Advertising
Advertising

Eccentric Tips for Becoming Productive

Eccentric Tips for Becoming Productive
Harvest

From the way it’s talked about on sites like this, you’d think productivity was a long-lost secret of the ages. Really, though, there’s quite literally nothing to productivity: for the most part, it’s just a matter of staying on task and working hard. The problems tend to arise more when self-motivation is required: when there are no deadlines, working consistently isn’t easy.

This guide won’t make you productive: only you can really do that for yourself. Rather, here are some little, specific tips you can follow that might speed up your day without any excessive effort from yourself.

Keep things offline. The easiest way to avoid getting something done is this: set up a to-do on some web site, then close the web site down. You might not even mean to do this: the site might close by accident. But once you’ve removed your source of keeping on task, getting sidetracked is far easier than it should be.

Instead, find a dark marker and a piece of paper. Write down your tasks in a single place, and put it close by your desk. Make sure you can’t avoid seeing that list. Update it when you’re done, though, or the whole list is just one big waste.

Shorten your task lists. The more detailed the tasks you set for yourself are, the less likely you are to be able to get through them. Hopefully, you know more or less what it is you’re supposed to be doing. When you write a task list, it’s to get you focused, not to remind you of what to do.

Advertising

Right now, for instance, my list consists of three things: “Write post, Write post, Write prompt, Ask question.” The first is a reminder to write what you’re reading now. The next is a reminder for a different blog. The third involves creating something for a literary magazine. The fourth tells me to ask some site like Yahoo! a question about programming. But I don’t even need that level of detail. I just need something telling me what’s on my agenda.

Stay minimalist. Let’s say you’re a music enthusiast. You use something like Songbird to find music, VLC to play it, Audacity to capture online audio, Last.fm to find new artists, and iTunes to add music to your iPod. It might be a wonderful set-up for when you’re in a music mood. When you’re trying to work on something else… perhaps there’s a better solution.

When you’re working, try to do things not in your to-do pile as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you have to listen to music, don’t even bother calling up your library. Call up an internet service like Pandora and start listening to a band, so you don’t need to micromanage anything. (And if you don’t know where to start, a subtle electronica band like Daft Punk might be a good way to start.) Do you like playing games while you’re brainstorming? That’s probably not the best idea. But if you don’t have the willpower necessary to avoid it, at least settle for a source like Orisinal, which has quick, low-maintenance games for you to play. Not only does it let you actually think while you’re playing, the lack of complexity doesn’t threaten to immerse you nearly as quickly as a more advanced arcade site.

Time yourself. If you have three things to do in a day, expect to work on all three of them that day. Set up an alarm for yourself partway through your worktime. (And if you’re too lazy to set up an alarm near your workplace, take the lazy way out and just click here to get a quick timer for yourself.) Once your alarm goes off, switch to whatever your next task is. If you haven’t finished what you’re working on by now, it might be time to try working on something else instead.

Advertising

Use applications. Don’t let them use you. Email, RSS feeds, and Instant Messenger applications are designed so that you can use them to make your life easier. It’s easy to get caught up, however, and let any one of them take over your work life. None of them are designed (so far) to stop you from abusing them, so controlling their use is entirely up to you.

When you open an RSS feed reader and see over a thousand posts waiting for you; when you find yourself refreshing your email inbox every ten minutes to check for new messages; when you turn on IM and five friends start talking to you about a party on Saturday… Stop. Oftentimes, it helps to just set up a schedule for usage: check email only once or twice a day, only turn on IM after 6 PM. The service itself can help, in some situations: Streamy, the site I use as an RSS reader, doesn’t prominently list how many unread feeds I have, so I don’t feel compelled to read many things.

Make a list of dreams. On a sheet of paper, make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try but never had the time for: learning to blog, for instance, or learning PHP. When you find yourself staring at your computer screen, don’t check your email again: instead, look at your list and really try to accomplish one of the items on your list. Don’t do it halfheartedly, either: research it, experiment with it, try to actually learn it. You might not accomplish what you set out to do, but it certainly beats doing nothing.

Or, exercise. If you’re in a position to do it (i.e. not in a cubicle), walk away from your computer, do a set or two of sit-ups or push-ups, and see if it doesn’t help you. Physical activity often helps concentration, and it has the wonderful added benefit of helping you stay (slightly) fit.

Advertising

If you have the time, get out of your workplace entirely, be it your home or your office. Try jogging a block or two. The change in scenery certainly won’t hurt things, and you’ll often find yourself able to go back and start working.

Don’t do everything yourself. This applies especially for larger projects. You are not excellent at everything: if you need a variety of things done, don’t try to get everything done and perfected yourself. Work on what absolutely needs to be done; focus on what you’re most able to finish well. If you’re working with others, managing your work will help each group member focus individually.

If you’re working on your own, you have to manage everything yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to do all the work yourself. When you’re working on computer projects in particular, there are many ways of quickly hashing things up without your direct involvement. If you’re starting to blog, use a premade theme for a site (and an engine) yourself: don’t design one for yourself until you’ve actually written in your blog. By focusing on what really matters, you’ll be able to get much more work done than if you micromanage.

Avoid swivel chairs. There’s not much to explain here. I have sat at desks with swivel chairs, and I have sat at desks incapable of revolving at all. I have found that I’m always more productive when I’m not in a swivel chair.

Advertising

Is there a reason why this is? No clue. Sitting on a couch or lying on the floor arguably provides more room to move than even a swivel chair, but either one is usually a more productive position to work from. There’s something about the ability to spin in place rather than type on a keyboard that makes swivel chairs almost malevolently unproductive.

Rory Marinich bought the web domain omegaseye.com two years ago. Right before writing this article, he finally got around to writing his first blog post there.

More by this author

Six Ways to Start the Writing Process Eccentric Tips for Becoming Productive Six Lies About Creative Writing You Should Never Believe Writing Tip: Develop Your Style Nine Tips to Productive Revision

Trending in Featured

1 Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) 2 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 5 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Advertising

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Advertising

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

Advertising

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

Advertising

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Read Next