Somewhere on the internet I stumbled upon Henry Miller’s own commandments.
Although dating from 1932, these guidelines are still very up to date.
And worth to tinker about.
When in Argentina last year, I found myself day after day in ‘the flow’. A weird thing. It definitely was linked to my workflow back then. Upon returning to Belgium I lost this never-ending flow. And after a while I lost myself in procrastination.
Then, in just one moment, I got tired of my behaviour in ‘not doing stuff’.
So I tried to recreate the circumstances of Argentina in order to retrieve this ideal ‘flow’.
I discovered the stuff that mattered to me.
I’m trying to write everything down, as a reminder for myself.
Maybe it’ll help you too.
One thing that surely helped me a lot in ‘working’ instead of ‘procrastinating’, was the tiny free e-book of ‘Zen To Do‘, , a simple way to GTD, which basically categorizes your workload into big ‘stones’ and small ‘stones. And in between some ‘rewards’. This system is still today the basis of my GTD workflow. I sometimes forget to follow its rules, but I keep returning to its principles.
A tiny book describing an ideal workflow is one thing. The noisy distracting work environment the internet is, is another. I figured out that the same computer that distracted me, could also help me to achieve my perfect workflow. As long as I tweaked it well. You have to learn to use your tools so they serve you best.
To me, clutter-free equals focus (which is actually another free e-guide worth reading)
The first thing I did, was remove all the distractions on my mac, the stuff that drags me away from my work:
1/ no more pop ups from twitter, Facebook, and especially this growling sound on mac. Mute.
2/ I disabled all the sounds. The mail ‘tching’, the twitter bird. All sounds. Mute.
3/ All the badges on the dock had to go be disabled. No more red signs on how many mails were left unread. Disable.
4/ I cleaned my dock and removed apps that were barely used. I also cleaned my desktop.
From that moment onwards there is this kind of nice silence floating around.
It’s still one of the first things I do on new computers: disabling all the distractions.
But these conditions do not yetmake you ‘work’. They only remove the noise.
Before computers, we didn’t have as much distractions. We were working on one thing, our mind could ponder, or we could get up from our desk and do something else. But switching stuff was much harder than on a computer.
There is so much: we open twitter, Facebook, a browser and off we go.
You can’t disable these tools, since these, in my case, are the same tools I use professionally.
In Argentina, I went as far as removing Twitter from my mac. Only the iPad had it. It was very effective. But as I also use for my professional network, I’m still biased on this matter.
I like ‘to do’ lists. I like completing a ‘to do’ and then removing it from my to-do list.
And after trying so many apps for handling to do’s, I settled with the magnificent The Hit List.
It syncs different computers, it has an iPhone app (which i barely use).
But what does the trick for me is the ‘day view’, the short cuts, and especially the ‘quick entry with context’: by using a simple shortcut, you can turn a mail into a to-do item.
Emptying my mailbox, and moving my ‘to do’s’ into a separate application turned out to be key.
Mail is something that needs to be handled quickly.
a/ you answer
b/ it is a task
c/ you delegate it and need to follow-up.
Before I used The Hit List, this stuff just stayed in my mailbox, and it turned in a big mess: to do’s, follow-up, simple mails all got mixed up. Mail has no deadlines, no agenda assigned to it.
And here’s where for me Hit List came to the rescue: I turn a to do into an item in The Hit List, and I immediately assign a due date, and link it to the right project.
The Hit List organizes the rest: it pops up at the right moment, reminding me of what I need to do it. It even warns me: you’ll need to start working on this in 3 days. And if I forgot it, it pops up in the ‘Past Due’ list on top of everything, bugging me.
It works great. (I use The Hit List instead of Action Method, my reminders are also in The Hit List, or in iCal. As calendar I use iCal)
I figured out this is where things went wrong upon return to Belgium: The Hit List did not have an iPad app, and so I switched to other apps. But these apps didn’t have the great daily overview, they didn’t come with the easy shortcuts that enabled me to create a task in a jiffy.
Since 4 weeks, I’m back to using the workflow I applied during our adventure. And it works well: my work gets done more quickly and my mail is back below 12 items in the inbox.
And I love it. Every piece of it.
Are things perfect?
No. For sure not. There are still days I procrastinate, I should get up and do fun projects instead of spending time on nothingness.
Twitter is still a bitch. And I refresh my mail way too often, even if I shouldn’t. (Yes, I disabled automatic mail arrival.)
I should definitely check out Keystroke Maestro to close down inactive apps after 10 minutes (especially Twitter), and full screen apps and maybe Concentrate could help me even more.
But I really think it’s a mindset, more than a workflow, that keeps me from my work.
Like back in the days when I needed to study, and I came up with 10.000 reasons and things why not to do so.
So what’s your workflow? What helps you in achieving flow?
* I’m talking about The Hit List, but I’m sure you can achieve the perfect workflow with a different app. I just like this one a lot for my workflow :)
**Other useful apps worth mentioning:
–Alfred: allows you to quickly call apps, so you can remove them from your dock to become clutter free. Also runs AppleScript.
–Freedom: closes the internet to focus on work (perfect for designers, and people who work offline)
–Anti-Social: closes the social internet for a while (yes Facebook)
–Selfcontrol: combination of freedom and anti-social
–WriteRoom , Ommwriter & Writer: distraction free writing
–Think: hides all the other apps in the background
–Houdini: hides inactive apps from your dock
***Nice blog post on the matter: FortySevenMedia