The Right Attitude for Getting Things Done

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I’ve had this topic on my mind for some time now. Ever since February I’ve been thinking about writing this post but then something else has come up and I’ve concluded that I don’t have enough time or energy to put down the thoughts on how to get things done.

(Loving the irony here.)

This week, however, I find the timing to be right for this post. After all, I’ve just managed to write the remaining 37 pages to my thesis in just four days and finished the whole thing (at least when it comes to content), reaching a deadline I was almost certain I would miss.

Therefore, I thought I could share with you today how I manage to do things that even I have trouble believing to be able to manage.

The Great Final

Of course, I did not write all those 37 pages just for fun or because I thought I had the time to do it. I put down all that effort because the great final is finally approaching: the deadline of my Thesis.

In March, I was still doing pretty well with my academic work. I managed to do the interviews and transcribe them, just in time before I went on a trip to Tallinn which was followed by two weeks of election work squeezed into one. However, as a result of those two events, I was lagging behind in my thesis work. Seriously.

In order to make the deadline accessible again, i.e. to be able to write those pages and all those words, I decided to cancel Easter. Instead of relaxing at my parents’ summer cottage I stayed home the whole long weekend writing, eating and then writing some more. And finally, in the evening of Easter Monday I was ready to declare that I had written my thesis.

Don’t Go Easy On Yourself

The thing that made the progress possible was the fact that I decided I could do it. Getting things done and reaching those seemingly impossible goals is about finding the right attitude for it, the right kind of grit. But you certainly benefit from having some time management and organizational skills as well.

So, here are the four lessons I’ve learned while aiming to become an efficient person:

1. To-do lists

This one I’ve talked about before – but I will talk about it again because it is so important to know what you need to get done during that week of yours in order to be efficient.

The to-do list that I create every Monday morning enables me to see the program for the whole week: how much I’m planning on reading and writing; what social events I need to take into consideration and what time some certain yoga classes are being held. I can also put down the details on the specific project I want to get done: how much I need to do at certain days to reach a certain goal.

By creating a day-by-day plan for your goal of the week, you are able to prepare yourself for the amount of work that you need to do because you can already see it in front of you. The to-do list makes your work and the energy it requires more predictable – and that is exactly what you need.

For me, an activity called ’thesis work’ has been on my to-do list every day for the past few weeks. To accompany the regular to-do list, I have another to-do list dedicated for thesis work alone. That’s the list where I keep a log on how many words I’ve written and what I plan to do the next day.  For a project like this, I really need a second to-do list. And you might need one too, if your project’s big enough.

2. Prioritizing

When you’ve done the to-do list for the week, you need to decide upon what activities are the most important. Can the laundry wait for a few days in order to get your project done? Can you postpone the coffee meeting with your friend to the following week? Do you have to update Instagram three times a week this particular week or could you put those minutes into planning your project?

I, for instance, decided to prioritize writing my thesis over Easter and some family time.

If you find prioritizing challenging, you can try the Eisenhower Matrix that helps to realize what tasks are truly urgent and truly important, and what tasks are important but can be done at a later time.

By prioritizing your activities you are able to maximize your efficiency because you are giving the most urgent and important tasks the time and energy they require while letting the other things wait for another day or a whole other week.

3. Just get it done

After watching this short video by Art of Improvement about simply getting things done, I’ve really been able to become even more efficient.

One especially bad habit I used to have was to read the e-mails I got immediately but respond to them always a bit later than I should have – or could have. The same thing happened with phone calls. I always drew out the time and called people back hours later – although I was there, next to my phone, when they called.

I postponed simple activities for no proper reason, and at the same time I was wasting a lot of energy on thinking about them without doing anything to them. But then I decided on something: I decided to change my behavior and actually forced myself to answer or call back as soon as possible. Today, after months of practice, I’m pretty good at answering the phone immediately and returning e-mails as soon as possible.

And the best part of it is that I’ve become energized by my own efficiency (of doing very simple things) which has helped me get even more things done.

4. Don’t Go Easy On Yourself

This is perhaps the most important thing: if you have a project that you want to get done, keep your expectations on your performance high. Don’t put the bar low – instead, put it as high as you can.

You think you could write 20 pages this weekend? Aim for 25! Or maybe you think you have the energy to clean only half of your apartment on Friday? Decide to try to clean up the whole place and see what happens!

(Of course, this principle doesn’t work for every project but the wise man knows the exception to every rule.)

Put the bar a bit higher than the point you think you can reach, because the probability of you actually reaching that higher bar is very high. As Seth Godin says, by raising your expectations you raise your performance. And that, my friend, is how you get things done and surprise everyone around you (and yourself). That is how you write 37 pages of academic text and manage to meet your own deadline.

That is how you succeed.

 

Choosing What’s Important

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I had been hoping I would be able to write a nice update on how my editing process is going. A month ago, I had just read my manuscript of Yellow Tails from beginning to end and was excited to share some facts about the plot and the main character, Jello.

I thought that the notes I took while reading the manuscript for the first time would be enough to start editing the story, but I decided to go a different way. Instead, I chose to focus on planning a more detailed storyline before diving into the editing process of the actual manuscript.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month: working through every scene, creating an external, plot-focused arc and combined it with an internal, emotion-focused one – trying to create a well-flowing, interesting story.

