As the holiday season quickly approaches, the majority of us will start to struggle to find the motivation to do work, you’re not alone. Rather than focusing on motivation, we should be thinking about productivity; we don’t have to be motivated to be productive (although it helps).
In our previous article about how to achieve sustainable productivity, we talked about establishing productivity systems. In this article, we’ll provide a few simple, easy-to-apply productivity systems and tactics that can help you get through your day.
1. To-Do List
The purpose of a to-do list is to provide clarity and focus. Spend 5 minutes jotting down all the tasks (both work and personal) you need to accomplish today, do not include routine tasks (ie. checking your email, attending a weekly meeting, or walking your dog). If you have more than 30, you’re thinking of unnecessary tasks. Cut the list down to 10 (or less) based on priority or importance. You should have 3-5 tasks that are more urgent than others, get started on those and work your way down the list. At the end of the day, re-evaluate your list and cross off the tasks you achieved, move your important tasks to tomorrows’ priority list.
2. The 2-Minute Rule
Used by David Allen, who created the productivity system “Getting Things Done (GTD), says, “If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment.” The general concept of the 2-minute rule is to finish small tasks that are related to your current task in order to be more efficient. Completing the task quickly saves you from procrastinating and putting it off at a later time (or date). A simple example would be checking your inbox. You can complete various email-related tasks within 2 minutes each, such as quick responses, confirming changes, or scheduling meetings. It’s important to not lose focus on your main task you were doing, you should not get carried away doing 2 minutes tasks all day.
3. The Habit of Getting Started
On the other hand, larger tasks aren’t as easy to accomplish–they are complex, time consuming, and require mental effort. A large task or project can seem intimidating at first, which makes us want to avoid it or procrastinate. The best way to tackle larger tasks is to break it down into smaller actions that you can start immediately. For example, you need to create an annual progress report. You can get started by simply opening a blank doc and writing the title. After that, you can look at last year's annual report, copy the introduction, and then make some minor changes. Instead of thinking about it, you’re starting and doing. By completing small steps, you create a bias towards action, allowing you to progress on your task.
4. Pomodoro Technique
You often hear people insisting you take more breaks in order to work effectively. This is usually a variation of the Pomodoro technique. The purpose of the technique is to allow you to focus on completing one task at a time rather than multitasking. Taking breaks in between allows you to refresh your mind and prevent mental exhaustion. The method is quite simple: Pick a task you need to complete. Set a timer and work on the task for 25 minutes straight without distractions. When the timer goes off, stop working and take a 5 minute break. After the break, set the timer again for 25 minutes and repeat the cycle. After 4 times through the cycle (total 100 minutes of work time), take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. You can repeat this method over and over again until your task is complete or when you’re done working for the day. This method is popular for studying, research, and other reading and writing related tasks.
5. Flowtime Technique
Similar to the Pomodoro technique, Flowtime focuses on doing one task at a time with breaks in between. However, Flowtime doesn’t set a time limit on how long you would work for. In order to get “into the flow” (aka in the zone), there are no alarms or timers to disrupt your flow state. Once you have chosen your task, you write down the time and start your work. While working, you have to monitor your focus and thoughts. When you start feeling tired or distracted, you write down the time and take a break. The break can be anywhere between 5 minutes to 15 minutes, depending on how long you were working for. This process is repeated until the task is complete or when you’re done working for the day.