The Only Productivity Tip You Need
I’m not usually one to have any interest in writing about productivity tips. I think most people put too much of an emphasis on how to get things done rather than actually getting them done. Coming from the perspective of someone who has spent way too much time watching YouTube videos and reading articles and listening to podcasts on the best way to maximize your time, I finally realized that the best way to actually maximize my time was to stop consuming so much content on how to do it and to just start doing it.
With that being said, I’ve always been obsessed with optimization. Like, I like to cross the street at the widest angle I can so that I can get to where I’m going in slightly fewer steps. So I suppose my obsession with these videos and articles has a base somewhere.
After seeing so much of this productivity content, a lot of what is said is the same. Create routines for yourself, wake up at 5am, use to-do lists, here’s some app that will help, meditate for an hour, blah blah blah. A lot of this is probably helpful for a lot of people (with the exception of waking up at 5am which goes against research that encourages working when your brain is the most accepting of it which is different for every person), but the proliferation of different versions of the same tips is clear and I was frustrated when the “One Tip You’ve Never Thought of!” wasn’t any different from anything else I had seen.
To be clear, I’m not knocking people who make this sort of productivity content. Sharing things that have made the difference in your life is satisfying; it’s why I’m publishing this article. But after so many of the same tips, I was glad to find something that was a breath of fresh air and to be able to use a technique that actually worked for me long term.
So after a lot of research I started listening to a podcast on making the most of the hours in a single day. Again, you see the obsession with optimization. Seeing that to-do lists and routines never really lasted more than a week or so with me, I wasn’t sure what other options I had. Then I listened to an episode of the Extreme Productivity Podcast with Kevin Kruse that changed the way I do things.
The advent of electronic calendars has made high-precision scheduling possible and this is where my solution was. Instead of using to-do lists that prompted anxiety at what I should prioritize and always had me thinking about what I had to do next, Kruse suggested to schedule every task in a calendar, giving a visual representation of what a day would look like and allowing the user to clearly give priority to certain activities. In the podcast, he highlights scheduling family time. He says that most people say family is their biggest priority, but that they very rarely prioritize it over other matters. So by putting family time in a calendar, it automatically prioritizes it over other tasks that would otherwise spill over into that time.
The same goes for personal goals as well as professional ones. Scheduling time to go to the gym and to write the next chapter of your soon-to-be hit novel will make it a priority instead of allowing work or other activities overcome this time.
This strategy worked better than anything else for me. As someone who thrives off of change, routines were always something I had a hard time adopting. But being able to put everything in a calendar at the beginning of the week to help me achieve my goals for the week and to see how they relate to my longer term goals made getting things done that much easier. Scheduling also allows for sudden changes in plans and gives a visual for how long each task will take.
For me, I will make a list of things I want to accomplish and then break that list down into things I want to accomplish for that week. Then I will spread those goals out in working blocks so that I can get everything done. After a few weeks, you’ll get the hang of figuring out how long certain things will take and you’ll understand why you always felt like you were woefully underachieving in any given day. One of my favorite quotes is,
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
— Bill Gates.
The same applies for people overestimating what they can do in one day, but underestimating what they can do in a longer period of time. When one understands that time is the only way to accomplish any task, frustration goes away when tasks end unfinished at the end of the day because one knows that they’ll be able to pick up where they left off and continue the following day.
Now stop researching how to be productive, start scheduling, and start doing!