Here are 10 of my best ideas on how to productive. Before getting to them, I want to take a second to define productivity: the goal. The goal is to be able to sharpen ourselves into the sharpest saw in the world. We want to figure out a way to make us able to complete any task that needs to get done that we don’t necessarily enjoy doing, as fast as possible. This is so we can have more time for other, fun things we don’t want to have to rush through, like sex, and playing outside.
The most productive people in the world don’t check their phone every few minutes. They mono-task. Remember what it was like to not have phones? Ya, me neither. But try to time travel a bit. Picture you were in the 80’s or something.
By checking our phones when we work, we are not working. We are working, and then playing (checking our phones) and then working, and then playing. I don’t know about you, but I find it a LOT more fun to play in blocks of time that span hours long, instead of mini play periods spanning a couple of minutes.
So, save the phone for when you’re done working. And even then, hopefully you have something more fun and interesting to do than check your phone. The world is a massive, beautiful place full of fun things to do. Try going outside.
Mono-tasking is as simple as doing one thing at a time. Try it out.
2. Use Pomodoros.
The concept is work until you slow down, take a short break, then go back to work. The original technique is set up in 25 minutes to 5 minutes of break. But after enough practice, the 25 minutes can be stretched much further, sometimes spanning up to an hour, or if you’re really into something, multiple hours.
The key though is in the breaks. Don’t worry as much about the exact times, but the point is, allow yourself a short amount of time to break after spending a significantly longer amount of time working. Pee, eat, drink some water, and get back at it.
Breaks are to rejuvenate, not to play. Remember, you can play on your phone during play time. Breaks between work periods are not play time, they are break time. Work time is the total amount of time you’re working until you stop. Breaks are just for the purpose of working better.
3. Understand the 80/20 Pareto Principle.
80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs.
80% of inputs are responsible for 20% of outputs.
Basically, it really matters what you focus on. If you focus on the right things, you’ll be able to save yourself 80% of your time.
The key in applying the 80/20 principle is that we must work to identify the key few things that are responsible to for most of the things we want. At the same time, we must be careful to avoid most things that are responsible for a small portion of the outcome we want.
Picture this. We usually spend 10 hours a day studying during finals. Instead of spending 10 hours to study 80% and 20% of the material, why don’t we take 2 hours (20%) to study 80% of the most important material. Take a break, go play somewhere, meet a friend, chill out, and then come back. When we come back, we are extremely focused, studying just another hour on the final key 20% that’s responsible for what’s left. Th first session gets us to 80%, and second session gets us to 80% of the final 20% of what’s to go, so an additional 16%. 96% is pretty darn good.
The key is to be really careful what we focus on. Because, if we can focus on the important things, we don’t need to spend as much time learning. Get rid of the clutter, and we're left with the gold.
This is an extremely important point, perhaps the most important idea in this entire post if you can understand it properly, so I will provide a few more examples, hopefully solidifying the idea for you further.
I find for most subjects, math is probably the best example, that 80% of the material comes from understanding 20% of the ideas. Just a few of the biggest ideas explain most of the material. The other 80% of ideas are just strands of thought, further along the original big, important, hard-to-understand ideas. But, if you get these first big ideas, everything else becomes easy. If you miss them, you’re lost for the entire semester.
In the world, the 80/20 principle is literally everywhere. Plus, a little secret, it’s usually much more skewed than 80/20, sometimes it’s 99/1. World wealth: a couple hundred people hold most of the world’s wealth. Any creative competitive market like books, art, or keynote speakers, the best ones get paid more than many of the worst ones combined.
The more you can focus on figuring out what’s important, and the more discipline you can exercise to only focus on the important things, the more you will achieve.
4. Parkinson’s Law
Work expands (and contracts) so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Have you ever done something that you had weeks or even months to do in a matter of days, maybe even a night? That’s because we are all superheros. We can get literally anything done in any amount of time.
Usually we make work contract, by leaving things to the last minute, and work really hard for a short period of time. But very often, at least on a daily basis, we will do the opposite. We will go to the library for many hours to do something that could have taken 30 minutes.
The actionable with Parkinson’s Law is to allow yourself little time to complete things. So, next time you’re going to the library to write an essay all day, go for just a couple of hours. This forces you to work harder, since you have less time to complete the thing.
It will be hard to self-impose “fake deadlines” on yourself and stop things earlier than you actually have enough time for. Unless you’re working on something last minute where you may not have enough time, the self-imposed deadlines should be easier. The first day you get an essay, go to the library not for hours, but one hour, or even thirty minutes, and start the essay.
It’s difficult to describe the power of this until you actually see it in action. But if you’ve ever dreamed of finishing an essay the night you get it as opposed to the night it’s actually due, give it a shot. There is nothing stopping you, because both are the exact same length of time.
Instead of bringing six books to the library and studying a little bit on each of your classes, try bringing one book and get all the work you have to do for that subject done.
Batching is doing similar tasks “batched” together at once. For everything we do, there are set-up and take-down costs. For studying this is “getting in the zone”. But it is also physically “getting to the library” and “getting your coffee” and “getting your phone in your bag”.
