There are many gurus out there who promise you they’ll double your productivity, or magically double the time you have. I am sure they have their tricks. But in general you’ll notice some pushing to-do-lists and apps that help you to-do-it. Others want to help you identify time wasting habits and sweep them under the carpet or throw them away, leaving you with the productive stuff. Some others will teach you to train your mind to focus on the important things.
The question I ask is that I want to do something useful. I know what it is. I simply cannot get myself to do it. Search for something and sooner or later you’ll get it by grace of God – as the saying in Hindustani goes. An article I came across recently opened my mind to my situation. A situation I believe many people like me go through. My typical work day was sitting down to do my work yet being easily distracted by other things important and unimportant. While I would try to focus and calm down my monkey mind, time would run as fast as possible and before I knew it my work day was almost up. I tried to keep a diary. It really helped me find out where I was wasting time. I found that sometimes I would consume information. I always thought I was a great learner and I loved to learn more. But I would get tired because of all the brain activity. So I would step out to cool down. Maybe go for a walk or have some tea and snacks. Sometimes I would even feel like doing some vigorous exercises. I never understood the feeling. Hanging out with friends and colleagues was compulsory and there was a fixed time for that. The evening tea time was when we ordered some snacks when in office or when at home all friends employed, self employed or business people took out the time to meet before calling it a day and going back home to their families and going to sleep. Writing my diary helped me be clear about my work day. But why was my work day like this? That’s where the article came in.
The article talked about states of mind throughout the day. You have the hyperactive state of mind where you like to consume information. This is your monkey mind jumping all around the place. Asking to be fed new information or analyse new information. Asking for more till it’s tired and full. The other state is the robot state or as some call it the autopilot state. This is the time we could do things automatically because we are familiar to them and have become so used to them we could literally do this stuff with our eyes closed. We also have another state of mind where we are tired but bursting with creativity. Trying to bring out all the things we have learned. We are calm enough to do them rather than debating with our inner self about alternatives or different perspectives.
Timing these modes
My diary had already helped me identify my modes or conscious states of the day. Now I had to put them in action. I loved to watch videos or read to feed my monkey brain. This was usually in the morning. Then when my brain was tired of all that work I would take a break with friends. Then I would love to sit down to do some work – that is write. Then analyze which of my work was working which was underperforming. And of course there was meeting my friends and hanging out without worrying about work.
In all of this my time table is not perfect because sometimes I feel like working when I am with friends. Sometimes I feel like reading when I am doing work. And I feel like resting when I am working. The answer to this lies in cognitive load theory. Or maybe I am making it up since the mind looks for patterns and confirmation of information you already have. So I believe that the brain will avoid doing the thing that is most important.
So you have to identify your states of mind and match your work to it.
The monkey mind could be for analysis and getting new information.
The distracted mind will not let you do anything when you are learning something else. It will remind you of other things. This is where you need to calm it down and focus. Mindfulness is the word I believe.
There are times where you are analytical. This would be the best time to analyse stuff including calculation, or writing code. Solving problems etc.
When your brain is tired yet conscious and active, you do things that you have to. Like reply to mails. Approve routine stuff. Maybe go to the gym. Or for a walk.
The low filter mind is when you do what you do when your mind is serene. Maybe write something you want to write or have planned already during monkey brain time.
Times may overlap. Sometimes you may not be able to recognize your own state of mind. But you’ll get there. Keep a diary and keep analysing yourself.