productivity

Take Back Your Life With One Phone Setting

Take back your life with one phone setting.jpg

Take Back Your Life With One Phone Setting

How to use the Do Not Disturb mode the right way

“Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want.”

— David Pierce

There I was sitting in front of my computer editing the latest video, I was on fire and nothing was going to stop me from reaching my deadlines. When all of a sudden, I felt a ‘buzz’ in my pocket and heard a ‘ding’ emanating from the same location. It was my phone notifying me of a new email that had come in, it was important and it needed my attention. After replying to the first email, I noticed another email had made its way into my inbox, it too needed my attention. After 45 minutes of replying to emails and several messages from a variety of Whatsapp groups (they were important!), I finally managed to get back to editing the video.

Did I hit my deadline? I was nowhere near. This happened often and seldom did I have any peace and quiet to work on what was in front of me. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar?

It occurred to me, what was stealing my attention was my phone. I knew that in order for me to be uber productive and get work done, I had to have a better relationship with my phone and its notifications.

What began as an experiment to focus on my work, has greatly benefitted every other aspect of my life. From relationships to personal growth, being completely distraction-free has allowed me to direct all my attention to what’s in front of me.

Depending on how you use it, the phone can be a useful tool or an annoying distraction. If you refuse to separate from your phone and leave it in another room, there is another way to stop it from constantly distracting you. In this article, I outline how I’ve managed to take control of my life with just one setting on the phone.

How distractions affect your focus

Every social media platform and messaging app is fighting for your attention and distracting you from what is important. Meaningful time spent with family and friends, creative work and focused studying are all lost because of a notification.

According to a recent study, after a simple distraction,

“It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

23 minutes! Can you believe it? A simple vibration or light emitting from your phone is enough of a distraction to lose focus, what’s worse is that these distractions happen on a regular basis, how much time are you losing because of a simple notification from your phone? Getting 3 messages within 5 minutes has robbed you from over an hour of focused time.

The one phone setting that can change everything for you

For those of you that that are unaware of the Do Not Disturb mode, it is an option that stops all notifications on your phone, rendering your phone completely silent. All noise, including vibrations and lights, are turned off, this makes it impossible to know if someone has messaged you or not.

Back then, I didn’t understand the concept of not being notified, I thought to be readily available for anyone made complete sense. If I had the Do Not Disturb mode on, how would I know if a family member or friend wanted to get in touch with me? I had no need for this feature. I’m sure you can agree with me?

In my journey of minimising distractions, I realised that in order for me to take back my attention I had to stop all notifications by using the Do Not Disturb mode. It took a few months of experimentation with the settings, but I managed to find a setting that worked for me.

What happened after? I now have a better grasp on life and I feel that I have regained control of my focus, relationships and productivity.

How I’ve set the Do Not Disturb mode

I prefer to have my Do Not Disturb mode on 24/7. I want to check my messages on my terms and not let a notification decide that for me. Using the Forest app, I would work in 25-minute blocks and take a 5-minute break once a block is done. It is only during those breaks that I will check my phone and reply to any messages that I’ve missed.

Recommended reading: The one app to help you focus.

“But what if there’s an emergency?” Sure, I understand that. You want to make sure that you’re available at a time of crises. I assure you, if there’s ever an imminent crisis nobody is going to send you a text message, let alone an email.

It’s for that reason I have only a handful of people (my immediate family, extremely close friends, and business partners) that can call me at any time and I will get the notification. Just to be clear, the only notification I will only receive is a phone call from those that are on my favourite list, I will not be notified if they message me. I’ve told every member on my list that if it is truly an emergency they can call me, for anything else, they can message me and I will get back to them by the end of the day.

Whenever my phone rings I understand that it is an important call and I must pick up, but rarely has this ever happened. With the Do Not Disturb mode on, I have created an order of priorities, if it doesn’t vibrate it doesn’t get my immediate attention.

