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Who is a productivity ninja? Could you give some examples of "ninjas" you have met in your professional life? A productivity ninja is someone who embodies the nine ninja characteristics I talk about in the book. Developing your habits and mindset around each of these characteristics can help you win the battle against stress and information overload. My work is all about helping people develop more of a Zen-like calm in the way they work, help them be ruthless in their decision-making, be prepared through having adequate rest and looking after themselves and many other things too. My company coaches and trains new productivity ninjas every day, and we call our trainers productivity ninjas too. Importantly, a Ninja is different from a superhero. I don't believe anybody in the world has perfect productivity – no matter how good you are, you occasionally screw up and there's always more to learn.
Cultural landscapes affect work environment, the way we do things is different in London or New York or Mumbai. How is your book relevant to professionals across the globe?
Great question! I think there are differences but lots of similarities too. A huge number of people around the world work with their heads not their hands these days. That means wherever you are in the world, how you manage your brain and your attention really matters. And you are susceptible to stress. What lots of people say to me on Twitter when they have read my book is "I've stopped worrying" or "I've finally conquered my email inbox even though I thought it was impossible". These are, sadly, universal problems! I've been to India many times and one thing I love about it is that people take their work seriously but know when to stop taking themselves too seriously and have fun, too. And I think the culture and sense of spirituality in India is very much in harmony with the approaches in my book. For example, the way Indian culture thinks about attention, focus and stress is, I think, more sophisticated than the way the average Londoner or New Yorker thinks about those things. But fundamentally, while cultures are different, lots of the challenges are the same. I have been lucky to teach productivity to people all over the world and I believe our shared humanity is much stronger than our differences.
Technology, gadgets, appliances, etc., can add to the clutter when it comes to focussing. How do you effectively use technology in order to declutter?
Decluttering your mind is the most important thing. I recommend at the very least getting yourself a good web-based to-do list app. There are lots like Toodledo and Todoist that are quite cheap. I use one called Nozbe that is a bit more expensive, but it's worth it to me because it's so user-friendly and it saves me a lot of stress – a Ninja needs a Second Brain because we know our own brains aren't great at holding onto all that information. I also think changing your relationship with e-mail if it causes you the remotest bit of stress is vital. There's a whole chapter in the book where I advocate and walk through the process to reduce your inbox to zero. That’s something that helps me clear my mind of the clutter.
And, of course, there are loads of other cool tools. A couple of my favourites? Headspace for meditation, Jot to capture ideas really fast, Hootsuite to manage all my social media in one place and Xero to manage all my finances.
Three important features to be super productive according to you...
First, your to-do list isn't working if you're still stressed. Make sure you keep all the projects and actions you're working on in a clear and up-to-date "Second Brain" - a single place where you manage it all.
Second, take a proactive stance on tackling procrastination. Ask yourself every morning what tasks you're most dreading, and make sure that you do those first, or develop a clear plan – don't avoid these things! It's much more efficient to reduce the stress that can linger if you leave difficult or scary tasks undone for too long. Regularly review your lists and develop times in your week that are purely for thinking and mindfulness, so that you really get to the bottom of what's causing you to feel stuck. Doing this well changes procrastination into playful, productive momentum and you will feel more in control.
Finally, remember that a Productivity Ninja is not a superhero. Forget perfection or doing everything. It's important to have balance in your life and you don't have special powers to get everything done, so be realistic – a lot of our stress comes from being unclear or unrealistic with ourselves and then with our bosses about what's achievable. So, being clearer on defining the tasks helps you to have more realistic and human conversations with your boss and keeps you sane. And be comfortable with making mistakes. I frequently break my own rules – nobody is perfect.
Top thinkers/leaders you follow and why?
Some of the best stuff is the older stuff, like Stephen Covey's book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and Michael Gerber's book "The E-Myth". I'm a big fan of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" and I love Seth Godin's blogs – and his book Linchpin is particularly brilliant.
When I was last in India I spent some time with some amazing social enterprises including Jaipur Rugs, whose founder Nand Kishore Chaudhary was one of the most inspiring leaders I've met – and he's a natural Productivity Ninja too, with lots of focus on mindfulness, Zen and active listening in his leadership style – but he's also a very generous and visionary guy who has changed a lot of lives. For me, the best leaders are the ones with a strong sense of purpose
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