A few things I’ve learnt about productivity

Last month, irritated by my ever increasing levels of procrastination and lack of productivity, I decided to embark on a “productivity challenge”. In short, this challenge involved approaching to-do lists in a different way to get the most out of them, as suggested by productivity coach Kirstin O’Donovan. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my old post “Send help please (on productivity and the lack thereof)” here.

I promised to write an update post four weeks from the start date of the challenge (9th July):

…after the four weeks are up, I’ll update you on whether or not the tips were helpful as well as any other productivity related stuff I learn during this period of time.

I’ve gone slightly over the four week mark. (Blame procrastination and constantly prioritising other blog post topics over this one). *Sorry*

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Without further ado though, here goes the update:

Were the to-do-list tips helpful?

Yes (some more than others though).

Just a quick recap of the tips I followed:

  1. Make different “to – do” lists to work from. E.g. a list for ‘side-projects’.

  2. Estimate how long each task will take.

  3. Prioritise. Try and spend the most time on the tasks that fit into one of two categories: a) Important and urgent and b)Not urgent but important.

  4. Review. Let the list go beyond being just a “to-do” list. O’Donovan provides the example of reviewing the list and using it to plan the week ahead.

For me, the most helpful tips were making different to-do lists to work from and prioritising tasks.

Having different to-do lists to work from was helpful because it allowed me to focus on goals that fit into different categories, e.g. fitness and side-projects. Splitting tasks in this way made me feel less overwhelmed than writing out just one long list of things to do, as did following O’Donovan’s suggestion to never include more than 7 or 8 tasks in each list.

I found prioritising tasks helpful because it’s always good to know you’re working on things you actually need to.

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I also enjoyed focusing on the tasks that were “not urgent but important”. This is because they link to long-term goals and working towards something you hope to accomplish in the future is always exciting.

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Estimating how long a task will take is helpful as it makes your day more organised.

However, I found that I didn’t like the restriction of saying “this will take X amount of time” and “Y will take that amount of time” and by the second week I stopped doing it. This boiled down to inaccurate estimations and lack of self-discipline which meant I went over the allocated time for a task.

That being said though, it’s helpful to know how long you do spend on certain tasks, e.g. an hour to workout, so that when you write your to-do-list, you’re already aware of how much of your day will be allocated to something. I feel like estimating how long certain tasks will take is a skill that gets better over time (and one that improves as you become more aware of your daily “time-spending” habits).

I also feel like you don’t always need to estimate how long something will take for you to do. Simply knowing what you have to get done in the first place may be a good enough starting point but I think it all depends on the person.

In terms of using the to-do list as a planning tool, it was helpful to schedule ahead and know what I needed to do either every day or on specific days only.

Now, onto what I learnt about productivity in general:

  • Waking up early is key.
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Don’t you hate that feeling where it feels like the day has literally run away from you? Yeah, me too. When I start my day earlier, I have more time to get things done and then chill later on.

  • Being realistic is also key.
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I have the tendency to be over-ambitious whenever I write to-do lists. It helps to consider whether or not you can actually tick off the things you’ve written by the end of the day or if you’re just writing for the sake of writing.

  • Don’t feel bad for putting things off for a while if you feel you have too much on your plate.
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When you know you have a lot to do, things can get overwhelming. This is where you shouldn’t be afraid to prioritise what needs to be done at this present moment in time, let’s say, preparing for a test.

You gain more clarity from saying “from next weekend I will start on X (X being the task you want to work on but cannot sacrifice much of your time for)” or “after I’m done with X, I’ll start on Y…” as opposed to writing a task down everyday on your to-do list knowing full well that you’re not able to or ready to make time for it yet.

That being said, the difficulty lies in actually starting on “it” when the time comes but ultimately, if prioritising means holding off on something, do so, especially when you’re working on multiple things at once.

  • Instagram and YouTube can be huge time-wasters and I need to spend less time on them.
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  • I don’t have to nor will I be productive every single day.
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Not everyday needs to be exceptionally productive. I need to go easy on myself sometimes.

When we think about all the things we should be doing and all the things we need to do it’s easy to become very self-critical.

Yes, we should be honest with ourselves when it comes to our productivity but we should also recognise any progress we make, be it big or small.

Also, as much as we all have things we’re working toward and things we need to get done, we also need time to quite frankly, do nothing and not feel guilty.

It’s all about balance.

A while back, I found this article on “Medium” called “The Philosophical Argument for Working Less (And Wasting Time)” which I found really insightful:

It’s easy to take the idea of clearing space to leisurely do nothing and label it “lazy” or a “waste of time,” but that’s overlooking the serendipity of second-order effects in the process. It’s precisely the kind of autonomy that prolonged bouts of leisure produce that move our species in new and pleasantly unexpected directions. We grow and invent when we play.

Could it be that giving yourself “time-off” every once in a while is actually beneficial?