How to set your Do Not Disturb mode similar to my settings

For Android users:

  1. Settings > Sounds and vibrations > Do not disturb

  2. Check ‘Turn on now’

  3. Select ‘Allow exceptions’

  4. Check ‘Custom’

  5. Set ‘Calls from’ to ‘Favourite contacts only’

  6. Go to your contacts and select only the people that are truly important to you

  7. Check the star next to their names to add them to the favourite list

For iPhone users:

  1. Settings > Do Not Disturb

  2. Check ‘Do Not Disturb’

  3. Select ‘Allow Calls From’

  4. Check ‘Favourites’

  5. Go to your contacts and select only the people that are truly important to you

  6. Select ‘Add to Favourites’

Conclusion

After a few months of living with the Do Not Disturb mode turned on, I realised not everything is as urgent as it seems. I don’t need to pick up every single phone call that comes my way, a text message doesn’t need to be replied to immediately, an email can sit in my inbox for a few hours.

Why let these messages take your attention when you can spend it working on the more important tasks or spending time with people that matter to you most? It’s a matter of priorities and understanding what is important to you.

Would you rather you spend your time reacting to every notification? Or would you rather be active and deliberate with everything you do and take control of your life?

Turning on the Do Not Disturb mode allowed me to do just that, perhaps, it can do the same for you.

I would suggest taking it slow and experiment with the Do Not Disturb setting, if you can find a nice balance between ‘complete isolation’ and ‘readily available’, perhaps, you’ll be able to find that it’ll greatly benefit not only your focus but also your relationships, creativity and all other aspects of your life.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

The one app to help you focus.

The one app to help you focus.jpg

Let’s face it, mobile phones aren’t going anywhere. They’re so integrated into our lives and we rely on them so much that the majority of the population now suffer from ‘low battery anxiety’. No matter how hard we try we somehow find ourselves mindlessly checking our phones and wasting so much of our precious time.

It’s a hard feat to be laser focused on your work or the people right in front of you when you’re constantly bombarded with notifications. If you refuse to turn on your Do Not Disturb Mode for the entire day (this changed my life when I implemented this method), then I have an alternative that might alleviate the number of times you mindlessly pick up your phone.

Recommended Reading: Take back your life with one phone setting.

An app that helps you to stay focused.

With the slogan “Stay Focused, Be Present” the Forest app attempts to lock you out of your phone and enables you to focus on the task at hand. How does it do this? By killing off a tree if you don’t do otherwise. Sounds a bit dark right? Don’t worry, you’ll only be killing off a digital tree that is grown within the app. Although the concept sounds a little bit silly, this method actually works and has helped thousands of users to stay off their phones and focus on the present moment.

Forest is simply a gamified version of the Pomodoro Technique. For those of you that are unaware of this time keeping method here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Step 1: Place a timer for 25 minutes and work distraction-free during that period.

  • Step 2: Once the timer is done take a five-minute break.

  • Step 3: Repeat step one.

  • Step 4: After the fourth 25-minute timer take a 15-minute break

  • Step 5: Repeat step one.

Recommended reading:  What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Forest incorporates this method and adds its own little spin to it. Once the timer is set and the countdown begins, a digital seed is planted and at the end of your allotted time, a digital tree would have fully grown. If however, in that time you decide to pick up your phone and leave the Forest app to reply to a message, or watch a YouTube video or even just to return to the home screen, you’ll find upon returning to the app that the tree has withered and died.

Screenshot_20181213-103317_YouTube.jpg
Screenshot_20181213-103332_Forest.jpg
Screenshot_20181213-103339_Forest.jpg

The aim of the game is to plant as many trees throughout the day and hopefully if you’re off your phone and using that time wisely, you would have had a very productive day. The gamification element is what I find quite rewarding, especially when I’ve ended my day with up to 6 or 7 trees successfully planted, that’s when I know I’ve done a lot of focused work. Looking back at my statistics it’s nice to see a little forest has been grown through all of my focused work.

Screenshot_20181213-103504_Forest.jpg

More than just an app.

