Read time: 9 minutes. Click here to watch my video on the topic.
If you're reading this there's a good chance you're distracted from what you should be doing. It's cool, we've all been there. Maybe you're looking for some inspiration or a shortcut to go into superhuman focused productivity mode. This article won't help you there. You are what you habitually do and this is not a get productive quick scheme. You can try Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, but I don't think that cheat code will work here.
Production happens when thoughts, ideas, information, and knowledge (inputs) leave the mind and turn into something else through actions (output). The output can be in the form of words on a page, an edited photo, a new home, or anything else being created. These creations provide value for yourself and others. The more productive you are then the more value you create per unit of time. To increase outputs you can either increase the quality of your working time or increase time spent on the work. I will focus on increasing the quality of working time because we all have the same number of hours in a day.
We're not always productive and don't always want to be producing. But when we're trying to be productive then it makes sense to maximize the outputs. Productivity tips and tricks are a dime a dozen and everyone has their own view on the topic. After all, there is no one way to being more productive. I believe that the following ways to be more productive are the best ones to incorporate into your work following this equation:
1. Make Doing The Work Easy (Reduce Friction)
Wouldn't it be great if the work you did felt effortless? While it may never feel completely effortless, you can certainly improve your outlook of it. The friction you feel with your work is only felt by you. The same work being completed by two different people will have two different feelings of friction.
Reduce your work friction by optimizing the following:
Timing: Pick a time when you're naturally most productive. We all have our own rhythms. When do you work best? Is it first thing in the morning or in the evenings or perhaps a particular day of the week? You will be far less productive battling your own internal rhythms while also trying to work. Take this friction out of your work and pick a timing that works best for you when you can.
Environment: The same work in a different environment can change how much friction you experience from the work. The environment can also influence the number, type, and frequency of distractions. A distraction is anything that takes you away from what you are producing. If you're working from home and have little children then you'll be far less productive. Obviously. The environment is not always in your control but control what you can. It is helpful here to always pick the same work environment where distractions are minimal. Your brain will start to associated the place with work. Additionally, removing distracting objects, like a phone, from the environment can drastically reduce friction.
Challenge: Sometimes your brain is bored by the work or too challenged by it. This creates internal friction. Are you challenged enough? Are you challenged too much? Look for that middle ground. If the problem is too complex then try and break it down into smaller more manageable pieces.
Most sources of friction are within yourself. Naturally, if you're the one trying to be productive then any sources of friction are within yourself. Optimize you and you can optimize your productivity.
2. Get Started (Add Inputs)
Getting started can be the hardest part of being productive and it comes first. You need to develop some inertia and the only way to get this going is by starting to add inputs. This means taking the actions needed to produce the output. Pay particular attention to the thoughts you have right before you begin your productive work. These thoughts probably vary over time and some days are easier than others to get started.
There are different parts of yourself that are competing to decide what actions you should take. One part of you may be thinking this work is important because you have a deadline coming up. The other part trying to convince you that scrolling Twitter is way more interesting than work and you've still got some time before the deadline. Maybe you're hungry the work can wait until after a snack. If you feed the unproductive sides of yourself too much then you'll form the habit of not getting started.
Creating a "start up routine" before you begin your productive deep work can help overcome this beginning roadblock. In this routine find triggers and actions that help prime yourself to get into the right deep work mindset. Eventually you'll start to associate the routine with getting into a productive mindset and will make the process of reaching that state much quicker (less friction).
For example, my start up routine begins with organizing my desk. If something isn't related to what I'm working on I remove it from my sight. Generally, this includes my phone and unrelated documents. Then I look at my Reminders list and Kanban board for the tasks I'll be working on and I'll prioritize them. Then I get to work. Some people have a priming music playlist or coffee making routine. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you do it consistently and it primes you for productive work.
3. Seperate Production And Consumption Time (Reduce Friction)
In order to be productive you must be producing and when you're producing that is all you should be doing. Production is output. Consumption is when you bring information into your mind. This information can come from other people, podcasts, videos, social media, or any external source. Consumption time is important for learning and recharging, however I think people spend most their time in this state. Both states take energy but consumption adds friction to productivity. Look at your computer time usage and compare time spent between applications that you're consuming information versus applications where you produce information or take action.
