Discover How You Really Spend Your Time

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Are you spending your time on the right things every day? We often misunderstand how we’re spending our time, which leads to lost productivity or overlooked routines. On The Daily Muse, Erin Greenawald presents a useful way of seeing just how you spend your time: draw it on a handy chart. Greenawald writes:

The first step in becoming more productive is understanding where your time is going now!

It’s simple—grab the [included] visual and then either print it out or open it up…using the paint tool (or your colored pencils), give each activity a unique color, and then color in each hour of the circle based on the activity you usually fill that time with.

 …You’ll quickly be able to see how you organize your day, the things you’re doing well, and the things you could probably improve upon.

I tried this exercise the other day, but instead of guessing how I spend my time I set a reminder on my phone to go off every hour. The alarm would go off and I’d write down how I spent the hour. At the end of my day I was able to see some spots where I clearly was spending time on things that don’t align with my higher objectives.

It’s also interesting to compare your chart to those of creative geniuses, something Greenawald highlights in her post.

Drawing out your day like this allows you to quickly see where your time is going and where you might have more free-time than you think. Be sure to download the chart and try tracking your own hours today.

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The 3-Minute Solution to Procrastination

By Georgie Yiannoullou

By Georgie Yiannoullou

Tasks that take two minutes or less are easy to knock off your to-do list. It’s the bigger ones – the 30 minute, the 60 minute, and the 90+ minute tasks – that induce hesitation. No matter how driven and focused you are, there’s simply no immunity from the paralyzing procrastination that comes with staring up at daunting tasks. And the larger and more intimidating the project, the more likely you are to conjure up excuses to slow your start.

The next time you feel a knot in your stomach about a task, take it as a positive indication. Steve Chandler, author of Time Warrior, says, “Fear tells us what we have to do. The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Chandler offers a simple, time-based method for quickly building momentum for anything we’re reluctant to start: give yourself three-minutes.

Now knowing I only have a three-minute commitment I just do the thing I was procrastinating about! I just make that a policy! Just do that one thing– you know what it is– it’s the thing you’re thinking about right now. Don’t think in terms of patterns. None of this: “I always” or “I never ” because those globalizing thoughts will never serve you. They will scare you and make you a pessimist. Keep your life creative and simple: what needs to be done now in these three minutes? That’s all you ever need to ask, and you’ll never have anything like procrastination bother you again.

Think about one small action you can take in the next three minutes that will move your project forward. Then take that action, and soon enough you’ll gain just enough traction to keep breaking down your goliath project into bite-sized bits. How else are you supposed to eat an elephant, right?

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Your “Just For Fun” Projects Are What Set You Apart

By Chi Birmingham

By Chi Birmingham

Commercial and editorial photographer Thomas Dagg uses his personal projects to showcase his style of shooting and differentiate himself from others in his industry. In an interview with Explore Create Repeat, he explains the freedom that comes with full creative control and pure expression:

Personal projects are what I live for. I can’t explain the hunger I have to create. It’s just there, gnawing at the back of my mind. If I have any free time, you can bet that in some shape or form, my mind is focusing on a personal project. Commissioned work can be really fun with the right people, especially if you’re hired specifically for your own style of shooting and thinking, but completely personal work is just pure expression. I think it’s the one way you can really show who you are — it’s what separates you from other shooters. There are a lot of photographers who can take a beautiful image, so creative work helps you define yourself as an individual and not just a button pusher.

In his personal project the Star Wars Series, Dagg visually captures his imagination as an 8 year old when the modern day world and Star Wars were one in the same. Even though the series was based on early personal experiences, many viewers were able to relate to their own childhood through the project. In an environment where commercial jobs can begin to look all the same, personal projects set your work apart from the masses. They emphasize your personal style and way of thinking through pure expression. They also add character to a corporate portfolio and foster a stronger connection with your audience. Instead of pushing personal project to the back, maybe it’s time we made them a priority.

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Stop Having One-Hour Meetings

By Xavier Mula

By Xavier Mula

Venture capitalist Brad Feld refuses to acquiesce to the typical one-hour meeting block. He’s found that meetings tend to fill up whatever amount of time you’ve allotted for them, thereby decreasing the productivity factor:

If you schedule a meeting for an hour, it’s remarkable to me how often it takes an hour, even when it doesn’t need to. Three hour board meetings, especially when board members have traveled to them, take – wait for the drum roll – three hours.

