Over the last two years, I’ve gradually embraced a series of concepts that have simplified my life and made me happier and less stressed. This is my recipe for minimalism. I feel it important to mention that implementing any single one of these will make you more deliberate and mindful, but I found that implementing one on its own would eventually lead to me getting stressed again.
inbox zero (GTD)
Inbox zero is about having nothing in my email or physical inboxes. My inboxes are where things come in, but not where they stay. Once they’re in, they go in the bin or onto a list where I’ll pick it up later. You can do Inbox Zero without being a minimalist, and you can be a minimalist without practicing Inbox Zero. What I’m finding at the moment is that it’s easier to get back to Inbox Zero if not much comes in, so the unsubscribe feature comes in very useful, and in fact this week I am hitting unsubscribe on almost all emails I get and I’m going back to the start on email. This is especially useful now I’m slowly retraining my mind to want less stuff.
I break my tasks down into lists, then I have a list for each context. Call Bob goes onto your phone list. Buy new phone goes onto your errands list. Email Sarah goes onto your email list. These are pretty obvious, but my favourites are the R&D list (which basically means Google), think about list (self-explanatory) and the waiting for list (things I am waiting for). GTD puts an @ before all these lists so they become @calls, @email, @errands.
Batch Processing / Automatise
Once I’ve broken things down into contexts, I batch them up into tasks to do when I’m in those contexts. Now here’s where I deviate a bit from GTD. GTD has a 2 minute rule: if a task comes up that will take you less than two minutes, then do it now. I don’t do that any more, as I find that two minute tasks are basically distractions in disguise. If something takes two minutes, then I will batch that task up with other two minute tasks so that it doesn’t break up my concentration if I’m doing something that requires deeper thinking.
The other way I apply this is with things that need to happen “once a…”. I have a list for things that need to happen once a week, once a month, and so on.
Certain tasks require me to set some time aside for it. This is best done in your calendar, especially if others can see your calendar. If I have blocked out time, people are less likely to steal it.
Self Imposed Deadlines / Timer
I have found this to be perhaps the most important habit for getting things done: I give myself an amount of time to finish a task. Without a deadline, I’m more likely to try to perfect rather than finish. This means I’m more likely to procrastinate. I also like to have a timer nearby to keep track of the time I’m using. Time is the one true non renewable resource: once it’s gone it’s not coming back.
However I still struggle with this, I am naturally quite laid back so this is a work in progress.
I am terrible for having Outlook open at the same time I’m doing something more important, then when I get an email, I’ll deal with that before getting back to my task. Neuroscientists have now shown that this is terribly taxing on the brain, and we actually get less done this way than if we batch these tasks up, which I is what I do now. If I’m working on something on the computer, my email program stays closed. At the moment (Apr ’16), I open email once an hour, on the hour. Email gets processed, then closed down again. I’ll write further on email in another post, another day, as it’s a big enough topic to require its own blogpost.
Remember back in contexts when I said email Bob and call Sarah? Some of you may think that this is an excellent opportunity to multi task: get on the phone and while talking to Bob you can email Sarah. Well that works only as long as you’re on hold. Multi tasking means that you will do both tasks with only minimal focus. We’ve all been in meetings where you are presenting and someone is either looking at their phone or their mobile; you know that your message is not going to get across. Be present with what you need to be present with: if that’s the meeting then it’s the meeting, if it’s the email then get out of the meeting room.
Single task is also about creating space to do what Cal Newport calls “deep work”. If you’re constantly multi-tasking, how do you expect to get anything of substance done?
capture habit (GTD)
I use the capture habit to get things off my mind as soon as they appear. At the moment I am trying an app called Wunderlist which I am finding really useful. I also have a little notebook. With a pencil attached in my Amazon wishlist, and I’ll let you know how I get on with that later.
Pareto Principle (Eat That Frog)
The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule, and I try to apply it where I can. I’ve applied it most to deciding on my three most important tasks for the day for the day, and also on how I process email. I’ll explain the email elsewhere then link forward to it.
Disappear (How To Be a Productivity Ninja)
One of my favourite things to do at the moment is get to the office at 7am. The traffic is non existent and no one gets to the office for at least 45 minutes. This gives me time to plan my day and get my main tasks written down without distraction. I’m out by 16:30 which is nice as well. It does mean I’ve started to wake up at 5:00, but I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of the morning and watching the sunrise. I’m also back to drinking espressos, the simplicity of which had escaped me briefly. The book recommends even more serious tactics to save oneself from distraction: work from home or a coffee shop, find a quiet meeting room no one is using. I don’t need that level of ninja skill yet.
Not sure what I will publish next, as I have a lot of ideas, but my idea is to publish every Friday at 19:30 local time, which is BST at the moment.