With a few well-targeted changes, you can boost your productivity by leaps and bounds.
The way we talk about productivity, one would imagine that we’re trying to transform ourselves into super efficient robots. But we’re not. We’re trying to be improved versions of ourselves, to work smarter, so that we may have more time for other satisfying pursuits in life.
Having certain ground rules in place makes that mission simpler by giving you the know-how to make the right choices, which will pay off handsomely in the long run. That’s where the following methods come in handy. They give you a positive and worthwhile direction to orient yourself in. When you apply these methods to areas like productivity and time management, the result is what you would expect — better work with lesser effort, resulting in more time on your hands.
Follow The Pareto Principle
Thanks to its effectiveness, the Pareto principle (commonly known as the 80/20 rule) is the talk of the Web. As Wikipedia will tell you, the Pareto principle states that for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. If you look closely at your life, you can already see it in action, such as how just a few of your activities bring in the biggest chunk of your income, or how a few key food habits determine your overall health.
The good news is that you can apply the Pareto principle to any area of your life, including productivity, and see positive results. For example, once I deleted online accounts that I no longer needed or used, and began to focus on a select few, my browsing habits transformed for the better overnight.
Analyze your work and workflow to pinpoint the 20 percent area of effort that brings in 80 percent of the results. Identify the activities that make the maximum difference to your work, and turn those into your priorities. Discard the rest, or at least cut down on the time you spend on those inconsequential activities or non-tasks.
Understand Parkinson’s Law
According to Parkinson’s law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. This means that if you give yourself four hours to complete a task that usually requires two hours, you’ll end up devoting all of those four hours to the task. As time elapses, the task assumes scary proportions in your head, and you keep putting it off until can’t afford to put it off any longer.
It’s easy to think that by adding a buffer to the time you’re allocating for a particular task, you’ll be able to complete it at a comfortable pace. Secretly, you’re confident that you’ll wrap things up well in advance and utilize the leftover time to go Facebooking or to take a catnap. That hardly ever happens. To use a quirky modern expression, because Parkinson’s law.
The smart thing to do is to earmark slightly lesser time than you normally would for each of the tasks on your to-do list. For some of those tasks, your estimate will be way off the mark, for some others it will be more or less close to the ideal. Perfecting that judgement requires some trial and error over an extended period of time. Try not to fret too much if your estimates are wildly wrong, and you take too much (or too little) time than what you had set aside. Make changes as required and move on.
The Pomodoro technique is an effective way to learn to figure out the time required to complete a given task. Instead of devoting a certain amount of time for one task, pick up a task, work through it in 25-minute chunks, with 5-minute breaks in between, till the task is complete. Once you’re done, make a note of the time you took to get through the task, for future reference. The Pomodoro technique ensures that you’re wrapped in a time bubble for 25 minutes and directs all your attention to the task at hand. That kind of laser-like focus is the key to getting things done. Need more info on the Pomodoro method? Begin with Joel’s article on Pomodoro apps.
Adopt The Rule Of One
The Rule Of One is a term that means different things to different people across the Web. Some of them use it as a reference point to declutter their life, while some others use it as a mantra to implement their new year resolutions. With the following examples, you’ll be able to decide for yourself how the rule of one can fit into your life.
- Single-tasking: Focus on one task at a time to improve the quality of your work. Learn why single-tasking is better than multi-tasking.
- Forming New Habits: If you’re looking to change your habits or pick up new ones, go after them one at a time. Only after the first habit is ingrained into your daily routine, move on to the next one you want to bring into your life.
- Digital Decluttering: See how Erez demonstrates a way to declutter your Android phone using the rule of one? You can apply that rule to the rest of your digital life. It’s vital that you do, to keep it under control.
Have A Personal Rulebook
Work (and life) calls for regular improvisation. Things are always in flux and you’re never sure what to expect. Even if you have a steady, repetitive job, you can’t guarantee that things will run smoothly every single day. Unless you’re prepared to deal with the unexpected, you’ll find yourself floundering when things don’t go your way. That’s where having a simple set of personal rules can come to your rescue. Call it getting your priorities right or having solutions ready for problems that can crop up. You can make up the rules as you go along, adding even bizarre ones if they will help you in some way. Here are four that are on my list.
- I will not plan too far ahead, but stick to weekly to-do lists instead of long-term ones.
- If any aspect of my work is interfering with my health in any way, I will insist on taking a break till my health improves.
- I will follow a simple morning routine and complete the toughest or most complex task early in the day.
- I will make smart use of the Web, to avoid being overwhelmed by it.
The idea for such a set of personal rules came from Craig Ballantyne’s 12 Rules To Live By.
Stress-free Productivity, Please!
Productivity is not a goal that you can claim to have reached one fine day. It’s a constant process of experimentation that helps you do what needs to be done with maximum efficiency, minimum effort, and with more satisfaction, less stress. Here at MakeUseOf, we share solid pointers and resources on managing your time well and working smart. But it’s up to you to figure out which ones are ideal for you. All we can guarantee is that you have plenty of options to choose from.
What rules do you follow to stay productive without getting stressed out? Do share them in the comments.