Just because your Outlook calendar defaults to one-hour meeting invitations, or the precedent in your organization is to meet for an hour at a time, doesn’t mean you can’t question the status quo. In an age when we’re overloaded with information and our time is more valuable than ever, unnecessarily long meetings are the biggest time-suck.

Feld now schedules all his commitments in 30-minute increments:

I’ve tried it all. 60 minutes. 15 minutes. 5 minutes. 45 minutes. 37 minutes. The only thing that I’ve found that works is 30 minutes. If I schedule for 15 minutes, I inevitably have too many things in a day and get completely exhausted. If I schedule for more than 30 minutes, I find myself twiddling my thumbs and trying to get finished with the meeting. 30 minutes seems to be the ideal amount to get any type of meeting done.

What if the people with whom you’re meeting haven’t gotten the memo that those meetings should be as short and sweet as possible? Feld takes matters into his own hands:

I try to end everything when it’s done. I jump right in and finish when we are finished. When you give things 30 minutes, you don’t have time to futz around with intros and catch ups. When someone starts this way, I break in and say as politely as I can, “What’s on your mind?” On the phone, I minimize chit chat and just try to get to the point. And, after five minutes when we are done, I revel in the notion that I’ve got 25 minutes to do whatever I want.

Meetings don’t have to be a detractor from your work day if you schedule them right. Aim to never ask yourself, post-meeting, “Did that really need to take an hour?”

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James Franco: Create Your Community

James-Franco-casual
As a teacher, James Franco who also acts, writes, produces and directs, advises his students to create a close team of diverse talents to work with instead of relying on the industry. During an interview with Variety’s Scott Foundas for Slamdance’s “Coffee with…” series, Franco speaks about how it can be frustrating as an actor to learn your trade when you’re dependent on others.

Part of me was probably really frustrated by the fact that I really trained as an actor but I was still dependent on all these other people to work, to really apply my trade. Like I would have to get cast in something or someone would have to write something that I liked or even if they did write something I liked, I would have to be lucky enough or whatever – prove myself enough to actually get it.

So one of the things that I do at my –  I also have my own schools in New York and LA – one of the things that I really try to emphasis there is community, finding your people, so that you’re not just dependent on the gatekeepers in the insular industry. But you have your people that can make movies and that’s very much what this movie [Yosemite] is a result of. And really just go ahead and go do it. You can pursue traditional inroads to the industry but at the same time you can still be making your own things because you either know how to do it all, like you’re a Seth Rogen who can write and act and direct or you have your group and you work with them.

Even if you are dependent on others in your industry, Franco says that is no excuse not to be applying your craft. Instead of networking with others directly in your occupation, like actors with actors, look to those you can collaborate with. Industrial designers should seek out manufacturers while graphic designers may look to web developers. Alternatively, you can learn to do everything to fully complete your project. Either way, don’t allow others to be the cause for your standstill.

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Want to Change the World? Start Your Day by Making Your Bed

Photo by Mazzali via Flickr

Photo by Mazzali via Flickr

Newton’s First Law of Motion says that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. What is said about objects in motion is equally true of our ability to do our best work and make an impact, both in our professional lives and personal ones. It’s a lot less work to keep moving once you have momentum. Far easier than it is to try and slowly fight against every distraction or shortcoming that crosses your path.

To start each day with a little momentum, Naval Admiral William H. McRaven reminds us that we should make our beds when we wake up:

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

McRaven’s summary statement may sound a little far-fetched, but his advice is undoubtedly worth considering: if you want to make an impact at a large scale, you have to be comfortable making it at a small scale too. You can build that momentum up over time, but it all has to start somewhere. Just the momentum you gain from accomplishing simple tasks each morning (like making your bed, brushing your teeth, meditating, exercising, journaling, etc.) can create a positive stepping stone from which to take your next step.

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Related: The Art of Momentum: Why Your Ideas Need Speed

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Use the 52/17 Rule to Maximize Productivity

By Denis Lelic

By Denis Lelic

The human body isn’t designed to sit for eight hours at a stretch. Not only is it killing you, it’s hindering your productivity. But research shows that frequently standing up from your desk to take a break can actually improve it.

Julia Gifford uses the time-tracking app DeskTime to study the habits of the most productive employees, and discovered a clear pattern:

The most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it. . .
The reason the most productive 10% of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.
Working with purpose can also be called the 100% dedication theory—the notion that whatever you do, you do it full-on. Therefore, during the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, and making progress. Whereas, during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing—you’re entirely resting, not peeking at your email every five minutes or just “quickly checking Facebook.”

It’s not humanly possible to be productive for eight straight hours. Break your work day down into manageable chunks.

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