Every time we read an article about how to be more productive, we feel motivated for the next week, or maybe few days or even the next few hours. Then the drive slowly wears out and we are back to our old ways again.
I think that rather than trying to be productive, our goal should be to be more consistent. Making progress every day, taking small steps and being patient. So I thought of putting together 4 productivity ideas that I use and have worked for me.
1. Why ?
Always start with why. Why do you work? Why is it that you do what you do? Once you have a clear sense of why, you are half way there. Your why is your motivating force. It should be something that makes you jump out of bed every morning and drives you throughout the day.
Your why could be anything. It could be something material that you want. It could be a career goal that you want to achieve. It could be a skill that you want to master. Maybe you want to achieve a better life for yourself or the people you love. Or maybe you have found your passion and love doing what you do and just want to continue doing it. Once you have your why figured out, all the work you do becomes more meaningful and even the slightest progress makes you want to do more.
Now that you know why you want to work, the next step is working. Before going any further with that, lets answer the question — why be productive? The reason you need to be smart and productive while working is to get maximum work done in the least amount of time. Time is the most precious exhaustible resource in this world. Your money will return, but time wont. The whole idea of productivity is to get more done in less time, so that you have more free time in your day to do other things you enjoy.
The next question for most people would be, out of the 6 or 7 things on your to-do list, how do you decide what to do first?
2. What to do ?
With your clear sense of why, you realize that there are a lot of things you need to get done in your limited time to make progress towards your goal. There could be some things that you need to get done immediately, things to get done before a deadline or maybe its a skill and you need to practice it everyday to master it.
So to plan out your day and allocate time for each task, firstly you need to decide what needs to be done on that particular day. To do this, I use the Eisenhower method. It is basically a matrix that groups together the tasks you have based on importance and urgency.
All your tasks will fall into one of these 4 categories:
- Important & Urgent: The this you need to get done immediately and so you must give you maximum attention and time to these tasks. Basically anything with a deadline in the next one or two days falls into this category.
- Important & Not Urgent: These are the things you need to get done and are important for achieving your goals, but have no time constraint on it or you have ample time left to finish these tasks. You can pick one or two things from this section and allocate time for it after you are done with Important & Urgent things for the day.
- Not Important & Urgent: If you have any extra time left during the day, then you can pick a task from this section and do it. If tasks in this section does not require your personal attention, maybe you can ask someone else to help you or do it for you, since it could be urgent.
- Not Important and Not Urgent: These are the things that you need to eliminate or do only if you are finished with the tasks in all the above three sections.
Now you can schedule your day and allocate your time properly to things that matter the most. Next step is to actually DO the things on your list or schedule and this is where most people fail or give up.
3. Doing work
It feels really good grouping your tasks and making a schedule and you start thinking your day is going to be perfect. But then procrastination kicks in, all the motivation drains out, you forget about your why and end up watching YouTube for 5 hours. After you realize you have accomplished nothing throughout the day, you go back to your productivity and motivational content. Again you feel the drive and decide that tomorrow you will be productive but basically end up browsing social media for 4 hours and this vicious cycle continues. The only way to break this cycle is to actually work and get something done. The feeling of accomplishment is amazing and addictive. So once you get used to it, you will always want to do more and finish more tasks during your day.
A technique I use to beat procrastination and get to work is the Pomodoro Technique. Here is how it works:
- Pick a task — this should be easy for you, because you already have the Eisenhower matrix or a schedule for the day if you made one.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on your task. These 25 minutes you have to eliminate all distractions from your environment and give your 100% attention to the task at hand and work on it.
- When the timer rings, mark somewhere (maybe in your schedule) that you have finished one pomodoro (like a tally if you want) and take a 5 minute break. You can do anything you want in these 5 minutes to relax.
- Repeat the same process 3 or 4 times and take a longer 20 or 30 minute break.
Feel free to adjust the pomodoro interval (25 minutes in this case), to suit your attention span. Maybe you could do 15 or even 10 minute intervals. Why this technique works for me is mainly because I can force myself into doing tasks thinking its just for 25 minutes. Often times when the timer goes off, I find myself engrossed in the task and ignore the timer, and end up working for 45 minutes or even more than an hour at times. Even for tasks that I totally hate, I find myself making quite a lot of progress in the distraction free 25 minute interval.
So now that you have done some work, there should be a way to track your progress.
4. Tracking Progress
Tracking what you have accomplished and having a constant feedback loop helps you to stay sharp and think about ways you could have done certain things more efficiently or even think about why your progress in certain tasks are slow compared to others find out where you are going wrong.
To track my progress at the end of the day, I actually look at the number of pomodoros (25 +5 minute interval) that I successfully completed and divide it by the total number of possible pomodoros that I could have finished on that day. So for example lets say I have 5 hours to work today. That means my total number of possible pomodoros is 10. Now lets say I was able to successfully finish 7 pomodoros. So my efficiency score for the day would be 7/10 = 0.7 or in other words I was 70% efficient on that day. So each day my goal is to attain 100% efficiency, that is to work on all the available pomodoro intervals in the day. Even if you get just 1 hour to work on a day, it means you have 2 pomodoros and you can still calculate your efficiency for the day. So each day we can try our best to beat the previous day’s efficiency score.
What we need to do next is cultivate a habit of being consistent. If you follow the techniques above, and you remain consistent with it every single day, then you will be able to see the results within one or two weeks. And yes, I do understand that we are all different and maybe these wont work for you. These are just the techniques that have worked for me and so I wanted to share them. So I would suggest that you be patient and give it a shot for at least one week before you quit.
The probability of being born as a human being is 400 trillion to 1. So lets be grateful for that and make the most out of the one life that we have.
Got questions ? Need help ? Contact me!