If you’re having trouble focusing whilst sitting in front of your computer, Forest has also created a Chrome extension that’ll allow you to blacklist any websites that are a distraction. Whether it’s Facebook, Youtube or even your own personal website, all you have to do is click on the tree, start planting and focus on your work. Similar to the app, if you find yourself on any website that is blacklisted, your tree will wither and die.

I personally don’t use this feature as there are often times where my work or studies require me to learn from a YouTube video or reply to an email. I actually don’t have a Facebook account so I don’t struggle with the urge of checking my timeline. If you know a particular website that’s stopping you from getting any work done, you should give the Chrome extension a try.

How much do I have to pay?

Moving back to the phone, if you’re an Android user you can download the app free of charge. However, if you’re on iOS you’ll have to pay £1.99 to grant access to it, this will immediately give you access to all the premium features. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can start planting right away. For Android users, there is an option to upgrade and unlock the premium features in the app, but the basic version is more than enough to get you started on your road to staying focused in the present moment.

As I’m an Android user, I paid to upgrade to the premium because I wanted to make full use of the additional features. Below I outline what is available when you have access to the premium version.

Plant a real tree.

Planting a digital tree to help you focus is all well and good, but planting a real tree to help the environment is even better. Forest can help you with both. Trees for the Future is a charity organisation that is partnered with Forest to help plant real trees. The more digital trees planted the more virtual coins you accumulate. Users can trade in those coins with Forest and they will donate to the charity and help plant a real tree. It’s a wonderful gesture and it gives us even more of a reason to support the app.

Recommended reading: Sponsor Trees for the Future Charity

Website.JPG

After planting so many digital trees I had lost track of how many coins I had accumulated. When I had realised I had enough to plant a real tree I jumped on the opportunity. However, I did read that due to budget restraints each user is limited to only planting 5 real trees within the Forest app. It’s strange to think that all I have to do to help the environment is to just stay off my phone.

 

White-listing.

Screenshot_20181213-105453_Forest.jpg

If you find that you have to use your phone in order to do work, you have the ability to add specific apps to a white-list. This means that when you do start planting your tree and use an app that is white-listed you will not be penalised with a withered tree. Be sure to only add apps that you definitely need access to, otherwise, what’s the point of having the app in the first place?

I found this option useful as I found that there were times where I wanted to record the progress of my piano playing. When I had grabbed my phone to record myself I was immediately notified to get back to the app. Putting the camera app on the white-list sorted out that problem. I’ve kept my white-list small as I don’t want to have free reign on using my phone.

 

Plant with friends.

Screenshot_20181213-105631_Forest.jpg

It seems that every app includes a social element and Forest doesn’t let us down either. Once you’ve upgraded to the premium app you have the ability to create rooms and invite your friends to join you. This is a great way to start study groups with your peers or even get them off their phones whilst having dinner with each other, but be warned, if one of your friends gets distracted and misuses their phone it’ll kill the tree for the entire group. I’d hate to be the person responsible for that!

Unfortunately, I don’t have many friends that share the same sentiments I have with productivity, so I’ve not had a chance to experience planting a digital tree with a friend. If you want to give it a go, send me a message and I’ll be happy to try it out with you.

 

The tagging system.

If you’re like me and you want to have everything organised, you’ll appreciate the availability of tags on the premium version. Tags essentially allow you to categorise each tree according to what you are working on. If you use the tags correctly, you’ll be able to see a visual breakdown of what you’ve been using your focused time on.

I like to review my tags at the end of the day and analyse what I’m spending my time on the most. If I can see that I’m not spending my focused time wisely I can make changes according to the data. It’s always good to have as much data as possible as you might be able to find patterns that you weren’t aware of.

Other premium features.

On top of everything that I’ve mentioned earlier, the premium feature also includes:

  • Syncing to multiple devices

  • Ad blocking

  • Unlocking more achievements

I didn’t go into much detail with these because they’re self-explanatory.

Conclusion.

Forest’s ultimate aim is to get you off your phone and appreciate the present moment. Whether you use that time to work with no distractions or spend time with your friends and family, it’s important to understand that constantly checking your phone is not a healthy way to live. If you struggle to put down the phone, give Forest a go and see if planting a digital tree can help motivate you to stay off your phone and live in the present moment.

