Lifehacks to increase productivity
It can be hard to buckle down and focus, whether it’s on studying or some other task. You’re not alone in that. It’s hard for everybody. The people that have really figured out how to focus on the task at hand and avoid distraction are the ones that have taken a mindful approach to self-discipline. They segment their time into chunks of productivity. They don’t quickly flip over to Facebook or email for a quick microbreak. The breaks they take are to do something like take a walk or maybe run an errand. Nothing as stimulating as social media or video games.
A little ironic aside: I just did a quick web search for “deep work.” I read a couple of articles, learned about the “Neo 2” distraction-free word processor in the comments, decided to check it out on Amazon. Checked Ebay to see if I could get a better price. Started doing calculations of purchase price + shipping cost before finally deciding to sit on it for a while rather than make an impulse purchase. Then I remembered how I got there, felt guilty and flipped back to this text document.
Eliminating distractions is hard. Sometimes we can unplug and go for a walk or take a notebook to the library to do some “deep work” but often, we have to make do with the environment we’re in and the tools we have at hand.
That’s where productivity and time management lifehacks come in.
Update: someone from the content team just came by to ask a question. Even furiously typing isn’t enough of a “do not disturb” tactic, apparently.
The Pomodoro technique is the interval training of the work world. The basic idea is to work in 25-minute, undistracted sprints. At the end of each sprint, take a 3-5 minute break. Four sprints make a set and at the end of each set, take a 15-30 minute break.
There are apps and extensions that act as a Pomodoro timer (or course) but traditionalist devotees insist that a physical timer is the only way to go. As the Pomodoro Technique entry on Wikipedia entry puts it:
“The physical act of winding the timer confirms the user’s determination to start the task; ticking externalizes desire to complete the task; ringing announces a break. Flow and focus become associated with these physical stimuli.”
It’s all very Pavlovian, apparently.
These four things
This one works for me. It’s not about deep work and, in fact, deep work techniques can work hand in hand with this simple productivity tip.
Every night, before turning in, packing up after a study session or at the end of the work day, write down the four things you want to accomplish tomorrow. Big tasks. Think more like “go grocery shopping for the week,” not like “buy milk.” That’s an analogy and grocery shopping probably doesn’t belong on your four things list.
As listing the four things becomes a habit, this technique helps to shape the way you think about tasks. It also forces prioritization and gives humans permission to only do what is humanly possible on a given day.
The Action Method
The Action Method is a series of apps, journals and other products designed to get stuff done. It doesn’t focus on writing and prioritizing to-do lists, breaking work into manageable chunks or other life hacky ideas. It just tracks your tasks and holds you accountable to them.
The basic idea is this: Everything you spend time doing, you should walk away with a concrete set of tasks to complete. You might leave a lecture with a task to complete a short paper or to study a concept that went over your head. Each to-do has its own references, the things you might need to accomplish the task, kept separate from the main list to avoid clutter.
Proponents speak highly of this technique because it’s less about organizing and ranking your to-do list (which is a task unto itself) and more about just getting things done.
Eat that frog
Mark Twain said you should eat a frog, first thing in the morning, every day. I guess they’re full of Omega 3 fatty acids for whole body health or something?
He bizarrely segues from eating frogs into making your most difficult, ornery or undesirable task the first thing you do in the morning, while you’re fresh and your willpower is at its peak. The thought is that, if you eat a frog first thing–if you tackle that task you just wish you didn’t have to do–you go through the rest of your day secure in the knowledge that things can’t get any worse.
It takes discipline but if you can bring yourself to eat that frog, you’re starting the day off right. I mean, I assume. I’ve never been able to get there myself. I prefer cereal.
There’s no one answer to the question of which productivity method is best. Some of the ones we’ve listed and the dozens of others we haven’t can work in concert. For example, the first thing on your list of four things could be the absolute worst thing you have to do that day; the frog that needs to be eaten. You might break your tasks down into parts and plow through them in 25-minute Pomodoro sprints.
The point is to find something that works, tweak it so it works better and stick with it until it becomes a habit.
But don’t listen to me. I’m only writing this article to procrastinate on another, considerably less desirable task that I’ve been writing on my ‘four things’ list every day for a week now.