your life right now - not years after that :) .

So, as You might guess, my “secure theme” is not only GTD, but also it has to do with priorities in life, let’s put it that way. Whatever You may choose to be engaged in right now or in the near future - You may ask Yourself: How does it fit in ‘the big picture’ of my Life? If You haven’t looked at it this way yet - I’d recommend it as a pretty good life hack with the help of which You can add to Your deeds an uncompetitive, focused shape. You can also realize what is Your Life’s purpose - or what main role is standing behind Your Presence here on Earth. Is it worth Your attention, making Your Life something of a higher importance than just a simple set of ordinary things to handle?

Don’t bother with remembering things.

I always have much more ideas than I could follow, “making the dream come true”. Moreover, the new ones often pop up somewhere during the road. One thing I have realized is that trying to remember new ideas may be a burden: the more things You try to remember, the more attention is required for You to make it so. And the more attention You put aside (to remember things) - the less remains for You to use for the current tasks’ sake.

I’ve realized how crucial the habit of writing things down may be every time I had the feeling that I missed something important (an article idea, an important task, etc.). Of course, part of those things returned to me after a while - but: 1) it wasn’t all of them - and 2) the feeling of missing something You care about is quite unpleasant.

When I first practiced writing things down and immediately "letting them go from my mind" - I was astonished by the level of relief it gave me. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel painfully interrupted, or - to be more precise - I’ve realized how painful those interruptions may be, how unpleasant the recurring need of putting myself back on track could be.

I tried various methods of putting things on the back burner to have them available whenever I need them. The most recent and my favorite way for this is the “To Do” - a Microsoft app both for Android and Apple devices (as well as an app for Windows). This app seems to be especially tailored for the habit of picking up a couple of most important things You want to accomplish today - because it allows You to set up a special “to do” list dedicated for Your current day. You may create several various “to-do” lists dedicated to different matters - and then, when it comes to planning Your day in the morning or in the evening before - You can easily pick some things up out of those different lists, to put them onto “Your Day” list, which will be accompanying You during the day, helping You to stay on track, stay focused or to remind You what You currently care the most, whenever You need that reminder. You can even set up a notifications reminding You of those tasks.

What is worth attention is that You don’t need to treat “to do” lists per se - You may use them as lists of ideas as well. For example, I have a special, separate lists for articles’ ideas, podcasts’ episodes’ ideas, and so on.

Moreover, for each task or idea You can define ‘steps’ of which it consists - a good place to enter various milestones, which makes planning Your day even easier and more precise.

And in case You - like me - have a great length of ideas surrounding Your head - the app may help You to take the choice by proposing something for today. It could be a great, refreshing trait for each and every day: making them excitingly unpredictable :) .

Another thing I like in this app is that You may use those “to do” lists on Your PC, through this website - which enables You to avoid a need to grab Your smartphone or tablet once for a while, with all its tempting distractions ;) . But in case You’d like to have a look at Your smartphone anyway, You don’t even need to bother with the app - because You may use its widget which will completely do, allowing You to add items, remove them or mark as done as well as switching to different lists :) .

As a curiosity I’ll tell You that this app may be convincing for a number of reasons I didn’t mention here - such as a feature of sharing lists (in which You can co-create chosen lists with others), setting up a custom icon for each list, or a general elegant and aesthetic look&feel of the layout.

Always prepare ‘The Exciting Next Thing’.

This may be a neat trick for You to stay energized, motivated and inspired as never before ;) - on a daily basis :) . Here how it works: every time You reach the end of Your business day, pick something exciting for tomorrow. In case You don’t have such a thing at hand - maybe You might choose a particular phase of a current task You work on.

Try to notice anything what gives You excitement: both the perspective of completed tasks - and their particular parts which You find especially interesting. Notice and remember those things as a habit - and then, at the end of the day, pick one of them as a thing You will be working on tomorrow.

Be smart: if You’ve noticed that there are some particular parts of various tasks which You find outstanding (maybe by their challenging and/or interesting character) - schedule the final part of Your working day to be dedicated to this phase. In other words: deliberately break Your workflow at the point which is clearly exciting for You - and it will definitely be casting a nice shadow on Your upcoming day :) .

my inspiration for this mind hack was a Lifehacker article, which quotes Daniel Pink - “the bestselling author of several books about business, productivity, and behavior, including the new When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”. Although the article regarded work, I think the rule is pretty universal and may be applied to other fields as well.

Back to Daniel - he states that we tend “to remember unfinished tasks better than finished ones”:

So if you’re writing something, stop midway through a sentence. (Ernest Hemingway used this trick.) Your mind will keep working on it. And when you return to the office the following morning, you’ll have instant momentum. This means you finish the workday on a high note - you’re in the middle of a productive task! - and you can jump right in the next day.
( the source )

“Hidden Magic”.

