Thursday, September 3, 2020

Do productivity and pandemic go together?

I considered starting this fall's blog reboot with ideas about how to weather the pandemic. And the myriad other "troubles" of the day.

But I decided to pass. I wasn't sure I could add anything to the excellent articles I have been reading on this topic.

So I decided to stick with what I know: sharing techniques you can use to improve your productivity. And my aim, for now, is to focus on simple methods with short learning curves that you can use immediately.

So far, these include making a daily MIT list, using a Done List, and starting a journaling practice

And there are more to come!

But this week I feel the need to make sure you have access to some of those excellent articles I mentioned.

Because, well, you are very busy doing what you do and you may not have seen them.

So here I offer "best posts I have read about living and working during the pandemic."

I picked posts that are relevant to "being productive," and grouped them by 3 big messages.

You are not supposed to be "taking this all in stride."

You may be dealing with grief, anger, frustration, anxiety, and fear for the future, or all these at once.

These feelings need to be acknowledged, and there are things you can do to help get through.

Tara Haelle, a science journalist, enumerates these feelings in "Our Brains Struggle to Process This Much Stress."

Aisha Ahmad, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about "Productivity and Happiness Under Sustained Disaster Conditions."

Cut back on the news, opinion pieces, and social media.

For myself, I have taken to skimming the headlines and then moving directly to the food section of the daily papers...

Cal Newport, computer science professor and productivity icon, suggests how to cut back in "Give your Brain Some Breathing Room."

"Go small."

Focus on what is important right now, and not so much on long term goals. 

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile recommends celebrating every accomplishment, no matter how small. 

Kerry Ann Rockquemore, the founder of The National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, describes how to make a short term writing plan in "Let's Get Ready for Summer Writing." (I know it's about "summer academic writing," but the advice works for any type of project work any time of the year.)

Finally, the Harvard Business Review has compiled its COVID-related blog posts here (and made them free for all).

I hope you find some ideas that help.

I'll be back soon with a riveting look at how to create MIT's that you can't resist doing!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Journal! Who, me?

I have read, avoided reading, saved, and deleted countless articles on why and how to do regular personal journaling.

But, despite promises of more happiness, creativity, productivity, and becoming a better person, I could not get myself to try it.

The sources of my resistance: 
  • The recommendation to do it every day - yikes! Except for brushing my teeth, not my strength.
  • I already have writer's block (the evidence: 25 blog posts since 2011). Why would I want to have yet one more type of writing to avoid?
  • Directives to use a particular format or write about particular topics. I don't like being told how to do things. I prefer bespoke productivity tools, even if I end up creating something that looks very much like a method I rejected.
  • And of course, how would I find the time...

Then about a month ago, out out of the blue, I started to journal most days. I liked it.  I'm here to tell you how I am doing it so you can try it too.

Now that I'm doing it, I get it. The promised benefits are showing up.

Made up sample journal entry.

If you are interested, this the way I started :

(You can do this at any time of the day. I do find that morning works best for me.)

  1. Find a piece of paper. Although for this idea you probably want to save the paper, so a bound notebook would be good. (Or a digital app - I use Evernote.)
  2. Put the date at the top of the page. Maybe the time as well.
  3. Write at least one sentence, about anything that comes to mind.
  4. Stop or keep writing, whichever seems right at that moment.
  5. Do it again later that day (on the same page) or tomorrow or whenever the fancy strikes (on a new page).
I intentionally did not include advice about what you should journal about. 

Instead, I use a "no topic rules" approach:  Whatever pops into my head gets recorded. If I stick with it for another minute or two, inevitably more ideas emerge.

These are the categories that often show up, and the "results" that I often get:
  • Thoughts about a problem I am dealing with; sometimes solutions emerge.
  • Ideas for something I am writing.
  • The progress I am, or am not, making on a project or goal which usually is followed by ideas about how to move forward.
  • Frustrations about the state of the world.
  • Experiences for which I am grateful and things that are going well.
  • A plan for dinner.
If you want to read more about journaling, try these:
  • Julia Cameron's The Artists Way. Originally published in 1992, Cameron's method set the standard for personal journaling.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Not getting anything important done? Try an MIT list.