Recommended App: Forest

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

7 Free Apps To Develop a Growth Mindset

7 Free Apps To Develop a Growth Mindset.

7 Free apps to develop a growth mindset.jpg

It’s projected that the total amount of smartphone users will blow past the 5 billion mark by 2019. Depending on how you use your device that sits in your pocket, it can either be used as a major distraction or a resourceful tool. With the majority of users leaning towards the former, this article will hopefully give you more information to push you to the latter.

What is a growth mindset?

The phrase ‘growth mindset’ made famous by Dr. Carol Dweck, focuses on the attitude towards developing your learning and intelligence. Walking away from challenges, effort and criticism all fall under a fixed-mindset and as a result lead you to achieve less than your full potential. A growth mindset doesn’t shy away from a challenge and understands that effort is the key to mastery, failures are seen as learning opportunities and criticism is seen as a chance to improve. Developing a growth mindset is one of the main keys that’ll help unlock the door to a successful life.

Recommended book: Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck

Consistency is key

With the convenience of a smartphone sitting in our pockets for the majority of the day, we all have an endless amount of resource sitting at the end of our fingertips. Below are 7 apps that I use on a consistent basis. I stress the word ‘consistent’ because it’s the daily use of an app that is important to the development of a growth mindset.

Recommended reading: How to be consistent

Kindle

A growth mindset is all about purposeful learning. Looking for some advice to help further your business? Perhaps some relationship advice? Or even information on how to be read faster? Whatever you decide, there’s always a learning opportunity with every book you open.

Even though the app is free not every book in the Kindle store is just as cheap, fortunately, digital books are a fraction of the price of the paperback equivalent. If you aren’t willing to invest the price of a cup of coffee on your development then you’ve got your priorities all wrong. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

Recommended books:

  1. Mastery - Robert Greene

  2. The Rise of Superman - Steven Kotler

  3. The Talent Code - Daniel Coyle

Pocket

Can’t commit to reading a few hours from a book? How about something a little bit more bite size? With the slogan, “Put knowledge in your pocket”, Pocket is a useful app that allows you to save articles for future consumption. I’ve found this app really useful when dealing with new articles that I come across. When I see a headline that catches my eye, I’ll save it to my Pocket account for future reading. In addition, Pocket formats the text, images and embedded videos to fit perfectly on your device or computer screen, meaning you won’t be bothered by those annoying pop-ups anymore.

Recommended articles:

  1. How To Improve Your Memory

  2. How I Pay For My Education

  3. How to Learn Any Skill: 10 Steps and Why They Will Change Your Life

Any Podcast App

If reading, in general, isn’t your thing, I would then recommend listening to a good podcast. I like to listen to a good podcast whilst I’m working out at the gym or commuting to work. Unlike reading a book, you have the freedom to do something else whilst listening to an interview. However, don’t get too distracted, otherwise, you won’t learn anything from the podcast! A good podcast app allows you to play around with the playback speed, I’ve now grown accustomed to listening to interviews at double the speed, allowing me to learn more in less time.

Recommended listening:

  1. The Tim Ferriss Show

  2. The School of Greatness

  3. The Mission Daily

Any Habit Tracking App

Seeing effort as the path to mastery is a key trait to a growth mindset, putting in the work on a consistent basis enables you to grow at an exponential rate. Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s important to be patient and consistently put in the reps. Building good habits that promote a growth mindset (reading, journaling, meditating) will set you up for success. What helps me stay consistent and committed to my habits is by tracking it on a daily basis. Any habit tracking app will do, consistent use of the app is important.

Recommended apps:

  1. Habitbull

  2. Streaks

  3. Coach.me

Wim Hof Method

A growth mindset embraces a challenge. What better way to push yourself than by taking cold showers every morning? If you’ve never heard of Wim Hoffman and his methods, then you’re missing out on a whole load of benefits to both your physical and mental well-being. His methods consist of a series of controlled breathing, breath-holding, and cold therapy.

