As most of you have probably noticed, I’ve never put up a guest post on this site. I’m quite picky about the content of the blog which is why I have always preferred to write it all myself.
However, the following post is indeed written by someone else. It is written by fellow blogger, master of productivity and most importantly, my friend…Fabian Kruse of FriendlyAnarchist.com. Recently, Fabian has taught me a great deal about being productive while traveling and as a result, I wanted to give him a platform to share his ideas with you as well.
There’s a singing German drinking Mojitos from a plastic bucket.
There’s a power outlet that doesn’t look familiar by any means.
There’s a hard drive error and the repairperson only speaks Cantonese.
There’s no wi-fi available within 250 miles.
There’s a deadline, lurking behind it all. Lurking with that evil chuckle deadlines make as they approach to get you.
The question is: Do you stress out?
Or do you sit down and get your stuff done?
To be fair, the challenges aren’t all that bad. I personally prefer some interesting new distractions now and then over simply getting tempted to check my Twitter feed all the time. Overall, working on the road will be both tough and rewarding. The problem is that if you don’t manage to overcome the tough part, you won’t get the rewards.
The usual approach to improve productivity is to buy a book, attend a course or maybe even hire a consultant – and then implement some kind of pre-fabricated “system”. Unfortunately, this will often require you to mold your lifestyle and preferences just to make yourself fit into it: You have to get used to work at certain hours, use certain tools, adopt certain techniques and follow prescribed rules. All these changes will drain your energy and results will often be sub-par.
Let me show you another approach to it: It’s called “productivity beyond rules”.
Here’s how it works: You can do whatever you want, as long as it works for you. Forget about the systems and just have it your way. There are no rules other than doing what helps you to get your stuff done!
So how does this work in practice? The “beyond rules” approach takes the power from the books and tools and gadgets and consultants – and plays the ball back to you. It invites you to try more new things and see what works for you.
The secret to it lies in constant experimentation and finding your personal sweet spot. It doesn’t matter if you organize your stuff on paper or digitally, if you work in the morning hours or late at night: Once you have the right motivation and the will to move forward, the tools will follow.
What You Can Do NOW
That said, there are a couple of things you can do now to raise your productivity a hundred percent within the next couple of days. These things work because they focus on removing psychological hurdles rather than prescribing any pre-fab system. Let’s jump right in…
1) Get Your Head Clear
If you aren’t a happy productivity expert right now, chances are that your brain is cluttered with a whole lot of “stuff”: Things to do, things to think about, things to worry, things to look forward to, things you would rather like to get sorted, done, or forget about altogether. These can be anything from memories, travel destinations and household chores to dreams, ideas, fears and wonders.
Here’s your treatment: Take a pencil and a notebook and write all of that stuff down onto one simple list. Don’t categorize anything, don’t sort it, just write it down. You will need a minimum of 30 minutes for this, and probably much longer. It wouldn’t be uncommon to end up with 150+ things on your list.
Why this works: Our brain isn’t a junkyard. Yet still we manage to fill it with all kinds of junk. Getting this junk out of our head and onto paper gives us new room to breathe, think and act.
2) Relieve Your Unconscious Self
Once you’ve got all that stuff on paper, you might still feel some need to categorize or process it. This is what I’d recommend you to do, no matter in which practical approach you prefer: You could organize the items by priority, by context, by persons involved and so on. You could still do this on paper or use some piece of software.
Many of the items will just be things that are flowing through your head but don’t require any kind of action. You might want to get rid of them or simply keep them on that list for later reference. Maybe you’d even like to start some kind of diary to give these items a permanent home.
Other things, in contrast, will require further processing: For these items, it’s time to make a plan, defining projects and concrete tasks! Specifically, we want to look at some of the more interesting items, things that might be categorized as your “bucket list”. I decided to highlight these here because they are most likely to include travel and, unfortunately, to be forgotten! (That said, the approach will be similar for any kind of project, interesting or not.)
Why this works: Research has shown that making concrete plans will help us to escape the “monkey-mind”, our unconscious self constantly reminding us of the stuff we have to do. The trick to achieve this is not to actually do all that stuff right away – this would be impossible, considering the task-load of the average 21st century person – but to make a clear and concrete plan of how, when and where to tackle it.
3) Create Bucket Tasks
Everybody has a bucket list nowadays: It usually consists of a hundred things to do before you die. Unfortunately, most people manage to forget about it pretty quickly – until it’s too late and their life is over.