The problem.

At the end of the day, do you sometimes find you did not work on any of your top priorities?  

This used to happen to me all the time until I started creating a daily Most Important Tasks (MIT) list.

People sometimes think that if they know what work is a high priority, they will automatically turn to those tasks first. 

And while that sometimes does happen, at least two realities can get in the way.
  • Our memory is not good at remembering or prioritizing tasks.
  • The combination of routine work and new urgent work can easily soak up all our available time. 
We can overcome these realities by choosing our priority tasks in advance, writing them down, and then aggressively "shoehorning" them among those other tasks.

The MIT list.

A Most Important Task (MIT) list is a place to record your top priority tasks for the day.

To implement: 
  1. Find a piece of paper.
  2. Pick your 3 highest priority tasks for the day and list them in priority order
  3. Get to these tasks as early in the day as possible, in order to minimize the risk of running out of time.  Aim to complete or start the first MIT before you do any other work.
  4. Keep the list where you can check it frequently.
  5. Check the list one final time before you stop work for the day, and see if you can finish items that remain.

You now have the information you need to get started.  If you still have questions, keep reading!

The most frequently asked question: 

Since this method can not create more time, how will I get these "extra" things done on top of all my other work?

Good question!

While it is true that creating this list does not create more time, it can lead to better use of the time you already have.  
  • Work often expands to fill the time allotted. The corollary is also true: the time needed to do some work "contracts" if less is available.  If you do your MIT's first, you may find you can fit much of your other work into less time. 
  • Some routine work, as well as some new tasks masquerading as "urgent," can be safely postponed to the next day.    
  • Finishing an MIT can increase your energy, helping you power through the rest of the day.

"Operational" FAQs

Why "3?"

The number 3 is an arbitrary choice, but one that fits the rule that an MIT list should contain only high priority tasks and be short enough to complete.

Here's why. A long daily list will inevitably have a mix of high and low priority items, and two things can happen: 
  1. First, you will probably not complete the list, which can lead to a feeling of failure. 
  2. Second, a long list usually has several enticing easy items of low priority that can be completed quickly.  Personally, I am attracted to these tasks!   But at the end of the day, I am left feeling discouraged that I did nothing important.
To summarize, by imposing the constraint of picking only 3 tasks I am more likely to choose high priority ones.   ("Hmm... should I refile my stapler or file my tax return?")

OK. But can I choose a different number if I want?

Less than 3?  Absolutely. In fact, choosing just one may be a good way for you to get started with the method. You can also pick a smaller number any time you have a highly scheduled day. 

More than 3?  Yes, but only if you promise you will prioritize the list and stick to the order!

Even better, draw a line under the top three MIT's and below that line add the additional tasks to do if you have time

Some criteria to help you pick your MIT's
  • An externally imposed deadline is today.
  • You made a promise it would be done today.
  • The task will move high priority work forward.
  • You have been putting off a task, and this is causing stress.
Do I have to use a piece of paper?

No!   You can use any "recording" tool you like.

Digital: The note app on your phone; a "sticky note" app on your computer;  the "Today" view in a list manager app (e.g. iPhone Reminders, Microsoft To Do),
Paper:  An index card; a Post-It(TM); a Bullet Journal.

I once had a client (really!) who wrote her list on her hand.... 👍

Send me comments or questions at  

Friday, July 3, 2020

Feeling Unproductive? Try a Done List.

At the end of a busy day, do you sometimes have the feeling that you accomplished nothing useful

But usually, barring an all-day Netflix binge, you most likely did. 

You just can't remember. 

Failure to remember is due in part by the Zeigarnik effect, named for the finding in 1927 by Bluma Zeigarik that uncompleted tasks are more easily remembered than completed ones. 

Not remembering can have negative consequences.

Instead of being more motivated to "do better" the next day, you may actually feel demotivated.  It turns out we are usually more motivated by success than failure. 

A better approach is to look at your day in a balanced way.   What did you accomplish? Did you fail to complete one or more tasks you had planned? What could you do to make tomorrow better? 

