Hey there, Dean here. I run content and SEO at AppSumo. Here, I write and share about productivity, leadership, money, psychology, marketing, and more.
How to Be a Productivity Ninja is a book packed with a good combination of high-level concepts, psychological mental frameworks, and street-level strategies and tactics. The author argues that instead of managing your time, manage your attention. And he moves on to lay out the entire process to achieve that.
According to the author, the entire aim of this book is to encourage you to think more about your own productivity behaviors so that you can improve these habits to a point where you rarely to have to think about your productivity ever again.
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing. — Thomas Edison
Skillful attention management is the new key to productivity, and how well you protect and use your attention determines your success. There are some mortal enemies standing in your way, though: stress, procrastination, interruptions, distractions, low-value commitments, annoying work practices – and you need to learn to overcome these obstacles to focus on what really matters.
Your attention is more limited than your time. Attention is your currency. Time might be spent, but attention still needs to be paid. Look after this currency as it’s the most valuable currency in the world.
Time + The right attention and focus = Done
Great decision-making comes from the ability to create the time and space to think rationally and intelligently about the issue at hand. Decisions made during periods of panic are likely to be the ones we want to forget about.
One of the worst things you can do is always make yourself available. It’s an invitation to some of your biggest enemies: distraction and interruption. Keep out of the limelight until you’ve got something you need others to hears. Be a little bit elusive, a bit mysterious and even, if you have to, aloof. Protect your attention to ensure it’s spent on what you decide to spend it on, not what others hijack it for.
Be willing to question everything. It’s important to be on constant lookout for every opportunity to take advantage of progress and innovation and do things more easily because the chances are, a lot of the people around you stopped doing that long ago. We must avoid getting stuck in a rut and doing things less efficiently than we could, at all costs.
Our minds are the most important tool. Being emotionally intelligent and self-aware are important for so many reasons, not least because they equip you to take action.
Zen-like calm in the heat of the battle is only possible if you’re well prepared. Agility is only possible if you’re starting from a position of being prepared and ready to react immediately, producing the right response. And you’re only ready to be ruthless if you’ve got the energy. Being prepared is about practical preparation as well as mental preparation.
In any knowledge work job, you’re really playing two different roles at once: you’re simultaneously the boss and the worker. You’re responsible for deciding what your work is (boss mode), doing the work (worker mode), and dealing with new information inputs (worker mode) and reacting to them to decide whether to change your priorities as a result (boss mode).
Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of the commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. — Paul J. Meyer
Your goal in managing your attention is to create playful momentum and control, limiting stress, and being confident that you’re doing the best work you can possibly do.
Schedule your work based on your attention level.
Proactive attention: Key decisions, project planning and review, phone calls (if you hate them), critical emails, chairing meetings, creative thinking, etc.
Active attention: Day-to-day decisions, schedule the day’s work or keeping on top of action lists, Internet research, email processing, attending meetings, etc.
Inactive attention: Filing, ordering stationary or other online purchases, printing stuff out, deleting emails, making coffee.
Our best thinking — and the kind of thinking we need to keep us feeling calm and in control — comes from having two things in alignment. We need to be in periods of our most proactive attention and we need to apply concentration to see that thinking through to its natural end. If we get distracted by something else, all that’s happened is that we’ve done some thinking that we can’t feel confident is finished; therefore, there’s potential stress around the next corner because things aren’t clear.
The mindset you need to keep your inbox at zero: 1. Your inbox is just a place where emails land, 2. Don’t let your inbox nag you all day, 3. Don’t check your emails, process your emails.
In the course of our work, information inputs flow through four different phases of work, best remembered by the acronym, CORD: Capture and Collect, Organize, Review, Do.
Not enough Capture and Collect leads to feeling overwhelmed as new information inputs arrive and are not dealt with, feeling uncertain about what you should be doing and feeling stressed that you might be missing things.
Not enough Organize leads to a lack of clarity about how long things might take, which tasks are the highest priority and an unrealistic impression of what’s really on your plate.
Not enough Review leads to feeling unsure that you’re on top of your work, an inability to put things in perspective, a level of constant stress that leads you to inefficiency, a constant sense of panic and a reactive rather proactive style of working.
Not enough Do leads to work piling up not done! There are times when we’re resisting the actual doing in favor of more organizing or tinkering. This might otherwise be labeled “procrastination” and it’s crippling if it sets in.
Use the CORD model and the Organize and Review habits in particular here to develop a “second brain”. Your second brain is designed to replace your real brain when it comes to memory. Your second is also designed to support good decision-making.
Agility comes from being able to Capture and Collect ideas as they arrive, keeping your mind focused on the task at hand. You also achieve Zen-like clam as a consequence of clear thinking. Everything is out of your mind and stored inside a second brain you can trust to deal with it.
The primary aim of the Organize phase is to ensure that our worker-self is prepared and that we’re clear and confident on what we’re committed to.
A standard to-do list just isn’t enough to give us the agility to manage various levels of complexity we encounter in our knowledge work. Instead, we need three different levels of the list: Projects list, Master actions list, Daily to-do list.
To make knowledge productive, we will have to learn to see both forest and tree. We will have to learn to connect. — Peter Ducker
Create two checklists to provide the structure and consistency to aid your Review habit: Daily and Weekly. These checklists are NOT to-do lists. They are simply the lists of the consistent thinking or behaviors that make up your Daily or Weekly review time
Checklists bring consistency to the process.
The weekly checklist is a concentrated thinking period of somewhere between an hour and two hours a week to ensure that your master actions list is up to date and keep you familiar with what’s on the list for the week ahead.
The daily checklist is a very short piece of concentrated thinking — around five minutes — that sets you up for the day. It’s also the moment for you to make your daily to-do list, by looking through your master actions list and picking out the actions that you’re going to work for that day.
Having already done the hard parts of the thinking, the decisions that follow are really more tactical than strategic. You already have clarity over what to do; your job is just to decide the order in which you’ll do the various tasks on your daily to-do list, and schedule each one appropriately to your time, attention, and sense of impact.
A simple project is like a good story: It has a beginning, middle, and end. The five-milestone model of projects is all you ever really need: Establishment, Underway, Mid-way, Completion, and Celebration.
If you ever need to hold a meeting and you want to make it a success, use the 40-20-40 Continuum: focus 40% of your attention for each meeting on preparation and getting everything right before you meet, then 20% of your attention on the meeting itself — the time you’re all together — and then spend 40% of your attention on the follow through.
Resistance is simplistic and has just a few core emotions. But never underestimate its force, creativity, and deviousness. It can manifest itself into many different forms. Often, many of these forms hit straight to the heart of our proactive attention and distract us with powerful emotions and ingrained habits. Recognizing resistance is the vital first stage. Once you recognize anything resembling resistance, the battle begins.
There are really two ways to deal with resistance at any given moment: 1. Find a way of ignoring it or silencing it or 2. Cheat it so you don’t notice it.
Avoid perfection at all costs as it can seriously stifle positive momentum. Perfection is generally a pointless waste of time. The last moments spent on something are rarely the best ones. Once your best and most productive time is spent, it’s time to move on before perfectionism takes its grip.
Remember Pareto’s Law of 80-20 and from it, the idea that 20% of what you do creates 80% of the impact.
Sometimes we confuse care with perfection. “Perfect” service in a restaurant isn’t actually perfect, it’s just done with such noticeable care. Care is to be celebrated. If someone knows you truly care about the outcome of what you’re doing, they’ll forgive imperfection. Ship like you care, don’t wait to make it perfect.