I’ve been experimenting with various productivity hacks for the best part of three years now.
Like a lot of other productivity enthusiasts I’ve been victim to “app obsession” and “device addiction”.
Being mindful of my attitude to technology has helped me mould a more skilful approach technology. I now use technology as a means and end (my goals) rather than as an end in itself.
Some of the ideas around elimination and going back to pen and paper were inspired by Leo Babauta’s book titled Zen to Done.
Leo has very artfully distilled the Getting Things Done approach as discussed by David Allen and created his own version of GTD which is very powerful.
Since I’ve read Leo’s book I’ve modified my GTD approach considerably to incorporate some of his suggested ideas such as getting your MITs (Most Important Tasks) done before anything else.
It’s an excellent book and I can recommend it to anyone who is looking to simplify their workflow.
Here are 8 ways in which you can combine productivity and simplicity to achieve your goals in 2014.
- Eliminate the nice-to-haves to dramatically shrink project timeframes . I find this to be surprisingly freeing and probably one of the most important productivity hacks. It’s the mental equivalent of having a clear desk. A bit of tough love which involves scrapping the tasks that are not goal critical right up front cuts out a lot of the ‘noise’. It also does wonders for my motivation. I’m not talking about cutting corners here. Just scrapping what’s non essential to realising my goals. The key takeaway here is : elimination is a key to simplicity.
- Go back to pen and paper. I find writing things down engages my mind in a different way. Maybe it’s the novelty of putting pen to paper after herding used keyboards for such a long time. I don’t know. But it works! Physically writing my goals down on a piece of paper seems to slow my mind down enough to embed the goals deeply in my mind. This usually galvanises me into action.
- Get a noticeboard if you don’t already have one. Capturing tasks works really well using Omnifocus on the iPhone. But once I’ve captured the tasks and created targeted to do lists using David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach, I find it very useful to physically write down my top priorities on little cards and stick them up on my noticeboard. This has three benefits. Firstly, it gives me the option to look away from my computer screen (which is crawling with distracting reminders and notifications) and refocus my attention only on my top priorities for the day. Secondly, seeing the tasks written down in my own handwriting re-enforces my commitment to completing the task. I find this to be a powerful focusing mechanism. Thirdly, I can move the cards around on the noticeboard to re-prioritise things as the events of the day unfold.
- Have a paper weekly planner and stick it up on your noticeboard. In addition to the first two benefits mentioned in the point above, the weekly planner gives me a sense of perspective. It gives me a very quick take on how my daily tasks tie into my key priorities. It also allows me to quickly look at how I’m spending my time in 2 hour chunks.
- Get rid of visual clutter/noise and work every day to keep it that way. I didn’t realise the value of doing this until I actually did it. I often reach a point when my desk gets unbearably messy and I do a major clean up. Each time I do this I find my thinking to be a lot clearer for the rest of that day. Having a clear desk is the mental equivalent of removing constant static while you’re trying to have a phone conversation. It makes a world of difference! I know some people thrive in a messy environment and I believed I was one of them for a long time. But after many major ‘clean up’ drives I’ve realised that the trick is to not let your environment get messy in the first place. That takes constant work. A habit I intend to work on this year.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to focus your attention when you’re struggling to concentrate. While I am a bit fan of the Pomodoro technique I part ways with it on the ’25 minute increments’. If I’m in the zone I tend go with the flow and keep working for hours. But on days that focus is difficult I stick to the Pomodoro technique – 25 minute increments and all.
- When fleshing out ideas or writing large chunks of text, don’t type, use DragonDictate. Provided I pronounce things very clearly DragonDicate (available for Macs and PCs) is infinitely faster than typing. it’s also lot more conducive to fluid thinking. Dictating my thoughts and watching them appear on my computer screen is very powerful way of keeping me in the flow when I’m fleshing out ideas. Note: It did take me a while to get used to DragonDictate. So my suggestion of the you are going to try this at least do so consistently for a week. I found that the biggest challenge to overcome is to actually remember to use DragonDictate rather than conform to the force of habit and reach for the keyboard. Mindfulness works well to change habits.
- Get a workout in first thing in the morning. I’ve given a lot of thought to getting the most out of my exercise routine and also experimented with working out at various times in the day I find that working out in the morning means I am most likely to get my workout done and I get the most out of it because my energy levels are high for the entire part of the day. Even if it is only for 20 minutes a workout in the morning is a probably the best way to ensure high energy levels and clear thinking throughout the day.
What are your productivity hacks for the New Year? How do you plan to simplify your productivity this year?
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