It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of modern life. There’s such pressure to never linger, to move seamlessly from one moment to the next, that we rarely stop to consider what we’re doing. This isn’t to say that we always have a plan; far from it. Often, I’ve noticed myself wandering from task to task, sometimes skipping between them without any sense of completion.
In times when I thought I knew exactly what I was trying to do, I realized only too late that I hadn’t set out to do anything particular at all. When that’s the case, it’s so easy to cheat yourself, to pretend like you’re busy. After all, if you don’t have a plan, it can’t go wrong.
I’ve been taking steps in my life to try and rectify this, and to be aware of the transitions. This is a common meditative practice. In meditation study, often you are instructed to be aware of small transitions throughout the day, like when you move from sitting to standing, or when you pass through a door. This is a great exercise, and a perfect opportunity to engage your senses to make yourself more aware of the fleeting moment.
There are a few ways I work on this.Something I’ve taken to lately is being aware of a clear intention in my mind for my task from moment to moment. This is far simpler than it sounds. For me to be productive, I have to be clear in my intention to get something done.
I’ve started to focus on this in addition to my meditation practice, and have found the results to be truly worthwhile. I’ve developed a multi-stage process that helps me to be aware of my intention throughout the day, without getting lost in the minutiae.
The Evening —
My routine is cyclical. It starts in the evening with a note card. On a single notecard, unlined, I write what I want to do for the next day.
This is usually a small list of 3-5 things, ranging from writing a specific piece, to sending an email, to reading something, etc. Basically, it’s a small goal that can be accomplished within the time I’m willing to allot it tomorrow.
I probably wouldn’t put a task down if I knew it’d take more than 4 hours to do; that's about the limit of my focus on any particular thing. Instead, I’d try and see how I could break it into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks. Similarly, I wouldn’t write something like “write a feature film”, because that’s too big to be done in a day, and too vague. I might say, “sketch out character trees and a basic arc”, or “Write scenes one + two”.
I keep this in my back pocket throughout the day, checking it occasionally or cross off completed items. If, during the day, I realize it can’t be completed, I try and figure out what the next smaller step would be, and make a note of it.
I pull these goals from my notebook, or increasingly from ideas captured in the collection of scribblings on my phone. I’m always adding notes and ideas in one form or another, and a lot of these precipitate into new ideas.
The Morning —
In the mornings, after I meditate, I go to my computer and sync my watch to time.is for the most accurate time. Even though my watch is precise, it’s an automatic, and so syncing it once per day after I wind it helps keep it exact.
I use my watch as a reference point, a means of grounding myself. I can see at a glance how much time I’ve spent on something, how much time is left in a day. I take my watch off and place it in front of me while I’m writing. Often, just feeling the weight of it on my wrist is enough of a reminder of what I wanted to do.
The Day —
I like to keep repeated activities to certain locations. I write either at the same coffee shop, or at my desk in my apartment. I play games from my futon. I read from my chair. Localizing activities is a good way of getting your mind set to accomplish your goal.
Another way of doing this is by triggers. When I’m at home, I try and write while eating dark chocolate. Strange, I know, but this sort of conditioning helps to let my brain know what it is I want to do.
I try my best to work on only one thing at a time. Before I finish whatever I’m working on, I make sure I’m clear about what I’m going to do next. This is true regardless of the activity. Be it as simple as washing the dishes, going for a run, or sitting down to write. Once I finish something, I move on to the next task. If I’m not sure what I want to do, I don’t move on.
The Evening —
At the end of the day, I refer back to my note card while I fill out my daily log.
My journal is a way for me to log my ideas and the day itself in a more fully realized form. I write an account of what happened, a small prose recollection of a particularly vivid moment, or a meditation on my day. I also use this space to check in and see what I accomplished.
Then, when finished with that, I move to a new notecard. I transfer over anything that didn’t get accomplished, and revise the goal if need be. I add the new goals for the day, and set it aside before I head to bed.
Just by taking those simple steps, I’ve been able to make myself a lot more productive with the time I’ve got, as well as more realistic with my goals. By learning how much I can expect to accomplish, I feel a greater sense of control over the time I spend. And by clearly outlining what I want to do, I’ve managed to waste less time.