Acing Personal Productivity

Why productivity

Productivity is the art of doing more in a shorter period of time. Being productive does not mean one cannot stop to enjoy the journey. At the contrary. Being productive helps you get rid of chores faster so you allocate more time for things that truly matter. Think of a landscapes painter: he’ll want to be productive when dealing with the paperwork of getting his paints exposed, so he can dedicate more time to get lost in the contemplation of nature and paint new wonders. Productivity is ultimately the path to making more time for things you love.

Why make this personal?

Too often productivity is associated with workplace efficiency. It reduces this art to some kind of Taylorism with the sole objective of extracting more values from employees. The truth is that productivity is a deeply personal topic instead. If practiced correctly, it can become a path to personal emancipation and self-discovery. Productivity is about developing a deep understanding of your internal workings to align them to reach your objectives — a very personal quest. Reaching serenity with ToDos To reach productivity peaks and the state of flow, one needs to let go of all mental loads. The mere thought of things you have to do clutters your brains and prevents you from giving your very best in your art. The objective of productivity is to reach a serenity plateau where your mental is fully dedicated to your art. Knowing this, it is no wonder that ToDos are a necessary step to lay down all the mental load. Extract all the mental load from your mind, and enjoy the newly created space in your head. So much opportunities suddenly get revealed when the clutter is gone.

10 tips & tricks

1. TODOs should be contextual

Create one ToDo list per context: when you’re home, at work, on the go…there’s nothing more frustrating and useless than being reminded of a task on which you currently cannot take action. No need to be reminded of your shopping list while you’re at work.

2. Be aware of Eisenhower Matrix

Good old Eisenhower was a productivity pro. Do read about his matrix. Even if you’re not a manager, do realise how it can help you. Spot the biases and patterns in your approach to chores. Monitor how you dare and take on important projects which are not urgent. Are you playing tricks on yourself and constantly spending time on non-important stuff?

3. Touch things only once

If you manage them badly, some chores will haunt you and overload you way more than they should. Ever had the case of that invoice retrieved from the postbox? You opened it, looked at the amount (too damn high), and did not directly pay it. As a consequence the amount and the fact you had to pay did encumber your mind for quite some time until you took the time to pay. Avoid these situations by getting mentally involved in a task only when you know you have the ability to fully bring it to completion. Next time you see an invoice, do not open it before you have the time to both read it and pay it at once: touch it only once. This is also extremely relevant for mails. Do not start reading long and important mails unless you’re in the required situation to give them 100% attention. Half-read mails, half-processed invoices are purely useless mental loads.

4. If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now

To takes the touch-only-once approach to extremes, you can decide to directly act on anything that takes less than 5 minutes. This way it does not even clutter your ToDo. But ensure you take this decision consciously: otherwise you risk becoming your inbox’s b**** as you act directly on each mail that comes in. Don’t become that puppet.

5. Know your most productive time

Know your sleep and digestion cycle, and plan your objectives accordingly. Some say that anything important that you did not accomplish before 11AM will not get done today, as one tends to be much less productive in the afternoon.

Listen to your body. Notice that drop in energy around 2:30PM as your actively digesting. Leverage this less productive time for lighter tasks or to enjoy a power nap. Do not waste the early hours of the day reading your mails. Use that time for more significant objectives, unless you know some mails could be urgent.

6. Reach inbox zero

Any inbox is ultimately a kind of ToDo. It is important that you regularly reach inbox zero to feel that you’re able to tackle what comes in, and not feel like you’re constantly chasing time. Do not hesitate to transform your incoming emails into ToDos elements. If you use Trello and Gmail for example, there are powerful extensions that allow you to do just that. Have you ever reached inbox zero across all messaging channels, be them professional or personal?

7. Avoid parallelisation

Do not tackle everything all at once, do one thing at a time. If both tasks A and B take 2 days each, doing them in parallel will take you 4 days and before the 4th day nothing will get delivered. Doing A first will allow you to finish something in 2 days, before you move on to B. Remember that many of us get psychologically rewarded when we accomplish something. Yes, just like a baby proudly looking at the potty after some hard work. Keep this in mind and use sequencing over parallelisation to remain motivated.

8. Prefer back-to-back meetings

If you have the choice, avoid empty time slots in-between meetings at all cost. There are few things less productive than a 30 minutes period between 2 meetings — why start anything that matters if you’ll anyway lose concentration in a few minutes? Ask colleagues to favour back-to-back meetings as much as possible. It’s even better if you can group all meetings on the same period of the day, typically in the early afternoon.

9. When working late respect your eyes

Do yourself a favour and install f.lux or anything similar on your laptop when working late at night. Be aware that blue light reminds your brain of sunlight and can keep you awake for a few hours after being exposed to it.

10. Communicate asynchronously

Prefer asynchronous communication over live discussions whenever possible to respect your colleagues’ concentration. This is especially true when working with developers: a good Slack message will never break their state of flow, whereas a tap on their back might have serious mental consequences.

It’s ultimately about self-respect

Productivity is about developing a deep understanding of your internal workings to align them to reach your objectives — a very personal quest.

In this quest, you mostly learn prioritising, which involves making choices and saying no to certain tasks and situations. This is ultimately a question of self-respect. Good luck on this path of empowerment!