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A Simple Productivity System To Help You Become More Productive

A Simple Productivity System To Help You Become More Productive
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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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