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Eccentric Tips for Becoming Productive

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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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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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