However, I haven’t come very far. This past month hasn’t been a glorious month of progress when it comes to editing Yellow Tails. Why? Because I’ve been focusing on my Master’s thesis. And that hasn’t been a completely conflict-free decision.

Work Before Passion

I’ve been beating myself up many times for not focusing more on my book project. For many weeks now, on my list of to-dos for the week, I’ve had a box waiting to be ticked off, saying Plan Act 2, Part 2 and the next day, Plan Act 3, Part 1 and so on – but none of those boxes have been ticked off. There hasn’t been any progress, which makes me incredibly disappointed, even a bit sad.

Instead of editing, I’ve been focusing on my thesis (and this blog, in order to allow myself to think about something else than qualitative research methods). One could say that I’ve been prioritizing work over my passion for fiction-writing for the past month – and that does not sound nice to my ears.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who puts obligatory to-dos first instead of things I’m passionate about. But as the deadline for my thesis is closing in on me… so are the thesis-related thoughts. I just have to make a choice and that choice is, this time, to work.

So, instead of an update on Yellow Tails, how about some facts about my thesis?

I’m doing qualitative research about a relatively unknown phenomena called digital volunteers. To find out what is known about the phenomena in my country, I will be doing semi-structured interviews with local authorities and then try to find some patterns in their thinking that describes their awareness.

The deadline for my thesis is in the end of April (or, if I don’t make it then, a month later), after which I will graduate.

(At the moment, I’m in the part of the process that is, for me, the most daunting one: I have to call people and try to find authorities who would like to participate in my study and give an interview. For some people, calling up unknown folks isn’t a problem but for me it’s something I always try to postpone as long as possible.)

After I’ve found enough participants, what’s left for me to do is to interview them (which I’m not that nervous about because of my background in journalism), transcribe and analyze their answers and write write write until my thesis is done.

So… Any wonder the thesis has taken over almost everything else?

Reminder of Balance

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with myself because the editing process of Yellow Tails has been standing still. Last week, I even noticed some thoughts on giving up on the whole thing. The questions of Is this still worth it? Many first books don’t get published (although this isn’t my first book but third), should I just move on to the next and forget about editing this one? where actively bouncing around in my mind.

I couldn’t believe myself.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now – and so quickly, so easily, I was thinking of giving up? That’s so not me! I’m no quitter and most of all, I have belief in my own story! I think Yellow Tails has something great in it and I can’t simply give up on the story because of an academic, obligatory paper. Giving up would be an incredibly shortsighted thing to do. But still, I was having these thoughts. It made me realize that somehow, my balance was off.

And that forced me to reason with myself.

In the beginning of the year, I wrote about finding balance during the year of 2019 (and onward). It’s a journey of finding the right ratio of everything, between accomplishing things and taking it easy, in understanding when you need to give your best and when it’s enough with the nearly best. But I’d like to say that finding balance is also about prioritizing.

Until now, I’ve been pushing myself to work on three projects at the same time: writing this blog, writing and editing Yellow Tails and working on my thesis. The blog-writing process has been an uncomplicated one, something I have in the system, but balancing between the other two has been tough. When I am working on Yellow Tails, my mind is constantly reminding me of the to-dos with my thesis and I feel bad. And when I am working on my thesis, my mind keeps going back to Yellow Tails and wondering how much I am dragging behind those self-imposed deadlines I have decided upon earlier this year.

I am constantly feeling bad about not working on the one while working on the other.

Therefore, I have decided to prioritize. From now on, as my thesis has an actual deadline created by other people than myself, I will give more attention to writing (and finishing) the thesis. I will continue prioritizing it as long as needed, probably for the following two months. Hopefully, this will help me lower my stress-levels, keep me from beating myself up for not doing everything I’d like to do and also, focus my energy on one thing at a time because multitasking never did any good.

However, I’m also aiming to maintain my balance. Working on Yellow Tails makes me happy and calm, and that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate one hour every day to edit the manuscript. But instead of having amount-of-work goals, I am opting for amount-of-time goals. Hopefully, this will give me the best of both projects during these up-coming months.

Keeping it Positive

Although I don’t have a passion for doing academic research or writing only things that are based on something someone else has written before and not what I think about things, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude to the whole thesis writing project.

For instance, the thing I mentioned earlier about calling: I was extremely stressed out, nervous, even horrified about calling up those authorities and talking to them about a topic they probably didn’t know about. Trying to get them say yes to an interview about something even I don’t know if it exists in Finland, was like trying to sell a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t exist yet. Talk about taking a walk outside one’s comfort zone… However, everything went fine! I begun making those calls last Friday and although I’m definitely no sales woman, I managed to find four (4) authorities that were interested to participate! That sudden gush of hope and motivation was really rewarding.

And, if nothing else, writing my thesis and being forced to stay away from my true passion for fiction writing, has helped me see what I really love to do and what I’m passionate about. We get blind so quickly, we humans. We seem to need a reminder of things we love and respect, as often as possible.

I wish you an energetic Thursday!