Walking down the stairs of my office at 7:05PM on a Friday evening, with slightly hunched shoulders carrying my heavy bag, I headed towards the parking lot. I told myself that tonight is the night! The night I was waiting for days. It was date night! After all, I had worked hard for 5 days at a stretch and deserved a good break. I was looking forward to this date for quite some time now, and finally had got time for it. I got on my bike, turned the key, and started my journey back to home. I had a whole plan laid out, get back by 7:45 (takes me usually 40 mins to reach home), take a quick shower, get ready by 8 and reach the place by 8:15. Picture Perfect!
Have you heard people say that just when you think at least something is going to go right, that something goes wrong as well? Well, prepare yourself to hear it again! 10 minutes into the journey, I found myself surrounded by the evening smoke in Bangalore’s traffic at every signal I encountered, spending at least 10 mins in each. Don’t you just love when this happens? It’s the perfect gift that the city offers you as soon as you finish office. Or when you have to go on a date! Slowly dragging my bike through the roads wishing I didn’t have one for I could have run faster, I managed to reach my place by 8:20PM. Yes that’s right! 5 minutes later than when I was supposed to be at the date. Anyway, being so tired, much more because of the travel-frustration than the hectic work at office, I decided to call it a day and just relax at home, skipping my date.
The next day was a Saturday, an off from office and I wasn’t going to waste it. I was feeling very guilty having missed my date the previous day. So, I finally went for it in the afternoon and there I was! On my date!
Oh by the way, if I made you expect a romantic “date date” story with a girl by now, with a twist at the end, then I’m sorry because that’s not how it’s going to happen. If it were like that, I would have probably titled the article – “This guy thought he is going on a romantic date with a girl. You won’t believe what happens next”, and got a crazy viral story out on Facebook. But this is not one of those. My dates are always like these. With my Mac. I just go and sit in coffee shops with it, giving us time to be alone, think and do work. Here’s another photograph.
Actually not just the Friday evening that I talked about, this happened to me almost everyday on weekdays as well. After office, I desperately tried to reach back home quickly, take my Mac (I didn’t carry my Mac to office, because it wasn’t allowed to carry your own laptops) and rush to CCD to either prepare for my Saturday lectures, or write my blog, or work at possible start up ideas and so on. But all the efforts went waste due to the traffic. I reached so late that most of the times, I wouldn’t have the courage to go out and work again. I of course could work at home, you’d ask, but I just can’t. I don’t get a good feeling about working at home, because there are other flatmates as well and there’s a lot happening inside the house and also, my room just does not give me a positive work-vibe to get me in the right mood. I need the right setup in terms of the ambiance of the room to get me excited about working. That’s why I love nice coffee shops like Coffee Day and Starbucks. Also, I need to find my “Sheldon-Spot” when it comes to work. At coffee shops too, I have this one seat at a particular spot where I feel like working and even if it’s occupied, I wait for people to finish and get up. This is something I just have in me. And a CCD is pretty close to my place and so I usually go there to do any sort of work. But with my dreadful travelling, it just became really difficult to find a good momentum of going there because most of the days turned out to be like that “Friday” and by the time I reached back home, I gave myself some or the other excuse to not go.
Even during the very rare days of decent traffic, by the time I reached back home, I was mentally very tired. I realised it was not just because of the hectic days at office and the cumbersome travel, but also majorly because I kept thinking of the pending tasks on my way back which only added to the stress levels. It ain’t a good feeling to have work pending over your head, now is it? And so after I reached home, more often than not, I found myself lying on the bed with my head against a pillow, dinner plate on my chest and laptop on my lap, watching ‘Friends’ instead of being at my work date.
I always have a lot of non-job work to do everyday – from studying for my school classes to writing my next article for the blog to working on my startup idea to writing my upcoming book to squash to gym. And I have regular targets for these helping me to keep track of my progress every week. So, early mornings and late evenings is the only time apart from the 9-hour office day to squeeze such work in. And it ‘really’ isn’t easy. Even if I manage to plan it out, office, travel, traffic, and constantly overthinking about pending work, makes executing my plan a nightmare.
One day over the weekend, I sat and analysed the progress I made in my work and it just hit me that I went to the coffee shop to work just 5 times in the past 4 weeks when it would have taken at least 25 visits to finish what I had aimed for. That’s falling short of the target by 80%. Now I don’t keep ‘strict’ targets, but I do have some high-level numbers in mind and not meeting them doesn’t feel good. I knew I had to find a way to fix this. So I started from the fundamentals and tried to the find the root problems. And they were fairly obvious. I put them down on a piece of paper. There were 3 of them.
- Travelling in bad traffic
- Thinking about work on my way back.
First, I picked up the first problem and thought if I could eliminate travelling all together by shifting my home right beside the office. I wouldn’t have to travel at all then. But then I couldn’t really do that because my squash courts where I practice thrice a week and the school where I teach on weekends would have been in the opposite corner of the city. I realised that I was already living at an optimum location closest to all the places I go to regularly. So shifting my house wasn’t an option. But you know the power of your mind. I thought and thought and finally found a solution. A way to not travel to office without having to shift. And the problem was solved. There was no travel involved. During office days, I found myself that extra time and peace of mind I lost during travelling and got a good momentum for my after-job work. I was pleased with myself for having found the solution and everything seemed to go really fine. But then remember what I said earlier? When everything seems right, something goes wrong. And it did. I woke up! And the dream was over.
Because life is not so kind. You don’t get such easy solutions to the hardest of problems. And my first one – travel – was unsolvable (come on Elon Musk, do something! I’ll pray for you!). So my literal dream of having to not travel at all came to a dead-end.