There is so much we do to prepare for times of when we work. By spreading our work out into mini sessions, we have to “set-up” and “take-down” before and after each one. We want to spend as little time preparing to work and as much time actually working, so to do this, we must first reduce the amount of instances of setting up and taking down that we do. We do this by working for longer stretches at a time. Instead of working for a few minutes, checking our phones, getting out of the zone, then having to get back in it, we work for a half hour, and then go to washroom as break if we want to.
We reduce the amount of times we have to set-up and take-down for our work periods by reducing the frequency of our work periods, and just extending them. Instead of many small periods of studying the day, get up early, get a couple hours of good studying done before you start your day, and then you don’t need to worry about studying all day.
For batching, in addition to reducing set-up and take-down instances, we want to reduce the length of these things by working somewhere close to home, or even at home if we can. This way, we won’t have to waste a bunch of our days getting ready to study, and instead, we can spend more of our time actually working.
In building batches, we can set up the size and frequency. We want our sizes of our batches to be as large as possible, and as infrequent as possible. So, instead of doing our laundry one piece at a time, everyday, we do them in sets of 20 or 30 items, every couple of weeks.
6. Airplane Mode.
Is it okay to check your phone while you’re out with friends at dinner? I don’t think so. If you do, that’s okay, you just probably won’t be able to get value out of this particular trick.
When you’re out with friends at dinner, connecting with people you love, you want to be focused on the conversation, and you won’t stand to be distracted by your phone. Why isn’t this the same when we’re doing work?
By putting our phones on airplane mode, we will be able to focus that much harder, never get interrupted, and ultimately, be able to get out of the library that much faster, so we can spend less time working.
Stop making yourself have to exert so much willpower to avoid using your phone, and just put it on airplane mode. With the only choice to study, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll do anything else.
7. Work alone.
On the same train of thought as airplane mode, working alone reducing the potential for distractions. Without any friends nearby, we eliminate the option of getting distracted by talking to people, so we use this energy to study, so we can stop working even sooner.
Back to our point about mono-tasking, I find it a lot better to have a couple hours to socialize in a row, rather than a couple minutes of socializing mixed in with my working time. Maybe you prefer the opposite. Ignore this hack if this is the case.
Even if you like socializing at the library, it is without question that total work efficiency goes down. If something would take an hour to complete alone, if you add a couple minutes here and there for a total of an additional 30 minutes of socializing, the total isn’t going to be 1:30 at the library. Because we have to refocus every time we get interrupted, work time will increase from an hour, to as high as two hours, more than doubling your total time at the library, if we add in the additional half hour spent socializing.
By all means go to the library with people, but if you want to get out of there as soon as you can, so you can spend more time on more fun things, work alone.
Bonus hack: don’t eat. Taking a break to eat is just as much an interruption to your mind as talking to a friend.
8. Play harder.
If you want to work harder, play harder. I always find that when I fill my life with incredible play, I feel extremely motivated to “get down to work” when it’s time. I feel I’ve gotten it all out of my system, so I have much less to distract me.
When we play hard, we fill ourselves with energy. Work is an output of energy, and if we try to output when we have no inputs, it will be a slow, painful process. If we can get to the gym, have partied a few nights this week, eaten great food, and had some deep, meaningful conversations with friends, we will be overflowing with energy, so when it’s time to get down to work, it’s no problem, because we have energy to burn.
Of course, if it’s the day before the exam, don’t go out and then come back to the library studying all night. Playing harder is a hack that has to be used in advance. When it’s the beginning of the term, if we can play really hard, when it’s time to do homework, we’ll have no trouble getting it done.
9. Socialize more.
Just like playing harder, we must be sure to socialize very often. Especially at university, it’s really easy to get stuck seeing the same people each day, not really connecting to anyone, and generally feel disconnected from the world.
Especially when we’re working too much, it is easy to feel isolated, disconnected from anyone. And, since socializing is a key input into helping us feel more energy to work, we will be much slower to get our work done. So, for more energy, and getting our work done faster, we must incorporate consistent socializing into our lives.
10. Don’t waste time on work that you don’t need to do.
If doesn’t need to be done, don’t do it. While this may seem obvious, it is a very easy rule to forget. The problem is that teachers share with us EVERYTHING that they can possibly think of that we could use to better understand the material. But, unless we are completely lost about every single thing in the class, we probably don’t need to do every piece of homework assigned.
For things you understand better, spend less time on them. But, for things you need more practice on, spend the time doing that extra homework.
The best way to spend less time working is to do less work. So, if you can cut out an entire task because it’s not necessary, cut it out.
There you have it my friends, my ten best tips for becoming more productive. With them, I encourage you to work towards spending less time on work and more time playing. Of course, it’s easy to cut down work time, now that you have these hacks, but it’s surprisingly hard to want to increase play time. So, after reducing our time working, it’s important to incorporate new forms of play into our lives, or else we’ll get stuck just spending even more time on Netflix, which we know isn’t helping us live better lives.
Some ideas for better play: chilling with people more (ideally outside not inside), read books, learn a new sport/hobby (card tricks, shuffle dancing, or tree climbing are a few free ideas), or take better care of yourself. Get a big sleep, eat some good food, or treat yourself by going to the gym. Don’t forget about the basics!