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21/90 rule

I recently read about the 21/90 rule. If you are not familiar with it already, it says it takes 21 days to build a new habit and 90 days to build a lifestyle. I’m a bit wary about assigning hard and fast numbers to habit formation. People are different. Every one might require a different number of days to form a new habit.

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Choose your task in advance

“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

Brian Tracy

The most productive people are not effective because they do every thing. Instead, highly productive people have become effective because they acknowledge there are things they should not be doing in the first place.

We all have a few hours each day to get things done. The good news is not all tasks have the same priority. The bad news is a lot of people don’t stop to figure out what is important and what is trivial.

Have you read it?
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Deadlines hit fast

A humorous anecdote goes that a project team once finished a Government project on time only to find out that no one from the Government was ready to accept the finished product because the Civil Service had assumed based on wealth of experience that the project will not be finished on time. The Story may or may not be true but it serves as a useful reminder of a tendency among many people to underestimate the amount of work required to get a task done. This is especially true at the beginning of a complex task when you may only have a vague idea of the requirements.

Clip
Complex tasks seem easier at the beginning
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Bring the right technology to meetings

The basic etiquette for meetings is simple:

  1. Pay attention to the speaker.
  2. Don’t talk while others have the floor.
  3. Don’t try to catch up on work.
  4. Have a notebook for writing important information.
  5. Keep your devices out of sight.

How many of those have you broken recently? The last one is particularly difficult to enforce. We have had a lot more virtual meetings since the pandemic began. This has made it easier for people to carry on a whatsapp chat when they should be listening. Even before more meetings went online, people had the annoying habit of using their phones under the table.

Bored meeting
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Is it really impossible?

I am not a motivational speaker. Therefore, I am not about to tell you impossible is a word that only exists in the dictionary. There are times when you will have to accept things did not work out as planned. Times when you worked really hard on a product launch only for the product to flop. You gave it your best but factors beyond your control stopped it from happening. Those times should be learning opportunities. Study why you failed, extract useful lessons, accept you have failed and move on. You know what not to do next time.

However, there are times when we label tasks as impossible simply because we do not wish to try. At times such as these the word “impossible” is coming not from facts but from a place of fear. We fear to fail so much that we’d rather not try at all.

Sticky note with the word "impossible" written on it
Is it really?
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Be friends with people who get things done

Abokin ɓarawo ɓarawo ne.

Hausa Proverb that literally translates to A friend of a thief is a thief.

The environment you live in has a subtle effect on your habits. People who have clear workstations tend to get a lot more work done than people whose desks are cluttered. A clear space signals your desire to focus by giving your brain less distractions. Clutter makes it easier for you to procrastinate. If, nothing else, it gives you the excuse of needing to clear your desk before you can start working.

Five people having a discussion around a table.
Who do you spend the most time around?
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Rest before work kills you

A popular misconception about personal productivity is that productive people are effective because they jump from one task to another without losing their stride. Many people have an image of a productivity guru armed with a to-do list that crosses off one task after the other 24/7. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The most productive people achieve what they do because they acknowledge they can’t produce the same output 24 hours a day. They take time out to rest.

Recently, I read a novel where the Protagonist, a high-flying Lawyer for a big firm is able to close a very important deal by working for 2 days without sleep and surviving on a diet of coffee. Such behaviour is destructive. Productivity is about taking control of your schedule so you can have enough time to rest at the end of the day. If you are pulling all-nighters every week and can’t go home at a decent hour because you are always at the office finishing some last minute important task, it is more likely you have failed to prioritise tasks.

Worker asleep at their desk
How many times has this happened to you?
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Where’s your grit?

For the average person, telling them to follow their passion can be dangerous advice. ‘Passion’ is what gets lots of people started on multiple projects. It is the reason why many aspiring Authors write three chapters of what could possibly be a good story only to stop and start working on another story six months later.

Passion is a good place to start a task but it is not often what you need to finish it. More than passion, what most people need to finish a task is mental toughness (Fortitude, grit). This is because most things worth doing are hard. You won’t always have good days. You will encounter a difficult problem that might require weeks to solve. It is during that time that your passion often reaches its limits.

The most reliable people are self-starters
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Handling email based tasks

An email is a to-do list that someone writes on. In the modern workplace, you can’t escape emails. They have become such a huge productivity drain that people attend courses just to learn how to manage their inbox. When you receive an email, it often comes with a task attached to it. Working on an email task immediately is not always the best response. If you choose to prioritise tasks set for you by someone else, as opposed to tasks you have set for yourself, how will you ensure the important tasks get done. Depending on the nature of the email you receive, you have 3 options for dealing with the task that comes along with it:

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Get it out of your head

The average human being gets around 6,200 thoughts per day. That’s a lot of potential ideas each waking cycle. While the human brain is quite good at coming up with fresh thoughts and new ideas, it is not very good at remembering them. To illustrate this, let me give you an example. You are in the middle of an animated conversation with a colleague at lunch. Halfway through making a point, another colleague interrupts. The new arrival asks you for some random bit of information which you dutifully supply. By the time you turn to your gossip partner, you have already forgotten the point you were making and with it the chance to share an amusing anecdote. Does it sound familiar?

A lightbulb
What was I thinking again?
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