We live in a world where busy lives and lack of time define our very existence. A world of excess that is built around one word – more.
We are in a perpetual loop of wanting to consume more, produce more, earn more, achieve more, succeed more … constantly squeezing out every last minute of time that we have. And when even that runs out, we try to be more effective, manage our time better, be more productive … all of it, so that we can do EVEN MORE!
But in the end, it just becomes a never-ending cycle of monotony, fatigue and depression.
What we fail to understand… is that that main reason to try to become productive isn’t to do more, but to do LESS.
Here’s my YouTube video where I discuss this topic in detail. If you prefer reading instead, continue below.
Something I notice all the time is that people are overwhelmed with things they need to get done, because they just don’t have enough time. They are regularly burning the midnight oil, and yet, there is still so much more to do. And the question that always lingers is — how can I get more done? How can I find more time? How can I be more productive? And there lies the problem. The idea that you want to get more productive to do more of the same shit that keeps you inundated all the time is actually counter-productive. Because there will always be something else to do, so regardless of how much more time you find, you will always find yourself chasing for more.
So, let me ask you — If you had 1 more hour in a day that you can use to do anything you want, you do with it? Would you continue to grind it out, or would spend time with your kids? Or, sleep and extra hour, or watch your favorite show?
That should be your motivation to be more productive.
That is tip #1 on being productive: Recognize your motivation!
Understand that being productive is getting things done more effectively and efficiently. That will eventually free up more time in your schedule, time you should use to do whatever it is that you cannot currently do. These freed up hours should be your driving force to remain productive throughout the day.
Tip #2: Work Less!
A lot of people think that being productive is working more. That cannot be further from the truth. I used to think the same way. But, after obsessing for years on being productive and building effective habits, I realize that what matter is how much you get done, not how much you work. There is a difference, and that is what separates people that can seemingly get everything done and still have time, versus people who never seem to have enough time.
Also, don’t force yourself to “be more productive” by buying more time. The idea is produce the same output or more in even less time, not increase output by simply adding more hours. You only have 24 hours in a day, it doesn’t scale up and is not sustainable. So don’t just set routines to extract more time from the day, like getting up at 4 am, because the Rock does it or something like that. Understand your body’s natural rhythm and let it work when it’s most focused.
Also, eliminate things that are repetitive. In software engineering, the laziest engineers are often the most effective ones. We hate repeating ourselves, and we constantly optimize and automate everything we can. And this applies to your daily lives as well. If I find that I have to send a similar email response more than a few times, I will immediately turn that into a template so that I don’t need to write it again. I have two credit cards that I use almost all the time. I found that every time I used them, I had to spend a minute finding my wallet, then looking the number up. Overtime, that adds up to wasted time for no reason. It’s repetitive. So, I just memorized those two numbers. Now, it takes me a second. That’s saved time right there. A minute saved feels like nothing, but it adds up. In software, we obsess about milliseconds of time to make software fast and efficient, and there is no reason why you should not do the same for everything else.
Finally, just work less in general. Over 150 years of research on various work week lengths, shows that the longer you work, the less productive you become. A task that takes a person with a 35-hour work week to complete, takes twice as long for a person with a 60-hour work week to finish. A similar study conducted at Stanford University also shows that as progress beyond 40-hours, there is clearly a rate of diminishing returns, and at 50+ hours, your productivity will take a major nosedive. The study also clearly showed that someone working 80 hours, wont get much more done than someone working 45 hours.
Tip #3: Prioritize your work diligently, and plan your day
Have a method for prioritizing every single task you have. Or else you either will end up wasting time in less important things, or you will have to think about what to do next all the time. A simple way to prioritize is using the Rule of 3, introduced by JD Meier, a Microsoft Executive.
Identify 3 actionable things to accomplish each week, then do the same for each day. Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time, calls this the MITs or the Most Important Tasks, those tasks that will have the biggest impact on your day. Don’t make extensive TODO lists. They don’t work — research has shown that 41% TODO list items never get completed. So, Just 3 things for each week, 3 things each day. You have have 10 things in your back log for the day, but it you will still need to identify the top 3 things out of those 10 that you want to get done.