I use a simple technique that provides data for that balanced look:  the "done list."

The method is simple: I designate a spot (usually a random piece of paper) as the Done List for the day.

When I complete a task or a planned session of work, I add it to the list.   Do this in real-time, because you won't remember at the end of the day!

That's it.

You can make this list in whatever "tool" you like - but I recommend starting with a piece of paper.  

You can save the list or not.  I don't.

You can do this every day, or not.  I'm an intermittent user.

If you will be an intermittent user:  
A Done List is especially helpful on a day with largish blocks of unscheduled time.   

This is how it helps me with those days.   

Without a Done List, I often find myself getting off track. or spending too much time on one task.

As I record completed work, I feel motivated to do even more. This comports with Newton's Law, "a body in motion stays in motion."  ("Comports" is a fun word I rarely get to use....)

I sometimes do one more thing: highlight the good things.

At the end of the workday, I review the list and highlight (yellow, for me) completions I am happy about.  [This is a photo of an actual list from a few years ago. You can see that neatness is not necessary for the list to work!]

"Happy," otherwise undefined, is my guideline.  I go with my gut.   

Here are some ideas to get you started on your own definition of "good:" completed tasks you had planned for that day, that moved a project forward or allowed you to meet a deadline, or that were overdue. 

How to get started:
  1. Find a piece of paper. 
  2. When you complete something, add it to the list.
  3. At the end of the day, read through the list.
  4. If you want, highlight the "good things." 
  5. Take a moment to feel your successes.
Do it again another day!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Clutter Series #1: Deconstructing "Clutter"

I've been thinking about clutter lately.

I'm still working on getting my home office together, and it has been suggested that it is "messy." (References available upon request!)

After years of not hearing from clients about clutter troubles, I am again.

Marie Kondo, the 34-year old author of the 2014 bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, may have something to do with this.  Besides her four books, she is now a Netflix star and has an estimated net worth of 8 million dollars.

And that led me to think about why the KonMari approach does not seem to be for me.

And so this series on clutter was born.

We'll start by exploring the meaning and causes of clutter and pose questions you can use to analyze your own "clutter profile."  In future posts, we'll delve into ideas for clearing up specific types of clutter, like your office desk, to-do lists, email and so on.

Before we get to deconstructing, take this test:

1. Which desk more closely resembles yours?

2. Which desk would you prefer?

I've done this in workshops hundreds of times, and the results are always the same:

  • A few people pick the "neat" desk as both preferred and current state.  (Although some are unhappy with the stack on the desk and the full inbox!)
  • The rest pick the "messy" desk as their current state. Only a few prefer it, with the rest aspiring to neatness - although, perhaps like you, they want something in between the two.
This simple test confirms the first "clutter truth:" Each person has their own definition of clutter.

The second truth emerged from my coaching experience: Productivity cannot be predicted based on the state of the desk.   Some clients whose offices are extremely cluttered by most peoples standards are extremely productive.  Others, who are "perfectly neat" are not.

And the third truth: your clutter standards may be consistent throughout all parts of your life, or, situational. For me, my preferences differ depending on the space. I like my desk and my kitchen counter cooking space uncluttered, and don't care so much about anywhere else.

Four factors that affect your personal meaning of clutter.

Personal aesthetic.  This is your internal sense of what feels right.  The clutter aesthetic is very powerful: some of us can't work - or even live - in an environment that is misaligned.

Your personal aesthetic may have an unpleasant side effect: judging others who don't share yours.  The belief that our personal aesthetic should be universal underlines arguments about when the dishes should be washed after a dinner party - that night, or the next morning.  (Perhaps you will guess that I'm a next morning fan.)

Impact on function.  The definition of clutter as a verb is "to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement (this is fire marshall territory), or reduce effectiveness."  

Evidence supports the effect of clutter on stress and reduced productivity at work and at home.

(In the interests of full disclosure, workspace clutter can be associated with higher creativity or genius.  Check out this photo of Einstein's desk on the day after he died.)

Impact on professional image.  "Clutter" can adversely affect other's impressions of your credibility, competence, or leadership potential.

