Making Hay While The Sun Shines

One lesson I’ve learned over the years is that when things are going well and you’re in a groove that this is the time to double down and work harder.

I don’t really buy into the entire “woo woo” noise about positive energy and that kind of thing, but I do think on occasion we get into “the zone”.  When you’re in the zone everything you touch just seems to work.  It’s like a clarity of vision and purpose meets flawless execution.

The problem for me is, I struggle to actually get myself “into the zone”.  I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it can be hard.  I’m good at setting aside a certain amount of time to do a task like writing a daily email or responding to emails that people send me, but getting on a hot streak where everything starts firing on all cylinders can be elusive.

I have tried a number of different methods – Pomodoro timers, blocking off set amounts of times in my calendar, apps that close everything down, apps that track my time like RescueTime and working in coffee shops.  My productivity is more or less the same, but nothing consistently puts me in a place where I slide into the zone.

The challenge though is maintaining your flow when you do manage to get into that hyper-productive space.  I had a bit of an epiphany on this about a year ago that may seem a bit simplistic, but I thought I’d share it.

Like many people, I keep a few notebooks lying around where I write things down when the ideas come to me.  I also use Evernote extensively for this so I can keep those ideas close wherever I am.  What I started to do is to organise myself a bit more fluidly.

Let me explain with an example.

With Casual Marketer, there are some things that I “have to do” and some things that I “want to do”.  Every time I have an idea it goes into one of those two piles for safe keeping.  I then go through each of those ideas and I break them down into their own constituent parts; basically the steps I need to go through to complete them.

I go into a fair bit of detail about the steps and sub-tasks I need to complete for each idea.  I think this is a key, which I’ll explain why in a bit.  Depending on how big the task is, I might even split it out into its own note in Evernote.

I go over my lists of “haves” and “wants” every single week without fail.  This is one of those things that I consider to be the work I have to put in, not an event or a project.  It’s like putting gas in the car or taking out the trash, they are just things you have to do periodically.

If a task has lingered on the “have to do” list for a little while, I ask myself whether it is really something I must do or if it’s really something I want or would like to do if I had time.  If I have to do it, then I make it a priority for the upcoming week and look to just get it done.  Otherwise, it gets shifted to the desirable pile.

Similarly, with the “wants” list, I go through it and work out if any of those things have become “must do” tasks.  If so, then get shifted to the other list.  I’m also pretty ruthless about whether or not the task is even worth doing.  If it isn’t, I usually purge it or relegate it to some other wishful thinking list, but I get it out of my headspace.

Now, nothing I’ve said here is revolutionary – I’m not a master of time management or project management.  What I am pretty good at though is getting through a fair amount of work on a very regular basis in a limited amount of time and this small change increased my productivity substantially.

The change that made the most difference was categorising things, breaking down the tasks into greater detail and then when I get into a good flow, I enter the zone, I immediately pick off the highest value task from either of my two lists and I get stuck into finishing it.  I use my own momentum and inertia to do the things that are the most valuable while I’m on a roll.

A couple of key thoughts here: one, I don’t care which list the task is on, I do the one that I’ve previously established had the most positive impact on my business; and two, I make a quick decision based on the time I know I have available to pick a task I can get completed.  The subtle elements there is that I try and use that energy to actually COMPLETE tasks, not just make a dent in them.  I don’t want to waste that quality work time on half-finishing a job.

The hardest part I guess is spotting when you’re in the zone.  I have found myself working on something for an hour and making great progress then realising, “Ok, I’m really in a good place here, time to finish this off and crack onto the next task that needs doing.”  I don’t really have a system to help you with this, I can only say that I know when I’m doing good work and making good time.  That’s when I make the call to put my foot down and get the high-value work done!

As a Casual Marketer where you’re business is not your full-time job or you’re doing things as a side hustle, it’s imperative that you maximise the return on your most productive time.

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