We’ve lost the plot today.
We live in a culture which prides itself on working long hours. We run in circles and work harder, frantically ticking items off our to-do list.
And yet, we’ve got this nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. It sticks to our flesh like a thorn.
Do you feel like this? I’ve got some news to make you feel better: you’re not alone. As stated before, most of us have lost the plot when it comes productivity today.
How to Get Your Mojo Back
Productivity is about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way. – Charles Duhigg.
Distinguishing between urgent and important today is like separating noodles from spaghetti. We make heroes out of people who sacrifice more, who ‘hustle.’
Can you sacrifice less and achieve more?
Look closely. You’ll find people who are doing everything you want to, while sacrificing less. Where do they find the time? How do they transform into high-level achievers?
More importantly, can you ever be like them?
The answer again is a reassuring “yes.” Being genuinely productive is easier than it looks. All you need is some self-discipline, and to understand a law known only to the insiders of the productivity circle.
The Rule You Always Ignore
In a previous post, I had highlighted an observation made in 1955 by a famous British historian and author:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. – Cyril Northcote Parkinson
Achievers understand this. And they take action to counter it. They set stringent deadlines and pursue important tasks till they achieve their goals.
Here is how they do it. Leverage these expert-backed techniques to become more productive yourself, in the workplace and life.
7 Proven Productivity Improvement Techniques
As stated before, being genuinely productive is easier than it looks. Parkinson’s Law can help you experience real satisfaction and fulfillment by pursuing what you want to do. All you need is the outlook (not Microsoft) to implement certain techniques.
Here they are:
1. Ask Yourself Why
Productive people possess a messianic sense of purpose. Use this to enhance your ability to complete what you consider important.
Ask yourself why you want to do something. Is it because somebody wants you to? Or is it because you want to do it? Choose what falls under the latter. The more you do what you love, the more motivated you’ll be to do it.
Your ‘why’ will keep you going when you want to give up. Over time, it will also make you an expert in the next point.
2. Say “Hell No”
We ignore most important things because we suck at saying ‘no.’ We’re afraid of being judged by others, of missing out on something good, of being left alone.
As a result, we keep saying yes to people and tasks which pull us away from ourselves. As Tim Ferriss’s wrote in The 4 Hour Work Week, “we keep inventing things to do to avoid the important.”
Productive people, on the other hand, spend 80 percent time working on what’s important to them. They say ‘no’ to everything else.
Be assertive and guilt-free when you deny others’ requests. Research shows that people are not as offended when you say ‘no’ as you think.
“If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say ‘no.’ – Derek Sivers
Secure your oxygen mask first. You can only help others when you don’t neglect your own needs.
3. Reduce Consumption
Consumption is a task we invent to stay away from what’s important. News, social media, mainstream media, email, parties, and more, place us in the comfort zone. They let us judge others rather than being judged for what we create.
Judging is easy. Creating is difficult. Judging makes us feel empowered. Creating makes us afraid. But creating also makes us more productive.
The more you consume, the less you do. Hence, reduce consumption. Don’t stop it altogether, but don’t waste time on the useless.
4. Chunk Your Work
Unless you’re lonely or trying to avoid work, consumption is a distraction. Yet, it’s unavoidable. Phone calls, emails, and social media banter – you’ll indulge lest you become a recluse.
But these distractions are a huge cause of your low productivity. According to research, it takes up to 23 minutes to return to a state of focus after being distracted. Count the times you’re distracted and add the numbers. Now tell me you aren’t shocked.
So, chunk your work. Chunking is a proven technique to increase output tremendously and be more productive.
Club similar tasks. Allot a chunk of time each day for deep focused work. Chunk robotic tasks like making phone calls and checking emails.
Feel like surfing social media? Allot time for it (but not too much).
Enjoy helping people? Allot a specific time each week and spend it just helping them.
Rather than ‘sprinkling’ tasks – doing everything in short bursts at various times – start chunking. Experiments show over 80 percent people felt more energetic after chunking.
I practice chunking too. I check email just thrice a day, and browse social media thrice a day. I keep the phone in another room when I do deep work. The result? I consistently surpass deadlines and keep improving.
Chunk your time into dedicated blocks during each day. And during those blocks, follow the next step.
5. Work in Cycles
The popular Pomodoro technique is an effective chunking technique. For the uninitiated, it means working in cycles to maintain your productivity.
Work deeply for twenty-five minutes followed by a five-minute break. This is one Pomodoro cycle. Rinse, repeat. Eight cycles like this and you’ll have one hell of a productive day.
Gradually, increase your focused time from twenty-five minutes to forty-five. Eight Pomodoro cycles will give you almost three focused hours more each day. Imagine how much you can achieve with three extra hours!
6. Focus on Systems
Most people suck at being productive despite good intentions, because they cannot sustain their effort. They try different things. But if something doesn’t work the first time around, they give up.
This acid test is where productive people distinguish themselves. They persevere. They test and optimize. To discover your optimal process, you must focus on a system too. [Read this smashing post by Sam Yang on you can optimize something you want to learn.]
Setting goals is good. It reminds you why you’re doing something. But it can overwhelm you too. In an insightful post, James Clear explained this wonderfully with an analogy. A goal of writing a book within a year might appear so daunting that you might never start. But if you write just 300 words a day, you’ll write over 90,000 words in a year – equal to one and a half books.
Create systems which improve your efficiency and output. Experiment. Optimize them. Find out what works. Then stick to it.
7. Hold Yourself Accountable
For achievers, the fear of not trying outweighs the fear of failing. Hence, they do what Jon Morrow suggests – they put a gun to their heads (figuratively).
Many people set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG), but fizzle out due to lack of accountability. Staying accountable is an essential part of the productivity journey.
Accountability keeps you on track and enables measurement. And what gets measured gets managed.
Make yourself accountable to achieve short (and long) term goals. It’ll keep you going. If you can’t put a gun to your head, hand it over to someone trustworthy and ask them to do it to help you be more productive.
Most people are capable of reaching their goals. But they don’t because they focus on too many things. As a result, they move a millimeter in each direction – hardly a formula for productivity.
Your life can be different. You can be more productive.
Imagine waking up each morning looking forward to the day, knowing you’ll pursue what you love.
Imagine becoming an indispensable asset to your workplace, with your work speaking for itself. And, imagine being buffered from despicable office politics. Imagine not feeling drained in the evenings, but enjoying them with family and friends.
Imagine doing everything important with minimum sacrifice. You’ll be known in your circles as one heck of an achiever, someone who can get stuff done. Somebody who knows how to be more productive.
I’m not selling you a pipe dream. You can achieve all this and more. Follow the techniques mentioned above and watch your quality of life exceed your own expectations.
So step up on the starting block. Don’t wait for the gun to go off for you to reclaim your life, because the gun is in your hand. In this race, you’re competing only with yourself. Become the tortoise. When you do, despite appearing slower, you’ll make it to the finish line before the hares.
This article was originally published on Aha! Now.