Prelude: Change Your Thinking; Change Your Life

Good habits are worth being fanatical about. —  John Irving

This isn’t a Mac book. It isn’t even a computer book. I’ve written many and this isn’t one of them. Don’t get me wrong, this book was written for Mac users, but it’s not actually about your Mac. This book will show you how to become hyper-productive, avoid procrastination, use your time wisely, and how to harness your Mac to think differently about the way you work.

This book takes elements of personal productivity and time management and blends them seamlessly with Macintosh tools and tips for amplifying their effectiveness. The result is a tasty recipe for doing more work in less time and avoiding procrastination. 

Reading this book will help you get more done in less time. But to take it to the next level—to become an über-powerful, raging thunder lizard of productivity with lots more time to do the things you love, you’ll need to do more than just read…

You’re going to have to change the way you think. 

Don’t worry. It’s painless, but it’s gonna take some work. The silver lining is that if I can do it, anyone can do it. 

How to Use this Book

One thing I noticed during my research was that no single book, technique, or author was 100% right for me. I found useful advice almost everywhere I looked, but I never found a single source with a complete solution that worked for me. So in the years I’ve been actively pursuing this, I’ve adopted the best of what I’ve found and combined it into a mash-up based on dozens (if not hundreds) of sources. My Working Smarter system works spectacularly well, at least for me, which is why you’ll find just about every tip, trick, technique, or software I’ve found helpful over the years discussed in the upcoming pages. 

I do realize that not all of my ideas are going to work for every one of you. That’s OK; all I ask is that you read them all, try anything you find appealing; and then continue using and refining the ones that work best. 

Put another way: There’s no single path to productivity, so I want you to think of this book as a collection of building blocks you can use to create a Working Smarter system that’s just right for you.  

The only other thing you need to know is this: To become more productive and learn how to work smarter, you’ll have to change some of your habits that deal with time and work. 

I’ve often heard that one definition of insanity is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you want to become more productive, you’re going to have to learn how to do things differently. 

It might sound a little scary but I assure you, it’s for your own good and it’ll only sting for a moment. After all, you can’t expect to become a raging thunder lizard of productivity overnight. Change is hard and it takes time. And that’s why I’m telling you right now that youre going to have to work hard to achieve your goals

I can’t do it for you, but I’ll do my part, which is to make it as easy as possible for you to change. Just remember that you have to grok the “why” before I can explain the “how.” Hang in there and you’ll discover precisely how easy it can be to change the way you think for the better.

A Typical Workday (Before)

When I first started writing books almost 30 years ago, I wasn’t very productive and frittered away most of each day trying to avoid writing. It seemed weird to me then and still does. There I was, a published author and so-called professional writer who spent more time every day avoiding writing than writing. Sure, I managed to finish and turn in every chapter on time, but I assure you it wasn’t fun. 

When I learned I had adult attention defecit hyperactivity disorder (A.A.D.H.D.), as described in this book’s Introduction, I started looking more closely at how I spent my hours. I was horrified to find that I was spending 10-18 hours in the office each day, but rarely finished more than two or three hours of writing. 

And that, my friends, is a textbook example of procrastination: Doing something that didn’t help me achieve my goals when I knew I should be doing something else. 

Having identified the problem, I decided to give myself a virtual slap in the face each time I noticed I wasn’t writing when I should be. Of course that didn’t work; no matter how vigilant I tried to be, I still fell down rabbit holes far too often and stayed far too long.

Here’s what my typical workday looked like back in the day: 

9:00 A.M.: Wake up; drink coffee; read the newspaper; 

10:00 A.M.: Check email and CompuServe forums (CompuServe was kind of like the Internet before there was an Internet).   

11:00 A.M.: Sit down and try to write. 

11:30 A.M.: Curly Stooge keeps whispering in my ear: “I’m tryin’ to think but nothing happens.” 

11:45 A.M.: I turn on the TV to look for inspiration.

Noon: No inspiration on TV, so I go out to lunch and continue looking for inspiration. 

2:00 P.M.: Back from lunch I sit down to write. Again.

2:30 P.M.: Still no inspiration so I fire up a new Mindscape mystery game on my Mac to continue searching for inspiration (in all the wrong places).

3:30 P.M.: I notice one of the dining room chairs is broken. That could be dangerous so I set out for my local hardware store to get some wood glue.

4:15 P.M.: After spending half an hour looking for my C-clamps, I get the chair glued and try writing again. 

5:30 P.M.: YEA! I’ve finished almost a full page, which is not bad, but I still need five more to meet my (self-imposed) quota.

6:30 P.M.: Finished almost two pages. I beg my wife to run out and pick up dinner so I can keep working. As soon as she walks out, I launch Crystal Quest and play until I hear her car pull into the driveway.

