One of the first things you realize when you start working for yourself is how much time you spend on distractions. Every time I check Facebook, read a blog post or watch a YouTube video is time i’m not working for my clients or building my own sites. There’s a real tangible loss of value to getting distracted that I feel now as compared to when I had a traditional job.
The second thing you realize is that you can work in your pajamas and spend the afternoon watching The Wire as long as you get your work done at some point.
I’ve always battled with procrastination to some degree and that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time recently learning about how I can increase my productivity and focus. I know I have the mental acuity and skills for the job I’m doing so it really comes down to creating an environment where I can execute and create success in a timely fashion.
I recently completed Steven Pressfield’s fantastic book The War of Art in which he breaks down how to overcome obstacles in order to complete your work. He terms everything holding us back from creating value and doing our job “resistance”.
STOP: Take a second to think about resistance in your own life. What distractions hold you back? What were the conditions like on the days you were the most productive?
I used to have days where it felt like I couldn’t get much of anything done. I couldn’t figure out why some days I would kill it and others I’d be treading water.
After paying closer attention, I realized the days I couldn’t seem to get in a rhythm or focus were those with the most built in distraction. For me that was client calls and meetings that broke up my day so I’d have one hour to work and then would have to run to a call or a training. When I got back I’d try and refocus but only had 30 minutes until my next meeting.
Conversely, the days where I could accomplish the most was when I had a 4 or 5 hour block of time with nothing on my schedule. On those days, I cleared the pathway to beat resistance without even realizing it.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says one of the ways to get ready to combat “resistance” is to have a daily preparation routine. To me it’s the equivalent of getting ready to go into battle and giving it everything you have to deliver your best effort while overcoming all the distractions you face on a daily basis.
I’ve been experimenting with my own routine and have found that I am significantly more productive when I follow it.
Once I wake up and shave, shower, etc. I set my coffee to brew. Then I head out and go for a 20 to 30 minute walk. The fresh air helps clear my mind. For the first 15 minutes I think about what I want to accomplish that day and then that week. As I get to the last 5 minutes of my walk I switch to a more intense focus.
I start preparing myself for the battle ahead. I’m competitive and when I sit down to do my work I want to feel like i’m breathing fire. I repeat some lines I won’t share here but think of Vikings or Spartans preparing for battle and you’ll get the gist. I focus on my breathing and get to a point where I’m excited for the challenge ahead.
“Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” – Steven Pressfield
When I get back, I prepare my coffee and a big glass of water and head to my desk. I set RescueTime to 90 minutes of “get focused” mode to help block out distractions.
I quickly hit Spotify to turn on some loud Rock N’ Roll and then I’m off.
My biggest and most complicated task of the day is first. When I can help it, email is turned off and it’s just me and my work.
Every time my mind tries to wander and I bring it back is a small victory. Sometimes resistance tries to pull me away and derail my progress full stop.
When I overcome it though, something happens.
I get into a flow state, I’m fully immersed and I can’t be stopped. Time ticks away and I don’t notice. When this happens my productivity is at its peak.
On my best days i’ll accomplish as much in 2.5 to 3 hours as I will in other entire days. When I emerge from this state and need a break I often review my work and find it’s some of the best I’ve done.
I don’t get there every day but I recognize the potential and that it’s worth striving for.