The standards of others, in three flavors.
  • Informal.  When co-workers, friends, or family members tell you that you are messy, but you are not by your own standards.
  • Inferred (projected).  You believe that others are judging you for being messy.  This dynamic underlies, for some, frantic cleaning up before having guests.
  • Formal.  Your employer or supervisor has rules about the appearance of workspaces, such as "no family photos."

Five clutter antecedents: let us count the ways!

Failure to separate done from undone.  Let's do a thought experiment.  (I would ask you to close your eyes, but then you can't read the instructions!)

Imagine your job requires the completing of many forms.

Now, imagine a tall stack of forms sitting on your desk that includes a random mix of completed and uncompleted forms.  You have no way to know how many are uncompleted.  If you are like me, every time you look at that stack you will be filled with anxiety because you can't tell what needs to be done.

Now imagine separating these forms into two stacks, "done" and "undone. The effect for me would be an immediate reduction in stress and a restored focus on the work.

You are following me if you are thinking, "I don't have a randomly mixed stack of forms, but I do have an email inbox just like that."

Not putting things away after using them.  Enough said.

Delaying decisions about what to do with "stuff."  Do any of these sound familiar?
  • Should I keep or get rid of this college biology textbook?
  • Where should the copy paper be stored?
  • Should I keep a hard or a digital copy of this receipt?
  • Do I want to fix this clock?
  • How many pens do I really need?
Postponed decisions are stressful.  The stress is magnified every time you see the "undecided" objects.

FODI.  You may have heard of FOMO - fear of missing out.  It's blamed for our addition to frequent checking of email and social media.

FODI  is my just-made-up acronym for "fear of discarding information."  Some of us can discard willy-nilly, and others of us feel a need to keep everything.  FODI can but does not have to lead to clutter as long as you follow this rule: "If I have a place to store it, I can keep it."

Entropy.  Once you have solved all these factors that can lead to clutter, you have one more challenge to face: entropy.  The original meaning of entropy is all about thermodynamics, which thankfully does not concern us here.

Here's the relevant spin-off definition: "in day-to-day life [entropy] manifests in the state of chaos in a household or office when effort is not made to keep things in order."

You already knew this: you have to continually stay on top of clutter.  Clear your desktop at the end of the day. Sweep your whole office once a month. Purge your folders once a year, or individually each time you access.  Experiment to find what works best for you.
Once you have mastered entropy, you can be clutter-free forever! 😉

Analyze your clutter profile

  • What is your clutter aesthetic?  Is this really your preference, or is it the result of outside influences?  Is this aesthetic consistent or situational?
  • Do you have clutter that causes functional problems? Be specific: is it the pile of papers on your desk that is the problem, or the knick-knacks and photos, or both? Exactly what problems are you having: distraction, trouble finding things, or something else?
  • Are there external standards that matter to you? Should you give up some of your personal standards at home to reduce conflict with family members? Does your place of work have aesthetic requirements? Would your aspirations (promotion, leadership) be enhanced by a move to a more standard "uncluttered" look?

Make a draft plan to address the areas you want to change.

Make the plan in writing!

ONE.  Make a list of "cluttered" areas, using your personal profile.

TWO.  Prioritize the list.

THREE.  For each area of clutter:
  • What is your ideal outcome?
  • What positive impacts would come from achieving that outcome?
  • What obstacles, internal and external, might you encounter as you pursue your plan?
  • For each obstacle, think of one way you might overcome it.
(If you are wondering, you would be correct if you thought this sounds like a WOOP exercise.)

FOUR.  Pick a date to start working on the first area on your list.  (And yes, this is an implementation intention technique.)

FIVE.  Hackneyed, but true, "rinse and repeat" with each area on your list.

Now get started, and good luck! Let me know if you have comments or what to share your results.

Next up:  decluttering your desk.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Nobody's Perfect: What I learned making Turkish Bride Soup.

Productivity advisors often give the impression that we follow our own advice perfectly.  The implication is that you, dear readers, are expected to do so as well.

Neither is true. Nobody’s perfect.

