Reading Length: 10 minutes
So I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs when it comes to productivity. And I’m still learning. But I just wanted to share some of the productivity tips I’ve learned overtime. So here are 7 productivity tips I wish I knew years ago:
1. Systems over goals
“Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there.”– James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.”
It took countless of failed New Years Resolutions and goals for me to realize that my approach was completely wrong. I was so focused and consumed by achieving a goal to the point I failed to plan exactly how would I get to my goal. The continuous focus on the goal itself was what made me end up with failure. For example, when I was trying to cut junk food, I just said I would eat healthier but I didn’t really do anything about it. It was too vague and I didn’t have a plan. I only answered the “what” but not the “how.” Even my goals were disappointed in me.
I knew I needed to design a system. A system itself is a set of repeatable action steps to ensure long term success. I finally created a system by replacing my fridge with only healthy foods, setting reminders, scheduling a set day and time to go grocery shopping for healthy foods and reporting to my accountability partner about my progress. Instead of focusing on the end result which is the goal, we need to plan out the system of how we can get to our goals. What’s the daily and weekly specific action steps we can take?
Here are some steps to establishing a system:
- Choose a goal
- Find keystone habits to achieve that goal
- Decide how often you will do those keystone habits
- Make the system even more effective with…
- An accountability partner
- A productivity app or habit tracker
- Regular weekly or daily review
2. Value of your activities
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”-Tim Ferriss, author of “The Four Hour Work Week”
“You don’t get paid for the hour, you get paid for the value you bring to the hour.”-Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur and author
This seems pretty obvious but I realized that not every activity is created equal. What we equate to being productive may just be busy-ness. It may just be a low value activity and we trick ourselves into thinking it’s valuable and necessary. For example, when I was doing a PowerPoint project for school, I was focused on trying to make it look beautiful by finding beautiful pictures instead of writing the actual content which was what mattered the most. I basically converted it to a sad art project. By the time it came to writing up the content, I was already tired from the design and needed a nap. In the end, I made zero actual progress on my work.
Similar to assigning dollar values to activities, I’ve learned to sort and identify my most valuable and important activities. For each activity that I do, I’ve learned to identify what action step will make the greatest difference in the end result. In the case of my PowerPoint example, it would be the content writing itself that’s most important.
3. 2X speed
I really wished I had discovered this trick earlier so that I would have saved so much more time. I mean, I went through so many long painful hours of boring material. I would probably still be on chapter 5 while my fellow classmates would’ve finished the content already. I realized for literally any content I can place it on 2X the speed. This includes audiobooks, YouTube videos, lectures from professors and more.
Now, I’m having a blast putting everything on 2X the speed. I’ll be honest. Many times I don’t even pay attention to my lectures and just record it for later. But I saved tons of energy and time when I listened to it on 2X the speed afterwards. The audio sounds like chipmunks but you get used to it. To quadruple my productivity even more, I play the audio in the background while doing activities that don’t require a lot of mental exertion such as cleaning and exercising.
4. Not all procrastination is bad.
I tend to procrastinate on minor errands and chores sometimes. Okay, all the time. But it’s only because I’m so focused on doing my most important work. For example, I tend to push off regular errands and chores when I have to study for an upcoming exam or write up a blog post. But if I were to put off my important work every single time an errand came up, then I would get nothing important done.
I’m not saying that you should start to procrastinate freely on everything. Please don’t hold me responsible for your neglected and angry to-do list. I’m just saying that you can procrastinate on low value activities. Putting off those activities in the day isn’t so bad so that you can focus on your most important work.
Something I do is time block the errands and chunk all the similar small errands together on my calendar. I usually do this for cleaning in the afternoon after I have finished my important work.
5. What works for others may not work for you.
“Sometimes, things may not go your way, but the effort should be there every single night.”– Michael Jordan, American basketball player
After reading countless of autobiographies of the most successful people, I tried to study them and see what I could model after. I used to think what would work was copying their routines, their habits and reading the books they’ve read. Yet, many times, I got nowhere. So I’ve come to the conclusion that what works for them may not work for me. We’re all different. Our path, goals, dreams and life are completely different. Maybe a certain thing worked for that person because of the specific career, goal or personality they have. You can use successful people’s methods as inspiration but not as a literal straight to the point direction in life.
