Scrolling through articles on productivity boosting tips over breakfast, I’ve mentally ticked off that I’m doing everything they’ve mentioned. Yet, most of the time I’m not completing tasks, I fall behind and miss self-imposed deadlines. I always felt productive but with a little more research I realised that there was more to it. The average selection of techniques that we often read about are hugely important as a starting point but let’s delve a little deeper.
PLANNING YOUR DAY
Three is the magic number and writing down three main tasks you want to complete that day is a good starting point. However, we tend to stop there and just work through these main tasks or our daily to do lists in any order. Instead, try establishing your personal peak hours of the day. This could be when you have the most energy and time to yourself. Base as much of your schedule on this as possible and complete the most important and hardest tasks during these peak slots.
WRITE A “TO NOT DO” LIST
Write down things that you know you shouldn’t be doing because they impact your productivity in a negative way. For example, “don’t check social media until lunch time” or “no TV until the work day is over”. When we write our daily to do list we either leave it somewhere visible or refer to it constantly. When you create your “to not do” list, treat it in the same way. At the end of the day you definitely still get that satisfying feeling when you tick them off.
A technique termed by Cal Newport in 2012 to evolve the way we usually work. We’re distracted, we multitask and convince ourselves we’re being productive the more we’re juggling at once. In reality, this is shallow working and although we may still be getting a lot done on this level, imagine how much more we’re capable of achieving? Choose your most difficult task for the day. Work on it in a distraction-free, completely focused mode where all thoughts are on that specific task. No social media, phone calls or emails in between. You could set yourself a timer or finish the task but either way this is deep working and has transformed my productivity levels. Carry out your deep work tasks at the peak times you’ve identified for your day.
EFFECTIVELY TAKING BREAKS
It’s an element of self-discovery to know how long you can carry out a period of deep working. This could range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes and sometimes even 2 hours. The most important thing I’ve learnt is that you should gauge this on your energy and concentration levels. If you feel you have the brain food to keep going and finish a task then do it. If you’ve been focusing hard but still haven’t progressed far enough give yourself a break. Perhaps this is a good point to take an hour for lunch. I’ve found that over 60 minutes, I start to slow down. It’s almost signalling my brain that it’s time to wind down for the day.
If you’re stopping for a short 10-20 minute break then make sure this is away from your desk. Try some stretches, a quick yoga session, fresh air or get a snack. Don’t start scrolling through YouTube videos, reading blogs or trying to slot in a quick episode of something on Netflix. These activities will make the break time fly by and you’ll be tempted to break for longer because you feel unsatisfied.
MORNING “ME TIME”
How we start our day is important. It can set our mood and if we’ve established that our peak work hours are during that morning slot then it’s crucial we don’t sabotage this with what we choose to do first thing in the morning. There’s nothing wrong with taking the first 90 minutes of your conscious day to do something for yourself. Reading over breakfast, a long shower, exercise etc. However, I’ve found that some activities can have a negative impact:
- Watching a TV show where all of the episodes are currently available can either tempt you into binge watching or will make you agitated waiting for the next moment you can sneak in another episode. Try a short podcast no longer than your commute time instead.
- Intense exercise. HIIT, a spin class or any activity that tires you out doesn’t work for everyone in terms of boosting daily energy levels. Personally, after work or late afternoon works best for me, otherwise, I get too exhausted. Don’t just adopt the routine of your friends or someone successful you admire. Find what suits you.
- Starting tasks you can’t finish. Some people are okay with working on things in increments. If you’re like me, however, then don’t start working on a blog post, household chore or otherwise if you can’t finish it in that morning slot. It will either delay your work start or it’ll play on your mind until you can get back to it, which is distracting.
FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
It seems ridiculously simple but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to retro fit techniques and routines of others onto my own hoping that I’d eventually be successful like them. Don’t wake up extra early without purpose. Sleep is important. Caffeine won’t necessarily make you more productive, just alert and possibly hyper. Take every method and tip (including these) in your stride.
The most important thing is that to be more productive you can’t keep trying to patch up a broken routine. Ultimately, we have to rethink the way we work as a whole in order to fully embrace our most productive selves.