During our ‘Deep Work’ Workshop, one of the participants mentioned that she found the FOREST app useful. I made a note of it. I was looking for an app that combines both the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ and also logging in my hourly focus pattern. Today, I downloaded the app and immediately started to like it.
Its best purpose is to let you stay away from your phone. This is a problem that plagues me. The solution? A simple visual trick. Everytime you commit to working for a certain time (say 20 minutes), a seed is planted when you start the clock. The seed will germinate and a sapling will emerge and will continue to grow as long as your phone is not touched. If you open up any other app, like your email or Facebook, the tree will die.
As a farmer, I hate to see a sapling or tree die. So, this works perfectly for me to continue to remain focused and to get away from my addiction of constantly peeking into my phone.
I conducted the ‘Deep Work Workshop’ for three main reasons.
1) I was looking for a good work productivity workshop that will help me work towards focused work. I found none. I decided to conduct one myself.
2) I’m no expert in productivity. So, what’s the best thing to do? Get together a passionate group of people who have the same desire as you in improving work productivity.
3) To use this workshop as a goal to read important books. In the last one week alone, I was able to cover four important books that I have always wanted to read but never got around to it.
DEEP WORK: Focused Success in a Distracted World. By Hal Elrod.
THE ONE THING: The Surprising Simple Truths Behind Extraordinary Results. By Gary Keller
THE MORNING MIRACLE: The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8AM.
GETTING THINGS DONE: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. By David Allen.
I covered all these books in the form of podcasts, audio books, book summaries and YouTube videos. And importantly took notes of key points that I found useful.
Now, its very easy for me to put all these points into a presentation and take a 3 hour lecture. I’ve been a professor for over a decade and this would come naturally. However, it would not have been productive. When reading all these books, I realized a very surprising truth. Almost all the authors’s suggestions for productivity are common sense. Its something that most of us already know. So, instead of treating this workshop like a lecture or seminar, I made this into a free-wheeling unconference powered by discussions. All the participants would collaboratively list down all the ideas for productivity. Trust me, we covered so many ideas and techniques that it would rival any book.
I did have a light structure in place for the workshop to make sure that we covered the important areas but the session was flexible enough to cover the areas that the participants found useful.
Three hours flew by so quickly. I loved how everyone were very involved. Everyone in the hall was a teacher where they taught what was important for them. We touched on our failures. We touched on the many distractions that plague us. We touched on the benefits that we will all get if we were very productive. We agreed on the things that we intend to correct going forward. Loved the collaborative learning.
The key thing now though is Execution.It all boils down to this. Putting things into action what we learned is critical.
I intend to play the role of the catalyst and organize more such ‘Learning and Sharing Workshops’. If you are interested in attending these, do shoot me an email at Kiruba@Kiruba.com.
An important lesson I’ve learned is that reading a book only makes sense if you can put the learnings into action.
Earlier I would focus on finishing a book. (which I admit is a task in itself). Once I finish a book, a sense of relief comes over. I take a few days break before I start reading another book. What use is the book if you don’t become better than when you started it.
I’ve started to do the following activities that has made my book reading endeavor a lot more useful and worthwhile.
1) I do a lot of research before I chose a book to read. The subject must catch my interest and it should be related to a larger goal am working towards to. For example, right now, am very interested in improving my productivity. A key part is to learn to focus and that’s why I found the book, ‘Deep Work’ very apt.
2) Before reading the book, I watch a few YouTube videos of the book and interviews with the author.
3) I listen to podcast interviews with the author. Watching the YouTube videos and listening to the podcasts gives me an excellent overview of the book.
4) Next, I read the condensed version of the book on Blinkist. I have subscribed to the Pro version and this lets me read and listen to the synopsis of the book.
5) Then I download the audio book on Audible (again, subscribed to the annual package). Audio books have been a game changer for me. I have an impressive completion rate of all the studio books. I still suck at reading physical books and have almost completely stopped buying them. I now swear by Audio Books.
6) I listen to audio books during two occasions. a) During my early morning walks. I walk for an hour and listen to audio books. 2) While traveling in my car or in a cab. Also during flights. I have started the habit of taking notes as I listen to the audio books. I carry a small notebook where I scribble down important points.
7) Once back home from my walk , I expand on those important points and publish the key learnings on my blog. This has helped me revive my long dormant blog.
8) I’m also conducting a workshop on the subject of the book. For example, this Saturday, October 15th, am conducting a 3 hour intensive, interactive workshop on the subject of ‘Deep Work’ and how to use focused concentration to improve productivity. I’m a firm believer that teaching is the best form of learning. 14 years of being a professor has ingrained this view in me deeply.
9) Because I need to conduct a workshop, this gives me the impetus to thoroughly prepare. This motivates me to listen to the audio book for the second time, take notes, create a presentation etc. This helps me to internalize the learnings.
