Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Get More Done

It’s not the sexiest problem we are going to face. It will not consume the next news cycle. But it is something you hear all the time, especially from people who feel burdened by their overfull lives.

They ask: How can I get more done? How can I find the time to do everything that I have to do? How can I ever find time to do what I want to do?

Yet, some people are exhausted by the burden of their daily chores and duties, while others sail through them, seemingly effortlessly.

What is the difference between these two groups? Business coach Tony Schwartz offers an answer that is consistent with a line I have been taking. In his view the path to greater efficiency and effectiveness passes through ritual and routine. Link here.

The more your daily activities are routinized, the less mental energy you will be expending making decisions.

If you have managed to learn that life should be filled with spontaneity and enthusiasm, this nod toward ritual will not sit well. But if Schwartz is right, your lust after spontaneity is exhausting you and making you less efficient, less effective, and less productive.

Schwartz offers that he goes to bed at the same time every evening, that he works out every morning as soon as he wakes up, and that he makes a habit of writing down ideas that come to him during the day. One might add rituals involving food consumption, the route you take to go to work, the diner you order lunch from, and so on.

The more automatic your behavior, the less energy you will be wasting deciding whether you should choose Special K or oatmeal.

We have all learned-- it’s part of our cultural birthright-- that thought should always precede action, and that actions should express some thought or feeling.

We have also learned that automatic behaviors will make us into automatons, will undermine our creative individuality, and will cause us to have bad sex.

Of course, there are automatic behaviors and there are automatic behaviors. Schwartz is especially interested in replacing bad habits with good ones. As you know, both are automatic.

Thus, Schwartz recommends that you engage your decision-making faculties to choose which bad habit you want to change. Then you can design a ritual that will correct it. After that, you should stick to the ritual until it becomes effortless, until it becomes a good habit.  

It’s a lot easier than therapy. It’s more effective too.

Schwartz quotes a line from philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. In 1911 Whitehead declared:  "It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing, The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them."


Robert Pearson said...

Thanks very much for this post and link. I learned something valuable, despite the fact that I've read hundreds of performance improvement things. And the people I shared it with at the office were also very grateful.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Robert. I much appreciate hearing that the advise was valuable to you and your colleagues.