I find that it's best to seperate my day with the first half being productive time. This has been a game changer for me. My consumption time then finds its way to me in the afternoon. The brain wants to pay attention to what it finds the most interesting. Consumption is the easiest way to get attention. It takes the least amount of effort for the brain. I find that if I get into a consumptive state in the morning then it becomes that much harder to get into a productive state later on.
Yes, sometimes production will involve some consumption. You may be synthesising information or doing some background research. However, consumption also tends to become a distraction from production. Distractions are the antithesis to productivity. To reduce this internal friction I suggest holding off on any consumption until you've completed some productive work. It's just easier.
4. Look For Leverage (Use The Right Tools)
The tool is only as useful as the worker makes it. But the right tool can provide leverage that multiplies your productivity. These tools help to organize information to make productivity that much easier (reduce friction). The main pieces of information organized revolve around time, dates, tasks, and notes. A few main types of tools to consider:
Timer: I believe that humans have between 4 to 6 hours of truly productive deep work in them a day. I use a timer to keep track of how much I'm working on a particular task. This helps to time breaks at an interval that makes sense for me. Everyone is different but having an idea of how much time you're spending on particular tasks can provide productivity leverage.
Calendar: Take your pick of calendar application, they're all rather similar. A calendar application allows me to organize the day and block off chunks of time for deep work. Yes meetings are scheduled in there too but protecting some time for focused work is even more useful.
Task List: This is where my productive tasks are placed, usually in some form of list. Make the habit of when something goes on to your list it gets done. The "Reminders" application is what I use for my more immediate daily tasks. I use a Kanban board to organize and prioritize my more medium to long term work.
Notes: A good notes application can go along way into becoming a sort of second brain for yourself. By having an organized and central location for your notes you start to build a network of information to reference. I currently use Notion for my notes. There are many different tools out there such as Evernote, Roam, and Apple Notes.
5. Take Care Of Yourself (Health)
There is a very real exponential relationship between your health (mental and physical) and your productivity. The results of taking care of yourself compound many times over. You already know this but sometimes a gentle reminder of its importance can kick you back over the edge of doing something about it. Focus on the basics to start by managing your sleep, nutrition, movement, and hydration. Keep it simple. The benefits of good health are too often taken for granted.
Sleep: Sleep helps your body and mind rest, recharge, and rebuild. By having adequate good quality sleep you can increase the volume of your inputs. Figure out the optimum schedule and amount of time you require for sleep, then keep doing that consistently. Make sleep a priority.
Nutrition: The body needs the right nutrition to survive and thrive. Eating whole foods that are unprocessed is the way to go when you can. Do your own research and consult with an expert to find a plan that works best for you.
Movement: Movement gets blood flowing through the body, including the brain. A simple walk every day is a great starting place. If your work requires you to be sedentary then this is even more important. Break up your day with a walk at lunch, even if it's just 15 minutes.
Hydration: Water isn't optional. All of our body's systems require it to function. Make sure you're getting the right amount of water you need. It's probably more than you think so consult with an expert. Remember that while caffeine may "help" your productivity temporarily it will also dehydrate you body.
BONUS! Narrow Your Focus (Be Effective)
It's helpful to have a specific output in mind so that you can focus in on that when you're being productive. I've previously written about 6 actionable ways to improve your focus where I go into more detail. The key takeaway is that keeping your focus narrow allows for less attention residue. Attention residue occurs when you switch from task to task and a part of your attention is still left with the previous task. This diminishes your ability to focus and be productive.
Another important aspect of deliberately choosing a specific output is because it doesn't matter how productive you are if it's not an effective use of time. You have to know where you're going, what you're working towards, and why you're doing it.
“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” - Peter Drucker
Now that you've read about 6 ways to be more productive it's time to come up with a plan to put some of the ideas into practice. Reading about them has not fundamentally changed you and you're no more productive than a few minutes ago. In fact, on average you're less productive because you've spent some time consuming this content.
Take some time right now and write down one key change you're going to implement right away. Pick one action from the list above that resonates with you as something that needs to change. Perhaps it's the amount of sleep you're getting. Or maybe you consume a lot of content in your mornings and find it hard to start work, so you stop reading Twitter in the mornings. There is no one size fits all approach to this. Any improvements in productivity are more obvious over time. I'd suggest sticking with a changed behaviour for at least a month to give it a proper chance.
We've all got the same number of hours in a day so if you can maximize your inputs, health, and tools while minimizing friction then you will be more productive.
I appreciate you.