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Last Updated on July 21, 2020

How to Work Efficiently: 2 Powerful Techniques for Productive Work

How to Work Efficiently: 2 Powerful Techniques for Productive Work

There’s a lot of research on the subject of productivity, but in my experience, most of it is bogus. 

So how to work efficiently?

Being productive really boils down to two key things:

  1. Prioritization
  2. Finding your flow

Each of these are distinct skills, yet they inevitably impact each other since honing your ability to prioritize improves your capacity for finding and staying in flow. So to maximize your efficiency, you have to work consciously to develop both.

Here’s what you need to do that.

1. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to Prioritize Better

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool to help you prioritize tasks in terms of urgency and importance. As co-founder of Dairy Free Games, I found it immensely valuable; there always seemed to be a thousand fires burning, but using this tool helped me decide which ones to put out myself, and when.

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    Here’s how the matrix breaks down:

    • Urgent and Important: Tasks that you yourself have to do right now, or conversations and decisions that you must quarterback quickly.
    • Not Urgent and Important: Projects requiring of planning and strategy, but that can be delayed for a bit. You’ll still need to set a deadline for these and carve out time on your calendar to work specifically on them, but you might not need to tackle them today.
    • Urgent and Not Important: Tasks which must be completed, but which you should delegate to someone else. Think: files, documents, or processes that need updating—jobs that need to get done fast, but that don’t require you or your best engineer.
    • Not Important and Not Urgent: Ideas which are best eliminated from your to-do list altogether. Or, at the least, tasks that should be postponed until all other important items have been checked off. These might be “nice-to-haves”––they’re not urgent or mission critical.

    The most crucial piece here is deciding which action items must be completed by you, and which could be delegated. For many, you have the sense that everything that’s urgent is also important, and everything that’s important MUST be completed by you. But over time––through utilizing this matrix––you come to realize that urgent and important are in fact different qualifiers.

    The most effective leaders are those who can differentiate between the two and plan their days around the tasks which they really must complete themselves.

    2. Get into a State of Flow

    Flow, meanwhile is something you have to consciously, personally optimize for.

    Flow is a concept first defined by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. It is characterized, among other things, by complete psychological immersion in the activity or project at hand. It’s what most creatives––whether they be artists, engineers, writers, or designers––strive for when they sit down to get to work. Or, at least, it’s what they emerge out of after they’ve made something great.

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    If you’re a creator of some kind, you’ve likely experienced it, whether you were conscious of it or not. It feels, in a way, like a hyper-effective autopilot where words or algorithms seem to leap directly from your brain through your fingers and onto a page, and you’re only barely in control of the process.

    But here’s the thing:

    Forcing yourself into a mental state where it’s possible to get into flow is challenging––in fact, it’s something you need to actively and consciously optimize for.

    Luckily, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of getting into a state of flow.

      Here are some ways to do that:

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      Set aside time to “go deep.”

      Flow requires intense, uninterrupted focus. That itself requires an investment on your part to minimize distractions––especially from tasks that are not important but potentially urgent (category 3 of that Eisenhower Matrix).

      Set a clear objective.

      It’s impossible to get into flow without having one specific goal to focus intently on––otherwise, you’ll find yourself inherently distracted. You can’t get into flow by trying to work on three things at once.

      At best, your focus will remain at a kind of surface level for all three.

      Autonomy in how to handle the task.

      Integral to flow is freedom of choice. This is important when delegating important tasks to teammates, as well.

      If the project is something that the person will need to enter into flow to complete, you’ll need to make sure they themselves are invested in it and actively choosing how to complete it.

      The task should not be over-challenging or over-simplistic.

      As I mentioned, it’s difficult to get into flow when the project at hand bores you or, on the other hand, confuses you. It needs to be challenging enough to be interesting––there’s a sweet spot. This is particularly important to remember, again, when delegating.  

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      Access to feedback.

      The faster you can get feedback, whether that’s from your management, co-workers, or customers, the better. In fact, immediate feedback is the reasons that video games are so immersive and flow-inducing.

      In a game, almost every action you take has clear positive or negative feedback.

      The Bottom Line

      Prioritization and flow are inextricably intertwined.

      The easiest way to be pulled out of flow, after all, is being bombarded by tasks that aren’t important. That includes emails that seem to demand quick responses, Slack messages from teammates, creeping pressure from action items you didn’t correctly define as “Urgent,” “Not Urgent,” and so on.

      You must, in optimizing for flow, protect yourself from these kinds of risks.

      But, again, that skill comes from practice and from prioritizing effectively––setting aside time for focused, deep work, for example, or delegating potentially distracting yet important items to other team members.

      That’s why, ultimately, you need to develop and nurture both of these skills in tandem—both for the benefit of your team and for yourself.

      More Tips for Productivity at Work

      Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

      More by this author

      Dennis Zdonov

      Entrepreneur, opportunist, applying game design to all walks of life

      How to Work Efficiently: 2 Powerful Techniques for Productive Work

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      Last Updated on September 24, 2020

      17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

      17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

      In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

      The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

      Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

      1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

      Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

      For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

      2. Use the Pareto Principle

      Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

      Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

      3. Make Stakes

      Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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      However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

      4. Record Yourself

      Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

      5. Join a Group

      There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

      6. Time Travel

      Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

      Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

      7. Be a Chameleon

      When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

      Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

      “Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

      Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

      8. Focus

      Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

      Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

      9. Visualize

      The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

      Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

      Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

      10. Find a Mentor

      Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

      Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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      If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

      11. Sleep on It

      Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

      Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

      12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

      Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

      His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

      Check out his video to find out more:

      13. Learn by Doing

      It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

      Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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      14. Complete Short Sprints

      Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

      One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

      15. Ditch the Distractions

      Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

      Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

      16. Use Nootropics

      Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

      Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

      Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

      17. Celebrate

      For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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      The Bottom Line

      Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

      More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

      Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

      Reference

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