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A Simple Productivity System To Help You Become More Productive

A Simple Productivity System To Help You Become More Productive

There are dozens of productivity systems out there. Obviously there is not ONE best way but rather different methods that are helpful in different situations. Some people will have better results with certain techniques whereas the same technique might not prove beneficial for somebody else. Over the last few years I tried all kinds of things: committing to one big, important thing a day and blocking 3-4 hours out, working in parallel, using different organizing tools, using the Pomodoro Technique, working until I reached a certain amount of hours or a certain amount of words, tracking hours, working when I felt like it, working in libraries, in my bed or outside, working alone or together.

I literally went through all kinds of techniques and possible working scenarios. Step by step I am moving closer to a handful of techniques that work best for me. Today I will share one of the systems that proved to be tremendously effective. It is a combination of the Eisenhower System and the idea to consider your cognitive resources.

Probably one of the most famous and widely used productivity techniques and management ways is to distinguish between important and urgent, important and non-urgent, non-important but urgent and neither important nor urgent. This system was thought to be used by Eisenhower and therefore called the Eisenhower System.

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The downside of this technique is, that you will sometimes get stuck with work that doesn’t require a lot of cognitive energy during your cognitive prime simply because it is urgent and important. And then at the end of the day you might get time to do something important which requires a high cognitive focus, but you depleted your cognitive energy before. Therefore I sort my work in three different categories before I apply the important/urgent classification. The three categories are:

High Cognitive Strain

In this category are things like writing, active learning, preparing for talks or designing a workshop. Usually you need a lot of cognitive resources to go about these tasks. Working on these things while not being in your cognitive prime is not smart. You make considerably more mistakes, are less creative and more prone to inefficiency. Therefore these things should be done when you are fully alert and awake.

For different people this is a different time of the day. As you can read in Mason Currey’s, Daily Rituals, different people prefer different times of the day to get this kind of work done. Sometimes you need to push through tiredness and laziness but generally there are certain times of the day when you are able to perform better.

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You should consider to commit at least a certain amount of time for these tasks, since it often takes time to get into it. I commit at least three rounds of the Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes of work, followed by a 5 minute break) for this kind of work. Use your cognitive energy wisely and block the time when you are the most alert for these tasks.

Mild Cognitive Strain

In this category belongs tasks like responding to mail, doing research, skimming texts, organizing and planning, phone calls, editing text (only formal, not actual content) and things alike. Often these tasks don’t require much cognitive resources and don’t take very long. You can fill small spaces between meetings with it or when you notice you can’t do deep work anymore.

Low Cognitive Strain

There are a bunch of tasks which belong to this category for example: looking for pictures for articles, scheduling Facebook posts, decluttering your desktop, seeding posts and the like.

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It is highly advisable to make a time constraint, as these tasks often tend to expand and require as much time as you allow them. Often you can do these things on the side while watching a TED talk, listing to music or talking to friends.

You can literally save this work for times when you don’t need to focus anymore. Filling your normal schedule with these kinds of tasks is a waste of valuable cognitive focus.

This system has a clear advantage of using your cognitive resources to its best. The downside (which sometimes can also be an upside) is that you are separating different work-steps. Therefore sometimes this system is not applicable if you want to get one big thing done as a whole (example: writing an article, editing it, uploading it, scheduling it or seeding it).

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In the end you should try out different methods and see what works best for you. Don’t buy into a system or dismiss it without testing it first.

Featured photo credit: julietvanree via flickr.com

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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