Also, don’t prioritize things just for your work. This is a common mistake people make. It is important to prioritize non-work related things, too! Family, pets, personal improvement, hobbies!
You can use any task app to track these, or use a bullet journal to write things down. I personally prefer writing because just by writing (cite research). Then focus the bulk of your daily time on these 3 high-priority tasks! You may feel a bit anxious at first thinking that you are spending so much time on completing only 3 tasks. But that is the exact point, which also takes me to the next tip.
Tip #4: Put majority of you effort in your highest priority tasks!
I am sure you have heard of the 80/20 Principle. In this case, you can get 80% of value by completing just 20% of your tasks that are of highest priority, and hence, these tasks also deserve 80% of your attention . And those 7 tasks of lower priority only deserve 20% of your attention.
There is one exception to this rule. If you have very trivial tasks that take almost no time to do, do them right away. For example, you get an email that asks you for a simple yes or a no answer, don’t make a task to do it later, just do it right away and be done with it. Robert Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity calls this the OHIO principle — “Only Handle It Once”.
Also, it is very important that you do this rule of 3 and the 80/20 principle not only at a personal level, but with your family members and your colleagues. When someone asks you to do something, be clear about what your top priorities are and why you think their ask falls below that, and that you will only be able to get to it once you complete those top tasks. They can then either agree or pose an argument on why they think this should be higher priority, and if it makes sense, you can adjust accordingly. Same with your family. It may be something as simple as your wife asking you to mow the lawn. Don’t say “sure” and add it to your never-ending “TODO” list. Be clear about expectations, and be honest. Explain your priorities.
This not only makes you get your tasks done, but also sets you in a habit of holding yourself accountable. You will gain people’s trust because you never over promise and always deliver, and they will value your honestly and transparency.
5th and Final tip: Free up your brain!
I don’t care how smart you are, your brain isn’t designed to remember trivial things. It can, but if you use it for that, you aren’t using your brain to do what it’s primary job is — problem solving. I know many people who are good at remembering things. So they refuse to use a reminder or an app to track things. Regardless of how good you are, you will suffer a productivity hit because of this. Instead, let other tools do the “remembering” for you so that you can be fully focused on solving problems.
Chris Bailey calls this a brain dump – a way of externalizing everything your brain is struggling to hold onto so that it can focus on solving problem instead. You have an idea, jot it down somewhere, and be done with it. Or it will get overwritten in your brain and you will forget it eventually. If you need to remember to take some medication, set a reminder then forget about it. I have never missed a payment in 16 years, since I had my first credit card or any bills. Because I am diligent about setting reminders (multiple) and auto-payments. I never miss taking the trash out because I get reminded of it. In today’s world of rich apps and tools that are integrated to our lifestyle, there is no excuse to overwhelm your brain to remember trivial things, or to forget anything.
Your phone has a built-in app for this. I personally use Gmail’s snooze feature. If I want to remember to respond to an email later, I mark it as unread and snooze it for a later time. I even set reminders by simply emailing myself, then snoozing it to the date when I want to be reminded. This works for me, because I ALWAYS check my email first thing in the morning and couple more times through he day. Find a process that works for you and fine tune it. Free up your brain for more meaningful tasks.
And that’s it. These may seem simple tips, and they are. But you will be surprised how many people just pass on them because they seem too simple or obvious. There isn’t a magic productivity pill, it is these simple changes like these, that will collectively make you more efficient and productive. Try it deliberately for a month and see how much of difference you will feel.
- Find your motivation for trying to be productive
- Work less, work smarter. Working more isn’t being productive, it’s the opposite.
- Plan your week and your day. Prioritize everything, and pick the top three tasks to get done first.
- Put 80% of your time your top 20% tasks.
- Free up your brain so that it can focus on solving problems!
If you try this, let me know in the comments below what you thought of it. Also, if you are interested in any of the books that I read over the years to come of with these tips, I’ll the one’s I think are best in the description bellow.
Good luck! Stay Productive! Cheers!