Focus on one task at a time

Let’s face it, when you have something important to do that you don’t want to do, even doing your friends’ homework seems appealing (and urgent) in some sort of weird way.  This is why we can be ‘working’ 8 hours a day and only get results for what we could have done in less than half of the time.  Because of this, I encourage you to use a ‘focused-work’ system.

When you have a task at hand, and you know you have to do it eventually, just set out 25-30 minute intervals to work on it uninterrupted.  You heard me, uninterrupted.  If someone calls you, and you know it’s not urgent, let the phone call go to voicemail and return the call after your 30 minutes focused work session is over.  No checking e-mails, text messages, facebook, instant messengers, blogs, etc.  None of that.  You are just going to work for 25-3o minutes purely on your task at hand, and then you will reward yourself with a 5 minutes break.

During your 5 minutes break go ahead and return that phone call, or check your e-mail/facebook/etc.  Then look forward to your next 25-30 minutes focused work session and your eventual 5-minutes break.

To put this into practice all you need is a timer.  This timer will preferably not be your cellphone.  Once you have your timer this is what you can do —

  1. Make a list of the tasks you need to work on.
  2. Make boxes to its side, one box for each 25-30 minutes time period you will need to finish the task.
  3. Now, every time you work on the task for 25-30 minutes uninterrupted make a checkmark on the box — if you allowed yourself to get distracted, instead of a checkmark make an X or other symbol.

This system will allow you to see how often you can actually finish a focused work period, and at the end of the task you can also get a good estimate of how long you ACTUALLY worked on a project.  You’ll be surprised when you realize that those 10 hours papers could actually be finished in 5 hours.

At the end of the day, it comes down to your own work style.  I would rather work very efficiently 5 hours and then go enjoy 5 hours getting a good dinner, some tea, and relaxing,  rather than spending 10 hours working inefficiently just because of the instant gratification of allowing myself to give in to distractions.

On a separate note, I just accepted a job offer from Accenture as an Analyst, so I will be working there shortly after graduation next June 2010.  I’m thrilled about this opportunity! 🙂

Killing habits that keep us from succeeding.

It is often easy to get inspired and excited about something new in our lives, but how long do we stay motivated?  Most people I have met are only happy and excited for as long as a novelty lasts, or until the first big challenge arrives.  However, if you aim to be successful in any personal goal, the initial inspiration and emotions need to be present day and night, for it will carry us through difficulties.  When we face difficulties, when we receive bad news, it’s even more important to stay focused on our goal and be positive.  We can’t simply give up and move on, it doesn’t work that way.

For winners, losing inspires them. For losers, losing defeats them.

– Robert T. Kiyosaki “Rich Dad, Poor Dad

We are living in a society in which most people are encouraged to find an excuse and give up, rather than take charge of our problems and tackle them.  Beneath this behavior of excuses is the belief that you won’t achieve your goal, so you might as well find an excuse and that way avoid facing defeat.  How many of us have heard a couple of our friends complain about their weight problems, but then go on and say that they just have to accept their body the way it is.  Apparently they got the ‘bad genes’ from their parents and the ‘bad metabolism’ so they just have to accept their fate.

This approach, full of excuses, will keep you from achieving your goals.  If we do not pay attention to this problem, and ‘let it slide’, we will soon find this same attitude poisoning other areas of our life and becoming a habit.  This habit, like a virus, prevents us from living the life of our dreams, as cliché as that sounds.  It is important, then, to recognize when we are falling into this trap so we can stop it immediately.  Here are ways to assess this problem.

    • Write down your goals – small and big.
  • Prioritize – Which of your goals are more important and/or urgent to you?
  • Establish a timeline – set a deadline for your goal.  Include many short-term goals along the way!
  • Follow the timeline – reward yourself every time you achieve one of your short-term goals.

As soon as you catch yourself not following the timeline, you should answer a few questions:

    • Am I close from achieving my goal?
  • What is keeping me from achieving my goal?
  • Was the timeline realistic?  Should I reassess it?
  • Have I done everything in my power to achieve it?  What can I do differently?
  • What have I done that is preventing me (or has delayed me) from achieving my goal?  Has it been really worth it?

It is important to really take the time to reflect on the things that are keeping us from achieving our small, short-term goals.  Awareness of what is stopping you from achieving small goals will be the foundation to changing habits that are most likely affecting larger areas of your life without you noticing it.  It all boils down to self-control in the end, and taking the time to study yourself is the best tool you have to achieve this;  it is also one of the most rewarding activities you can do!

Productivity & Healthier Eating

As part of my reflection time during this winter break, I’ve decided to rethink my eating habits and think about ways to be more productive. Here is a list of the things I decided to do:

1) Create a new way to track how I actually spend my time. [Focus on one task at a time]
2) Be strict about setting times to work on specific tasks, and follow them.
3) Sleep 12-6 7am and add a 30-45 mins nap in the afternoons (~3pm)
4) Plan out my meals for the week and cook more!

For my 1st point here is what I’m doing. I currently have a few Google Calendars that I use to track different things. I have one for birthdays, one for ‘homeworks and assignments’, one for classes and appointments, and one to track all of my professors/ta’s office hours.

I renamed the ‘classes and appointments’ calendar to ‘scheduled activities’ (i.e. things that are set in stone when they have to be done.)  The ‘homeworks and assignments’ calendar is now named ‘to-do’, and there’s a newly created calendar named ‘completed’ to which things will be moved as they are done. The biggest change I made was creating a new calendar that is called ‘Time Tracking’ which I’ll use to log exactly what I do during the day. This calendar I will use to look back into the week and see how many hours I spent working, playing, socializing, etc. To make this reliable and informative I’ll do my best to focus on ONE thing at a time and avoid distractions as much as possible. It’ll help that I’ll schedule time for checking e-mails, Facebook, using GChat and AIM, etc.

For point number two, I’ll use a calendar named ‘Daily Schedule’ to plan out my time for the next day, hour-by-hour including travel time. This sounds scary, but I’ll leave some room for flexibility as long as there aren’t too many things to get done that day.

Point number three is pretty self-explanatory, I want to try out a new sleeping schedule that includes a nap in the afternoons and see how that works for me. The lenght of the nap I can extend to 90 mins if 12-6am + 45mins doesn’t work.

For my last point I want to share with you this site: http://www.mealsmatter.org/ [after much more investigation I decided to use http://www.sparkpeople.com/ instead to plan my meals.]
I started using it not long ago and I plan to use it to  find good, healthy recipes and use these to prepare my grocery shopping list. This I’ll start testing out once I’m back in Boston. The site is very useful and I hope it helps me get on track cooking and eating healthier!

-Omar