When I first started my business in 2010, I had no clue what I was doing. So I picked up a few books on how to start a small business, how to run a Graphic Design company, and how to do basic Profit & Loss statements. As soon as I learned something new, I would implement it into my business immediately to test it out.
A few months later, I bought a photographic camera, watched an online lesson on how to use the camera, put up a few photos I took on my website, and got my first project doing Photography within weeks. But when my business started to take off just 6 month later, I quickly put off my practice of learning and testing new ideas. I put my head down and pushed as far as I could without picking up much new knowledge except by accident. That was a big mistake.
Too many times during my professional life, I have stopped learning about new ideas and concepts. And in the last few months, I realized it is something that I deeply need to focus on again. So in 2018, I picked up 2 new books that have been hugely helpful for me that I wanted to share, called Smarter Faster Better and When.
Here are 3 big concepts in January 2018 that I have learned & will definitely continue to practice in February.
1. Focusing On 1-3 Big Goals Per Day
I have always had a a tendency to start working in the morning and try to tackle all of the various emails, voice messages, and little tasks as quickly as possible to "catch up" and feel as though I was on top of all my to-do lists. Getting sucked into that habit, I would often look at my day by around 8pm and feel like I accomplished nothing. Instead, I just felt busy. Many studies show that just about everyone feels good when they cross items off a To-Do List. But if the items on that list are menial and unimportant, all that fake productivity is really just wasted time.
So I now put only my most important tasks on my to-do lists for the day. These important to-do lists usually entail phone calls, or new ideas to test out to grow my business, or a task at home for my family that cannot go unnoticed. As long as those items are accomplished, I can freely catch up on all of my other tasks for the day and feel good that I've already accomplished the most important ones first.
2. Planning Strategic Breaks
I tend to have a workaholic personality. I like having tasks that I can achieve on a day-to-day basis, and then power through as much of it as possible. Since I was a child, I always noticed I had this big unmotivating lull in the late afternoon. I always attributed it to the sun going down, with the colors in the sky feeling very yellow and depressing. I always saw late afternoons as times of the day where I just needed to push through until I got a new spur of energy right around when the sun was setting.
But then I came across a study done by two professors at Cornell University performed in 2011 showing that, beyond culture, geography or ethnicity, most people experience a mood and energy lull in the late afternoon, on average between 2pm and 4pm. Realizing my childhood thoughts were actually based on a scientific reality, I now intentionally give myself a break, planned in advanced, in the late afternoon. It involves no working, no phone calls, and no to-do lists. Even if it is just a 30 minute break, I try something like reading a book to my kids, going outside to water the garden, watching my wife cook a new recipe she's trying out, or taking a short walk. As soon as my break is over, I get 1 last coffee for the day, and power through work for the rest of the evening often until 8 or 9pm.
Taking a fully-detached break is something I never valued before, but it has greatly helped me to stay motivated fully in the morning and fully in the afternoon & evening.
3. Writing Things Down
Before I had a smart phone, I used to write things down all the time. But as new Apps and software came around, it has been easy to try out too many ways to track ideas and tasks. But I recently had a huge realization that the technique I used for planning my day was not working when I missed an important phone call for a new project. I had it marked on my Google Calendar and set an email reminder, but despite all the reminders, it still slipped my mind. The amount of information overload that a phone or computer provides has often caused me to easily lose focus on the most important tasks I need to get done.
Then I came upon a study, performed in 2014 by Princeton and UCLA, which observed the difference between students who write their class notes down by hand versus those students who type notes up on their computer. When tested on how much course material was memorized between the two groups, the researchers found that students who wrote things down by hand were 2 times more likely to recall and retain information than the group who typed everything by computer.
It turns out, that putting more effort into writing something down and then having that information physically in front of you, as opposed to hiding it away on a digital device, forces your brain to prioritize and remember the information better. So I quickly thought through a technique that could force me to practice this and these other important principles I had just learned.
Putting it all together
I put all 3 of these new concepts together on a single 3x5 note card. I have a stack of 1000 cards I bought from Office Max for $3, and use about 10 of these cards per day. I write these new notes out in the evening so that I already know exactly what my day's plan will be the following morning. It incorporates all 3 principles stated above:
- Focus on 1-3 of the most important tasks for the day
- Set aside a clear, timed and intentional break
- Write things down instead of log them digitally
I know many of you are already greatly successful at your business and likely practice some of these ideas on your own. But I've always greatly appreciated learning new things from other people that have impacted my life, so I hope that some of these ideas that I am sharing might be helpful for you as well.