Routinely Get More Done

In the early 1990s, researchers at MIT accidentally proved you can get more done by thinking less about what you’re doing.

They measured how long it took rats to find the chocolate at the far end of a maze. During the early runs, the rats would seem to wander their way through the maze idly. Gradually, the rats would get more focused and start finding the chocolate faster.

What’s fascinating is what they observed in the rats’ brains. At first, the brains were firing with lots of activity. They could smell the chocolate, and they were figuring out how to get to it. With experience, they developed a routine for getting through the maze. They got to the chocolate faster, and had an easier time of it.

If you develop routines, you can get more done with less effort.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/mbot

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/mbot

The Winds of Fate

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self-same winds that blow;
     ’Tis the set of the sails
     And not the gales
That tells them the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the winds of fate
As we voyage along through life;
     ’Tis the set of the soul
     That decides its goal
And not the calm or the strife.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Are You Steering Your Ship?

My grandfather used to take us out fishing on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We’d drop our line in the water and learn patience while we waited for a fish to be attracted to the shiny lure. Occasionally, it would work, and Grandpa would help us reel in our catch, and we’d have fried lake trout for dinner. (Grandma always had a backup menu planned.)

As we’d pass the marina, full of moored sailboats, I used to marvel at how the wind would always seem to be blowing the direction they needed to go. Then one day I saw two sailboats cross paths, heading in opposite directions! My ten-year-old mind was blown.

After a couple of diagrams sketched on napkins at dinner, I started to understand something profound. All the sailboats out there were experiencing the same wind, but they were able to head in different directions because of how the sailor chose to respond to that wind.

Regatta Panorama

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Dmitry Berkut

5 Tips to Protect the Big Rocks

You know those days. We all have them.

You’re in the office, ready to go, two minutes early. Everyone else is shuffling in, looking for a parking spot, or sitting in traffic. Not you. You’ve identified your A1 task for the day. Your target is in your sights. Today will be different. Today will be the day you finally get through that backlog. Your desk will be so clear you can smell it.

…And then everyone else starts their day. Their work involves creating work for you. Emails. Meetings. Requests. New priorities. You do everything you can to fight off the onslaught. You bend the laws of time and space to fit in everything you did. But your list is longer at 5:00pm than it was at 9:00am. It’s only Monday, but your list for “today” will last you through Thursday.

Here are five tips to help you protect your sanity and keep your task list under control.

Big Rock Lurking

Keep It Simple

The set designers for Star Trek built the turbolift doors to open at the push of a button. The idea was that Kirk would turn to exit the bridge, someone offstage pushes a button, gears and hydraulics spring into action, and whoosh! However, it was an unfortunately common occurrence that something would go wrong and the doors wouldn’t open on cue.

When they filmed Star Trek: The Next Generation, they solved the problem by simplifying the set design. Instead of doors that opened at the touch of a button, they had ropes with counterweights. It was much more reliable, and it let them have some much larger doors.

It’s the application of an age-old engineering principle: Go with the simplest thing that could possibly work.

Star Trek © CBS

© CBS Corporation

Searching Evernote

The first note I ever saved in Evernote was a snaptshot of a coffee mug. We were having lunch, and someone mentioned this new iPhone app that would let you search the text in photos. We had to try it out, and that coffee mug was the closest thing with lettering at hand. Snap a picture, give the server a few minutes to process the image, search, and viola—there was the mug, with the word magically highlighted.

Evernote is a great tool for archiving and organizing your digital documents. With great power comes great responsibility—responsibility to go back and use this information when you need it. Otherwise, why are you saving it?

It’s fun to go back and browse through a notebook sometimes, just like flipping through pages of a diary. The best way to find what you’re looking for, though, is to search for it.

Calvin Search

I deleted the original mug photo to save space, so please enjoy this strip about Calvinball instead.
You can still see Evernote highlighting “Calvin” in the image.