This post is part three of a three part series on saving time and being more productive in the workplace. My first post gave three simple steps to stop wasting time and the second one aimed at making personal communication more efficient through brevity. Follow me on to stay caught up with my blog.
In wrapping up this three part series on productivity, it’s time to add the final piece of the triangle in what I call the “Holy Trinity of productivity.” While most people would define productivity as simply getting more things done, the way you accomplish that is actually through the coordination of carving more time out of your day and using that time wisely via interpersonal communication and tasks. This post is aimed at looking at the third piece of the triangle, getting tasks done more quickly and efficiently.
If you read my last two posts on productivity, then you should already be familiar with the main concepts behind making more time and the value of communicating with brevity. If not, let’s quickly recap:
Corner 1: Making more time (from post i)
To make more time in your day, it’s important to eliminate time-wasting activities through classical conditioning. Here’s how it goes:
- List all time wasting activities on a notecard;
- Wear a rubberband around your wrist and “snap” it every time you catch yourself doing something on your list;
- Continue the habit for a period of at least twenty-one (21) days to build the habit.
If you followed this then you should have carved out an extra hour to two per day (for most people).
Corner 2: Make interpersonal communication more efficient through brevity (from post ii)
Next, it was necessary to improve interpersonal communication time by writing and speaking with concise wording (brevity). This one takes practice so here was the list I recommended to practice:
- Write shorter emails (headings, lists, drafts, long email disclaimers);
- Encourage brevity within your organization or team;
- Encourage time constraints for interactions/meetings.
With improving interpersonal communication time you will add hours and hours of extra time on a compounding basis per week.
Corner 3: Task-oriented productivity
Finally, we come to the final area of the triangle, task oriented productivity improvements. This phase generally yields the most time savings (and quickly) because it can be applied instantly and requires almost no training. However, I strongly recommend following phases one and two to get the maximum effect out of it.
Before getting into specifics it’s important to note that the cornerstone of task-oriented productivity is solely based on focus. Focus (and the removal of distractions) is the most powerful force in human nature if it can be channeled accordingly. For that reason, most of the recommendations below are based around helping you stay focused on what you need to get done. Focusing on “focus” means that we need to debunk one prevailing myth: multitasking.
The myth of multitasking
Often times during interviews I have had people tell me that they are great at multitasking. However, it’s important to note that multitasking is the antithesis of productivity and our brains are hard-wired NOT to do it. The human brain is a serial processor. This means that it does one thing at a time. Consider this, you cannot be a good listener if you are on your phone. The same applies for getting work done. No matter how quickly you switch between tasks, it takes excessive time for you to get oriented into “the zone” where you work the best.
Research from Stanford University showed that you (read your career) pay a huge price by trying to do different things at once or switch between tasks. Computers are designed to engage in parallel processing (multitasking), our brains are not.
Understanding this basic principle of the human brain is the first step to taking control of your productivity.
The tricks to task-oriented productivity
So, how does a person armed with a basic serial processing brain become more productive? The answer is almost completely based around focus and removing distractions from your environment. The following list outlines some tricks that I use on a daily basis:
1 . Notecards, lists and highlighters
First, try making a list of what you have to accomplish every day. I find that notecards (or sticky notes) are the most effective way to do it. If you have multiple projects (such as home or personal ones), then use a different color. Once it’s complete highlight it to indicate that you have completed it. If you don’t get it done, mark an X next to it and put it on your notecard for the next day.
This simple trick will allow you to not only be more focused on what you have to get done, but it will also help you avoid procrastination as a bonus. If you find yourself not doing what’s on your list then you can put it in front of your door so that you physically have to step over it in order to get to your door. Talk about motivation, right?
I personally use this method and can boast that it keeps me on track for major projects, bills, and even personal project deadlines. It’s also rewarding to look back through a month’s worth of notecards just to see how much you have accomplished by keeping lists.
2. Superman time
While I wish I could take the credit for this one, I learned it from Justin Rosenstein’s answer on Quora about how he stays productive. Justin started Asana, a company focused on making organizations more productive through project management software. He knows a thing or two.
Superman time is a three hour block of time that you solely dedicate to your list. But that’s not all, you also have to shut off all distractions. For example, here are the main things I do to prepare for my superman time:
Tricks to Superman Time
- Mark myself as “busy” on my calendar, no invites;
- Turn phone on airplane mode (VERY important);
- Turn off Wi-Fi (unless required for research);
- Lock door;
- Set a timer.
Essentially, you have to lock yourself in a room where the only goal is to get your things done within the time slot. Of course, you will have to adjust this method to fit your environment, unique needs, and other considerations. The point here is simply to help you focus as much as possible on what you have to do instead of being subjected to constant distractions.
3. Notifications are bad, turn them off!
We live in a world of notifications from a million different sources coming at us, all the time. For many jobs we are required to be “on-call” for emergencies via email or phone, but you should try and weed out anything else that’s unnecessary. For example, do you really need to receive a push notification on your phone every time someone likes a comment you made on facebook? Whether you like it or not, these micro-distractions cut into your productive time a few minutes here and there. It adds up pretty quickly.
So, it is therefore necessary that in order to maintain a productive edge we should turn off notifications (during work time at least) that are irrelevant for the context of work. Here are the ones that I turned off forever:
Notifications I turn off:
Keep in mind that you can always catch up on these things during breaks and other times and you won’t miss out on your daily dose of social media.
[Bonus item] 4. Choice of music
As a bonus item, many people enjoy listening to music while they work because it makes time go faster. Music provides a comfortable backdrop to doing things that we may not be enthusiastic about doing at the time (like writing this blog post). A Huffington Post article cited research that music actually helps your workouts. However, if we remember that our brain is a serial processor we know that it can focus on one thing at a time effectively. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to music, but the kind of music you listen to can have an impact.
For example, when we listen to music with lyrics (in our language) our brain works in the background to follow and understand them whether you are conscious of it or not. For that reason, it is an added benefit to listen to music without native language lyrics.
Here are some types that I listen to during the work day (via Spotify):
While musical choices during work won’t make or break your productivity, it’s worth giving a shot if it’s your cup of tea.
Ultimately, personal productivity comes down to whatever combination is going to work for your job, requirements, and limitations. My three posts on productivity are intended to provide a framework that gives you more time and helps you use that time better. When it comes to task-oriented productivity, being able to stay focused is by far the most robust way of getting more things done.
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