There is also an element of mindfulness with the Wim Hof Method, the breathing exercise allows you to focus on the breath which promote the beneficial practice. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with the development of a growth mindset, allowing you to become more aware of yourself and the thoughts that are going on in your head. The more you self-reflect, the more you are able to find solutions to any challenges that come your way, enabling you to come up with new ways to overcome any barriers and ultimately reach your goal.

Recommended reading: What is the Wim Hof Method?

Evernote

In addition to the practice of mindfulness, I use Evernote to allow me to journal and document my thoughts. Being able to learn from past mistakes is crucial to a growth mindset. I like to use Evernote to document my mistakes allowing me to never forget and hopefully learn from it.

On top of that, whenever I come across information that I find interesting, I like to document it in a dedicated notebook and treat it as a commonplace book, this is essentially a scrapbook filled with information that I can refer to whenever it’s needed.

Recommended reading: How And Why To Keep A “Commonplace Book.”

YouTube

Almost 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube every single day. I would love to say that 90% of those videos are educational but sadly it’s not. Rather than treating YouTube as a form of entertainment, why not see it as a tool for education? The amount of practical information available is endless and on top of that, it’s completely free. From learning new programs like Photoshop to solving a Rubix cube in under 90 seconds, I’ve learned an endless amount of skills all from YouTube. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the app and not spending the majority of your time watching viral videos.

Recommended watching:

  1. Learning Swedish in three months

  2. Accelerated Learning

  3. Any video from TED

The right toolkit

It’s said that a bad technician blames his tools and that’s what these apps are, just tools. Don’t think that once you’ve downloaded them into your phone you’re now set for success. You need to take responsibility with integrating each app into your everyday life. There are hundred more tools out there that can make a difference, everything I mentioned above are my go-to apps. I have found that this combination works for me, but it may not for you. I encourage you to try them out first and if they don’t gel well, experiment until you can find the right combination.

Related article: Life Designer’s Toolkit

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

What is the Pomodoro technique?

Pomodoro Technique v2.jpg

A few years ago I was really embracing the role of a video editor. I had a total of 4 monitors glaring back at me, two of them were used for video editing. The one to my far right had a window opened for email, I was ready to immediately respond to anything that landed in my inbox. The last monitor placed above was mostly empty, but whenever I was doing something that didn’t require my full attention I would put on something on YouTube or Spotify to entertain me. Did I need all four to complete a video edit? Of course not, but it was pretty cool sitting in front of it all. I thought I was being productive, I thought I was focused. However, when I came across this one technique of improving my productivity, I realised the monitors had to go and it was time to downsize to one. What productivity hack did I come across might you ask? It was none other than the Pomodoro technique.


How the Pomodoro technique works.

It’s a pretty simple concept that is split into 4 rounds.

One complete round looks like this:

  1. Decide on the task you want to tackle.

  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes.

  3. With no distractions and 100% focus, work on your task until the timer ends.

  4. Set your timer for 5 minutes.

  5. Take a break.

You are to repeat this for another 3 rounds. At the end of your fourth round, you are to have a 15-minute break. This is to be repeated until your task is complete.

When translated into English the word ‘Pomodoro’ means ‘tomato’. It got its name from the tomato-shaped timer the inventor used to keep track of each cycle. Of course, you don’t need to use a tomato timer for your workflow, there are a plethora of apps and websites that can do the same job.

Skillful management of energy.

In his book, “The Power of Full Engagement” Loehr talks about the importance of managing your energy levels. One of the main methods to managing this is by taking regular breaks, 

“At the most practical level, our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage.”

Jim Loehr

Have you ever felt burnt out and your performance level slowly going south? The reason for your burnout isn’t always due to the intensity of work you put in, but rather the lack of rest you implement. Taking calculated breaks from your task is important for the mind. Not only does it allow you to take a step away from your work, it resets your focus levels for when you come back. Allowing you to be more productive in the long run.