So I shifted my focus to the next problem which was travelling in bad traffic. This time, I was not dreaming because I checked. I pinched myself and it hurt! There did seem a simple solution of travelling at a different time with lesser traffic. Leaving early from office was definitely not on the table. I could have stayed late in office and worked on my stuff after office hours. For this, I would have had to carry even my personal laptop to work, something I could have managed. But like I said I prefer to work in a nice pretty place on ‘my spot’ and so, working in office after office hours wasn’t going to happen.
Then I thought of the third problem as well. “What if I finish my pending work before I went home?” I wouldn’t have to think about it on the way back. And so, thinking about the second and third problem in mutually-inclusive environment, there was this Eureka moment! I got a brilliant idea. What if I could find another pretty coffee shop very close to office, go there immediately after work, sit there for a couple of hours and finish my work, and then go back home at non-peak hours. The idea seemed so brilliant at first that I got restless and excited. Was this really a good idea? I had to actually calm myself down and tell myself to evaluate the idea again. Was this really feasible? Because it seemed to solve all my problems. More or less. One, since I would work for at least a couple of hours after office, I would probably travel back home between 9:30PM-10:00PM, certainly on much lesser occupied roads. This would not just save me on travel time, but also not cause the mental frustration that comes with it. Also, I would have already finished my work and wouldn’t really have this “pending-tasks” hammer over my head to constantly worry about. It did seem like a perfect plan. I rechecked twice and yes, it really was a flawless plan.
So, the next day on my way back from office, I tried a different route hoping to find a good coffee shop for there was none on my previous one. And guess what? I did. There was a CCD on this route as well. More so, it was just 2 mins from office. I left office at 7:15 that day and reached CCD at 7:18. Wow! That was quick. The next challenge was to find my working spot. For me, there is so much to finding that right spot. The table should be at the right height for me to be comfortably seated, the spot should be at this perfect location inside the room not in complete isolation, but enough for me to not get distracted, the AC shouldn’t be right at me and the music volume should not be hurtful. And the only way to test all this is to sit on that spot, start working and if the spot is worthy of becoming “my spot”, I just know it. But that day, it was pretty crowded when I reached, and I was just left with one seat. I sat there and worked for a while and certainly this wasn’t the right spot. If only life was kinder. And so, I went back just half an hour into my date back home, feeling blue. But I didn’t give up. I went there the next day too to try another spot. And I did. But still it wasn’t good enough. I did complete some work, but it didn’t feel right. I went there the third day, found another spot, ordered a coffee and started working at around 7:40. A little time passed, I did some work and looked into my watch. It read 9:20. “9:20”?, I wondered. My watch must have stopped working I thought. I checked my phone and it was indeed 9:20. Time had just flown by and I had written more than a thousand words. And that’s when I knew I had found my spot. A spot where time just flies. Where work doesn’t seem like work. Where there are no distractions. And where you feel like working. I finished my work by around 9:40, left for home with a smile on my face. I think that was the first time I had a smile while going back. And to put icing on the cake, the roads were deserted (relatively of course!). Finding the Valentino Rossi inside me, I zoomed past the signals and reached home by 10:00. In just 20 mins. And you won’t believe, I was so happy for not just saving on a lot of travel time but having no work pending while going back home for the first time. Once I reached, I called it a day and just relaxed. I had just spent the most ideal day I possibly could. And now there was just this one thing to do. Replicate it everyday and make it a habit.
And I did. As I write this word, it’s 8:35PM here at CCD in my spot, and I am hoping to finish this article before I leave. It has been almost a month since I made this little tweak of coming here right after office and then going back home, and I have worked around 20 times, working close to 40 hours and almost reaching my target of 25 visits. That’s a big boost in productivity, won’t you say? To put it in numbers, it’s a 400% productivity increase compared to before when I went around 5 times in 4 weeks. And counter-intuitively, I spend even lesser time and have more peace while getting more work done. Now that’s what I call a good optimisation.
The moral and summary of this story is –
- In our daily lives, many times, there are such small tweaks that we can make to improve our productivity manifold. The tweak is extremely small, but has a much bigger impact. In this world of multi-tasking, it has huge benefits. The key is to find this tweak and make it a part of your routine and everyday life.
- The tweak is simple, but finding it is a function of self-realisation of the problems which are not evident. This is not a very common trait but we all can work proactively to develop it. And if you develop it once, you can increase your productivity.
- Note that tweaking your lifestyle to be more productive is not a ‘hard-work’ outcome, it’s a ‘smart-work’ outcome. And you’ve got to find it.
- The tweak could be anything from getting up half an hour earlier in the morning to going to the gym at a different time to finding a new work place altogether (if you’re as finicky as me). Most of the tweaks will involve a change in your routine. Everybody is different, and so you have to find your own ways to boost your productivity, ways that suit your lifestyle.
- Productivity just doesn’t mean getting more work done. It means getting more work done without adding any stress.
- Follow this framework to find solutions to the problems that are causing you to miss out on work. List each root problem on a piece of paper, take them one by one, and find possible solutions to each problem in a mutually-exclusive manner and determine their feasibility. Once this exercise is done, evaluate each solution for all the problems in a mutually-inclusive manner and you might just come up with your Eureka moment.
So you know what to do next, follow this framework and make those tweaks in your life to get things done. Once you get used to self-realising the problems and optimising them, you’ll constantly see yourself accomplishing much more tasks than you used to. People ask me how I am decently able to manage so many tasks simultaneously. And I tell them – it’s first about motivation, and then about execution. Assuming you’re already motivated, it is then these optimisations that act as catalysts to your execution to do multiple-things simultaneously and effectively.
Let me know in the comments below if you too face such problems to increase your productivity or if you have already found solutions to them.