Productivity at work

Want to get more done in your day? Of course you do. To stay competitive in any industry, in many cases it comes down to one thing: productivity.

The good news is that everyone can increase the amount of tasks they accomplish in a day. If you consider your productivity an iterative process you work on bit by bit, you can slowly improve it.

With that in mind following are 8 tips I’ve found work exceptionally well that hopefully can help you too have a more productive day.

1. Weekly/Daily Goals

The Weekly/Daily Goals method is a technique I’ve found extremely helpful in completing tasks in a given time. The idea is simple:

  1. At the end of each week, write a list of work you want to finish in the next seven Days.
  2. At the end of each day, transfer some of the tasks from your weekly list onto a new list. These are your daily goals.
  3. When you complete your daily goals, stop working for that day.

The Weekly/Daily Goals method works because it forces you to break-up your infinite to-do list. Instead of trying to accomplish everything, you finish a set amount of tasks for each day. By splitting up a mountain of work into a daily chunk, it is easier to convince yourself to get started.

Keeping weekly goals as well as a daily list allows you to add non-urgent, but important items. Weekly goals keep you focused on the big picture while daily goals keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

2. Batching

Batching is the art of taking similar tasks and doing them all at the same time. You can batch email by answering all your messages at one time during the day, instead of in little bursts throughout the afternoon.

Batching is a great trick to save time for a few reasons:

  1. It removes the start-up and slow-down phases of work. Working on a task requires a certain amount of momentum. You probably aren’t working at full speed until 10-15 minutes into a task.
  2. It keeps you in the same frame of mind. Two-flow theory suggests that different states of mind are productive to different kinds of work. By batching you can maintain the state of mind that is suited for your particular task.
  3. Batching simplifies your workload. By doing larger chunks at a time, you decrease the amount of work you need to keep track of mentally.

3. The Now Habit

Work can only be done right now. Planning is important, but it doesn’t accomplish any useful work. The only way you can get work done is by working on it this moment. Focusing on the now can help you shake off the tendency to focus on what can’t be changed.

Although focusing on the now is important for procrastination, it’s more than just that. Focusing on the now also changes the way you work. If you experience what you’re doing, the quality of your work will go up. By focusing on the current task, instead of letting your mind wander, you can produce high-quality work at a much faster rate.

One of the barriers to the now habit is resisting what you’re doing. Surprisingly, focusing hard on what you’re doing makes even boring tasks more enjoyable. People eat food they dislike more slowly than great tasting food. By focusing hard on work you don’t feel like doing, you can make it more fun to do.

4. Look for Exponential Payoffs

I have a large sheet of paper. Folding it in half, the thickness doubles. Folding it again in half means the thickness quadruples. One more time and the thickness is eight times what it originally started. Let’s pretend, with an ordinary sheet of paper, that I continue this process of folding until the paper has been folded fifty times. How thick with the paper be?

Everytime I ask this question, nobody gets the correct answer. Most people use linear estimates like six inches or several feet. No one imagines that the correct thickness is approximately the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Exponential payoffs are so powerful, precisely because they are so unexpected.

A 1% increase that grows constantly will soon be better than a 50% increase that stops. You can greatly increase your productivity if you focus on activities that invest with exponential payoffs. Setting up an online business is an example where, with each step refining your process, the improvements work on an exponential scale. It is just as difficult to go from $100 to $200 as it is to go from $100,000 to $200,000. Businesses and money aren’t the only exponential payoffs, look for other ways you can take advantage of this effect.

5. Sprinting Theory

Sprinting Theory is the key to self-discipline. Studies have shown that willpower is not just a state of mind. It’s a resource that can be drained and recharged just like a car battery. When you procrastinate, it’s not because you are a “lazy” person, but because your internal energy source is running low.

Sprinting Theory tries to fix this problem by encouraging you to focus on the timeframe where discipline is required. If you were running a 100m dash, the focus would be different than finishing a marathon. Sprinting in a marathon usually means you won’t make it more than a few miles.

To use Sprinting Theory, try to find the relevant range of any task. This is the range where discipline is most critical. Then, when setting your timeboxes, focus on that range. It will keep you from burning out early or running too slowly. Examples:

  1. Waking up. Force yourself to stay awake for 10 minutes before hitting the snooze button again. Usually, after that point, it is easier to just stay awake.
  2. Habits. Focus on one behavioral change for 30 days. After that it’s permanent.
  3. Creative Blocks. Keep churning for another 20 minutes before taking a break.

6. Outsourcing

Don’t do work you don’t have to. Outsourcing is a popular new trend because it completely changes the nature of productivity. If you can exchange money for work done, you can accomplish far more than one person is capable of doing. Outsourcing removes the glass ceiling of what is possible with your time.

Outsourcing can work on two levels. First of all, you can use outsourcing to avoid work that has a lower value per hour. If you have work that worth $25 per hour, and you want to focus on $50 per hour tasks, outsourcing can help you avoid that lower-cost work.

Secondly, outsourcing helps you focus on your strengths. Let’s say you’re a freelance programmer, but you lack web design skills. For example, many tech entrepreneurs outsource their product development work to app development companies to launch the product early in the market. Such development partners take care of the whole app development process so that entrepreneurs can focus on other business aspects.

Outsourcing isn’t a cure-all. It requires setup and unless you are savvy, it can be more expensive than doing it yourself. For personal projects that don’t earn a lot of money, it may not be the best option. But it is one of the proven ways to boost your productivity.

7. Two-Flow Theory

Most creative tasks have two challenges. The first challenge is building enough creative fodder. This is the raw idea material that needs to be present in order to come up with work. The second challenge is refining and sculpting that material into something useful. A writer needs to generate many ideas for what to write about, but also needs the ability to restrict those ideas into something meaningful.

The reason creative blocks often occur is that people try to do these two tasks at the same time. The generation task and refining task require two completely different frames of mind. One you must be confident, enthusiastic and expressive. The other you must be reserved, critical and limiting. These two flows cancel each other out when you try to use them both at the same time.

You can reduce the time it takes to finish creative work by splitting up these two phases. I did this with my writing by having one phase to write a large list of article topics and another phase for actually writing the articles.

You can use two-flow theory for almost any creative task to save time and prevent the frustration of a creative block.

8. Information Dieting

Why having selective attention is necessary for staying productive? Selective attention means completely ignoring some information streams and severely restricting others.

Start by eliminating information streams that aren’t useful to you. Television news programs or celebrity magazines might seem important, but unless they spur direct actions, they are just fluff. Any information stream that doesn’t influence your actions is a waste of your time.

Next, cut down the information streams you don’t need to view regularly. I restrict viewing any details regarding my income to once a week. Checking constantly only wastes my time and causes me to become impatient. By limiting this resource I only look at the totals instead of the individual ups and downs.

Final Words

Being busy does not equate to being productive nor does it mean you are delivering value. Stop reacting to the work people throw at you. Become proactive about your daily activities. What are the activities and tasks that–done consistently–will, over time, take you to your goals? That is the work to fit into your busy schedule and organize the rest of your day around.