Ours is a culture obsessed with busy-ness. The idea of being able to do more with less is a seductive one, and it’s why we often lap up content about how to maximise our productivity. But how many of those productivity tips do we actually successfully implement in our lives?
For most people, it’s not many. Change is always hard, even when we know it’s for the better. It’s difficult to disrupt the work-life rhythms that you already have going unless you have a fiery resolve and an effective short term and long term strategy. The latter, in particular, is critical.
Becoming a more productive person doesn’t necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg. The key is to have a proper system in place for implementing, tracking, and, tweaking your efforts at achieving higher productivity for yourself. Here’s how to do just that.
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Don’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Trying to accomplish too many productivity goals at one go is probably not going to be very useful.
Instead, focus on your highest priority. What’s the most pressing reason that’s motivating you to improve your productivity? Be as specific as possible. For example, rather than telling yourself, “I need to get more work done,” determine what type of work you want to focus on.
Say, for example, that your motive for getting more work done is so that you can leave work on time. Knowing this, you need to start planning your day backward, starting from 5 PM (or whenever your cut-off time is.) Do what’s necessary to ensure that you can promptly leave the office on time.
Alternatively, if your motive is to reduce the stress that comes with heavy workloads, then you might focus on implementing David Allen’s Getting-Things-Done (GTD) methodology for stress-free productivity.
The cornerstone of positive behaviour change is changing your habits. Improving your productivity necessitates that you take a good, hard, look at your daily habits. More often than not, there are maladaptive habits that each of us engages in every day, which contributes to lower productivity.
These are habits that might be so ingrained in ourselves that we don’t even realise we’re doing it. Most of us, for example, don’t know the exact number of collective hours we’re spending on social media every day. Changing our social media habits alone can provide us with so much more time to do the things we want and need to do.
The thing about self-improvement is that most people hold themselves accountable to themselves. As it turns out, though, we aren’t that good at keeping ourselves responsible in this regard.
It’s so easy to convince yourself that you don’t need to change that much, or that you don’t need to keep to that time frame you set for your productivity goals. For that matter, how many times have you found yourself thinking, “I’ll give it a miss today. Just this once. It’s not a big deal.”
This is precisely why it’s crucial to have an accountability partner. Bringing social pressure into the picture is a remarkable way of holding yourself accountable. Now, suddenly, it’s not just about you improving yourself anymore. It’s also about other people getting to see whether you’re just full of hot air or not.
It isn’t enough to know how you plan to improve your productivity; you need to have a way of tracking and evaluating the effectiveness of your efforts over time.
Everyone works differently; it will probably take time, research, energy, and lots of experimentation to find the productivity techniques that work best in your situation. Experimentation without monitoring and evaluating, though, will be paramount to making blind stabs in the dark.
Taking the time to conduct a weekly self-evaluation, for example, can do wonders for yourself. Treat it like a regular performance review where you’re in charge of looking objectively at how much (or how little) you’ve progressed towards your goals in the past week.
In evaluating how productive (or not) you’ve been, it’s important that you use the right measures to determine the effectiveness of your efforts.
To this end, one strategy that bestselling author Cal Newport highlighted in his book “Deep Work” is to use lead measures, not lag goals.
Lag goals are essentially your end game; it’s where you want to end up. For example, if your goal is to read more books this year, a lag goal might be “Read 20 books by the end of 2019.” These are great, but they also fail to pinpoint the exact daily habits that will get you to that end goal.
That’s where lead measures come in; these are the indicators of daily actions that will help you reach those goals. In the reading example, one possible lead measure is “Read 20 pages every day.”