A Handful of Productivity Tips

In Essays, Self Improvement

This is just a handful of productivity tips that I incorporate into my daily life, a prelude of a future essay that I will eventually write that will cover my entire workflow.

I do feel that I am more productive than the average person, and so I hope that someone, somewhere, may find this useful.

Firstly, let’s just quickly tackle what is the point of being more productive. Is it simply being able to do more in the same timeframe?

Nope, it’s about making sure that we achieve more., while still maintaining a balance in your life. You could cram as many tasks as possible during a day, and work sixteen hour days and sure, you would be productive.

At the end of the week, you would probably have accomplished more than someone who only worked six hours per day, but that’s probably a short term solution at best.

However, what about the quality of the work? What do you actually achieve between hours twelve and sixteen in a sixteen hour workday? The answer: probably not much.

We need to keep in mind that our huge advantage as human beings is the ability to reason, to think, to create, not to do repetitive tasks that a computer could do.

Unfortunately, doing meaningful and worthwhile work is not something that will come easily. The conditions to set up an environment for meaningful work are simple to set up, but actually following through and consistently doing great work is difficult.

It’s not something that can come out of us like if our brains were a production line in a factory. It needs be nurtured, and we need to be constantly monitoring ourselves to make sure we’re working well.

The following advice is given with this aim: how can I consistently work at my best? Given the nature of working at peak performance, this is not something that can be done for long stretches of time, but we can still make it something that is easily repeatable.

Learn to Say No

I actually wrote an entire essay about this a while back, but it’s always worth repeating. In fact, read that essay and then come back.

The quickest way achieve more, is to make sure that we only focus on what we believe are high value tasks. This means learning to say no to a lot of things.

This will almost instantly skyrocket our productivity, because we’ll cut out a lot of the stupid things that plague our daily life.

This is definitely the first change I would recommend anyone to make. It’s a tough one, but it’s definitely a case of the 80/20rule.

Batching

If you can, try and batch similar tasks together. The logic behind this is that it will allow you to get into that mythical mood called “the zone” where time seems to stop and productivity and creativity rockets. Work becomes truly enjoyable, and we can achieve a lot in a short period of time. This is because working on similar tasks causes less problems when switching tasks than working on tasks that are completely different.

This technique can also be applied to mundane things like checking emails, or even reading long form essays like the ones found on this website. The latter can be done by just saving the essay you want to read, and then dedicating a few ours to read all of them at once.

Limit Yourself

Place, or create, arbitrary limits on yourself. While I normally think and plan presentation pitches for potential clients ahead of time, I prefer to leave the actual creation of the presentation until the day before, because then I know that I have to finish it, and this means that I will tackle the tasks with an exact result in mind.

Parkingson’s Law States:

Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

I’ve almost always found this to be true.

Interestingly enough, this can also have liberating effects on creativity. By putting limits on your creative work, you can actually enhance it. This doesn’t have to be a time or deadline based limit, but a limit on concepts, approach, tools, and more.

For instance, you may decide that if you’re a painter than your next work will only be in the colour blue, freeing up your creative side to focus on shape, texture, etc, without also having to think about colours.

Do What You Enjoy

It could be argued that including this “tip” is cheating. After all, very few people have problems working on things that they enjoy doing.

But that’s the whole point.

You need to create a working environment where you are working on what you enjoy, for the very reason that you will do it well because you actually want to do it.

Maybe this is a dream, and the reality is that we have deadlines, and bosses, and inflexible corporate structures that prevent us from doing this.

I call that an excuse.

If you enjoy doing something, you’ll do it really, really well. If you do something so well, you’ll add value to others in one way or another. If you add value, it means that someone, somewhere, will be willing to pay top dollar for it. This is a really simplistic approach, but I actually fully believes it works, even if it might take time (read:years) for it to come to fruition.

Take a Break

Even if you do what you love, you still should take a break from it once in a while. The main advantage of taking a break is that it gives you the chance to take a new perspective on the usual issues in your life, especially those related to your work.

Often, changing locations is associated with taking a break, and that’s what’s called a holiday.

However, breaks can vary from taking five minutes for a quick walk, to a several month long break. Generally speaking, the longer you haven’t gone with a real break, the longer your next break will need to be.

So if you’ve worked for an entire year without once really taking much time off, then a break of a month will probably do you a world of good.

You’ll find that you’ll do more when you come back that you would otherwise have done if you had worked right through your break.

Short, Intense Periods of Work.

I find that sometimes just taking an hour or two for a set task (even if you think it’s going to take much longer) and working at it with all your attention, is just what is needed.

This requires some planning to get rid of any distractions that might disturb you. This includes phones, internet, other people, and any type of notification from a device.

Then, all you need to do is just focus. Remember that focusing is a discipline, and to develop any discipline requires time and practice, so don’t expect that your first session will be awesome, but you may still be surprised at how much you get done.

Test Things Out (But Not Too Much)

Constantly testing out is a great way to increase productivity, as long as the results of your testing outweigh the lost productivity that testing has.

If you’re always testing, you’re probably going to achieve less than you would otherwise, and if you aren’t getting much value out of testing, then it’s not worth it.

I’ll give you a quick example about todo lists. There one thousand and one applications out there to manage something as simple as a todo list. You can segment it, tag it, colour code it, and everything in-between.

I spent several years bouncing around various applications, and for the last two years I’ve simply been using my own simplified version of Bullet Journal which is an analog system. In layman’s terms: I have a notebook where I write my daily todos, and then either:

  1. Tick them off when I complete a todo
  2. Cross it off if it becomes irrelevant
  3. Move it forward if I can’t complete it that day.

It’s dead simple, and it means I can keep on top of everything. I’ve stopped trying to test things out, because I have something that just works.

Conclusion

I hope this handful of tips have been useful, and feel free to shoot me an email at discuss@emanuelefaja.com with your thoughts, and any tips of your own you’d like to share.

Thanks for reading,

Emanuele.