Yes, it’s a bitter truth: Only few of us manage to actually check that list off before hitting the bucket. So here’s the new approach I’d like to propose: Take the things off your bucket/someday/maybe list and make them a priority! Turn them into concrete tasks (see point no. 4!).
Why this works: Dreams will remain dreams forever if we don’t start to make them real. While we still could get lucky that it all falls into our laps, the odds are incredibly against us – if we don’t take things into our own hands.
As far as we know, we’ve only got one shot at this. One single shot. Depending on your age and health conditions, this could mean you have 70, 50, 30 or maybe only 10 years left. It could be even less. If you want to travel, you can either do it during this life – or you won’t do it at all. So if you want to swim in the Mediterranean before you die, you better start making a plan on how to get there.
4) Be (Relentlessly) Concrete
The trick to getting things done is to make it easy for yourself. When creating any kind of to-do or task list, treat yourself like a stubborn, stupid donkey from another planet. Be as explicit and concrete as possible.
To make this clear: “Visit Mexico” isn’t a task. If you look at it on a to do-list, your brain will be like, “Oh well. This looks interesting. And dangerous. And complicated. Where should I even start? Hmm… There’s this cool new show on HBO tonight so I better just switch on my TV…” – and you won’t travel anywhere!
Now, “Book a flight to Mexico” still is not a task!
Will you go to Mexico DF? Yucatán? Acapulco?
Roundtrip or one-way?
Where will you book it?
When are you going to leave?
How long are you going to stay?
“Research one-way flight prices to Cancún for mid-January on Kayak.com” – That’s a task!
Why this works: Our rational self tends to overthink everything we do. Once we see a complex item on our to-do list, instead of working on it we will first of all ponder about how to approach it. Getting clear about what to do and actually doing it are two very different things. Sometimes, getting clear will just take chunks of a second. Sometimes, it will take days of thinking. Whatever the case may be, you have to be absolutely sure about what you want to do. Once you’re clear about that, the thinking is out of the way and taking action will be easier than ever.
5) Embrace the Distractions
Ideal conditions are a myth. In real life, there will always be distractions and inconveniences: You will feel slightly sick or tired or both. You will lack some kind of resource, time will be short, the computer won’t work as it should.
You know what? You can still get stuff done!
Learn to use the flow of the place and the moment – despite its imperfections.
The train is late, the hostel crowded, the day too rainy to explore? This might be horror for tourists on a weekend trip, but it could be just the perfect day for productive nomads: Open your laptop and do something! Take out your notebook and outline your next project! Go to an internet café and make the calls you have been putting off!
Why this works: While many of us prefer to work under the smoothest conditions, we all can learn to get things done in crowded places and despite the many distractions or unexpected events we encounter on the road. It’s more: These events can actually be channeled and used as creative energy. As they are new to us, they can spark our work and give birth to new ideas, if only we are willing to take them this way.
Ignoring the Sorcerers
You can work in the morning and explore at night.
You can work for one week and travel the next.
You can work for six months, only to explore evermore afterwards. (That’s what Earl has managed to do so elegantly!)
You can use tiny chunks of time that open up during travel in order to advance your agenda.
You can only work during long, uninterrupted sessions in a quiet place.
You can mix the two, just as you please.
You can work in an apartment.
You can work at coffee shops.
You can work in the park, the library, on board of trains.
Hell, there are people happy to work at airports!
Who said there was only one way to be organized, one way to master your inbox, one way to get lots of stuff done? There are plenty of sorcerers who want to sell you tricks to “bend the spoon” and who will promise you Heaven and Earth if only you buy into their system.
All you have to understand is that the system itself is a trick! There is no one way to do this stuff! After years of studying these topics, reading hundreds of books, forums and blogs, exchanging thoughts with digital nomads and productivity geeks, looking into dozens of approaches and systems, I’m sure about one thing: Productivity cannot be improved by adopting any fixed “one-size-fits-all” system.
Obviously, there are plenty of ideas and approaches that can help us to improve and inspire us to create our own way of getting things done. But in order to be the most effective, we have to ignore the sorcerers and experiment with our own preferences and desires.
Once we learn to let go of them, let go of perfectionism, worries, insecurities and exaggerated expectations, we will be free to sit down and enter work mode.
Ultimately, this is what being productive anywhere really is about.
This post was written by Fabian Kruse of FriendlyAnarchist.com.
To learn more about Fabian’s productivity ideas and the comprehensive guide he created, be sure to check out his site’s Productive Anywhere page.