I've been thinking about what productivity is. I always believed that it was about make things using 100% of your time. But I was wrong. As we always do when we want to know the meaning of a word, I searched the dictionary and there it was: "the state of being productive". And I believe that to have such a capacity we need to know some things: “when, what and how” we want to do something.
The specific word to resume this questions is: planning. So, planning can be both long-term and short-term and it’s possible to plan even while executing a task. I will tell a little bit about methods that I have been using to improve my productivity.
Do you know the story of Alice in Wonderland? Well… If not, as one of the characters would say: "if you don't know where you want to get to, doesn't matter which way you go". In a way of procrastination and in a way of projects both, studies or hobbies. That's why it is important to have goals for our lives. You don't have to know exactly what we will do in each hour of our life, nor what we will do in 5 years, but it's possible to start slowly.
In the company where I work, we define personal goals, including hard and soft skills, according to the interests of each one. These goals are defined to be done in three months. For a goal, it's very interesting to have an end, to see if it was completed or not, if there were any problems or whether it was fine.
One of those goals, some time ago, I defined that I would have to do a talk. The context was: I was approved to speak at a relatively large technology event on a topic that I had no idea what to talk about. When I knew I would talk I freaked out and I thought I wouldn't be able to do that. So, I set a goal: “to master a subject and be able to pass the knowledge forward", with that in mind, I set a deadline that would be a few days before the event.
With the goal set for a longer period of time, about two months, it was time to define smaller goals (baby steps). The first part was to study all the content and another was to make the presentation. In the study part, I divided into smaller topics and defined weekly goals.
What experience I acquired with this? I didn't leave everything for the last hour, as I would have left if I had not planned, and I was able to understand the topic gradually. Another interesting thing to remember, is that goals aren't immutable laws. They can be changed if you need to, or even if your focus changes. And doesn't have any problem with this.
One way to organize your goals, projects, studies, your personal life, or anything else is by using a methodology called kanban. Kanban is a japanese word that means "sign" or "signboard". Basically, it's a form of visualization. And there are several forms to represent this. The most common use is like the next image:
In that kanban you can divide whatever the topic is into "tasks". In a very fast and easy way, you are able to look at this board and see how the progress of your project is. There are many softwares for this, one example is Trello. In addition, it is possible to use something non-technological, like post-its, using exactly the same idea of the software. There are many of other methods that involve lists and states, like bullet journal, todo list, which have both web and app mobile. I, for example, have boards for each of my projects and also use post-its. In fact, for me, post-its are more visual, since I do not have to open any website or app to see something. It's there, always in front of me, reminding me of what I have to do.
Unlike other forms, the pomodoro technique is more for now than the short or long term. It consists of separating your time in "pieces", and in one of then you have a well-defined goal and totally focused on that. Theses pieces have 25 minutes with 5 minutes break. Every 4 repetitions of these, you will have a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
During the 25 minutes, you need to be totally focused, without any social network, cell phone, nothing that can distract you, just the task you set yourself to do. You can do all of this during the short or long break.
This is a method that avoid distractions and ramblings. Because you have a clear goal and you shouldn't leave it. Therefore, it guarantees a mental agility. Another important thing are the breaks, they guarantee a rest of our mind. Talking about rest, we will talk about on the next topic.
It took me many years to understand this, and I believe it is one of the main parts of productivity: rest. When we are tired, we don't produce much, nor can we fully concentrate on that task. As I said at the beginning of the text, I always believed that I had to be 100% of my time producing, studying, never stopping. But what happened was that I spent too much time doing nothing, looking Facebook, rambling on the internet and in fact I didn't produce anything.
That's when I began to realize that I needed funny times. Hang out with friends, go walk in the park, go to the movies. And not only that, but also needed to do some physical exercise, because besides calming the mind, it helps to improve our disposition, our sleep and feeding. And whether we like it or not, all of these things influence our productivity, because a relaxed and quiet mind produces much more than a tired and exhausted mind.
There is not the best type of methodology or what works better, but there is the methodology to which the person best adapts. The most important thing is to test each of them and to know why such methodology worked or not. You can also modify methodologies, create your own, anyway, but only after you understand well each of them . Only then will you find out how you work and get what is best for you.