Generally, high-energy people enjoy a competitive advantage, but if there’s one thing I learned while researching and writing my first book, it was how to get more done in less time.
For my first five years as a self-employed writer, I passionately and excitedly burned the midnight oil, thinking the act would get me ahead. It certainly helped me cut my teeth and quicken my understanding of the craft, but in hindsight I spent much of that time with my head down. I was spinning my wheels in the mud, failing to see bigger ideas and opportunities.
That is until my “Montana Moment,” a life-changing and completely off-the-grid vacation in Big Sky Country that upended my relationship with work and improved it in more ways than one. Since that fateful week, I’ve enjoyed record personal, professional and social growth because I radically changed my underlying approaches to and motivations for work.
You can, too. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Prevent phone distraction.
I disable all visible and audible phone alerts -- unless they come from my wife and children. I never let an app disrupt my workflow. That includes email, social media, texts, games or any other app that seeks my attention at every minute of the day. I do allow my phone to ring in the case of voice calls, which are still how all serious emergencies are communicated, but I usually screen most of these as well. This lets me be selective about how I invest my time and keeps me (not software) in charge. I choose strategic growth and proactive decision-making.
2. Set strict tech boundaries.
I set strict usage boundaries and portion controls for communication devices. For example, I enable “do not disturb” mode from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. My phone will alert me only if the same number calls me three times in quick succession. I also make sure not to take my phone, work or other sleep-frustrating concerns with me to bed. All new apps, software and new gadgets are considered guilty until proven useful to me. Being a late adopter is worth the tradeoff. And finally, I don't touch work on nights, weekends or vacation -- save for two to three emergencies a year when "several thousands of dollars" are at stake. This enables me to return to work more inspired and mentally recharged.
3. Limit subliminal media commitments.
You're probably underestimating the effect that subscribed media and periodic messaging have on your psyche. Even if you don't necessarily love the content, the near-constant bombardment can feel like a subconscious commitment -- an obligation to finish reading or watching. That's especially true for the latest TV shows, video-game sagas, endless social-media feeds or subscription services that peer pressure suggests you consume. Focus solely on the information sources you truly love or appreciate for the value they bring you on a consistent basis.
4. Say "no" to morning meetings.
Research shows the vast majority of humans are much more creative and productive in the morning, when their bodies and minds are in the freshest and most well-rested state. That said, you should be putting your mornings to good use by focusing on individual and thought-intensive tasks and challenges. No sit-down meetings or quick "huddles" for moral support. Save those for the afternoons. Innovator, billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is among the high performers known for following this rule. The next time someone asks for a morning meeting, politely decline. “I’m busy then; let's find another time” is a perfectly suitable response.
5. Put your subconscious to work.
Early in my career, I read dozens of business and personal-development books to help me tackle my problems. While two or three stand out, I’ve largely forgotten the rest. Recent research from Carnegie Mellon explains why: Subconscious thought often is better at solving our problems than our conscious, staring-right-at-the-problem approaches. Give your brain a breather and regular breaks, and it has greater potential to churn away in the background and discover a workable solution. Sound too good to be true? You’ll never know until you try it. (Spoiler: It really works.)