Merlin Mann of 43Folders gives us his top 5 super-obvious, “no-duh” ways to immediately improve your life. They all seem pretty obvious, but are not easy to execute on a daily basis.
1. Reduce noise – We all have innumerable inboxes, interruptions, and distractions that are part of work and life — you can’t change that. What you can do is get more hard-nosed about the elective diversions that you invite into your world. Cancel a subscription for a magazine you never read or sign off an annoying mailing list. Needles get easier to find when you aren’t constantly adding new hay to the stack.
2. Write things down – Ever find a piece of paper in your office with seven digits on it? You know it’s a phone number, but whose? Get ruthless about jotting down ephemeral information if you’ll need to recall it later. Remember that your brain is a creative organ with limitless creative possibilities — but it makes a really crummy whiteboard.
3. Focus on action – My favorite productivity book, “Getting Things Done” highlights how anything you want to do in life eventually comes down to intentional physical activity — even if it’s something as mundane as “take out trash” and “call Mom.” Learn the habit of planning your world around action verbs rather than fuzzy nouns. “Implement Strategy” is not a task; it’s a project. “Call Jim about strategy” is a very do-able “next action” that keeps the ball in motion.
4. Get out of your inbox - Many of us are habituated to living out of our email inbox, voicemail, and the other “in baskets” of our lives. Instead, try to set aside regular, periodic times when you trawl for the new content in your life — then get back to work! Inboxes are delivery systems, not workspaces. The real work is happening in your brain and practically every other place that’s not an inbox. Stop allowing yourself to be brow-beaten by the latest, loudest, or most dramatic item that’s landed in your world.
5. Get pickier – You are the sole person in your life who gets to decide where your time and attention can go. Take that responsibility seriously by not wasting time on junk. You know in your heart what’s really important to you — does the current direction of your time and attention reflect that? Is “kid hugging” time where it should be in proportion to “Blackberry checking” time? Be mindful at the highest level about where you focus your energy, and always strive not to squander it on undeserving activities.