Productivity; the word has almost become magical – so close, yet elusive. It feels like the solution to all of our problems, which is not surprising owing to the fact that it has a direct relationship with the most coveted resource in the universe (time).
We wish we can be more productive so that we can free up some time to make more money; to spend with our families; to do things that make us happy, or even to make all of our dreams come true. So it’s really heartbreaking to see that only a few of us ever reach that level of productivity zen that we crave.
On one hand, there’s the overwhelming feeling that comes from consuming too much information about it, and on the other, there’s the ineffectiveness that comes from focusing on the wrong approach of doing more rather than less.
In this post, you’ll see why some productivity advice doesn’t work, and what you need to do differently.
1. Tidy up your to-do list
The typical productivity tip will tell you to make a to-do list and then gradually tick the items off as you accomplish each one.
What it fails to tell you is that no matter how productive you become, it wouldn’t matter or reflect in your life positively if you cannot differentiate between what needs to be on your to-do list and what doesn’t.
What is the important? And what is the junk? What is urgent? And what can wait?
Productivity is not just about getting things done, it is about getting the most important things done better and in the shortest possible time. We have so many unimportant things competing with the important ones, vying for our attention, and often, we cannot tell the difference.
We invent some ourselves in order to feel busy and important, while the others silently creep up into our lives. But soon, they all become a part of us; sucking up our time and wrecking havoc on our productivity.
The Pareto rule says, 80% of result comes from 20% effort and vice versa. You have to identify the 20%, they should be the only things that make it into your to do.
2. Work for fewer hours
Normally, you want to be productive to free up more time to make cupcakes with your spouse or go crab hunting with your kids or do whatever it is that you consider as ‘having a life’. But this perception itself is flawed.
According to Parkinson’s law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, which means trying to be productive to free up time will rarely work. It’s like putting the cart before the horse. You have to free up time in order to be productive.
A variation of the Parkinson’s law states: a task will swell in perceived difficulty in proportion to the time allocated to it. When work expands and swells in perceived difficulty, it means you’ll waste so much time doing it.
The only solution is to set deadlines, very tight ones. Ruthlessly cut down on the time required to accomplish each task. This way, you get a double win; you free up the time you need and you get to be productive and finish up task quicker and easier.
Quit trying to do things in as much time as it takes, just to tick it off your to-do. Because what you think is ‘as much time as it takes’ can get overblown out of proportion.
3. Sleep better
What? Yeah, I know. The common reasoning is that too much sleep is an unnecessary waste of time, and if you want to get more done, you have to cut down on your hours.
Personally, I’ve been told this. In my first year at the university, my level coordinator told a class full of us that for as long as we are in that school, we have to sleep 4 hours or less. Why? Because we need to free up the time to read more if we ever want to graduate on time. Never have I heard the worst advice.
Research has proven time and time again that a few hours of lost sleep can reduce your productivity by more than 50% throughout the day. Your cognitive functions become slow, your memory suffers, your strength and motivations suffers. Quite literally you become dumb.
Whatever hours of sleep you think you’ve saved by not sleeping enough are more than offset by the number of hours you waste trying to focus in vain.
But remember, Sleeping more doesn’t mean sleeping through your magic hours. Reorganize your life in such a way that you sleep more and still get to work at the time that best suit your nature. That way, your productivity gets a double boost.
4. Do the most important tasks during your magic hours
Your magic hour is that time of the day when you easily get into a flow state and work without effort. Your focus is usually intense at this point and you’re able to achieve a great load of work without even noticing.
For me, it is the hours of the morning; between 5:00 to 9:00 am. Some of us prefer nights, others an afternoon in their favourite coffee shop or a public cafeteria. Your magic hours might constitute only 20% of your working hours, but like the Pareto rule says, you do 80% of your work then.
This is why it is important to schedule your most important task during that time.
Common reason will tell you to do the most important task first thing in the morning, which is alright for morning persons. But if you’re a night owl, you’ll find yourself struggling. It’s not about doing it first, but doing it during your most productive hours.
Apply these tips and see your productivity skyrocket. You can thank me later.