There were times, when - if You wanted to work on something - You just did it, being fully concentrated / devoured to the matter. Today, however, we are accustomed to quite of a different and peculiar situation, in which, whatever we do - we are constantly surrounded by “modern gnomes, goblins and the like” - in a form of omnipresent distractions. As a result - to make a long story short - we often don’t realize of our own true potential, which remains deeply hidden somewhere under multiple layers of digital life in our pocket.

Fortunately, there is also a bright side of our times: today, like never before, we have the opportunity to surprise ourselves through re-discovery of... “the hidden magic”.

Imagine Yourself working on something You usually work on a daily basis, something You care, something You like, or (I wish You that one) something You are passionate about. Think about Your typical business day: how does it look like? Recall as many details as You can.

Then, adjust Your visualization a little bit by answering those questions:

What would happen, if I’ll check e-mails at most once a day?

What would happen, if I’ll let myself to stay focused on my tasks without any ‘buzz’, however little? No calls, no chat/texting, no notifications - Just me and my True Potential, finally allowed to express itself fully.

What would happen, if I could focus on whatever I do (either at work or at home) - to a degree which hasn’t been available before?

How all of this could affect my days... or my Life?

Surprisingly, however, for me “the hidden magic” was not about how effective I could really be - but that I can really feel fine not checking e-mails so often. First time I encountered this idea when I’ve read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss:

I decide to stay overseas indefinitely for a final exam in automation and experimental living, limiting e-mail to one hour each Monday morning. As soon as I remove myself as a bottleneck, profits increase 40%.

How did he do that?

In my case, I use spam filters, autoresponders with FAQs, and automatic forwarding to out-sourcers to limit my e-mail obligation to 0-20 e-mail responses per week. It takes me 30 minutes per week because I used systems - elimination and automation - to make it so.

Those statements inspired and even enchanted me. After so long time of checking my inbox at least several times per day, it was kind of surprising that it is possible to do it once and feel good about it. Moreover: to feel even better, to feel a kind of a relief that I don’t need to maintain this e-mail thing so often in mind, that it will finely do to check it once and leave all the remaining “mind-space” available for any other thread which could engage me during the day. So it was a kind of a real and serious discovery :) .

Stay diversified.

There are several main sources of excitement which drive me most. Having multiple passions, however, You may find Yourself a little bit confused when it comes to choose what to do now. All those things are compelling and tempting: You choose one and instantaneously regret that You leave all the rest. It may even be that whatever You do, You have always thoughts surrounding Your mind: thoughts about other things You haven’t chosen, things which call You by their tempting, siren voice :) .

So, in order to handle this discomfort I prefer to “stay diversified”: whenever I’m about to engage in something, I recall what I’ve been doing recently - and then I choose something else. This way I not only gain a desired comfort of fulfilling each of my passion - but also some balance and variety in life. I rarely dive deeply into anything, but on the other hand I rarely just “scratch the surface”, too. Tim Ferriss, who I’ve mentioned before, wrote that:

There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day.

In my case, however, I would choose three or four objectives as often as only two - because I feel fine with it - and I pick out from such things which usually can be managed even in four-item set.

As another advice on how to choose Tim makes a good point:

If you are stuck trying to decide between multiple items that all seem crucial, as happens to all of us, look at each in turn and ask yourself, If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?

I ask myself that question in a little bit refined form: If this is one of the last things I accomplish in this lifetime, will I be satisfied? The reason I put it that way is that I tend to perceive my lifetime as a “big picture”, trying to make choices as optimized as I can, in terms of “the whole”. So I put strong emphasis on how I invest my time, energy and effort, with the aim of reaching optimized results. This way I also gain more satisfaction and inner peace: whenever I stop for a while, I can be pretty sure that I’ve done a good job, so I can feel content and peaceful both with myself and my creation. It isn’t so important how many things You achieve - what is important is how do those things really matter in terms of Your lifetime?

The power of feedback.

I personally often have the feeling that I know my projects to a high degree, that I am able to predict a great many of their implications, that I am able to see them in a number of ways which will surely be enough to consider, and so on. Fortunately, I haven’t blindly believed in all of that - instead I often requested other people for feedback, mostly for a curiosity (how the other being could perceive such a thing which is so close and well-known to me?). As a result, however, I’ve discovered that more times than not I receive something new - a new way of perceiving my “well-known” creation, with a handful of new insights and potentially good points here and there. It was enough for me to conclude that it is definitely a good practice to reach for feedback, or - to put it in different words - it is definitely a waste not to do that.

