In Search of Time: Productivity Tips in the Age of Tesla

Nearly everyone I talk to wrestles with the same problem: How to make the most of a 24-hour day? Even Elon Musk, modern-day inventor extraordinaire and human force behind Space X, Tesla and The Boring Companyhas been known to agonize over the time it takes to eat a meal. We all know people who through a combination of drive, geneticsor other random mystery variables, seem to accomplish more in a 24hour period than the rest of us. 

Forget about those individuals for a moment. Instead, consider the simplest, most effective tools and methods ordinary mortals like us can use to maximize the standard workday. 

A Simple List Fails No One 

Here’s a trouble-free technique to make sure tasks get done. Make a list. If you don’t, important items slip under the radar or are left to the end of the day inadvertently, and don’t get done at all. A visual list allows you to prioritize and move methodically through it, point by point, checking items off one by one or finally scrubbing out the item with a big, bold, satisfying line. A list with no items checked off is a wake-up call, a slap in the face, a signal to get moving. 

Embrace the Tomato 

The Pomodoro (Italian word for tomato) time-management method was developed in the 1980s by Italian student Francesco Cirillo with the use of a simple, mechanical, tomato-shaped kitchen timerThe technique consists of breaking the day down into increments of 25 minutes. Focus on one task for an uninterrupted 25-minute interval, known as a pomodoro, after which point a 3 to 5-minute break is taken. After four consecutive pomodorosyou are allowed to enjoy a larger break of 30 minutes. Then the process starts again with another block of 4 pomodoros. The low-tech system has gained momentum and followers and is available via a smartphone handy app. 

Don’t Let Mind “Clutter” Hampers your Ability to Concentrate on the Stuff that Matters 

Much of what the mind churns through every second, minute and hour is irrelevant to the present moment and the project at hand. We are easily distracted into worrying about future “crises” that may never materialize or past mistakes we can do nothing about now. Ignore the voice that chatters incessantly and ultimately slows you down. Don’t let trivia and non-essential matters creep into your core work time. Turn it off. 

Avoid Multi-Tasking 

Studies show that multi-tasking not only quietly stuns brain cells, it also slows you down. Typically, people don’t finish anything at all when multi-tasking. Keep it simple: one task for one block of time. 

When Solution Needs to “Stew”, Revisit it Briefly During Off-Hours 

Maybe this point states the obvious, but time spent in the car or folding laundry is not necessarily lost work time. Consider using that time to mentally tackle a work challenge. In ten minutes or less, you can identify the points you want to cover in next week’s PowerPoint presentation or hash out the wording for a business memo. Rehearse your speech for tomorrow’s business lunchUse what would be considered “empty” time (when you tend to contemplate weighty matters like whether Tesla’s new Cybertruck should be offered in a shade of forest green) to focus and mentally work out solutions to projects that are on your plate now. Note that this is not the kind of multi-tasking that is described above and that can cause you to spin your wheels unproductivelyThis is brief and focused use of down time to consider difficult problems. 

Know What You Need to Reenergize 

If you know what you need to reenergize, do it. Stepping away from your desk to stretch, release tension and completely reboot your brain is necessary part of working productively when it countsSlow downregroup, and stay sharp. 

We are not Elon Musk, But We Can Still be Productive 

Do you detect a theme running through all these ideas? Hopefully you do. With a few simple steps you can stream-line and amp up your productivity. Create a simple list and rank these items in order of importance. Choose one task at a time and stay laser-focused for a defined block of time with the Pomodoro method or something similar. Be disciplined about it. If you need more time to crunch out the solution to a problem, tackle it in the car or on your way to the grocery. There you have it… a few simple tools to greater productivity. 

