We all live in a busy world, but, let’s face it, some of us slightly more than others. You know the feeling: it’s like you’re thirsty and you crave for a glass of water and, all of a sudden, instead of a glass of water you get a river. A huge river rushing towards you, forcing you to adjust your intake of whatever you’re doing to this insane flow.
Wether it’s managing your own startup or trying to take care of twins as a single mother, the symptoms are all the same: stuff must be done and stuff must be done now. And stuff must be done correctly, otherwise it will come back to you and hunt you down until you get it done right. Or until you break down.
During the last year I’ve been involved in a real life business which forced me to experience all of the above (except the twins, though). I started a coworking place and event venue, called Connect Hub, a real place where entrepreneurs and freelancers could work, meet likewise people, learn new stuff and have fun.
In this process I learned a few things that are worth sharing and I’m going to do this in the list below. I’m sharing these productivity hacks with the sole intent of supporting you, if life will ever put you in a similarly difficult situation. And life, you know, has this habit of putting you in all sorts of difficult situations.
Like, literally. In this carousel of things happening around, you will find yourself at times breathing heavily, as if you’re carrying a huge weight on your shoulders. And, although it’s invisible, this weight is real.
Every time you’re in a stressful situation, your brain enters into what is called “fight or flight” state, in which control is given from the neocortex to the limbic brain. Your muscle will get tense without even realizing, because, deep down, you’re facing the perceived danger of not coping with everything that’s on your plate. And your brains projects two possible ways to cope with the situation: either running, or fighting.
Both situations we’ll require you get physical. And you actually get physical without even realizing, you walk around tense and ready to fight. In these moments, breathing helps. A lot. It’s so simple, yet so overlooked. Just count to three before any decision you have to make and breathe.
2. Find (And Respect) An Alternative Physical Activity
I run. I run a lot. And I respect this activity a lot. For me it’s not just a hobby, I run marathons and ultra-marathons. You don’t have to do it at this level, if you don’t like it, but it’s crucial to find something that will balance your body after all the stress you experienced during the day.
You may go to the gym, or swim or just take long walks in the evening. Whatever the activity, the fact that you’re doing it constantly will support you when the going gets rough. It will help you detach your mind from the problems and find clarity.
If you add a dash of competition to it, something very interesting will happen. The psychological reward you get only by participating in those competitions (like popular races, for instance) will act like a magic healing power when something goes crazy at the work. It will give you mental strength.
3. Use The Best Tools
Whatever you’re doing, you have to use tools. Our capacity of manipulating reality, as human beings, is based on the magic of tools. So, if you’re managing a business, by all means, identify all the processes around you and find the right tool to use for each of them.
If you’re communicating a lot, for instance, try to find the best tool: it’s web-based email, it’s Evernote, it’s something on your smartphone? Try them all, confront them with the worst situations and see which one wins. Do your homework. Research.
In the beginning, this research phase, in which you’re actually doing more than you’re supposed to do (because you’re trying new stuff to see if it fits in) will feel tedious. Don’t give up. The rewards you get by automating vast parts of your activity are huge.
4. Keep A Clean Tomorrow
When you have a lot to do, a clear mind is crucial. But, as we already agreed, no mater if your mind is clear or not, the unexpected will creep in and, as Mike Tyson said: “everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face”. And then hell breaks loose.
There is this misconception that you could actually control this flow of events and escape the unexpected. By thoroughly planning everything, for instance. In my experience, you can’t. But what you can do, is to keep a consistent agenda of what you have to do, with “a clean tomorrow”. A clean tomorrow is something that you could see from today.
It has a structure, a plan attached. Maybe the plan will blow up at the first hour in the morning, but that’s irrelevant. When the unexpected creeps in, put it on your agenda and sort it out. But always have a clean tomorrow, that will give you clarity and strength,
5. Rest Correctly
Any prolonged activity, being it physical or intellectual, will create long term effects, it’s obvious. That’s why is very important not only to rest, but to rest correctly. It doesn’t help if you sleep 8 hours per night, if your sleep is of poor quality. This is a very important aspect and it’s often overlooked.
In my experience, rest has to cover at least 3 main areas: intellectual, physical and emotional. It doesn’t really matter if your work is mainly intellectual, I think we should cover all of them.
For mental rest, I use old school reading. I find it very comforting. For emotional rest, I choose to spend time with people who are uplifting and supporting (my partner, or my kids, or some carefully picked friends). And for physical, I regularly do yoga, or, like I said before, I run (it may sound counterintuitive that I’m actually resting when I’m running, but it’s true).
6. Get (And Give) Feedback
In the startup I talked about, we were a very small team and stuff was happening at the speed of light. It was crucial to get feedback all the time. I used to call my colleagues and inform them about my decisions or about the latest changes and listened to their feedback.
Sometimes the feedback was not what I expected, sometimes the feedback contained very useful ideas and sometimes the feedback was simply absent (see point number 7 below about that case). But the mere act of asking for feedback was creating a sort of energy that was very useful.
And it also goes the other way around too. You should state your case every time you have something to say. Sometimes it may be perceived as rough or not polite, but it has to be done this way. When you’re facing a huge river coming at you, do whatever it takes to survive.
7. Pick The Right Partners
One of the most surprising insights I had after this year was that, productivity-wise, the people you work with are sometimes more important than your own business experience, or skills, or vision. Because, if you work in a team, you can only advance with the speed of the slowest guy in that team. That’s a fact.
So, if you want your ship to sail, make sure you have the right crew for that type of trip. Make sure they understand you, they’re able to do what you ask them to do and you’re able to give back what you promise to them. I call these 3 things the “power lines” of the connection. If any of these 3 power lines of your connection are broken, the ship will stop.
But if you happen to pick the right partners, your productivity will sky-rocket. And, from an insanely busy person, you will become just a normal guy, creating a lot of value for other people and enjoying the results.