You may be one of the many people who can't figure out why they can't stay on task or get more done during their day. I've been there and want to help you find your way to a more productive life. This is a method that will help you move from a slow burn to a productivity powerhouse.
Identifying What’s Productive and What’s Unproductive
The first thing to do when you’re attempting to structure your life for a higher level of productivity is to figure out what’s actually productive. We often spend so much of our working time doing things that have nothing to do with our end goals. Or we’re doing the things that only move us a little when we could be doing things that get great results.
I’ve talked about the 80/20 rule before and I think using that tool is one of the best ways to identify what’s actually most productive for you. Take this idea and start being truly objective about where your time is going.
A great way to do this is to start a productivity journal. Set an alarm for hour intervals and write down what you’re doing that very moment. The point of doing this is so that you can look back at your day and see objectively how you’re spending your time.
What did you notice? At each point, what were you actually doing? What did you accomplish hour over hour? Can you actually see progress?
If you find that you’re spending far too much time doing something unproductive, you will need to adjust for that. If you find that you haven’t actually accomplished anything, you’ll need to figure out a better use of your working time. If you can’t measure your progress by looking at this journal, something is seriously wrong.
You may not need to do this for the rest of your life. Sometimes just a week will do just fine. However, the act of actually logging what you’re doing may be enough to keep you productive. It’s not weak minded if this happens. It just means you’re willing to hold yourself accountable for what you don’t get done.
Identifying Points of Friction
Perhaps what’s more important than figuring out what is productive is figuring out what’s keeping you from actually doing what you need to get done. Sometimes we allow our environment get in our way. Sometimes we get in our own way. We have to be able to look at our process and figure out what’s keeping us from moving forward.
In my article on How to Capture Your Ideas and Keep Them Organized, I talked about how I developed a system to log the ideas I have so that I don’t forget them. I struggled at first because there were things I did that I thought were helpful, but they instead caused more problems. The things that make accomplishing your end goal more difficult are what are called “points of friction.”
What’s making your work life more complicated?
Lowering Friction on What’s Productive
Once you’ve figured out what’s actually productive and what’s getting in the way of you getting those things done, it’s time to start removing those obstacles. It may not be possible to work entirely frictionless, but you should take every step you can to get as close to that point as possible.
Here are some common points of friction:
- Distractions in your work space
- An unorganized or cluttered work space
- Workflows with too many steps
- Tools that are insufficient for your workflow
- Poor communication with team members
- Poorly defined daily goals
There can be many other points of friction and those points can be very job specific. An example from my own experience had to do with a tool that was not optimal for my workflow. I spend a reasonably large chunk of my working time writing, but I didn’t own a laptop. I have a desktop computer which I adore, a phone, and a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard. Now, I realize that this is far more than most people have. I’m a very fortunate person, but I really needed to purchase a laptop to help facilitate my writing.
Why? My desktop is just far too inconvenient to carry around. You can pretty much rule out going to a remote location with it. It’s still the most powerful device in my home, but it just wasn’t useful to me unless I was in the room it’s in. My phone’s form factor limits me. I type faster on a keyboard. Speed is important for a writer because writers need to get as many words down a day as possible. If you don’t, it can take you forever to complete a project. The tablet with a keyboard seems like a good solution, but it suffered from both the problems of the desktop and the phone. The keyboard-tablet setup is only stable at a table or desk (which limited mobility) and the keyboard was a different format than normal (which increased the errors I made when switching to it).
So I broke down and bought a laptop. I opted for something with limited functionality (a Chromebook) because I didn’t need a powerhouse of a computer for writing and 99% of my other non-music production related tasks. Because of that, I saved a bit of money and I get far more writing done now that I ever did.
This is just one example of lowering friction on your own productivity, but there is possibly a much bigger friction point: You.
Are you giving yourself permission to not be productive when you need to be? I know that I can procrastinate a task for longer than most would consider possible. Take responsibility for your own destiny. Don’t let weak excuses get in the way of your own progress.
Raising Friction on What’s Unproductive
Just as you’d want to lower friction on what’s productive, you’ll want to do the reverse for what isn’t productive. This is the “put the remote control somewhere where you can’t reach or see it” mentality. It’s easy to overlook this key step because it’s unintuitive to purposefully inhibit yourself in any way. Just like having high friction on what’s productive will deter you from getting work done, high friction on the unproductive can do the same.
While those unproductive tasks might be more fun, if you go out of your way to make those things less accessible or less tempting, you’ll have an easier time sticking to your agenda.
One way to do this is by removing yourself from a distracting environment when you find that you’re not moving forward on a project. I have a hard time writing fiction while at home because of the level of potential distraction during the times I have free to write. Because of this, I almost always leave my home to write fiction. I will sit at a coffee shop or in a library. I get the most done this way because I’ve put myself in a place where I have little to do except work on something productive.
However, I have no problem writing nonfiction (like this article) while sitting on my couch at home. Why? I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps it is because nonfiction is a bit easier for me to slip in and out of without losing my ideas.
Another thing you can do is removing your television from your work space. You can unplug your internet connection. You can leave your video game console at a friend’s house and tell them not to give it back to you until you finish your work. That last one might be a bit extreme, but do what you have to do to get your work in.
You know yourself and what’s distracting you. Take action to make sure you have a hard time accessing those distractions.
If you’d like a few more tips on personal productivity (especially for those who work from home), check out my article: 5 Ways to Increase Productivity When Working from Home.
What About You?
I really hope this has helped you think of ways to structure your life around being more productive. If so, please share this blog with someone who might need it.
What have you done to structure your life around increasing productivity?
Have any personal hacks?
Let me know in the comments below!