I had this friend of mine who always had time to do everything. Time to study and get the best grades, time to play tennis every day, time to learn piano, time to sketch, the list goes on and on. I felt proud and inspired to have a friend like her who had a bag that stored infinite amount of time.
And alright, a little envious too. I wanted to know how I could get a bag like that for me. I wanted to do it all but the clock always seemed to be moving a lot faster than I would have liked it to.
Now, it’s a common myth to mistake busyness for productivity. I have heard people saying things like ‘I work 60 hours a week’ like it’s some kind of honor. Productivity doesn’t mean doing stuff, it means doing stuff effectively. What does effective mean here?
It means working smarter, it means working less and still getting more done.
1. How well do I know myself?
What works for the most successful CEO in the world might not work for you. Productivity is not a general thing, it varies from person to person.
For me, the hours between 5 and 8 in the morning are the most productive. It’s when I schedule my writing and the most important tasks for the day. Alone in a no disturb zone is a necessity for me.
But there are people I know who do their best in buzzing cafes or restaurants or even the middle of the night.
Find out what works best for you. You can only do that by experimenting and comparing results. As I always try to point out, the most productive people aren’t those who keep reading self-help books and articles, it’s those that actually test out different methods and adopt what personally suits them.
2. Do I aim for perfection in everything I do?
Chances are, what was perfect for you a year ago is now full of flaws, be it the project plan you made or the presentation you gave. Perfection is just an illusion. Whoa, what?
Yes, perfection doesn’t exist. There will always be room for improvement; a little here, a little there.
In fact, Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Start-Up, recommends launching a minimum viable product in the market. Why? Because you can always push it and make it better. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t launch your MVP and start building awareness about the product and your brand.
‘If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.’ - Reif Hoffman
3. Is my to-do list optimized for productivity?
We all make to-do lists whether it’s located in some app on our phone, our laptops, on paper or - the scariest of them all – in our minds. The first thing you need to do is list your tasks somewhere you can see them. Ideally, somewhere you can actually tick them off. Ever felt that amazing feeling ‘yay, I did it’ when you tick off something? Exactly.
Below are some tips to help create your perfect, oops, almost-perfect to-do list:
- Don’t leave vague tasks on your to-do list. Make it as specific as possible.
- Break large tasks into smaller ones.
- Put a specific time for each task. This means that you can mentally plan how many tasks you can complete by lunch.
- David Allen has his ‘Two-minute rule’ where a task can be categorized in two ways: can it be done in two minutes or will it require more time? If something can be done within two minutes, do it immediately. The point here is to stop spending time preparing and planning for these brief, easy tasks.
- Group like tasks together. When you brain is already engaged in a particular way, focus on similar activities in succession to get the maximum out of it.
- Create templates so that you don’t have to repeat your efforts unnecessarily.
4. Do you schedule a no-disturb zone for yourself?
When was the last time you were interrupted by a colleague just when you started effortlessly focusing on your work? For most of you, the answer would be yesterday or today. If you work in a setting where other people can walk up to you any time, it’s hard to feel like you’re in control of your time.
I once worked with someone who would put up a notice beside his cubicle every day saying ‘Do Not Disturb’ for an hour or so. After the initial teasing, everybody got serious. They would respect his time.
The next time someone interrupts you when you’re in a flow of doing things, tell them to come back after an hour so, once you’ve completed your task. Or make a calendar clearly depicting your no-disturb zone and share it with everyone. This will make sure they won’t interrupt you unless absolutely necessary.
5. Are my deadlines feeding my procrastination?
Research has shown that the less time we assign ourselves, the more productive we are. We have all unknowingly realized this. Ever had a 7 day window to do something and you actually did the work on the 5th day and completed it quite effectively?
‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ - Parkinson’s Law
Take the above example. You could finish the same work in two days but you let yourself utilize all seven days. You spend initial time doing superficial tasks until it’s absolutely necessary to turn on your hyper-focused spirit to meet the deadline.
If you’re someone who falls victim to procrastination every now and then, set artificial deadlines. If something is to be done within 5 days, challenge yourself and set the deadline for 3 days.
This can help you in two ways: (i) you complete your work much earlier and have ample time for remaining things or even leisure, (ii) you find ways in which you can do the work faster.
6. Do I have an environment that helps me get things done?
Recently, I started going to the gym, and I realized something; the reason why people prefer going to the gym instead of working out at home is because they’re surrounded by people who want to be fit. And somehow that energy motivates them.
When you’re around people who are working hard, you feel guilty for being idle. You don’t want to be the odd one out and so you, too, get into the mindset of ‘I need to work now’. If you’re surrounded by people like that, it becomes a lot easier to avoid distractions.
7. Do I take time out for myself?
Self-care is the hip topic these days. And there’s a reason why. You can’t expect yourself to work continuously without any negative repercussions, bad days or just moody ones. You don’t want to push yourself so much that you eventually feel burned out.
Taking care of your sleep routines, regularly exercising, having a proper diet and spending time with people you love are some things you need to carve out time for.
Every week, take some time to address your negative emotions and give yourself a break. Remember self-care is not about wasting valuable time, it’s about being more