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Eccentric Tips for Becoming Productive

Eccentric Tips for Becoming Productive
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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