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Where are the aids for increasing GENUINE personal productivity?

Where are the aids for increasing GENUINE personal productivity?

Too much of today’s personal productivity is stuck in repeating the past
To-do list

A genuine increase in productivity means getting the same, or greater, output with less effort and a smaller use of resources. Yet most personal productivity software still relies on various ways to categorize old-fashioned to-do lists.

That focuses on getting more done by improved organization; it’s working harder for longer (mostly by virtue of avoiding distractions and procrastination), not doing things better or with less effort and input. It’s not increasing genuine productivity. I suspect that, in reality, it’s sometimes even a substitute for doing much at all; spending time instead categorizing and rearranging lists of what is there to be done.

Where is the software that would help people find better ways to do things? To free up time for what matters be eliminating the unnecessary and trivial? The software that would ask tough, meaningful questions about every to-do item, such as:

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  • Do you need to do it now — or ever?
  • Is this something that you could — and should — delegate to someone else?
  • Is there a way to get the same result with less effort and input?
  • Is there a way to get a better outcome? Have you considered fresh options? What ideas could you find to improve, simplify, or — best of all — eliminate this activity?
  • Are you jumping to conclusions about what to do? Should you allow circumstances to unfold further, so you can see better what needs to be done (if anything)?
  • How can you develop your creativity, so that you can either find better ways to achieve the same, or greater, results, or find ways to stop doing things?

These are all questions it’s easy to forget in the rush to “get things done” — especially when someone is breathing down your neck and time seems to be slipping away. Software that both reminded and challenged you each time you tried to add something to your to-do list might be a boon to anyone caught up in the rat race.

Not doing things may be more productive

The Tao Te Ching suggested, more than 2200 years ago, that by doing nothing, everything would be done. What I suspect the author meant was that, if you think about things long enough and carefully enough, a great deal of your present activity can be removed altogether; if you’re patient, still more will resolve itself without any input from you; and whatever is left, you can do in half the time and with a quarter of the effort. Everything that matters gets done. The rest is irrelevant.

By following that advice, you can eliminate so much clutter — plus those actions only done because you’ve always done them that way — that you will fly through what is left. That’s true focus, not the false kind that comes from putting items into an ordered list and starting from the top. You may be working on item 1, but all the others are still there, preying on your mind and tempting you into swerving aside to deal with them too.

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What about something that actually limited your to-do list to no more than, say, six items? Something that would force you to prioritize and drop something, before you could add any more? It’s easy to build up a to-do list of almost infinite length, then feel stressed by all the things still waiting to be done.

Realistically, the chances of getting to item 27 on your list — now or ever — are so small as not to be worth considering. Software could not only help you to set sensible priorities, it could recall just how long something had sat at number 3 or 4 and tell you either to do it now — make it number 1 and get it done — or stop kidding yourself and forget it.

It could also remember how long something had been on the to-do list in any position and kick it off automatically after, say, 5 days. If you haven’t even started on it by then, you aren’t going to today. Push it into a back list of “to do sometime;” and remove altogether if it stays on there for more than two weeks.

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The real keys to increasing productivity are creativity and discipline

I know this sounds brutal, but sometimes it takes “tough love” to bring home the key point: a to-do list should only contain what you are definitely going to do within the next day or so. Everything else should go somewhere else, or it will simply clog up your list and convince you that you’re so weighed down with unfinished tasks that you don’t have time to do anything — except, of course, continually polish and re-categorize your natty software to-do list!

Productivity should be about creativity — finding new and better ways to do what me must with less effort — and discipline — to ignore anything that isn’t truly important.

For example, if your to-do list and calendar are full of meetings, you can probably double or triple your productivity instantly by taking these simple steps:

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  • Cut out all the time wasted in meetings you’re only attending as an observer. If you haven’t got anything on the agenda that is vital to you, don’t go.
  • Refuse to stay in any meeting for more than one hour. What can’t be accomplished in that time probably doesn’t need to be done.
  • If you are in charge, eliminate all the time wasted by people “updating” the group. If anyone needs to know, ask for a summary beforehand by e-mail. In a meeting, it’s wasted time.
  • Only hold meetings at all if there is genuinely no other way. About a third of meetings take place because people are too lazy to handle what needs to be done more efficiently. The other two-thirds take place to allow people to spread the blame and protect their butts.

Until you stop focusing on the mundane — organizing lists — and start considering genuine productivity — improving the ways you do essential things and dropping all the rest — you’ll stay stuck at about the place you’re in today.

Until now, nearly all software advances linked to personal productivity have been based on automating what people once did by hand. That process has reached the point of diminishing returns. The real innovations will only come when we start using software to let us do what was either impossible, or unimagined, before we had it.

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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