Want to know the secret to getting better at almost anything?
Rambling story that only appears to be irrelevant ….
For many years, I was on one committee or another that awarded funds to aspiring Olympic athletes. Often, my recommendations were at odds with the majority of the committee members, and if you looked back, you’d see I was almost invariably right. Here’s why – I’m a little person and sometimes when a practice was going on, I would slip in a side door and sit in a corner or up on a stack of mats, and just watch. You can learn a lot about a person by how they train when they think no one is watching them. Some of those athletes put on a good show when they knew they were being watched but were going at half-speed the rest of the time. Here is the lesson learned – we train harder, try harder, do more when we are being watched.
Want a less obvious lesson? That is true even when the person watching you is yourself.
This applies to virtually everything. Want to get more work done, exercise more often or spend more time with your family? Measure it. Write it down. Set goals. Track it.
For example, I am generally considered to be something of a workaholic by all of the people who nag me constantly that I work too much, from my mom to the neighbor who I had never formally met until today, and who immediately recognized me as “that lady who I always see in the window at 2 am working on her computer”.
I have known that I am not as efficient as I could be. I spend way too much time on twitter, just reading random political comments, and reading way too many blog posts on the Internet like this one on why we don’t need to teach math. “You will never need to know when two trains going at different speeds will meet. We have train schedules.”
The picture above is what I saw when I opened my eyes at 9:25 this morning. Not only was I awake before 10 a.m. but I was awakened by a small person sitting on my stomach. Given that Small Person Number One and her sister Smaller Person Number Two are visiting this week and insistent not only on waking me up before the crack of noon, but also jumping in the bouncer at the block party, going for a walk, being fed (several times), having Number Two’s diaper changed, reading books and on and on and on, it became apparent that I would need to be more efficient at work.
The four adults in the house took two-hour shifts of keeping the children from drowning the guinea pigs in the toilet and teaching them how to count by fives (the children, not the guinea pigs. Guinea pigs aren’t that smart. I’m surprised I have to explain this to you).
Given that I had only a few hours to work uninterrupted, I set very specific goals of what I needed to get done in those hours. Before it is my turn to watch them, I’m going to send Gene the script for the next video clip on fractions on a number line, while they are asleep, I’m going to finish the review of this article and get it back to the editor. I had an extremely productive day and I expect to have an equally productive week. The difference in efficiency is simply due to observing what exactly I got done in each two-hour block. It’s not goal-setting. Some of those tasks had been written on the white board in my office for a week. It’s measuring how much I accomplished toward that goal in a set period of time.
If something is really important to you, try measuring how many minutes you really spend DOING it each day. If you’re like most people, that simple act of measurement will make you more efficient and result in you doing more of whatever it is.