Organised: Can you stick to new year’s resolutions?

We’ve just entered a new year, and hopefully new beginnings after we’ve had a pretty abysmal 2020. And with new year’s come the dreaded resolutions, which apparently 43% of Brits would have only kept for one month according to a 2015 ComRes poll.

So how do we stay organised and on top of things in order to be productive enough to carry out our goals?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Tom Bourlet, blogger from CBD Sloth

Lizzie Grant, founder of Declutter on Demand

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Dr Daniel Levitin at a Chicago Ideas event in 2015:

New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg talks to Windmill Books:

Productivity guru David Allen speaks at a Ted Talk event in 2012:

Brittany Runs A Marathon Trailer:

Books looked at this week:

Dr Daniel Levitin: Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

Charles Duhigg: Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

David Allen: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to the sixth episode of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

We’ve just entered a new year, and hopefully new beginnings after we’ve had a pretty abysmal 2020. And with new year’s come the dreaded resolutions, which apparently 43% of Brits would have only kept for one month according to a 2015 ComRes poll.

So how do we stay organised and on top of things in order to be productive enough to carry out our goals?

Tom Bourlet, blogger from CBD Sloth tells me it’s all about time management.

TOM BOURLET

Cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin looks at how our brains handle incoming data in Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. There’s the traditional concept of multitasking making you more productive. However, this book and many others refute this claim. Here’s Levitin speaking at a Chicago Ideas event in 2015.

DANIEL LEVITIN

Apparently, our attentional system determines the way our brains handle and organize information – anything our brains pay attention to in other words. And it’s usually the most important thing it focuses on.

Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors relied on being alert to stay alive. But now we put ourselves under undue stress because our brains aren’t equipped to cope with the flood of new facts and sights, we see every day. Dr Levitin states that the brain needs fewer things to focus on, but that one thing needs to constantly change.

When you work against the brain, when you bombard it with information and decisions, when you’re constantly switching your attention between different tasks, your brain sputters and fails. So, one thing at a time.

And because we can only have room for some things, Dr Levitin recommends organising your ideas outside of your head. This could mean using flashcards and diaries etc. He says if the idea will take longer than two minutes to complete write it down straight away, otherwise do it straight away.

Creating categories is essential to organizing our thoughts and our lives. But what should we do with the objects and ideas that don’t seem to belong in any category? He says junk drawers for miscellaneous items are incredibly effective – use them every day, both metaphorically and literally, but they need checking and clearing out if not being used.

Now this is essential, set aside time to refuel so you can increase your productivity later. This is through sleep of course. Research shows that you’re actually twice as likely to solve a problem after you’ve slept on it.

My partner said a film he watched last year followed this idea of pursuing one goal. Brittany Runs A Marathon is about a woman who is forced to get healthy after her doctor refuses to prescribe her Adderall. From couch potato to marathon runner, the real story of Brittany O’Neill is captured on screen and stars Jillian Bell.

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Charles Duhigg combines personal stories and business research to show that being productive isn’t just about managing your to do list.

It’s also about making the right choices and maintaining the right mind-set. Here’s Duhigg speaking for Windmill Books.

CHARLES DUHIGG

Duhigg says you can maintain motivation by making choices to benefit yourself, your team or your project because having choices help you feel you’re still in control. For example, if you have to get through 40 emails, just pick four and read the rest later.

He says to set an ambitious stretch goal – these tend to be what you call ‘out of reach goals’- and then break it down into smaller, easily achievable parts using the SMART technique. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Something you may have heard at work.

However, life is unpredictable. Even if you outline your stretch and SMART goals, unexpected events always pop up and draw your attention away.

So how do you stay focused? One good way Duhigg recommends is to create mental models: It’s a worldview or belief you hold in your mind to make sense of what happens in the world.

One of the best ways to use mental models for better focus is to develop the habit of visualizing yourself handling distractions before they occur, and then simply repeating that story in your mind as the incident happens. Your subconscious can actually work with you here.

Our final book is from American writer, businessman and consultant David Allen. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity looks at how to face an overwhelming number of things to do, but still be productive, creative, and relaxed as you tackle them. Here he is at a TED Talk in 2012.

DAVID ALLEN

Allen says the first step of Getting Things Done or GTD is to write things down! Or at least capture it digitally. Have a notebook and pen, in-trays, post it’s, calendars, and a bin if you want a paper version. And also, a filing system. These days it’s far easier on an app and it’s with you wherever you go.

The second step is to clarify what each item is and what you can do with it. The GTD system only works if you also periodically empty your collection tools. Is the task actionable or not? If it never will be, it belongs in the bin. If it is actionable, what is the desired end result?

If it takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it right then. If it takes longer and you’re not the right person for it, delegate it. If you are the right person but it will take longer than 2 minutes – defer it.

The third step is organizing the outcomes into a structure of lists. Allen says this can be categorised as – if there is more than one step to the task with a desired end result – this is called a project. If it requires action by someone else, then it will go under a “Waiting for someone else list”.

If it’s a deferral, either it goes in your calendar or Next Action list. If it’s not currently actionable, then it can go on a someday or maybe list, or if it’s useful reference material, label it as such. This is all about good project management.

By looking at the purpose and principles of your project,

Envisioning the outcome,

Brainstorming ideas of how to get there,

Organizing your ideas,

And identifying next actions, you already have a project plan.

I love that Allen says calendars are only for keeping appointments and not where to-do lists should be written. Personally, this makes total sense.

Then reflect on what is important to you and review the items in your system. Have you completed everything you needed to do that day or the week before? Allen says spending an hour every week sorting out your system will ensure its success.

The last step is to engage your tasks. Pick which action you wish to undertake at this time and do it. He says to primarily trust your gut instinct in choosing what to do in the moment, but consider these criteria: what can you do right now? What do you have time for? What do you have energy for? And which task has the highest priority?

Looking from the bottom up, Allen recommends looking at current actions, moving further and further away until you reach what your long-term vision and life goals are.

He believes the idea is to have a greater sense of control over your work which produces a sense of relaxed control, better decisions and more flexibility.

So, to sum up:

Dr Levitin recommends focusing on one task at a time, and writing down any task that will take longer than two minutes to do.

Duhigg says to set stretch goals for yourself, then narrow them down into achievable parts.

And Allen’s Getting Things Done system is about capturing your thoughts, clarifying what each item is, organize outcomes through structured lists, reflect and review your tasks, and then engage by actually doing the tasks.

I use a bunch of note apps including Google Keep, Google Tasks, Evernote, and my partner rates Notion very highly. I also started my new year’s resolutions in November and December this year so I would have already completed a month by January. This includes starting this podcast, losing 4 kilos in the past two months, quitting vaping, and beginning playing the keyboard in the past few weeks.

What will be your new year’s resolutions and how will you stick to them?

Here’s Lizzie Grant, professional organiser, former lawyer, and founder of Declutter on Demand on what organising means to her and how it helps her to be productive and carry out new year’s resolutions. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!

LIZZIE GRANT

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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