7:30 P.M.: Recuperating from a meat coma, I decide that I need a little TV before hitting the keyboard again. 

8:00 P.M.: Sit down to write. Again. This time I actually crank out a couple more decent pages. 

10:00 P.M.: Hooray! Five pages down and only one to go. 

10:30 P.M.: Dilemma: Watch Johnny Carson’s monologue? Or finish one more page so I can go to bed? (Carson won, as usual.) 

11:00 P.M.: It’s slow going but with five and a half pages done, I put on an REO Speedwagon album and keep pushing on. 

1:00 A.M.: Finish the sixth page, but I’m too tired to proofread it so I hit the sack promising to wake up early tomorrow and be more productive than I was today. 

But, of course, tomorrow was just the same and I never seemed to get any more work done. I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, where every day is the same as the last, regardless of how hard I try to change things. 

This went on for years, and while I managed to get most of my work done most of the time, it often took until the wee hours of morning before my deadline. I was sleep-deprived, exhausted, and short-tempered all the time. 

Yes, I had become a “successful” writer in spite of it all, but I was miserable most of the time.  

A Typical Workday (After)

These days I know precisely what I need to accomplish each day before I even walk into my office. I’ve identified today’s MITs (Most Important Tasks) and set aside time to work on them early in the morning, which is when I feel the sharpest. I also include time on my schedule for essential, but non-MIT, tasks including getting outdoors and walking, reading for pleasure, stretching, and thinking. I usually finish working by late afternoon; I rarely return to my office after dinner; and I can’t remember the last time I had to pull an all-nighter to hit a deadline.

6:00 A.M.: Wake up; drink coffee; read the newspaper; stretch; drink a couple of glasses of water; sit in the hot tub; shower; shave; and get into the office no later than …

8:00 A.M.: Jot down my MITs (most important tasks) for today.

8:05 A.M.: Work on my first important task for today. 

Note: I usually work for 25 minutes and then take a short break (5–10 minutes) to stand up, stretch, and drink some water. It was too tedious (for both of us) for me to document every individual 25-minute work session and 5-minute break, but I wanted you to know they occur every 25 minutes or so, and are vitally important to my productivity. 

You’ll hear much more about this, better known as the Pomodoro Technique, but not until Chapter 8.  

9:00 A.M.: Work on my second important task for today. 

10:00 A.M.: Take Zeke the Wonder Vizsla for a 20-minute walk.  

10:30 A.M.: Work on my third important task for today.

11:00 A.M.: Check email and surf the web for tech news.

11:30 A.M.: Work on my blog and web site. 

Noon: Lunch. Water. Stretches. Exercise. Read.

1:00 P.M.: Work on first important task again if necessary; if not, I work on the next task on my list.

2:30 P.M.: Brainstorm new product ideas. 

3:00 P.M.: Work on second important task again if necessary; if not, I work on the next task on my list.

3:45 P.M.: Work on third important task again if necessary; if not, I work on the next task on my list.

4:00 P.M.: Check email again. Return phone calls. 

4:30 P.M.: Leave the office for the day. 

The important thing isnt that I start my days at 6 A.M. And it isnt that I leave the office by 5 P.M. almost every day. And it isn’t even that I’ve thoughtfully scheduled all of my time in the office. No, the most important thing is that I have learned to use the time I spend in my office efficiently. 

I think of the tricks that make up my working smarter strategies as a mélange of three distinct disciplines: Doing things as efficiently as possible; managing the way you use your time; and avoiding procrastination.

The last two are closely entwined; if you figure out how to manage your time more effectively, you’ll naturally procrastinate less. But I see them as two separate beasts that must both be addressed. The first one—efficiency—is a completely separate discipline; it’s only goal is to perform tasks better, faster, and more elegantly than before.   

The point is that while you can become more productive by improving your performance in any of the three; you can only become über-productive by improving your performance in all three

It may help to think of Working Smarter as a three-legged stool: If you remove one leg, it’s not a stool anymore, it’s just firewood. 

If you want to truly supercharge your productivity and take it to the next level, you’re going to have to look into improving your performance for all three legs. You may need more work on one than the others, but until you’ve integrated techniques that improve your performance in all three areas, you can’t become hyper-productive. 

Should you focus only on one leg (or even two), while you may see some improvement in your productivity, at the end of the day you’ll still have a pile of firewood. On the other hand, if you work on improving your relationship with all three of the legs, you’ll have a stable, solid base that can help you be far more productive. 

It’s no coincidence that the three parts of this book are each about one of the legs, so let’s take a look at all three legs and the ways they can affect your productivity.

Improve Your Efficiency

The first leg—efficiency—has fascinated me from the day I first laid fingers on a Macintosh computer. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with finding a better, faster, or more elegant way of doing something on my Mac. Over the years I’ve discovered a lot of great ones, most of which I use to this day. 

