Momentum is a key force in your productivity. It’s the reason that sometimes you can work effortlessly, and at other times it feels like pulling teeth. You can structure your day so that you build momentum and ride it out strategically.
A couple of years ago, entrepreneur Zack Shapiro wrote “Momentum is Hell of a Drug“. It made me realise that you can be a lot more efficient and effective if you build, and harness, that momentum to get things done. Here are a few ways to do that.
Minimise “Context Switching”
Programmers use the term “context switching” to describe when tasks are stored in a computer’s memory, to be picked up at a later time. Switching from one process to another and restoring context takes time — for example, saving and loading registers and memory maps, updating various tables and list, and other administration work.
Context switching happens in real life as well. Working on a task continuously is simpler than stopping and picking it up later. It takes time for you to focus and zone in on your previous train of thought. In fact, when something or someone interrupts your current task (or when you interrupt yourself with a distraction), it can sometimes take up to 25 minutes to simply get back to where you were. It's why multitasking is so inefficient.
Preserve your momentum by minimising context switching. Forget multitasking. If your job requires a lot of varying tasks to do throughout the week, focus with themed days. Use the 3+2 to-do list to limit yourself to specific tasks throughout the day. If possible, clear your schedule to reset the clutter in your mind.
Set Aside An Administrative Day
Spreading the dull pain of chores and errands throughout the week seems to make sense. However, it can be taxing to remember that you have to do laundry or stop by the supermarket after a long day at work. It could also be full-out annoyance -- death by a thousand paper cuts. Instead, set aside a half-day or day just to get these obligations done for the entire week.
Author and computer science professor Cal Newport shares this idea of taking one day a week to do nothing but small tasks (every obligation that can be accomplished in less than 20 minutes and/or doesn't require serious thought). This could include laundry, phone calls, cleaning, filling out applications, or paying bills.
Once those details are out of the way, you can go all-in at work and maximise your output, because you know the rest of your errands have been taken care of. You can put all your energy into the things you need to without having these small chores nagging at you.
Create A List Of Tasks To Warm Up And Cool Down Work Sessions
Small wins are key to building momentum and sustaining it. Create a list of simple, less brain-intensive tasks, to do whenever you're ramping up to a work session or starting to run out of gas. With this list, you can dive right into productive work without too much planning.
When author Ryan Holiday feels like procrastinating, he turns to his list of tasks that always need to get done (his list includes making notes and reviewing starred emails). You can put together a similar list of tasks that contribute to your output, either at work or at home. For example, at my old day job, this would involve reading industry news and researching potential new ideas for blog posts.
Because you don't need to think and plan as much, you have a list of stuff you can do during the periods your mind is winding down or resting. In a way, these tasks can be likened to a mental stretching, which some folks do before and after working out.
Plan An Unrushed, Slow, Scripted Morning
If you get a good head start in the morning, you've set up a good foundation for the rest of your day. In contrast, if you start your day off rushed and reactive, you'll increase the likelihood that you're frazzled the rest of the day. Plan the first hour of your morning carefully to build momentum for the rest of the day.
Author Tim Ferriss advises in his podcast that the first 60 minutes of the day should be slow and unrushed. More importantly, these morning tasks, or routines, should be sequenced so specifically that you could take a list and give it to someone else to replicate. For example, Ferriss starts each day with transcendental meditation and journaling.
If you'd prefer your morning to be action-oriented, you can be productive by tackling your most important task (that is, eating a frog).
Momentum Makes A World Of Difference
Momentum doesn't have to be a happy accident. Minimise context switching and get all your errands taken care of to preserve your focus throughout the week. Create a list of tasks to do for when your momentum is winding down, or to get yourself warmed up. Start your day off with a slow, unrushed, and sequenced morning to set your momentum up.