Simplification leads to productivity

I believe something that gives us immense joy and fulfilment is when we have a productive day. Being productive is a focus area for many people, and often comes up in conversations with people who I work with. Especially at a time when for most of us, our way of working has been significantly disrupted over the past year. 

Over the years, I’ve realised that the key to functioning efficiently is to be able to simplify things or make things less complicated. Take for example a house or a room. Our experience in the house or room is so much better when we simplify things. If we declutter it, we seem to function better there. We have greater clarity of what we can do. Similarly, take our working day and think of it in terms of the house or room. If we are able to simplify or structure it better, we tend to achieve more during the day. Simplification gives us more clarity, it helps us setup our day that helps us over a longer period of time. In this article, we look at 3 practices that simplify your day and make you more productive.

Practice 1- Compartmentalise your day 

Have you tried or heard of Neopolitan Ice-cream? This is an Ice-cream that has different flavours stacked next to each other as layers. In terms of structuring your day, this is a great reference point. In your day to day work, you need to strike a balance between different aspects of your work. It could be working on multiple projects, it could be multiple responsibilities, it could be segregating your time between professional and personal activities. Striking that balance can often be quite challenging, especially between our professional and personal activities. 

So how this works is, think of the different aspects that you need to spend your efforts on in a day. Create a compartment or flavour for that and schedule it in. You can have different compartments and they need not be of the same size. Some layers may be bigger than the others, depending on the importance and time required. How does this help? For any aspect of your role, you may need to bring in a different sort of energy, different thoughts, even different skill sets. When you schedule your time through those layers, you gain greater clarity on which activities you need to work on, and prepare accordingly. It also helps you review whether some of your important activities are getting the required focus, and how you can refine some of the arrangement.

Practice 2- The Pomodoro technique

This is a time management technique I learnt at a business conference a few years back. This technique was developed in the 1980s. How this works is you allocate 25 minutes of time to a task that you are working on, and give yourself a 5 min break before starting off again. Why is this technique effective? It helps you timebox your activities. When you work against a timeframe, it often drives a sense of urgency. And giving yourself 5 minutes in between can be a great opportunity to reset, refocus and start over again. 

So for any task that you need to work on, you break it down into iterations of 25 minutes, with a 5 minute break in between. This is helpful to break down your task into smaller chunks, so you can plan and execute it more effectively, without getting too overwhelmed. Also, if you need to move to a different task altogether, the 5 minute break helps you reset and refocus before your next task. This is a great technique to structure your activities effectively!

Practice 3- The Yes-And method

One of the things that often eats into our productivity is when we get random or ad-hoc requests/tasks on top of our planned tasks. In trying to fulfil those or trying to help others, we may tend to fall behind on our planned tasks and play catchup. Does that happen to you often? 

Saying no to others can often be a tricky thing. Very often, to avoid conflicts, or to avoid a perception of being ‘unhelpful’, we try and help, often to the detriment to our planned tasks. Here’s an approach that helps you assert your point of view without offending the other person. When someone puts forward a request, you can say “Yes, and” followed by explaining what it is you are working on, and indicate when you can get back to them after that, and if it is ok. For example, if you are asked to create an adhoc report, you can respond as— “Yes, and I am just in the middle of finishing a document I am working on. Is it ok if I get back to your request in a couple of hours. Is that ok?”. That way, you aren’t saying no. In fact you are acknowledging their request, while explaining your point of view. This is a great approach to manage expectations from others, while maintaining your workload.

To summarise

The key to being productive is to simplify your day. As we simplify, we gain greater clarity. How do you think these practices would help you in your day-to-day work? What impact would this have on your productivity?