  • The proclivity for procrastination that I mentioned in the previous blog post is very much alive and well.
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Source: https://gph.is/1EzJRmU

There’s not much else to add here except that I’ve learnt and continue to learn that procrastination is productivity’s mortal enemy and I don’t know how to end the war between them. I’ll let you know if I find the answer though.

Until then, have a wonderful day and see you in my next blog post.

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Main image source: http://datamigrateltd.com/2018/03/01/starting-control-time-must-consider/

Send help please (on productivity and the lack thereof)

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My inner monologue: “Again? Really? I thought you said you had things to get done. ” (Source: https://youtu.be/y94V6S9Q0BM)

I’m trying. We all are.

I write to-do-lists for each day. Maybe you do too.

The question is do you manage to tick everything off your list when the day is done?

I don’t.

Do you often feel swamped at the mere thought of all the things you need to/ should be doing?

I do.

Summer’s here, which means no university for a while and long, beautiful days which at times lack any sort of agenda.

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Source: http://idiam0nd.tumblr.com/post/93330924650

And so I try to give myself an agenda; asking myself what I should do with all this free time. I remind myself of the things I couldn’t pay much attention to/couldn’t be bothered to do when uni assignments screamed to be written. E.g. exercise.

I begin the day, enthused, ambitious and ready to take on the world.

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Me @ me (Source: http://gph.is/2d2pldm)

“Champion” by Kanye West plays in the background as my eyes excitedly scan over a to-do-list written the night before…

And then all of a sudden it’s almost midnight. And I realise how pathetic I am.

On a good day, three out of maybe like five things on my list have been ticked off. But usually it’s one or none at all. Some days I “forget” my “to-do” list even exists.

Blame over-ambition. Blame waking up late. Blame it on a proclivity for procrastination. Blame siblings (like mine) whose hilariousness is a perpetual distraction.

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Me on a daily basis (Source: https://gph.is/2qGSOO4)

Blame whatever.

Ultimately, I want to do better. You probably do too.

To do lists are helpful as life coach Kirstin O’Donovan notes in her “Why “To-Do” Lists Don’t Work, and How to Change that” Lifehack article. It just depends on how we use them:

“To-do” lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. The same with “to-do” lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

In short the article suggests that one should:

  1. Make different “to – do” lists to work from. E.g. a list for ‘side-projects’.
  2. Estimate how long each task will take. I, as my sister notes, appear to have a warped perspective of time so I’m really bad at this. For those who can relate, O’Donovan suggests practicing this skill on a daily basis.
  3. Prioritise. Try and spend the most time on the tasks that fit into one of two categories: a) Important and urgent and b)Not urgent but important.
  4. Review. Let the list go beyond being just a “to-do” list. O’Donovan provides the example of reviewing the list and using it to plan the week ahead.

A Challenge:

I hope to incorporate some, if not all of the aforementioned tips into my daily planning and I challenge you to join me!

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How it will work:

The challenge will run every day over the course of four weeks (beginning when you want it to).

First off, it will help to have a list of goal(s) you want to achieve or have a rough idea of what these goals are before you begin the challenge:

  • Every night, identify the categories necessary for your to-do list for the next day and write down the tasks belonging in each. These will differ for everyone but one of the examples provided in the article is a “follow-up” list.

(Note that there should be no more than 7 or 8 tasks in one category in accordance with O’Donovan’s observations).

  • Then, estimate how long you think each task will take and note it down, e.g. two hours to edit a piece of work.
  • Following on from this, add a “priority” section to your list. Here you will need to divide your task into four categories:
  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

I plan to assign a number to each priority level, e.g. ‘1’ for ‘Important and Urgent’ and ‘2’ for ‘Not urgent but important’. Then I would write ‘1’ next to ‘Edit work’ for example.

(Note: Try to ensure that the majority of your tasks fall into priority levels ‘1’ and ‘2’, as these are the categories O’Donovan suggests to focus most of our time on).

Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar.

  • (Then repeat).

In summary: The challenge = incorporating some or all of the tips provided into your life on a daily basis.

The goal = Productivity in the following forms:

-to actively begin working towards your goal(s)

and/or

-increased productivity in reference to the goal(s) you’re already working towards.

The questions to ask ourselves after these four weeks include:

  • How much progress have I made toward achieving my goal(s)? – e. g. “I’ve finally started learning guitar”

  and

  • How do I maintain the momentum I’ve built (or lack thereof… we shall see) in the pursuit of my goal(s)? – e.g (as it pertains to the previous example) “By practicing 5 times a week”.

I’ll try my best not to procrastinate on making these changes and after the four weeks are up, I’ll update you on whether or not the tips were helpful as well as any other productivity related stuff I learn during this period of time.

In the meantime, feel free to share any productivity tips that you’ve successfully applied in your own life in the comments section!

Check out the full article referenced here.

P.S. The internet is FULL of tips on how to be more productive. The above is just one example. 

Also, of course the attempt to be more productive will not end after the 4 weeks are up! I just thought it was an adequate time frame to see how things go.

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Peace out