That is why the Pomodoro technique incorporates the occasional break. It reminds you to stop. In our society, so many of us have embraced the culture of burning the candles at both ends. Not only is it detrimental to the body, but it halts your performance as well. Overworking has unhealthy consequences that include lack of concentration, sickness, anxiety and a loss of passion. It’s no wonder why so many people are burnt out after long periods of work.

Similar to a car, when we work we’re expending energy from our tank, taking calculated breaks allows us to recover and fill that tank back up. Loehr puts it nicely, “Performance is grounded in the skilful management of energy.”

How do I spend my 5-minute breaks? If I’ve been working at my desk I definitely take a step back and walk away from it. I highly recommend creating distance between your work space and your place of recovery time. Take a 5-minute walk, go to the toilet, have a conversation with a colleague, do anything to get your mind off work.

One of my favourite past times is something quite childish. I like to throw a ball at my wall and invent new exciting ways to catch it. One handed, 360° spins and whatever else I can come up with. You might think I’m being immature but being playful in your rest periods is quite important. Be adventurous in your breaks, wind down and make the most of it. 

Effectively manage your time.

Knowing how to effectively manage your time for each project is an important skill to have. There are so many occasions where we feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin, I know at times I have felt like that. There are times where I’ve been working on a particular task, I look at the clock and I think to myself, “where has the time gone?” Ever since I started incorporating the Pomodoro technique I’ve been able to keep an eye on the time and effectively manage it. 

Knowing that I am to work on a task for 25 minutes at a time, I am able to keep a tally of how many rounds that have gone by. This allows to me decide if I’m working on one task for too long or if I’ve been wasting my time. If you can take control of your time and not let the day go by, I’m positive that your productivity level will spike. 

Remove all distractions

Remaining in a high state of focus can be mentally taxing, it’s challenging to maintain it for several minutes, let alone hours. That is why the Pomodoro technique forces you to work in short bursts. It understands that the mind cannot keep up such a high level of concentration for so long.

In order for you to make full use of the benefits of the Pomodoro technique, it’s important to remove all distractions from your work space. For the next 25 minutes, it’s just you and whatever task you set out to complete. Keeping your phone next to you or allowing colleagues to interrupt you isn’t going to help you be productive. Leave your phone in a drawer, close your email window tab, turn off any desktop notifications. In that time you’re going to be uber creative, solve problems and come up with the next best thing. Allowing something or someone to take that away from you is a travesty, you owe it to yourself to get the work done. Time is precious, what’s more, is how you spend it.

Saying this, I can totally understand if you find it difficult to remove all distractions. If for some reason you need to take the dog out for a walk or if the water is boiling, deal with that first, especially the latter! If you do get distracted, don’t beat yourself up. Reset the timer and continue with doing what you set out to do.

There are times when I’m in a new environment and noise pollution becomes a distraction, what I like to do is put on some headphones and listen to instrumental music. Not only does it drown out the background noise, but it allows me to zone in on the work and reach a level of flow.

My Experience.

Maybe the Pomodoro technique isn’t for you, but before you decide to jump onto the next productivity craze give it a go for at least one of your tasks. Don’t be so strict with the way you approach it, give yourself some leniency and enjoy the process. If you only have 45 minutes to work on a task, mathematically speaking you won’t be able to complete 2 full Pomodoro’s. That doesn’t mean you should not start the task at all!

There are times where I have bent the rules. I added a few more minutes to my break or continue working when the timer went off. I use the Pomodoro technique as a rough guideline to help me manage my time and energy. Ever since I implemented the Pomodoro technique it has definitely streamlined my workflow, which has had a positive knock-on effect on other aspects of my life. I recommend you give it a go and see if it can benefit you too. Everyone has their own methods to be productive. What’s yours going to be?

Links & Apps

What you’re looking for is a way to keep track of each Pomodoro round. You can do this with the help of an app or you can do this with your own timer and notepad. Whatever you choose, make sure it suits your needs.

For the pen and paper enthusiast

Sometimes you can’t beat a good old pen and paper. These days, almost everything is digital, break the trend and go analog! Buy yourself a traditional Pomodoro Timer, a Moleskin Notepad, and a pen.