Not only did I try to model after successful people, but I also tried this with high performing students in my classes. I tried to take note of their study habits but felt ashamed when it didn’t seem to work for me. They continued to get 4.0 GPAs while I struggled to make the cut. At some point, I thought I was just dumb and accepted it. But I realized I just didn’t find the best method that worked for me yet. Some students worked best by reading textbooks thoroughly while I required images alongside. Some students needed to do last minute cramming while I had to get things done early.
So I’ve learned the hard way that simply copying and modeling after others is not enough. You need to find your own method that works for you. If you can relate to this, please don’t feel bad about not being able to do something that someone else did. Keep searching and experimenting until you figure out what’s the best method for you.
6. Work is not the only thing productive.
“Don’t worry about breaks every 20 minutes ruining your focus on a task. Contrary to what I might have guessed, taking regular breaks from mental tasks actually improves your creativity and productivity. Skipping breaks, on the other hand, leads to stress and fatigue.”-Tom Rath
I constantly faced productivity guilt for intentionally relaxing. But I needed to remind myself that too much of a productivity obsession is unhealthy and that self care is productive. Even though I knew this fact, my brain continued to jump on the productivity guilt train.
I thought that by engaging in a relaxing activity, that would already help. But I realized that I continued to think about work while I was doing those relaxing activities. For example, I’ll think about that latest blog post or school assignment while I’m playing the guitar. The truth was: my body was present but my mind was not. So what has really helped me for the past few weeks is to do a brain dump. I have a notebook next to me and whenever I find those work thoughts come, I’ll quickly jot it down and try to move on. Sometimes it’s just minor stupid thoughts but it’s good to take it out.
Now, I make it a priority to listen to my body whenever I feel fatigued or burnt out. I’ve tried working and studying without sleep before. Big mistake. I couldn’t even function or talk properly like a normal human being. So something new I started doing is taking nature getaways, reserving one full day of just presence in nature without thinking about work at all. Ever since I started doing more of these getaways, I’ve come to realize that the time spent away from work is what we need to refresh our mind and body so that we can come back 10x more productive. I’ll admit that this is something that I continue to struggle endlessly with. But I like to think that I’m getting better at addressing and acknowledging the toxic productivity devil that appears.
7. Define productivity on your own terms.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”— Steve Jobs, American business magnate and investor
What exactly is productivity? Everyone has their own definition of productivity but a lot of us don’t know it. Maybe the most common thing we think of is endlessly working and getting work done. But this definition itself is too vague and may not even be the right fit for us. Without defining productivity, how exactly do we know what we should do or if we have succeeded when there’s no metric?
I used to think that the definition of productivity meant studying for long hours without breaks because that’s what I saw my high performing classmates do. Back to my previous point on modeling after others, I tried doing those things but still felt unhappy and unsatisfied. It made me realize that it wasn’t what I envisioned productivity to be. That’s when I realized if you don’t define productivity for yourself, others will define it for you.
For me, productivity is successfully making progress on my most important activities in the morning and fully relaxing at night. It’s publishing two articles every week, exercising and relaxing with some guitar playing. To other people, maybe this is far from productive. But this is my own personal definition. So what’s yours?
- 1. Systems over goals. A system is a set of repeatable actions steps to ensure long term success. Create a plan of specific actions steps on how to get to your goal.
- 2. Value of your activities. Sort and prioritize your activities by importance. Identify the action steps that will make the greatest difference in the end result.
- 3. 2X speed. Set any audio content on 2x the speed to save time. Combine audio content with an activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental exertion.
- 4. Not all procrastination is bad. You can procrastinate on low value activities. Chunk the low value activities together on your calendar.
- 5. What works for others may not work for you. Don’t feel bad about not being able to follow habits, routines, or methods of successful people. Use them as inspiration but not as literal direction in life. Keep searching and experimenting until you find the best methods for you.
- 6. Work is not the only thing productive. Productivity obsession is unhealthy. Self care is productive. Consider reserving full days of getaways from work. Do a brain dump on a notebook if your mind is not present during your relaxed time.
- 7. Define productivity on your own terms. Figure out your personal definition of productivity to know whether or not you’ve succeeded in your day. Or else, others will define it for you.
So there’s my personal tips for productivity that I wished I had known earlier. Once again, what works for me may not work for you. But I still hope this all can be useful to you. Or, let me know if you guys have any productivity tips you wish to share!
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