Although this message is usually unintended, the consequences for readers can be real.

A reader who does not use the advice perfectly may feel like a failure. She may become discouraged about continuing to work on the desired change.  Or worse, he may believe that because the advice is not working for him, the situation is hopeless.

Needless to say, this is not an ideal state of affairs.

So from now on,  I promise to be more be realistic about the advice I give.

That includes:
  • Acknowledging the learning curve needed for new tools and processes.
  • How to get back on track when you get behind. 
  • Options for tweaking strategies make them your own.
  • Identifying \situations in which the advice might not work.

I'll also occasionally share my own “time management mistakes,” and show you how I analyzed them to minimize re-occurrences. As there is an unlimited supply of these mistakes, content ideas will not be a problem!

The first “mistake post.”

Let's start with an incident that occurred recently while I was making Turkish Bride Soup.

Dateline: Iowa, a dreary late afternoon in early March 

Iowa's winter has been the worst in a decade. Single digit temps, too much snow, and two stints of minus 40  wind chill courtesy of the polar vortex. Many of you live in places with the same distinction.

The day was perfect for soup, the weather was miserable, and I had just returned the night before from a long trip. Neither a complicated dish or a trip to the grocery store was appealing.  I found a trusted recipe, Turkish Bride Soup, and after finding all the ingredients in my pantry, was ready to go.

But, I was in a time crunch. I had ninety minutes to both make dinner and have an hour-long call with a coaching client. 

In other words, I was double-booked.

You can guess my solution: I would make the soup while taking the call! 

As I finishing pulling ingredients off the shelf, the phone rang. I switched to speakerphone, and the call began...

(If you are wondering, I did mention that I would be making soup while we talked!)

What ensued is more proof that multi-tasking does not work.

Turkish Bride Soup is delicious and easy to make, and by using a pressure cooker, can be ready in less than an hour. The method is simple. Saute onion in butter, add red lentils, bulgar, and paprika, then stock, tomato paste and cayenne pepper,  and cook under pressure for 30 minutes.  Release the pressure, add dried mint and eat.

Here is how it went.  

I kept my primary attention on the call,  as I am sure you are relieved to hear, and put the soup-making on autopilot.

And actually, it seemed to be going well until... 

... I sealed the cooker lid, and double-checked the recipe to confirm the cooking time.

I discovered I had added eight times the amount of cayenne pepper called for.

Panic - of the cook who might have ruined the main dish - set in.

My immediate response was to go into "recipe disaster mitigation planning" mode:

  • I could make another batch without cayenne, and mix the two batches together.  This might work, but would take more time and would result in a freezer full of the leftovers. 
  • I could off-set the heat with a side of dairy; I had no sour cream, but I could offer yogurt.
  • I could thaw a different kind of soup from my freezer supply.

Then things got worse:  I started worrying about not serving a perfect dinner. Worrying ruined my mood and my clarity of thought, and did not help one little bit.

A happy ending.

When the soup was finally done, I had a very tiny taste: bland.  

No noticeable cayenne at all;  a second taste was confirmatory.

Saved!  In fact, I had to add quite a bit more cayenne to make it right.

What can we learned from this little story?

I identified at least three lessons based on the actual mistake and its aftermath.  But there is also a fourth lesson based on what went right.

Lesson 4. You can be more efficient and effective by creating a system of supporting skills, structures, processes, and habits. 

For example, my "cooking productivity system," allowed me to solve the initial problem of how to make dinner on time.

The elements of my own system that helped with the soup situation included: 
  • A recipe collection organized in Evernote.  This app synchronizes across all my devices, so my recipes are always available. I use tags as part of my search strategy. Searching on three of these tags, "soups," "best recipes," and "pantry meals," made finding the right recipe easy. The time I have spent learning to use Evernote allows me to easily add, organize, and access information. This means I can spend my time working with information instead of looking for it. 
  • A stocked pantry.  I use a grocery shopping app, Out of Milk, on my phone. This makes it easy to add items to my list as soon as the last one is used.  As a result, I had all the ingredients I needed for the soup at hand.  Maintaining your system saves time.
  • Pressure cooking was an option.   That meant I could make the soup in less than half the usual time.  ( If you want to know more, go to Laura Pazzaglia's website Hip Pressure Cooking. The site covers "all things" pressure cooking, including stove top and electric types.) Figuring out how to make a work process more efficient pays off.
The "mistake" lessons

Lesson 1. Really, folks, multi-tasking does not work.

