How To Rule Your Mind

rule your mind or it will rule you

“Rule your mind, ” warned Horace, “or it will rule you.” I’ve had days when finding my sweet spot at work sometimes felt like I was tuning into all the wrong stations on an old radio. Despite my best efforts at intelligent planning and focused effort, things began to fall apart. I’ve had days when my to-do list mocked me with a curled lip.  If I were in a boxing ring, I would be looking up at a referee who was doing a countdown. By the end of the work day, I felt I hadn’t accomplished much.

I wondered if there was a way to get the Midas touch? What could I do to achieve continuous and never-ending improvement? How could I bring back the magic?

But, although the idea seemed as elusive as an Arthurian knight’s quest for the Holy Grail,  I did some research and found 7 steps to being productive.

Here are the 7 steps I came up with that you can use for becoming highly productive…

Step #1:  Work with your biorhythms

What would happen if you did your best work when you were feeling bright and bushy-tailed?

You would improve your results dramatically.

Some people are morning people, others are night people.  It takes me a long time to get going in the morning, then by the evening I’m ready to go and work late into the night.  My best friend gets up early in the morning and begins to fade away in the evening, going to bed by 9 p.m.

So do your low priority work at your low-energy times and your high priority work when your energy is peaking.

Step #2: Avoid time traps

You are tested each day, Luke Skywalker.

Some mysterious force seeks to ambush and distract you.

When the phone rings, the conversation lasts more than the five minutes you had planned to handle it.

When a sudden meeting is called, it leads to endless wrangling and confusion.

When you turn on the chess game on your computer to warm up your mind, it takes it over completely.

When you look over your email, one message requires a detailed response from you.

Finally, by the end of the day, you discover that another day has slipped away.   Time traps are like a thief in the night.

Step #3:  Make a to-do list

As soon as you sit at your desk, create a to-do list.

After that you can trust yourself to go online or make that phone call.

Without a to-do list, you will fall from grace.

Without a to-do list, your day will go faster than a bullet train pulling out of a station.

Ideally, you should allocate time limits for each task.  Ideally, you should prioritize your list.  But, even if you scribble some ideas on the back of an envelope, you will be on the same field as the champions.

Step #4:  Give yourself a break

Although you may enjoy the brisk pace of doing one task after another, sooner or later, you will burn out.

This, to be blunt, is not good.

When you’re burned out, you’ll drag yourself through the rest of the day, perform well below par, make careless mistakes, and quit early.  Worse, you’ll feel bad about yourself.

It’s much smarter to take five to ten minute breaks after every task or after every hour.

Step #5: Never visit social media without a stopwatch

Sure, you don’t really have to use a stop watch, but you get the point.

Social media is designed to distract you.

Yes, it’s valuable.  It does refresh your mind and lift your spirits.  It does build your business.

Still, if you use social media like most people, it’s your nemesis.

Think I’m making a big deal of it?

Here are some numbers about social media in the US to give you reason to pause:

  • Social media users collectively spend 12.2 billion hours a day
  • Each social media user in the costs his or her company $4,452 a year.
  •  All the social media users combined cost the economy $650 billion a year.

If you run your own business, imagine how much money you would be making if you were to cap the time you spend on social media each day.

If you work for someone else, imagine how much faster you will make a positive impression in your company and earn a pay raise if you stepped up your productivity.

Step #6:  Rethink your leisure activities

While productivity at work will improve your finances, productivity after work will improve your mind, body, and spirit.

Too much leisure in your leisure time is counterproductive.  Instead of getting refreshed, you’ll begin to stagnate.

Here are five ways people might fritter away their leisure time (as well as some of their work time):

  • They watch some forgettable show on television.
  • They engage in long telephone conversations.
  • They do chores slowly and inefficiently.
  • They wander around aimlessly.
  • They try to fix things that aren’t broken.

Now, indulge me for a moment–imagine if you were to cut down each of these activities by half and used the remaining time to do these five things instead:

  • Read a good book.
  • Write a good book.
  • Take an online course.
  • Practice yoga, lift weights, or go for a hike.
  • Spend quality time with your family.

Theoretically, many people could earn a Ph.D. in the amount of spare time they waste during your leisure activities.

The purpose of leisure time is to snatch time away from the jaws of work and rejuvenate your sense of well-being.  I get it.  But, just because you have leisure time does not mean you should waste it on things of little consequence.

Step #7: Seek help when you need it

While you may be capable of running an entire business on your own, you may simply not have enough time in the day to do it all.

Or perhaps, you’re missing some essential piece of wisdom on how to do something.  You would benefit from delegating or outsourcing the work.

So ask for help.

That’s one task less for you to do. 

What Else Can You Do to Be More Productive?

These 7 steps will create a basic foundation for productive living.  But I found that there were a few other things that worked well, too:

1.  Be a goal-setter

Think of goals as your to-do list for your life.  If you set goals, it will give structure to your life.  Goal setting consists of 5 elements:

  • Decide what you want.
  • Set a date when you want to get it.
  • Plan the activities and list the resources you need to accomplish your goal.
  • Keep track of how you’re doing with sub-goals and review statements.
  • Rinse and repeat after you’ve achieved your goal.

2.  Designate time for daily routines

Decide how long you should take to spend on email, social media, exercise, and so on.  When you designate time slots, you stop wasting time on low-result tasks.  This gives you more time to focus on life-changing tasks.

3.  Reward yourself for work accomplished

Ultimately, you are your own life-coach.  While the stern self-parenting approach has some advantages, love and appreciation for yourself can also move you along quite nicely.  Rewards vary, of course, based on your temperament, but they are an important way to mark progress and nurture your inner child.

4.  Resolve confusion with a brain-dump

While it’s much easier to be productive when you know what to do, there are times when you lose track of the plot.

When this happens, do a brain-dump.

While there are many ways to do this, I’ll share what works for me:

I go to the public library because it gives me a change of scene, find a desk near the window, and pull out my college-ruled notebook from my bag.  Then I do cluster mapping, a process where I write out all my ideas and their relationship to each other.  This is similar to mind mapping, but less structured.  After I have filled up a page with every idea that is bothering me, I then write a brief paragraph about each topic.  Chaos resolves into order, and I end up with a whole new approach to niggling problems.

5.  Batch similar tasks together

I’m not sure why this works, but it does.

Simply do all your phone calls, all your reading, all your writing, all your emailing, and so on in distinct time units.  You can also batch tasks together based on projects rather than activities.  The mind likes order and predictability, which comes from batching things together.

Incidentally, the antithesis to batching things together is multi-tasking.  Over a sufficient period of time, you become increasing discombobulated, puzzled, mystified, befuddled, and exhausted.


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