January 25, 2021
Resolute: Top 3 Productivity Tools for 2021
- admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.
How do you find the time? How do you find the time to write that post? Or run the blog? Or prepare a lecture? How do you manage your professional and personal life? I try to squeeze as much as I can out of what little time I have. What works for me will not work for some, and what works for some will not work for me. The past is gone, so say goodbye to 2020. Use these tools to attack 2021 and be resolute.
All goals are important, but not all goals are wildly important. We should triage our goals, similar to how we triage patients during a clinical shift in the emergency department. All patients are important, and their medical care is paramount. However, not all patients are critically ill. When a critically ill patient presents to the hospital, they require our undivided attention. Similarly, “wildly important goals” require our undivided attention.
There are many daily tasks that we need to complete to maintain life’s proper function. Although these tasks are necessary, many are superficial and do not require intense focus. In “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” these tasks are called the whirlwind. The whirlwind will take up the majority of our time. With the remaining bandwidth, we need to focus intensely on our “wildly important goals.”
The whirlwind can be seductive. How satisfied are you when your email inbox is zero? Or when you’ve signed all your charts from your last shift? As we complete these shallow but essential tasks, we get a little dopamine burst, giving us the false sense that we are productive.
Determining the “wildly important goal” can be challenging. Some of the lucky few have well defined long-term goals. For the rest of us, we need to ask ourselves: “What will have the most significant impact on my life?” Occasionally it’s not difficult. Do you have a project with a time-sensitive deadline? That project may be your goal. For others, it may be passion projects, personal projects, or professional projects.
What is the outcome you wish to achieve? What is the purpose of the project? What is the action required? Answer these questions precisely and often. It will help maintain the deep focus required to move towards your goals.
What is the next action to move your project forward? In “Atomic Habits,” James Clear writes: “Most People think they lack motivation when they really lack clarity.” From his book “Getting Things Done,” David Allen’s “Next Action” may be the single, most powerful, yet simple productivity tool. Our daily to-do lists often contain items like “blog-post,” or “email,” or “gifts for Janice.” But, we can’t do a “blog-post” or an “email” or “gifts for Janice.” If enough time passes, these items may lose all meaning without clarification. Email who? What blog-post? What gift? Taking a moment to clarify the next action will increase the chances our project moves forward. The list becomes: “Write an outline for the REBEL EM organization and productivity blog-post” or “send a follow-up email for my next speaking engagement” or “check Amazon for prices on the day planner for Janice.”
When a project is at an impasse, further clarification may be needed to move forward. For instance, if I have writer’s block, writing an outline for a blog-post may be difficult. But, I may have an excellent idea for the intro, so I clarify the project further. The next action becomes: “Write an outline for the intro to the organization and productivity blog-post.” When defined well, most “next actions” take very little time to complete.
One study found emergency medicine physicians are interrupted ten times per hour on shift. As clinicians, we take pride in our ability to multitask, but our brains cannot truly multitask. We are actually task switching. These distractions may be unavoidable in a busy ED, and they have crept their way into the daily routine for many. But, distracted efforts are counterproductive. Dr. Glenn Wilson found that just the awareness of unchecked emails could lower IQ by 10 points.
One solution is deep work. Cal Newport coined the term deep work in a 2012 blog post. Deep work is: “Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” Newport describes multiple methods in his book “Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world.”
I prefer the rhythmic philosophy. I schedule deep work four to five times per week and deliberately plan each session. Currently, I perform deep work at 4 AM. At this time, my world is asleep. By nature, it is quiet, and I often feel more productive after a night’s sleep. In “The Organized Mind,” Daniel Levitin highlights the benefits of sleep. Musicians were more adept at playing instruments, calculus students solved difficult problems with greater ease, and problems requiring insight were resolved twice as often, all after a night’s sleep. Whichever method you prefer, be deliberate, and focus intensely.
Once you have determined your “wildly important goal” and defined the “next action,” carve out time in your day to put in “deep work.”
- Triage your projects and focus on the wildly important:
- Specify the outcome you wish to achieve, the project’s purpose, and how you plan to accomplish your goal.
- Clarify the next action to move each project forward:
- If you’re stuck on a project, get granular and break the project down into smaller actions.
- Perform deep work:
- Schedule deep work in advance.
- Specifically, write down what you plan to accomplish.
- Eliminate all distractions.
- Oxford Languages and Google – English | Oxford Languages. Languages.oup.com. https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/. Published 2020. Accessed December 24, 2020. [Link is Here]
- McChesney C, Covey S. 4 Disciplines Of Execution.; 2016. [Link is Here]
- EMCrit A, Scott Weingart M, Crew t. EMCrit Wee – Getting Things Done 2019 Update. EMCrit Project. https://emcrit.org/emcrit/gtd2019/. Published 2020. Accessed December 24, 2020. [Link is Here]
- Clear, J. Atomic habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. Penguin. 2018. [Link is Here]
- Allen, D. Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. Penguin, 2015. [Link is Here]
- Chisholm CD, Collison EK, Nelson DR, Cordell WH. Emergency department workplace interruptions: are emergency physicians “interrupt-driven” and “multitasking”?. Acad Emerg Med. 2000;7(11):1239-1243. PMID: 11073472
- Naish, J. “Is multi-tasking bad for your brain? Experts reveal the hidden perils of juggling too many jobs.” Daily Mail Blog (2009). [Link is Here]
- Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working (and Here’s What to Do About It…) – Study Hacks – Cal Newport. Calnewport.com. https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2012/11/21/knowledge-workers-are-bad-at-working-and-heres-what-to-do-about-it/. Published 2020. Accessed December 24, 2020. [Link is Here]
- Newport, C. Deep work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. Hachette UK, 2016. [Link is Here]
- Deep Work: The Complete Guide (Including a Step-by-Step Checklist). Ambition & Balance. https://blog.doist.com/deep-work/. Published 2020. Accessed December 24, 2020. [Link is Here]
- Levitin, DJ. The organized mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload. Penguin, 2014. [Link is Here]
Post Peer Reviewed By: Salim R. Rezaie, MD (Twitter: @srrezaie)