To be clear, the kind of multi-tasking that does not work is attempting to simultaneously do two tasks that require cognitive attention.

My call that day had significant "cognitive load;" I needed to listen and make thoughtful suggestions. 

Although the soup recipe was easy,  measuring and adding ingredients in the correct order did require attention.  Which I failed to give.

If you want to know more read Devora Zack's book singletasking, in which she summarizes the research and provides detailed examples and implementation tips.

Lesson 2. Even though I knew it was not a good idea to multi-task, I did it anyway.   

I did not follow my own "expert" advice.  Instead, I let my feeling of "time pressure" overcome my better judgment.  I am betting some of you have done the same.

Nobody's perfect.

Lesson 3. We can improve by thinking through "time management mistakes"  after they happen.

For example, I can be more thoughtful about the plans I make when I'm feeling time pressured.

In the matter of the soup, I could have made a plan that minimized the risk or avoided it altogether.

  • I could have minimized the risk by reducing the cognitive load of the soup making. If I had measured the ingredients and arranged them in the order to be added before the call. I would then have had relatively "mindless" steps to perform.
  • I could have avoided the risk by recognizing that the soup only takes an hour to make. I could have made it after the call.  Plus, the soup was for a casual weekday night supper. No one would notice that dinner was a bit later than I had planned.

Bonus meta-lesson: Worrying never helps.

Let's go back to my frantic attempt to make a back-up plan had I ended up with unacceptably spicy soup.

While it was helpful to think of ways to "repair" the soup, it was unhelpful to let worry take over. 

Worrying never helps.

Takeaways for your consideration:

Nobody's perfect! 
  • Watch out for your own multi-tasking moments, and work to minimize them. 
  • More generally, pay attention to your own "time management mistakes," and spend some time debriefing each.  
  • Notice when you are worrying. Take a breath, and focus instead on making a backup plan.
  • Start thinking about your own productivity system. What works well, and what could be improved? These observations can be the basis of deciding what productivity system changes you should make. 
And of course, you can make some Turkish Bride Soup

Monday, March 18, 2019

Possibly the last new year's resolution post of 2019

Did you make New Year's resolutions this year?   Have you noticed that one or more have fizzled? 

Fizzle: "end or fail in a weak or disappointing way."   

If this has happened to you,  you are in good company: the (vast) majority of New Year's resolutions "fail to launch." 

A big reason, not always mentioned in explanations for this phenomenon,  is that when you made that resolution, you were already very busy.  So although it certainly can be done, it is difficult to add a brand-new goal on top of what you are already doing.

BEFORE I CONTINUE, a brief aside for those of you subscribed to this blog in the distant past:  

You may have noticed how I  started this post as if I just blogged last week, instead of reappearing after a FOUR YEAR ABSENCE! I might write another time about how I got back on this wagon, but for now, THANKS for not un-subscribing.

Back to today's message:

Resolutions are generally about doing things that will improve your life in some way. With a little more than 9 months left to go in the year, there is plenty of time to consider alternatives to that end.

One approach, instead of starting something new, is to focus on how to make the life you have now better.

Here are three ideas to get you started thinking about how this might work for you. 

Each of them is a variation on how to pay attention.


Engage fully in every activity you do.

This means everything, whether you are doing something by yourself (e.g., writing) or with others (e.g., meetings, conference calls).

Optimize your engagement by minimizing outside interruptions - phone off and email minimized!

And yes, this includes things you find boring or distasteful or just plain horrible (routine paperwork, email, expense vouchers).

For another angle on this idea read David Burkus's new year's resolution blog, "Why I'm not setting goals in 2019..."

The possible outcomes of this practice can be more satisfying and higher quality outcomes for your work, even work you don't like to do, better personal & working relationships, and more pleasurable "off work" time.

