6 Ways To Double Your Productivity in 2016
Some days you are spinning your wheels, while on others you are a freaking rockstar, getting done what would normally take you a week. What’s the difference? How could you make every day a stand-out like that?
The actual formula will be slightly different for everyone, but let’s take a peek inside some philosophies and tools I personally use to help set each day up for success.
By establishing solid daily rituals and incorporating agile/lean principles, you can create the perfect storm for hyper productivity.
Have A Single Main Focus Each Day
We all have so many things we wish to accomplish each day. A quick look at my task backlog gives me a sobering look that 97 individual tasks await my attention and completion *shudder*. It is possible to get overwhelmed with this, but not all things on your to-do are created equal. Some things in that backlog may not even need to be done, once I ask the all important question.
The key is to give real thought around prioritisation, and that aforementioned question… “what can I do, that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary”.
We all try to tackle so much, taking pot shots at our to-dos each day, but then realizing hey none of the things in this list are getting finished! Some things on your list are what is known as a force multiplier. Instead of doing that recurring task each week, maybe your 1 task could be “figure out way to automate that annoying recurring task”.
For your own sanity as well, maybe there are things that are weighing on you that you need to do, but you keep putting these things off. Your cognitive capacity is limited. If tasks and issues are front of mind constantly and you are not addressing them, you need to tackle these head on. Getting them off your plate will free up your brainpower and help you tackle things that will actually drive you closer towards your goal.
Pro Tip: Momentum Extension for Chrome.
This nifty add-on asks each day what your main focus is. As long as you complete this one main thing each day, you can consider the day a win. This should be a foundational and non-repetitive task. By completing this task, you are in a better position tomorrow than you were the previous day.
Further reading: The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
- First Things Come First
Your effectiveness reduces throughout the day. Every decision you make, and every task you complete makes you slightly less efficient for what comes after it. This is a general rule of thumb. So take your biggest challenge for the day and put that first. The more decisions and cognitive you place on yourself throughout the day, the less effective you become. So if hypothetically you only get to choose one thing to complete each day, make sure whatever you would pick…you place it first.
Further reading: Decision Fatigue – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_fatigue ,
- Limit Your WIP (Work In progress)
Set a hard limit for the number of things you will have on your plate at any one time. This forces you to complete one task before you can move onto the next. A principle of Agile project management, a WIP limit forces your tasks to flow forward to completion, by stopping you from jumping around and taking pot-shots at all the things you have to do. You cannot move onto another task until there is room in your WIP queue (I personally use a WIP limit of 3). It’s easy to take a lot on, but if you have things on your to-do list that have been there way too long, it’s time to simplify and limit your workflow.
Embrace monotasking. Anything that aligns with performing your life’s best work cannot be multitasked efficiently. It’s science… we have to deal with it. So create clear separation between what your ‘todo list’ is (otherwise known as your backlog), and what your current ‘work in progress’ list is. Limiting what you will currently work on forces you to prioritise, and give complete attention to pushing things through your personal work pipeline.
Task switching is evil, and switching costs are real, needing to be avoided at all costs. Without a WIP limit, you allow yourself to become flooded with work while reducing your effectiveness towards each task. With a limit you have a healthy flow of work that can be understood and prioritised by both yourself and other team mates.
Some more reading on the psychology task switching, and switch costs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Task_switching_(psychology)#Switch_cost
The Fuhrer explaining the importance of WIP limits and how to G.S.D: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2odfo6s-Vs
- Visualise Your Work
How many things do you have to do, and what is their respective size? What is near completion and what is coming down the pipeline? Visualising your tasks and workflow allows both yourself and others to see where you are at with your work.
The best methodology I have found for this is a personal Kanban board. The great thing here is that Kanban complements our previous points to prioritize your tasks and limit what you will allow yourself to work across at any one point in time.
A tools I love for this is called KanbanFlow, which allows me to split my backlog into
To Do > This Month > This Week > Today > In Progress (Limit of 3) > Done
My job is to push items from the left to the right. This is a one way street! (Notice the ‘In Progress’ limit of 3 items)
Microsoft Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxa8DvyDNgM
Tools: Trello , Leankit , KanbanFlow
- Block The Distractions
How productive are you really? Be honest. Do you have evidence to show? Do you know what percentage of time you spend on Facey and Youtube looking for the greatest cat fail compilations? Let your computer track tell you each week.
Rescuetime will actually uncover how much time you are spending on sites that are determined as ‘distracting’ compared to a set of sites you define as ‘productive’.
Now you can actually see how those Facebook feed refreshes add up, how do you go about uncovering that time and swaying the needle back to becoming a hyper-productive knowledge working Ninja? For this I have found 2 amazing tools.
Stayfocusd is an extension for chrome, where each time you are on distracting sites it will wind down your daily limit you set yourself for those sites. I set mine to 30min a day, so that allows me to get in and get out, but not end up the down the rabbithole checking out the Kardashians are up to.
The one problem with Stayfocusd is it is purely a chrome extension. If you are really itching to read your friend’s uninformed political views, you could still open a new window incognito to get your fix, or opening another browser type.
So if you keep finding yourself loading incognito windows, having beat your own system, maybe it’s time to get serious. An app called ‘Cold Turkey’ will actually alter the DNS of any sites you want to block between certain times. Whether you load in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or any other browser, it will block certain sites at any time of the day you know you should be working on other things.
- Chill Out, Schedule Breaks
Sitting down for 8 hours of grinding (14 if you are a self confessed but recovering workaholic) is never something anyone looks forward to day after day after day. It’s easy to adopt the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow mentality, but realistically we need to work in a way that is sustainable and is enjoyable day to day. Life is happening now, not just in the future. Having scheduled breaks where you actually allow yourself to step away from your work and unplug is a great way to break up any monotony.
If you haven’t previously heard of the Pomodoro technique, this may actually be life-changing for you. Essentially you block out 25 minutes to solely focus on one task. Your goal isn’t to necessarily finish it, the idea is to dedicate just 25 minutes of your greatest concentration without distraction. Almost like a meditation, it’s not about the destination, but focusing on the moment you are in.
After that 25 minutes is over, you have a 5 minute break (grab a drink, check how many likes your pic of this mornings poached eggs and avocados has, grab a set of pushups). Like sets at the gym, this process repeats for 4 Pomodoros, where you are now rewarded with a more substantial 30 minute break. Then when refreshed you can get back into it and do another 4 sets. 25 minutes is not a hard and fast rule. It’s a great place to start though. Most people can easily sit on a single task for 25 minutes, especially when they know a break is coming up. I would not go over 50 however. At that point it is highly likely you will have distractions, whether external or self created.
Remember the point here isn’t necessarily to finish the task, it is to just keep a strong focus on what you are doing for a predetermined amount of time. You will also find 25 minutes of hyper focus on a single task can often produce more output than 1-2 hours of good ol’ fashioned ‘sit down and work on this’ approach.
The tool mentioned above ‘KanbanFlow’ has a built in Pomodoro timer with an international leaderboard. How many Pomodoros can you rack up compared to the rest of the world?
Youtube Explainer Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH-z5kmVhzU
Don’t necessarily try to incorporate all of these at once. Again, even when introducing or building habits, limit what you take on and try focusing on one thing at a time. When you no longer have to think about it, then try beefing it up with some complementary techniques.