Surviving Covid-19

From astronauts on the ISS (International Space Station) to crew members on submarines, to scientists conducting research on remote islands, people throughout history have survived challenging living arrangements; some have even thrived despite them. The coronavirus pandemic has been referred to as ‘unprecedented’ because pandemics of this scale and scope in modern history have been scarce. But over the course of hundreds of years, in some form or another, by choice or by force, people have experienced some version of self-isolation and sacrifice: access to the usual employment, people, places or routines is suddenly reduced, if not eliminated entirely. At a minimum, the situation mandates resourcefulness, resilience, and a significant restructuring of the day-to-day. For those that are newly unemployed with no income, the situation is more desperate and more will be required to survive. Drawing from the vast reservoir of experience and wisdom out there and with the recognition that each person’s experience with COVID-19 is unique, let us structure a very basic, “applicable to most” COVID-19 survival toolkit.

Respect the Emotional Roller-Coaster

We are dealing with a raw and jarring new reality. Even experts and national leaders with historic composure are suddenly without words. If you find yourself in a panic or acting in ways that are completely atypical of your norm, do not be alarmed. We have witnessed a range of emotions within our own households as quarantine orders kicked in and large-scale changes brought about by the pandemic gained momentum across the globe. Fear over the well-being of loved ones and friends becomes real. You may hit an entirely new level of depression, the likes of which you have never before experienced.

Anxiety and Fear is Normal

Our ‘fight or flight’ reflex has been triggered. Multiple unknowns that range from whether your job will survive the pandemic, to where the world will be in 3 months, to whether your supply of basic essentials will last, loom large. Experts have pointed out that feelings of helplessness may linger well after the threat from COVID-19 has lessened. This, too, is normal. But if you need help now, do not hesitate to seek it out; many sources of assistance can be accessed remotely.

Recognize What You Can Control

The modern philosopher, Eckhart Tolle, is famous for pointing out that we bring unnecessary stress into our lives by dwelling on what we cannot change. Although it is a hard concept to internalize, we actually have no ability to change the future in fundamental ways. We can adjust our lives now to place ourselves in a better position to deal with future situations, but we cannot change major outcomes. Tolle advises us to focus on what we can do at this moment—whether trying to find remote work, tending to a child’s needs or our own—and avoid worrying about the future. Don’t listen to the news (or take it in small doses) if it has the effect of increasing your level of anxiety.

Maintain Physical Exercise

Experts stress the importance of physical exercise for the healthy release of emotional energy. My daughter has built a small obstacle course in her bedroom out of simple furniture and random objects. My son is pushing himself to do more sit-ups every day. A neighbor is playing ping-pong on his dining room table (at least that is what it sounds like). Add some new yoga positions to your daily program. Even submariners, with no access at all to an outdoor space, have managed to find ways to stay fit with little or no exercise equipment. If you are limited to a small space or an apartment, you can still find creative ways to move. This part of the COVID-19 routine is called 101 ways to maximize the use of four walls and a chair.

The Life-Saving Benefits of Structure and a Routine

Routines and structure could not be more important than now. You may not be able to control the global environment, the risk of infection or any other side effect of the pandemic, but you can control what happens in your home. A routine creates structure for daily goals and helps you stay productive and moving forward, all of which is key for your mental well-being.

Shift Thinking from Yourself to Others

If there is one certainty, it is that you can always find someone that is in a worse situation than yourself. So, think about these folks and what they may need. Studies have shown that becoming engaged in work that benefits others has significant benefits for your mental health. Inquire if older, frailer neighbors are in need of assistance. Volunteer to make PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) or help at your local food pantry. Masks will be an important staple for months to come. Bolster the community’s supply by making them.

Find Points of Light in Your Day

Let us take a moment to put this situation in perspective. In most cases, even though our circumstances are far from ideal, we have more space, freedom, and flexibility available to us than many. We may have access to an instrument (or something that can be made into one), a book or two, paper and other material that can be repurposed, a few family members, and our good health, if we’re lucky. Carve out time in your life for the things that bring you (and potentially others) joy. An example of just this kind of resourcefulness can be found within the archives of the International Space Station. Hats off to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield for his ISS-inspired version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Now that is putting limited space and a can-do spirit to good use!

