Note: There’s now an app for this!
If there’s anything I’ve been jealous about people who live more traditional lives it’s their sense of structure. Actually, I don’t think jealous is the right word because I wouldn’t trade places.
But I think this is why entrepreneurs, freelancers, and artists are obsessed with goal setting and list making. It provides the sense of structure that we wouldn’t otherwise have. With nobody telling us what to do we have to tell ourselves.
For about 12 years now I haven’t had a real sense of structure. I’d go sleep whenever, wake up whenever (usually 7-9 hours after falling asleep), write down a list of things to do (either morning of or night before) and go at it (or sometimes ignore it completely). This list would usually include simple tasks like shopping or cleaning. Often, the idea of making a big list would be so overwhelming I wouldn’t bother.
I’ve been experimenting with less lists. Smaller lists. Different structure.
For example, I already know I have to buy food or I can’t eat so listing “go to the store” is somewhat redundant. I still do what I’ve done for about 7 years as far as shopping lists though: when I think of something I need to buy I put it on a list. Recently, I “outsourced” this. I buy a few things quite regularly from a small health food store (Świnki Trzy!) and asked them if I could place a standing order and pick it up once per week. This eliminates writing down what I need and takes care of that aspect of shopping. Note: I could probably also get it delivered somehow and completely eliminate this task, but being that I work from home I appreciate the 20 minute roundtrip walk to pick up groceries.
And if something needs cleaning I clean it. It doesn’t need to go on any lists if it just gets done. I’ve eliminated chores from these lists.
Cluttered lists don’t do us any favors.
Long lists lull us into a false sense of accomplishment when we check off chores and small everyday tasks. I’ve also realized that trying to force myself into a structure that doesn’t work for me (e.g. going to sleep early, waking up early) stresses me out. I’ve always enjoyed the dead quiet of night for my work time and when I try to, for example, get important work done during the day at home where it’s often loud (neighbors, construction, phone) or in a coffee shop (“fucking espresso machine!”) I get anxious and unfocused.
Instead of trying to force traditional structure I’ve been changing focus.
One Thing Productivity
I’ve been focusing on one goal per day – or what I’ve been calling my One Thing. Some days this might be as simple as “write 2 pages for a book.” Some days it might be “figure out xCode compiling errors.” And sometimes it’s something like, “learn to play 2 new bars of Doc Watson’s Deep River Blues.” Sometimes my One Thing only takes an hour or so, sometimes it takes a few hours (xCode compiling errors!) and sometimes it can take most of the day.
It’s not to say I won’t do anything beyond my One Thing. But One Thing is most important.
My criteria for my One Thing is that it must make a step towards improving myself or my business acumen. (Sometimes these are one and the same.) If I’m working on a big project I can break down the smaller pieces into One Thing each (like the fingerstyle blues, for example).
This One Thing productivity method is essentially a hybrid of Leo Babauta’s “No Goals” (complete lack of structure doesn’t work for me) and traditional goal setting (gets far too muddled and overwhelming to be effective).
At the end of the day if I accomplish my One Thing I can think to myself: “Karol, you’ve improved today. You rock.” The nice thing is the barometer is your own. You don’t have to look at what other people are working on and compare yourself to that. It’s easy to get into that loop and lose sense of self and reality.
Jimmy Valvano once said to have a “heck of a day” you have to laugh, think, and cry. I like that list, but would add just one thing (!) to it: improve.
Note: There’s now an app for this!