If I had to list a status of my relationship with productivity, it would be “it’s complicated”. For quite a long time, I thought that being productive meant getting more done. With that understanding, I just needed to work more to increase my output. What i've learned over time is that productivity is more about how effective my efforts are.
For me, effectiveness is a combination of motivation and efficiency techniques. Finding a solid balance of those two is when I’m my most productive. In my old way of thinking, I relied primarily on motivation. If I enjoyed what I was working on, I could work the entire day. Unfortunately, that only held up for a limited number of days before exhaustion reduced my motivation. Worse than that, though, was when I was working on things that I didn’t enjoy. I could still “work” on them all day, but I’d realize at the end of a long day that I spent much more time doing other things (email, social media, etc.) I specifically remember cleaning out my downloads folder one day, while “working” on a project. That was my rock bottom.
As I paid more attention to my effort, I started recognizing when my mind would want to wander off to anything except what I was working on. Semi-regularly practicing mindfulness meditation helped me with understanding this. The key to focusing while meditating is recognizing when your mind drifts away and bringing it back. I wanted to find ways to be proactive about avoiding my laps in focus, and the Pomodoro technique has been my best ally. I’m simplifying, but the gist is that you work in cycles of 25 minutes of focused work and then allow yourself 5 minutes for distractions. Distractions are anything other than what you’re working on: chat, email, social media, coffee, etc. This little nudge of self-disciplining has been a game changer for me.
Small adjustments to my workflow have made me much more efficient, but the biggest gain has come dividing tasks into smaller, hyper-focused tasks that can be achieved
Finding ways to be more effective with my effort when I do enjoy what I’m working on is equally important. I used to feel like I was wasting time if I spent time watching TV or playing video games. Over time, I learned that any activities that I enjoy that don’t involve work, recharge me. This led to actively learning techniques for efficiency. I’m lucky to work with Drew Barontini, who loves sharing those. It has taken a vast amount of trial and error to find what ones work for me and they’re so specific to a workflow that I’ll sum them all up in one generic statement: pay attention to what you repeatedly do and find a way to do it fewer steps. Two items that will likely help almost everyone is learning keyboard shortcuts and using something like Alfred app. Small adjustments to my workflow have made me much more efficient, but the biggest gain has come dividing tasks into smaller, hyper-focused tasks that can be achieved.
I’ve found that using a task list and tagging items with a time estimation has been the best solution. This allows me to divvy up tasks that I feel that I can accomplish in a day and the tasks themselves are usually small enough to fit into commits in GitHub and check-ins with project managers. The latest addition to this that has been making it even better is running a “bullet list” each day. I list out the tasks that I plan to achieve and then list any blockers that I run into throughout the day. Tasks include everything that I need to do, including meetings. Blockers can be things like needing work to be done by someone else, time-sensitive items that pop up, unplanned meetings/communication, etc. This doesn’t excuse the fact that I didn’t get the things that I wanted to done, but it does help me learn about where my time goes. I’ve learned not to plan on getting more than 6 hours of tasks done per work day.
In summary, applying self-discipline when I’m lacking motivation and tuning my tasks when I am motivated have significantly improved the way that I work. I manage my time better, and I feel better about my output and my time away from work.