It’s often been said that good time management is the key to being effective at work, but the old time management theories no longer work: we live in the age of information overload, where it’s impossible to plan your day first thing in the morning and then just work through your to-do list for the rest of the day. We’re overloaded and overwhelmed. It’s time to think like a ninja!
The mindset of a ninja offers us some very useful ways to approach our work, described here by the following 9 characteristics:
1. Zen-like calm
The ability to remain focused and not be stressed by all the things you’re not doing. Use technology or paper to create a ‘second brain’ – a good system to store the information, actions and cyclical procedures in task lists, checklists and files. By using a system that you trust, you’ll stop feeling the stress of trying to keep it all in your head! And by trusting a good system, you’ll ensure that whatever you’re doing, you can be calm and present. When you’re working, you don’t want to be distracted by other work thoughts. Just as when you’re praying, you don’t want to be distracted with other things either!
Saying ‘no’ to as many distractions as possible. For example, ask your team, “What would you do if you suddenly only had half the time for each meeting? Could you afford to be more ruthless in your focus? Could you create rules so that some of those emails never reach your inbox at all, but land in a separate folder for later quick-checking and deletion?” Thinking like a ninja means being ruthless with your attention and focus. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ And practise saying ‘no’ in logical, nice, and graceful ways!
Knowing what tools to use, but being clear that the tools are to save you time, not provide distractions. And for your team, do you have good communication systems in place and is it easy to track who does what? There is often a big problem with productivity websites and blogs in that they constantly encourage people to ‘fiddle’: to move from one piece of software to another, from one system to another, from one device to another. Remember that being weapon-savvy is being aware of the impact of your tools, not how cool they are!
4. Stealth and camouflage
Getting out of the chaos once in a while. Are there times when working alone, away from the limelight, might be more effective? Making yourself unavailable and getting away from the noise are naughty (but often effective) tricks!
Challenging the status quo. Don’t think how would another company make the same decision, think how would Nelson Mandela make it, or how would Google make it? Take inspiration from unusual (as well as usual) places.
Having good systems to help you react and respond quickly. Are there opportunities to discuss the storm during the calm before it? Plan ahead!
Asking yourself good questions, being more aware and avoiding stress. Meditation, prayer and mindfulness are great ways to work out what your brain is processing, and bring subconscious thoughts and feelings to the surface. Are you a good listener? (To yourself and to others.)
Knowing that rest, relaxation and good organisation skills are important. If you’re over-stretched, can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? If not, change it!
9. Finally, a productivity ninja is not a superhero, but it often appears that they are!
Ninjas are just humans with good skills and disciplines. We can do amazing things – but we can’t do everything! Humans make mistakes too and we shouldn’t try to be perfect. Aiming for perfection is often the quickest way to ensure things get stuck. There’s glory in imperfection – better an imperfect dome in Florence than a castle in the sky.