Have you seen these “Productivity Hacks” circulating all over the internet?
How about these lists of “Productivity Tips” with “Don’t miss the last one” on the title?
You’ll see some articles that contain Captain Obvious stuff like “Make a to-do list” or “Ask for help”, while some were just awful e.g. “Look at pictures of cute animals”.
The problem is–with these lists of hundreds and hundreds of low impact productivity hacks, they were just making people even LESS productive.
I then realized, there are productivity hacks for each possible task—but they’re only temporary.
That’s why I spent tons of hours reading about productivity, studying productive people, and watching productivity advice on YouTube–mainly from Brian Tracy and Tim Ferriss.
When I tested every single one of them, I learned that not all productivity advice is created equal. So, I started reading books on the topic.
Then, from all the information I gathered, I tested, and eliminated everything that was part of the “trivial many” and focused on the “vital few”. (more on this later).
From then on, I thought I would make a guide that contains all of the PRACTICAL information that I learned about productivity.
Here are some of the things that you will learn in this guide:
- How the 80/20 Rule can INSTANTLY cut 80% or MORE of your total working time
- An amazing technique that allows you to CHANNEL your focus on the task at hand
- How a simple concept in Physics is one of THE most important rules in Productivity Management
This isn’t some cookie-cutter bullshit. It’s a principle-based guide.
This post teaches you the principles of productivity, so you can adapt them into your own situations. As the saying goes…
It’s better to teach a man how to fish rather than giving him fish.
In a nutshell, Productivity is all about how much of the RIGHT THINGS you are able to accomplish in a given period of time—which is determined by how well you manage the three currencies of Productivity: Time, Energy and Attention.
Manage your Time: Accomplish More in Less Time
Contrary to popular belief, the amount of time spent studying or at work had no direct influence on academic performance. (study)
What does this mean for you?
You can spend LESS time studying while getting BETTER grades.
Since this post focuses on reducing your study time and accomplishing more, I’ll teach you exactly how to do that.
Eat that Frog!
Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.
It is our job to find our ugliest and biggest frog at the moment.
The ugliest frogs have illusion magic, though. They’ll appear just as beautiful as the others. Luckily, we also have the tools to “dispel” them.
Find biggest frogs using the 80/20 rule
Use the law of the vital few to find the most important frogs (er, tasks) that you should do at the moment.
What’s the 80/20 rule? It’s a basic economic principle by Vilfredo Pareto, which states that 80% of the results are only made by 20% of the causes.
- 80% of the Exam contains roughly 20% of the things you can study
(Ex: Studying the main ideas only, rather than the tiny little details).
- 80% of the Profits are made by only 20% of the total number of customers.
- 80% of a website’s traffic comes from 20% of countries in its demographics.
You can TOTALLY eliminate 80% of your work because they only have 20% impact on your results.
For example, when I started doing this blog post, I researched for every source that I could find on the topic.
Instead of re-reading every book that I’ve read before, I managed to get the most important messages of books from different book summaries found online.
Sure, it’s better to read them entirely–but it would not actually make that much of a difference in what I’m trying to accomplish, which is sharing the necessary info to you guys.
I actually accomplished MORE and had insights from SIX books and a couple of other blogs by just filtering out the important information. How much time did it take? Less than an hour.
Do you see how much time that would take if I read all of those books?
By fully reading them, I’m pretty sure I won’t be magically putting a whole lot more things in this post compared to getting summaries online. This is just me being transparent.
Here’s a video I watched before that explain in detail how to determine your “biggest frogs” when studying. (ESPECIALLY #2)
Remember, not everything is equally important, and some may even be totally eliminated without major consequences.
It’s a subtle thing that makes a major difference in your productivity.
There’s just one problem that arises using just the 80/20 rule.
If there’s really a LOT of things in your to-do list that cannot be eliminated, it takes up a lot of headspace, causes unnecessary confusion.
This is where the Eisenhower Matrix comes in handy–it adds another dimension to the equation (Urgency).
Eliminate Tadpoles using the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix just shoots every “tadpole” or low impact tasks out of your to-do list.
Also, if you have a lot of “Important tasks”, recognize that not ALL of them are Urgent at the moment. This is where another priority label, Urgency, comes into play.
By missing out on the “Urgency” part, you will get paralyzed by trying to do them all at once.
This video explains it in an entertaining manner:
P.S. No frogs were harmed in this post.
Harness Your Attention by using these Simple Tricks
Those who can harness their focus can reap higher quality outputs as their rewards. As stated in the book Deep Work by Cal Newport:
High-Quality Work Done = Intensity of Focus x Time Spent
Multitasking is like reading 10 books at the same time.
You’ll feel productive but really, all you’re doing is wasting your precious time and attention. The reason? You’ll know in a moment.
Focusing on a single task, ONE AT A TIME, actually allows you finish more than trying to do them all at once.
Externalization: An Easy Way to Clear Your Internal Distractions
Basically, externalization just means you write down every possible task that’s bugging you at the moment.
You do this in an easily accessible capture system like a notepad or a note-taking app (Evernote, OneNote, Notes).
By doing this, you free up brain space for more creativity.
The brain is used for creating ideas, not for holding them.
