The Path to Productivity: 7 Hacks, Principles, and Patterns
Productivity is such a huge focus in our lives. We are all allocated the same amount of time, so how do some people do amazing things while others always seem behind the curve?
The answer, in some ways, is that those who are on their game have learned how they themselves can be productive. Certainly there’s no one shot solution, and productivity isn’t the only answer to rising above average, but I would argue that those who are above average absolutely cannot ignore the importance of finding ways to stay productive with their time.
In this article, I will discuss my tips for finding personal productivity.
1. Start Treating Time as a Precious Resource
Time is your most valuable resource. It is the resource that no one can leverage against another person, because we are all given the same amount of time in a given day. The only way we can rise above average is to treat time for what it is: a consistently valuable and rare resource. Truly adopting this perspective is the driving informer behind changing your habits. This is your motivation.
2. Find Your Time
What is Your Time? This isn’t a metaphorical or philosophical question - it is actually quite practical. What time are you giving yourself per day? Mine is from 6 to 8 in the morning. This is a new habit I am constantly forming, but this is when I build my side ventures, when I do my reading and writing, whatever I choose to do. Specifically, my time is uninterrupted, and I can gain pure focus during that time. I’d recommend mornings, as this is the time when you are most likely to have the drive necessary to turn that time into value.
Give yourself the incredible gift of time. No one else can give it to you.
Pro tip: The morning is also a good option because we often sleep as a luxury. Do you prefer the luxury of sleep, or the reward of accomplishing your goals? I know my answer.
3. Don’t Trade Your Time Cheaply
When I was doing my masters program, I constantly had to make a choice: order food in, or go and get lunch. (This was before my wife and I made a conscious decision to eat as many whole foods as possible.) While the delivery fee was outrageous sometimes, I had to consider the value of my time, and on many occasions, the delivery fee was justified because ultimately my time was worth more than the hours I would spend traveling and sitting. What are you trading your time for? Could you delegate or hire out a task you are currently spending your time doing? Something even as simple as mowing your lawn could be hired out, freeing you up for more time to spend doing things only you can do.
Note: I do not recommend take-out food as a time saver (or restaurant food in general) unless it’s an absolute necessity; eat a load of plant-based whole foods, and keep them fresh in your fridge and pantry available at all times. This will likely save you money in the long run anyway, even if you go Gung ho organic like I did.
4. Make Your “Must Do Today” List, TODAY.
Unlike your regular to-do list, which can grow to extraordinary lengths, create a list with non-negotiable tasks that you must finish today. Make that list accomplishable, and prioritize by the value that is delivered both now and in the long term.
5. Put Productive Time Before Reactive Time
Don’t check your email, your phone, or your chat messages until you mark off the things on your must do today list. Other people have “must do today” lists, and if you’re not careful, you’ll work harder on their list than you will yours.
Productive time means time that you have control and domain over. It’s time that you spend working towards your goals. Reactive time is time that someone else is spending for you. This isn’t just “side job versus work” - this is totally applicable at your day job. Want to get your task list done? Do it first - make it a priority. You’ll be surprised how a few hours often doesn’t make a bit of a difference for those people who are fighting for your time and attention, but how HUGE of a difference it makes for you.
6. Limit Yourself
Having a tough time leveraging your hours properly? Work 2 hours less per day for a week, but retain the size of your Must Do Today list. I bet you will be surprised at how much more you will achieve when you set a concrete end-time. This principle isn’t new, but it certainly is effective, and worth echoing again here.
7. Decide How You Should Spend Your Weeks
Michael Hyatt has a fantastic resource that helps you with this particular effort, which you can find here, but the basic idea is this: If you don’t have a plan for how you want to spend your time, how can you expect to accomplish your goals? As Michael says, take the initiative to “live on-purpose.”
Take the time to evaluate your habits and values, and what you want your weeks to look like in a perfect world. Set your long term goals, and design your ideal week around what it would take to achieve those goals, realistically. If you are lucky enough, you are the author of your own time. Even if you work long hours at your day-job, you are the author of your off-time. Evaluate and consciously determine how you want to spend it.
This exercise does a lot for you. It might even give you a good perspective on what things need to be pushed off your plate indefinitely, or maybe it will help you realize that you are already crazy productive.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully you will find a few of these things helpful in your own life. If you do, Tweet about it!
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Written by Jonathan Cutrell, Engineering Manager at Guild Education and podcast host at Developer Tea. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcutrell.