Achieving more, in less time, is a talent that we would all love to possess. Unfortunately to do a task well takes time and effort. There are, however, techniques you can employ to boost your everyday productivity. SOme are almost too obvious but are proved to work.
Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80’s and named after the tomato shaped timer used (pomodoro is tomato in Italian). This technique involves breaking your time into 25 minute chunks, called ‘Pomodori’. Between each ‘Pomodori’ you take a short, 5 minute, break. At the end of 4 periods of time (referred to as pomodoros) you take a slightly longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. It is believed that frequent short breaks improve mental agility. The benefits that the technique is set to offer is the ability to track, observe and evaluate time and make improvements accordingly.
Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret (or ‘Don’t Break The Chain’)
This technique seems almost too obvious but works. First you choose the activities that you would like to accomplish every day and mark them on a calendar (or separate calendars). Then, each and every day you devote time to achieve the tasks and mark the day off with an ‘X’ when complete. As you progress a chain of ‘X’s’ starts to form on the calendar. The idea is that you do not break that chain and continue to accomplish your original goals every day.
If the goals are work related then you might want to consider what you’re going to do when on annual leave or if you are sick for any period of time. Maybe you can change the daily tasks to something that you can achieve whilst on annual leave?
Zen to Done
Zen to Done is a simplified version of GTD, focusing on 10 habits;
- Collect: Set up a limited number of inboxes — a tray on your desk, your email — and collect everything in those few places. Use a Moleskine, stack of index cards, or other easy-to-use (for you) device to capture and record thoughts, todo-list items, phone numbers, and other things you want to remember throughout the day.
- Process: Go through your inboxes and decide what to do with each item — throw it out, get someone else to do it, do it yourself, do it later, or keep it as reference. Do this until your inbox is empty. Tomorrow, do it again. GTD’ers will recognize this as the essential core of the GTD system.
- Plan: Spend some time at the beginning of each week deciding what your “Big Rocks” are for the coming week, the major projects you want to work on. Each morning (or the night before) list the three most important tasks (MITs) you want to accomplish that day. Put them at the top of your todo list, and do them.
- Do: This is the core of ZTD — filling in what Babauta sees as a weak spot in Allen’s GTD system. Choose an MIT, give yourself large blocks of time without distractions (email, phone, any program you don’t need for the task at hand), and plug away until a) time’s up, or b) you’re done.
- Simple, trusted system: Babauta’s advice for setting up a system you can live with — without fiddling and adding layers of complexity. Babauta uses a few web apps, a Moleskine, a calendar, and a set of files, but says whatever works without getting in your way is fine.
- Organize: Keep everything in a place that’s logical and reduces the energy you need to a) find and use it, and b) put it back.
- Review: The downfall of many a GTD’er, ZTD’s review simplifies the weekly review while extending it to include goal-setting: one long-term and one short-term at a time. This is an interesting thread through the whole system — instead of 10 5-year goals, Babauta advocates sticking to one big goal for the year, and working it until it’s done before moving onto another goal. This helps keep your head straight and your motivation high, with a string of successes to look back on instead of a bunch of successes in the future to look forward to.
- Simplify: The notion of limiting the number of big goals you have at any given time fits in well with Babauta’s constant refrain of “simplify” — eliminate unnecessary tasks from your lists, minimize your commitments, reduce the number of things (goals, RSS feeds, emails, whatever) that demand your attention at any given moment.
- Routine: This habit and the next are “optional”, according to Babauta — they’re more like principles than habits. And yet, they seem like the real core of the system. Set up daily and weekly routines, so that collecting, processing, planning, and doing become second-nature and everything just flows. Minimize unnecessary surprises so you can focus on getting everything done with a clear mind and an easy heart. That’s Zen!
- Find Your Passion: Find something you’re passionate about doing — your calling, if you will — and forget the rest. Who needs to push themselves to do the things they love most in the world to do? Although Babauta comes across as slightly naive in pushing his readers to pursue a career doing what they love (“if you really put in the work, you’ll achieve your dreams someday” sounds suspiciously light next to the hard-headed practical advice we find throughout the rest of the book), this passion is the gist of all this personal productivity stuff — get the stuff you have to do out of the way so you can focus on what you want to do.
The idea is that those actions and tasks that make us more productive should become habit.
Tracking your time, in intervals of 90 minutes, on an accountability chart will highlight the work which you have completed in that time. Writing down everything that you did during the period of time will highlight any areas where you were not actually working (but that you might consider work if not writing it down).
It’s easy to track, simply create a column for the time period, and a column for the activities during that period. Make sure to note everything that you did during the time period, this way you can fully analyse your time management.
The Action Method involves leaving every meeting, interaction or period of research with a clear set of achievable goals or tasks to be completed. Each action should start with a verb, for example “Contact X” or “Meet with Y”. There are also ‘References’, which is the information you require, but does not need a specific action associated with it. Such as ideas or comments that you can come back to at a later time.
There are some best practices noted on the Behance website;
- Actions are only “delegated” if they are accepted – We become truly accountable only when we actively choose to accept the action steps assigned to us. This is not the case with “to do lists” that multiple people can view, or emails that may or may not get read.
- Good design breeds great productivity – It’s simple: if a system functions properly and is attractive, you are more likely to stay loyal to it.
- Email is unreliable – Email does not function well as a to-do list, because the actions you must take get buried in regular communication. Tasks should have a system of their own.
- Work and personal life collide – People often separate “personal” tasks from “professional” tasks (e.g. formal “to-do” lists at work, post-it notes on the refrigerator at home). But Action Steps are Action Steps, regardless of their context. Having everything you must accomplish in one system is your best bet for anxiety-free living.
- Actions should be captured, and managed, everywhere – In our mobile lives, Action Steps should be captured and managed wherever you are, and with many different mediums. Whether on paper, your computer, or your mobile device, you should use a consistent system and design.
- If nothing else… ACTION ACTION ACTION – Action Steps are more important than anything else. That’s why our system is organized around them.
There is an app dedicated to this method by Behance.