Exercise Your mind with Anki,

The ability of memorizing and remembering things seems to lie on the very base of Our effectiveness. Even if You use a to-do app with the habit of instantaneous writing down what comes to mind, it definitely still may come in handy, either regarding Your business - or private activities.

If You like to keep fit - You care about Your body being physically active one way or another, on a daily basis. Maybe You do some workouts, exercise, practice yoga, tai-chi, running, cycling, or hiking. In each case, by experiencing physical activity, Your body stays alive, “up and running”, maintaining and developing its vital force.

Similarly, I strongly believe, is in the case of Your mind - which also may undertake Your caring will and intent. As a result Your so-called mental abilities can be not only maintained on a decent level - but also developed to a higher and higher extent, making Your life easier (You might notice a positive change in memorizing things, learning skills, decision taking, and so on).

One good way to exercise Your mind and, therefore, to keep it fit - may be memorizing as such, practiced habitually. First, find something good to memorize - something which could be useful or even desired. Maybe You’d like to learn a foreign language - this is a great opportunity to memorize vocabulary. Or maybe You’d like to extend the current one (of Your native language) - You could also use this as a good opportunity to keep Your mind fit through memorizing knowledge on a daily basis.

The key thing is that You need to do it regularly in order to notice tangible effects. Note that regardless of what matter You choose to learn - there is always a core value to it: the learning itself, practiced habitually, may do for Your mind the same what physical exercises can do for Your body (if taken regularly).

So in this case You may fulfill two valuable aspects at once: learning something new and caring about Your mind’s efficiency.

To achieve this, I prefer to use Anki: an app both for Android and iOS, Windows, Mac OS and a couple of other platforms. Anki is a simple tool for memorizing knowledge - it is mostly used for learning languages, but it is also often harnessed to gain knowledge of other kinds (basically anything You would need to memorize). The key thing here is that the app itself works alongside Your mind, taking into consideration all its individual patterns. Through system of grades (rating buttons with the help of which You tell the program how well you were able to remember an item) ** Anki learns of Your mind**, tracks its memorizing abilities (regarding each single item of Your set - a so-called ‘deck’) and adjusts to it in a flexible, up-to-date manner. This way it is not just another plain tool for vocabulary repetitions, but an intelligent one - which tailors the learning to Your mind-memory patterns. As a result it can not only teach You things effectively, but it can do it in a surprisingly efficient way, probably noticeably quicker, if compared to other methods. All of that is possible thanks to that flexibility, which acts as a personal teacher (or trainer) rather than an universal one: with this app You can feel like having Your Own coach with whom You meet on a tête à tête basis - rather than like a pupil sitting in a class full of other students, with one teacher trying to handle a group of people. It’s easy to predict what may be more effective.

In case You are curious of this method explained in more details - visit this site.

Care about habits (if there is something worth to turn into it).

Previously I’ve addressed that You may turn memorizing into a habit and reap a glorious harvest in terms of Your mind’s fitness. Another thing are habits as such: if there is something in Your life which You find valuable, profitable, etc. - You may consider to turn it into a habit. What would happen (especially in the long run), if You could turn this or that particular activity into the one practiced regularly, maybe even on a daily basis? How it could affect Your life, how it could affect You Yourself - physical-, mental- or skill-wise?

If You’ve recognized some good candidates for being turned into habits, You may use an Android app called HabitHub , which seems to be pretty helpful in creating new habits. To make a long story short, it - again - acts like Your personal coach, allowing You to see an empowering visualization of Your new habits’ growth, and also rewarding You on reaching particular “check points” of their development, or just to tempt You with upcoming pleasures You’ll experience when the time is right ;) .

This article has been originally written sometime between 2018/2019 - later on I’ve discovered a much better app serving the same purpose: Loop Habit Tracker. You can find out why it is better in this post.

While there are apps supporting You in creating new habits, whatever they could be - as a curiosity I will tell You that there is yet another app - called [Meditation Assistant][10] - which is similar to a degree, but this time it is dedicated to one particular activity: meditation. Like the previous ones, Meditation Assistant lets You to preview how is it going to build Your meditation practice as a daily habit - but there is also an extra-thing to it: it allows You to share Your progress, each next step of Your habit’s growth, with other meditating people (!). It is amazing feeling when You tap on “Community” button and see who has just meditated. Of course, You Yourself may also contribute to this kind of a “guest book”, which to me resembles a club of people with common interests (here: meditation as such), from all over the world - available for You without a need to physically going anywhere.

A good example of the power of this concept is that it was the first time when something really made me to turn meditation into a habit (recently I’ve reached a month of habitual practice, and I’m still positive, encouraged and enthusiastic about it :) ). So, in case You are interested in meditation (improving Your inner peace, gaining the balance, refreshing Your Being, etc.) - the app is a definitely go :) .

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