Manage Your Activities

To learn to be more productive, you also need to become aware of time and how you use it. Although that’s traditionally called time management, that’s a misnomer:

We don’t manage time, we manage activities within time   — Bernard Kelvin Clive

We can’t manage our time. What we can manage is what we do with our time. That’s why I block out chunks of time for my most important tasks (MITs) and then use those blocks of time for nothing else.

Banish Procrastination

The macOS Dictionary defines procrastination as: The action of delaying or postponing something. 

That’s an OK definition as definitions go, but it kind of misses the point: Why do we do it? 

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary does a little better: To delay doing something that you should do, usually because you do not want to do it. 

Close, but no cigar. 

If it were up to me, procrastination would be defined as: Doing something that doesn’t help you achieve your goals when you should be doing something that does.

You’ll find tons of tips and hints for banishing procrastination throughout this book; when you see words like focus, distraction, rabbit hole, and the like, remember that I’m really talking about procrastination. 

Since you’ll be hearing more about all three legs throughout the book, let’s now take a quick look at habits, and how long it takes to break a bad one or form a new one. 

It Takes 66 (not 21) Days to Form New Habits

If you want to conquer procrastination, manage your use of time, and be more efficient, you’re going to have to get rid of some of your bad habits and replace them with new ones designed to help you reach your goals. 

But how long is it gonna take? I’d always heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but further research reveals it’s probably not true. I think it started with Maxwell Maltz’s 1960 bestseller, Psycho-Cybernetics, in which he stated [emphasis added], “it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

Notice that Maltz never said it takes 21 days; what he said was, it takes at least 21 days. I used Google-Fu to search for more recent research, which indicates that it actually takes an average of 66 days.

So my advice to you, gentle reader, is to try any tip, technique, or tool that appeals to you for at least 66 days before you try to determine its effectiveness. I know that sounds rough, but you’ll thank me for it after you’ve changed a couple of your bad habits into good ones.  

That’s really all there is to it—try everything I recommend in the upcoming chapters that looks promising and keep trying for at least 66 days before you attempt to determine its effectiveness. If you can follow these simple instructions, I guarantee that after 66 days you’ll procrastinate less and get more work done in less time or my name isn’t Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus.

Summary & Conclusions

OK, I know this chapter was light on the meaty stuff you bought this ebook for—that’s why it’s called Prelude and not Chapter 1. Rest assured there’s a method to my madness. This is a completely different kind of book for me and I was afraid you’d be mystified if I didn’t mention the Mac for a few pages. 

Unlike most of my previous books, this book isn’t linear and not every tip, technique, or tool is going to be right for every reader. So I wanted to make sure you understand that the most effective path will be: 

  • Try anything that appeals to you for at least 66 days
  • Continue refining whatever works for you.

I also wanted to introduce the three legs of working smarter, namely: 

  • Improving efficiency
  • Managing activities
  • Avoiding procrastination

The back story will make it easier for you to identify which of your legs need work, and which tools and techniques will help you shore it up.

Finally, I wanted to lay out the whole 21/66 day habit thing right up front. I’ll mention it again (and more than once) later, but I wanted to plant the seed early to give it time to take root and flourish. 

Here’s the bottom line: You’ll have to change your thinking and your habits to become ultra-productive. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s not as hard as you expect and it’s fun. 

I’ve been working on these techniques for at least 20 years and I know that I’m a zillion times more productive and relaxed than before. And believe me, if a messed up procrastinator with a raging attention deficit disorder can do it, so can you.   

Exercise: Identify your rabbit holes

I’m not big on exercises in my books and there aren’t many others in this book. But, I think you’ll find this exercise relatively painless and exceptionally useful: 

Exercise #1: For the next week during working hours, record every time you find yourself doing something other than the task at hand. 

In other words, if you’re working on a report and find yourself watching cat videos on YouTube, write it down. If you’re looking at electric razors at instead of responding to emails, write it down. If you find yourself on Facebook for any reason other than someone paying you to be there, write it down. 

You get the picture: If you’re not being productive, make a note of it and how long (approximately) you spent in the rabbit hole. 

I recommend dedicating a pen and notebook (or notepad) to recording non-productive moments—keeping them with you at all times. But, feel free to use Notes or another Mac or iDevice app that suits you. 

The bottom line is that the technology you use to make your list is not important; what’s important is that you make the list.  

In a week, you’ll have a list of your rabbit holes. Just making the list should help you be more aware of them and perhaps even help you avoid them. But even if the list doesn’t help you now, it will help you plenty when you get to Chapter 8: How Not To Procrastinate.

Tantalized? Then let’s move on to Part I—Improve Your Efficiency—and its first chapter, which just so happens to be a delightful little dissertation on efficiency I call, Better, Faster, and More Elegantly