For the iOS lovers

Having a timer on your phone, tablet and desktop can help you keep in check and not get distracted. If you’re on an iOS device the Be Focused App is ideal

For the iOS haters

Hate everything Apple? No worries I’ve got you covered. The brain focus app will do the job for every Android phone.

For the desktop fanatic

As the majority of my work is done on a laptop, I knew I needed to install a Pomodoro timer on my computer. My go-to desktop application is Tomighty. It's available for both Windows and Mac, which is great as I work on a Dell laptop. Tomighty conveniently sits on your taskbar and notifies you when your break is due and when to get back to work. I’ve been using Tomighty for a while now and I can’t see myself switching over to anything else.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What I Need Is a Deadline

Deadline v2.jpg

I had given myself an impossible goal, at least that’s what I thought at the time. I wanted to surprise my multilingual girlfriend by learning one of her languages and randomly start using it with her. The chosen language was Swedish and I decided to surprise her on her next birthday, which gave me just under 12 months to hit the deadline. With a goal set so far ahead, I thought I’d easily complete it. Stupid me for thinking such a thing! Knowing I had almost a year before the surprise I immediately took a back seat, there was no sense of urgency and I let time fly by. Fast forward 9 months and I was nowhere where I wanted to be. Sure, I studied every now and then. I could understand a few words, construct a few sentences, but enough to surprise my girlfriend? Definitely not. With 3 months left I realised I had to pick up the slack if I wanted to successfully surprise her. I decided to commit to a minimum of 10 hours a week of deep practice. I would use flashcards, converse with locals and log into Duolingo for multiple hours. I’ll be honest with you, it was horrible, but I brought this upon myself. This could have been avoided if I had studied properly from the beginning. Did I successfully surprise her? I’ll let you be the judge of that. 

In my experience, I found setting a deadline one of the main motivators that pushed me to hit my goal. Not only did it hold me accountable, but it put some added pressure that pushed me to get off my lazy arse. In this blog, not only will I share with you my experience with deadlines, but I’ll explain why having a deadline for your goals is not a bad idea for you to implement in your everyday life.

Get your priorities in order.

Having a checklist of tasks to complete is very useful, especially when you have so much to do! You could either track it with a pen and paper, or you could use an online management tool like Trello. The problem with a to-do list is that we can fall into the trap of piling on more tasks without getting a chance to complete anything else. You start off with 3 important tasks, but then reality kicks in and you have to add another 10 more by the end of the week. Sound familiar? Well, it did for me. It wasn’t until I started adding deadlines to each task that I realised what was the most important item to complete. Adding a deadline allows you to step back and discern what needs working on immediately. Tasks with a shorter deadline tend to get bumped up to the top of the list, helping you to create a little order in your list of priorities.

Warren Buffett had a more interesting approach to prioritising his list. When talking with his personal pilot he asked him to write down his top 25 goals. Having done that, Buffett told the pilot to circle his top five most important goals. Once that was done, the list was now split in two. The first list with 5 important goals, the second with the remaining 20. Then Buffett said, “Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

It’s a cut-throat approach to prioritising. but maybe this is what is needed in order to reach your goals. This way of thinking doesn’t have to just be for your life goals, it can also be used for your to-do list for the week or even the day! Understanding what your priorities are in all aspects of your life is important, and setting a deadline for each task, goal or challenge, allows you to establish your level of priority for each one. 

Move with a sense of purpose.

In hindsight, I realised that giving myself a lengthy timeline was my downfall. Knowing that I had an entire year to learn a new skill I moved with no purpose, sure I had a goal, but it was so far away I thought I could take my time and learn at a slow steady pace. There was no sense of urgency, there was no commitment to learning 2 hours a day, there was nothing pushing me to go and study the language. Once I realised that the deadline was looming, that’s when panic set in and I realised if I don’t take this goal seriously, I willmiss the deadline.

Robert Greene, the author of the book Mastery phrased it well,

“The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds...For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured.”