10) Finally, I’ve begun to slowly but surely put the learnings into practice in my daily life. For example, I’ve allocated undisturbed time to blog about the points I’ve learned from the podcast. This very blog post you are reading now is testimony to it. If I can keep up at it daily for a month, it will become a regular habit and I don’t have to put any conscious effort.
Continuous improvement is something I’ve begun to enjoy. This is a work in progress and I’ll continue to share the best practices and important tips which I hope you find it useful too. Have a great, productive day!
This is a continuation of my habit of jotting down key learning from the podcasts I listen to everyday. Today, my fitness band says that I walked 9kms for 1 hour and 53 minutes. This also means that I listened to that much duration of the audio book. That’s a good one fourth of the book, ‘Deep Work’ that I’m listening to.
I carry a piece of paper and a pen during my walk and jot down the points that I find useful. Here is a synopsis of those important points.
Schedule Blocks of Time for Different Work: What Cal Newport suggests is to pre-schedule important work into your calendar. You can do this by blocking off time for important activities. For example, every day I walk in the morning while listening to an audio book. By blocking the time between 6am to 8am, I ensure that this time is only allocated for exercise and audio books. Should any other task come my way, I will ensure they don’t happen in this preset time. This ensures continuity of my daily exercise. Another example could be that I schedule everyday between 12 noon to 1 pm for new business proposals. Then I ensure that no meetings or conference calls happens during this time. This ensures that I churn out new business proposals every day which is crucial for generating new business.
Rinse and Repeat: This type of scheduling is particularly useful for pursuing large or complicated tasks. By allocating a set time every day, you make sure that you can chip away and make daily progress towards the end goal. A good example is my reading habit. While I buy lots of books, I really suck at reading. Especially, big books like the ‘Deep Work’ which is over 70,000 words. However, since I integrated listening to this audio book as part of my daily walking routine, I was able to finish listening to the entire book within 6 days.
Decide Your Schedule in Advance: Cal Newport suggests that blocking time off for certain tasks should be done well in advance. Even better if its done on a regular basis so that you follow a rhythmic pattern and over a period of time, it becomes a habit. By imbibing this practice and making it a habit, you no longer need to exert any extra effort to get it done. It becomes second nature to you.
Trust Your Structure: Once you decided on your schedule, just trust it. Don’t question it and just follow the structure. Initially, this would be uncomfortable and it’s important to anticipate that discomfort. This way, you don’t get put off. It’s also important to be flexible. You don’t necessarily have to follow the schedule strictly. Make small leeway and keep making small adjustments so that you feel comfortable following your schedule.
Reduce Shallow Tasks: A shallow task is something that does not add much value to your overall goal. For example, checking your Facebook often, constant messaging on WhatsApp or binge watching YouTube without an objective are all things that you can slowly reduce. You don’t have to cut it out completely. But be conscious of where your time is going and slowly but surely reduce those time-wasters. The best way to do that is by tracking where you spend your time daily.
Reduce Travel & Time Wasting Commitments: Don’t let others control your time. Feel free to say no to any requests that take your time. Be polite but firm. Travel can be a huge time sink. Think of the opportunity cost. Accept it only if you can greatly benefit. If not, politely refuse.
Set a Senders Filter for Emails: All of us spend an inordinate time on email. Cal Newport suggests to put a ‘Senders Filter’ which puts the onus on the sender. The idea is that you set the expectations well in advance to the sender. Will write a more detailed blog post on this interesting topic tomorrow.
Currently am listening to Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. This is part of my effort to practise concentration in my work and to get lots done.
Some of the important points that I learned today are the following.
1) Deliberate Practice Theory: We now know that repeated practice makes us good at what we do. But equally important is the quality of training in addition to the quantity of training. Practising with full concentration helps one master their art or craft quicker.
2) The Zeigarnik Effect: The good news is that our brain is wired to finish the tasks that we intend to complete. Large tasks will ofcourse take multiple days or weeks to finish. Subconsciously, our brain will remember these incomplete tasks that will motivate us to inch towards the finish line. This is the Zeigarnik Effect.
3) The Theodore Roosevelt Paradox: The American President, when he was a youngster, was known to have multiple interests. He would pursue his various passions, particularly ornithology (study of birds). All this meant that he was only able to spend a quarter of his time for studies. Yet, he performed very well in studies. This shows that having a deep interest in one subject has a positive rub off in other areas and that deep concentration will help you accomplish the task at a much lesser time.
4) Productive Meditation: Walking is considered a good form of productive Meditation. It helps you focus on areas that you want to. I can vouch for this. I now listen to audio books and podcasts while I walk and I find it an efficient way of “reading”. I get some of my best ideas while walking, maybe only next to while I’m showering!
So, here is the summary of the lessons I learned during today’s walk and listening to the book, ‘Deep Work’. I’ll continue to add in more lessons I found useful in tomorrow’s blog post as I continue listening to the audio book.