Ideas to take this further, when you are ready:

Look ahead to the coming week, to be aware of what is already planned, and to think about what will make your time better spent.  For example, you might do some advance preparation for a meeting,  or create a plan about how to use an open block of time for high priority work, or even something as mundane as figuring out what will be needed to get to an event on time - so that you can relax and get more out of the experience.

This review will also lead you to make better decisions on the fly.

Do a similar "scan and plan" for the coming day, and in addition to reviewing your schedule, pick up to three tasks related to your current goals that will move that work forward.


Look for ways to make tiny incremental reductions in your current level of activities, "stuff," and time wasters.

Most of us are over-committed, and cutting back could pay big dividends.

But I'm not recommending a major overhaul.  That can be a great idea, but to be successful, you have to have the commitment, energy, time and a clear plan. 

Instead, I suggest that as you go through your day, notice anything (large or small) that you might consider changing or stopping. 

For example, every morning I read the entirety of two local newspapers (they are short!), and very selectively from two national ones. 

Six months ago, I realized reading the comics page was really not that interesting, and so I tried dropping it.  I did not miss it at all.  In fact, now I can get to the food sections of the national papers more quickly, and spend more time doing something I really enjoy. 

Note that in this example, I did two things:

     First,  I stopped doing something I did not actually enjoy, which created more time for something I DID enjoy.

     Second, I did a time-limited experiment.  If I had discovered that I actually missed the comics, I could have added them back. 

Ideas to take this further, when you are ready:

You'll get more value out of your observations if you record them.  Make this simple:  a note on your phone that you can add to needed.


Acknowledge moments of satisfaction, gratitude - or whimsy.

Apparently, our brains are wired to focus more on the bad things that happen than the good.  The idea here is to notice when something good happens, even if it is a fleeting moment. 

Noticing feelings of gratitude, in particular, has been recommended to physicians and academic faculty as a way of reducing burn out risk and the feeling of "busyness" - and if you are both, perhaps you'll reap a double benefit?

Here is a recent experience of mine using this method.

The first 24 hours of this story can be condensed to the familiar "unpleasant travel experience."

The trip began with a very early wake up call ("4 " was the first digit of the departure time), the scheduled Uber not showing up, followed by a flight cancellation, re-booking with a middle seat assignment,  then another delay, and a final arrival late at night, exhausted - with a big presentation on the horizon for the next day.

Usually, I would have ruminated on this dismal narrative, which would result in a frame of mind not conducive to a great presentation.

Instead, I had already picked that day to notice "good things."  

It turned out there were several. 

Although the Uber did not come, I did have a car at the ready, so I was able to drive myself to the airport in plenty of time.  Because of the first delay, I had time to go to an O"Hare bookstore, and discovered a new time management book - Life Admin, by Elizabeth Emens - that turned out to be great. As I got settled into my middle seat, the couple assigned to join me asked "if I would mind" switching to the window.  (Visualize a large smiling emoji!)

So instead of the negative narrative, I was able to replace it with a positive one.

And then, to top it all off, the next morning there was a moment of whimsy:  While getting ready to go to my meeting, I casually flipped the round bar of soap into its dish, and IT LANDED ON END! 

I could not stop laughing - and I even worked the story and photo (tastefully) into my presentation that day.

Ideas to take this further, when you are ready:

This is a repeat: "You'll get more value out of your observations if you record them.  Make this simple:  a single note on your phone that you can add to as needed."

If you want to try this: 

You may have other ideas about how to pay better attention  - feel free to try those.

 Also, the approaches are not mutually exclusive - so you could do all three simultaneously.

However, I'd suggest you begin with one. 

Pick the one that sounds most natural, or most interesting, or most potentially helpful - whatever appeals to you. 

Try it for a week or two, and at the end of the planned trial, ask yourself how it went.  Don't worry if you didn't do it every day.  Focus on any benefits of the times you actually followed through.

Then you are free to switch to one of the others, or add one,  or do some other attention paying practice.

Comments are welcome - post your own ideas on paying attention, and send any other topics you would like to see here.