Mindfulness at Work

technology company can be a beast to run on a day-to-day basis and Highlands is no exception; our tech company wrestles with its share of hassles and urgencies on a daily basis. Looming deadlines, personnel issues, software glitches, or any other set of troublesome, but inevitable business concerns are here to stay. The question is not how to avoid thembecause we can’tbut rather how to address the daily headaches calmly, thoughtfully and with as little unnecessary upheaval as possible. 

We have our corporate “coping mechanisms”: the office protocols, hierarchies of people with specific responsibilities, and SWAT-like teamdesigned to swoop in and fix criseas efficiently as possible. But is there another tool we can use to both improve employee well-being and gain a competitive edge? 

Turns out that GoogleIntelGeneral Mills and many others have implemented their own training programs for a field of study once considered incompatible with the no-nonsense climate of businessGoogle’s “Search Inside Yourself” program, in use since 2007, has presumably reduced stress levels, and helped employees across the organization develop greater levels of empathy and inner calm. As abstract as it may seem on one levelmindfulness has a very real and concrete part to play in the tech world. 

Mindfulness Moves out of Medicine and into the Office Breakroom 

Mindfulness as a program got its start some 50 years ago when Professor Jon Kabbat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center developed the course as supplement to traditional medicineMindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teaches people how to cope with stress, chronic pain and depression by changing thought patterns and encouraging patients to focus their energy on meditation and openness to the presentMedical practitioners noted that patients practicing some aspect of mindfulness generally had more positive experiences when dealing with serious medical conditions. 

Mindfulness principles have become mainstream in recent years as their ability to benefit areas outside of medicine, like the work environment and everyday life, have become more apparentTbetter manage the stresses of a typical workdayfrom interacting with clients to coping with deadlinesmany have found mindfulness principles useful and clinical studies have supported these findings as wellCompanies have found that mindfulness training helps employees develop a higher level of emotional intelligencegreater creativity and focus, and helps with a company’s productivity as well. 

At Highlands we believe that practices that can help employees maintain a balanced emotional state and outlook are beneficial to both the individuals and the company as a wholeHere are some key points about mindfulness to consider and use right away: 

Determine What is Important NOW and Focus on That 

Eckhart Tolle, a well-respected spiritual leader who has amassed a substantial following writing about the destructive patterns of living in the past or fearing the future, writes in his book, The Power of Nowthat the present moment is all that really matters. Everything else that you may be thinking of is a distraction from what you could be doing now. Thoughts that lead you to worry about future scenarios or past mistakes clutter your focus and prevent you from taking action or fully enjoying and maximizing the present moment. 

Don’t Dwell on the Past or Fret about the Future 

In the context of work, once you have carved out time in your calendar to work on a future project, stop thinking about it. Similarly, don’t dwell on past mistakesRuminating on yesterday’s flawed PowerPoint presentation won’t allow you to go back in time and fix it. Instead, make a mental note of how to approach the project differently next time and then move on to the assignment that needs your attention now. The more time we spend dwelling on a past incident, the more negative power it has over our thinking. Random thoughts about the past or future that swirl around in your head add up to mental “clutter” and don’t allow you to move forward. 

Listen More and Judge Less 

A workplace where people listen to each other is the ideal but is rarely the normAdopting a more mindful state of being means listening more and resisting the urge to speak first and judgeTake the time to hear and understand another’s point of view. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses as you relate to your peersApproach questions that come up at work with careful thought and deliberation. Greater openness and understanding of another’s point of view and greater self-awareness leads to a calmer, more productive work environment. 

Tap into Calm Energy to Fuel Work at Highlands  

It may just take 5 minutes or less to feel the energy in your hands or feet, become aware of your senses, listen to your breathing, and center on the present momentYou won’t find yoga mats at Highlands, but we do encourage you to try mindfulness techniques to refocus and recover a balanced state of mind.