Also, by having your “capture system”, you’ll only think of “list” instead of “study math, do the laundry, wash dishes, prepare clothes for presentation, etc.”
Externalization eliminates every task-related internal distraction that you have. I got this one from the best-selling productivity book, Getting Things Done by David Allen.
Always work from a list. -Brian Tracy, Eat that Frog!
25 minutes uninterrupted work, 5 minutes break. The Pomodoro technique is perhaps the most famous productivity tool on the Internet. Here’s a good infographic that I found:
When I first heard of the Pomodoro Technique, I thought it was useless AF.
“What difference would it make if I timed my study hours? Also, 5-minute breaks? Seriously?”
I tried it, and as if magic happened–I realized I was totally wrong about my first impression.
In 25 minutes, I was able to finish literally an HOUR of work, understand MORE in my textbook, and finish my tasks EARLIER than expected.
The limited time (25 minutes) allows you to channel your focus on the task at hand, that’s why it’s amazingly effective. According to Parkinson’s Law:
Work expands as to fill up the time needed for its completion.
I’d argue that even if you stopped reading here, you would already become highly productive by applying everything from the beginning up to this point.
“I’m already focused on a single task, but why am I not productive?”
This is the culprit: *ding*
There’s a notification from Messenger, and you’re still in the middle of a Pomodoro session.
“I’ll just check, it only takes seconds. It won’t waste a minute of my time.”
Wrong. By doing that, you’re actually wasting MORE than the ten seconds that you spent checking your phone because of Attention Residue.
Additional Reading: A Productivity Lesson from a Classic Arcade Game
The concept of Attention Residue, pioneered by business professor Sophie Leroy, states that:
Switching to another task, even for a brief amount of time, reduces your cognitive performance for some amount of time on the primary task that you’re doing.
Simply put, looking at your messages for even 2 seconds causes you to actually lose MINUTES as you try to regain focus on the primary task.
Luckily, we have a solution for that.
Schedule Distraction Time
Remember that Productivity is about working smart, and by working smart you have to have breaks in your schedule–distractions included.
Schedule your distraction time at the times where your attention levels are very low. (More on this later)
By scheduling distraction time, you ensure total focus in every task because you know that you’ll have time to deal with all your distractions later on.
This is the most unsexy tip of them all (that’s why I put it last). Meditation is not just for religious groups, and it’s not woo-woo either. There’s a reason why the top performers of the world do meditation.
Check this article out if you’re interested:
Meditation, simply put, is about focusing on a single thing (usually your breath and your sensations) while letting thoughts come and go, just like they’re cars passing in front of you.
Many people won’t be able to do it for a minute–it will feel like hell. That’s especially if you’re addicted to social media, which, by the way, SAPS your attention span.
By doing meditation, you’ll become more present, you’ll increase your attention span, become more mindful of your thoughts (ex: catch yourself thinking about doing a bad habit), and improve your productivity.
Manage your Energy: Why Your Free Time is actually SHORTER than it is
In Physics class, we were told that Energy is the capacity to do Work.
And that’s universally true. Without energy, your attention goes WAY down, the quality of work also goes DOWN, and finally, without energy, the free time that you have means absolutely nothing.
Common knowledge tells us that we should sleep at least 8 hours for good health. However, most people think that sleep is unproductive.
In the book, Essentialism, George McKeown states that the majority people in our society thinks “Losing an hour of sleep is equivalent to gaining an hour of productivity.”
That’s flat out wrong.
If that was even remotely true, we could, in theory, lose 6 hours of sleep to gain 6 hours of productivity.
I got this idea from FOUR books already. Books about Productivity, might I add.
If you like scientific facts, here are some important ones about sleep:
Here’s just something to remember on sleep and productivity, based on The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey.
When you lose an hour of sleep, you LOSE 2 hours of productivity.
It’s not a strict rule per se, but it’s a sufficient guideline to remember how a lack of sleep affects your productivity.
This is basically the daily human energy cycle.
It varies from person to person, but generally, our ultradian rhythm dictates how much attention and alertness we have throughout the day.
Around 7 hours after waking up, we reach the trough (“bottom”) of our energy levels which basically means we are the LEAST alert during this time of the day, according to the book When by Daniel Pink.
Hence, it is a waste of your time and energy to do your most important tasks during these times of the day.
If your schedule allows it, it’s better to restore your energy during these times or do lower value tasks that don’t require a lot of focus (e.g. Eating, Cleaning, Return books to the library, etc.)
Power Naps aren’t enough. Have a Caffeine Nap
Naps restore your energy and focus. Caffeine increases your alertness. Why not have the best of both worlds?
The way to do this is to simply drink coffee before you take a 20-minute nap.
Why 20 minutes? When you go more than 22 minutes, your brain falls into a deeper state of sleep, so when you wake up, you feel even more tired as if you never slept at all. This groggy feeling is called Sleep Inertia.
Essentially, energy management is all about understanding better how your body works, and scheduling tasks strategically so it fits your biology.
Productivity is not rocket science, but rather a management skill.
Managing your Time (through Planning), Attention, and Energy are the core principles in becoming the most productive version of yourself.
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