The only thing that got me moving was knowing that the birthday was soon fast approaching. The idea of failure and having to wait another year in order to surprise my girlfriend was enough to light a fire under me and get to work. 

Having a deadline not only helps you to understand what needs working now, but it actually gets you moving and completing the goal. Learn from my mistakes and not set your goals too far in advance. Which leads me to my next point.

Set shorter deadlines.

Setting a goal and giving yourself a deadline is great, but setting one too far into the future that you forget about the goal, is just as bad as not setting one at all. We’ve all been there, it’s a new year and along with it comes new resolutions. Losing weight for the year, getting on top of finances or reading more books for self-improvement are a few of the top ranking new year's resolutions every year. How many are able to stick to their new year's resolutions for the entire year? There’s about a 30% drop off rate from the first week, that increases to 40% after the first month and about 60% fall off the wagon after 6 months. Statistically speaking, you have less than half a chance of sticking to a new year’s resolution.

One reason I believe that so many can’t stick to their resolutions is that they don’t break down their goals down into smaller, manageable deadlines. Looking back, I realised that I should have broken it down into quarters, or perhaps monthly and maybe quite possibly weekly. For this reason, I now keep a weekly report card on my learning status. I honestly grade myself from the previous week, basing it on the number of hours I’ve committed to achieving my goals and deadlines. Ever since I implemented this into my life, I have found that I’ve been holding myself more accountable and getting closer to the main goal. 

Keep that sense of urgency alive in you by constantly giving yourself shorter deadlines to work towards. No matter how little, all of those little victories add up, and sooner than later you’ll find that you’ve achieved the big goal you set out to do. Duke Ellington, the famous composer, and pianist said it best, “I don’t need more time. What I need is a deadline.”

Hold yourself accountable.

Setting yourself a deadline is one thing, but to announce it to the world is a whole different story. Why would you want to do such a thing? To keep yourself accountable of course! When I realised that I only had 3 months left on my deadline, I made a commitment to myself that I would study for at least 10 hours a week, sometimes that would mean studying for 2 hours in one sitting! If I didn’t share this commitment with anyone I could have easily kept it to myself and no one would have known that I had failed. I knew I had to find someone to hold me accountable. After searching the internet for such a service, I came across a website known as Stickk.com. Not only do you announce your commitment to the online world, but you pay a fee to an anti-charity for not achieving your deadline. Sounds ridiculous, but I was sold. Stickk.com utilises the psychological power of loss aversion, the idea of losing something is a great motivator to achieving your goals than getting something for completing it. So I invited a few friends to follow me on my journey and got one of them to referee my progress. Ironically, if I had failed one week I would have to fork out $20 to the anti-charity that campaigned for an independent Britain. I was pretty much funding an organisation that wanted to push my overseas girlfriend further away from me.

How did I do? Out of the 13 weeks of intense studying, there were only two occasions where I was unable to commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week. Which meant I had to fork out $40 to the anti-charity. At least it wasn’t the full $260! Having friends following my progress and the thought of losing out on a relatively large sum of money really motivated me. If you decide to do something similar I recommend increasing the stake to an amount that you’re uncomfortable ‘throwing’ away.

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

My final thoughts.

Everything I’ve shared with you in this article has come from first-hand experience. I too have wondered endlessly with no real direction to achieving my goals. It was only when I decided to give myself a deadline, whether small or big, that it help me establish what the next step was. I can totally understand the stress of giving yourself a deadline and not achieving it. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just gives you some perspective on where you are on your journey. Remember, constant feedback is never a bad thing. Hopefully, by reading this article you would have understood the psychological benefits of constantly giving yourself a deadline and how it far outweighs the little-added pressure on hitting your goal - sometimes a little pressure is good for you! I would recommend at least giving this a try with something small, you can then see if it help motivate you or not. Since experiencing the 3-month deadline for learning a new language, I realised the importance of having a deadline in general. Not only have I placed a deadline for each of my main goals, but I also do it with small tasks throughout the months, weeks and even days. Give yourself one and see how it goes. I wish you good luck on your journey!

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.