What does being more productive mean? To me, it means doing more things that matter and moving forward towards my goals, getting into flow more easily, noticing positive and negative patterns in my behavior and adjusting accordingly, continuously optimizing my life in the direction that matters to me, having a clear head, feeling like I’m moving forward every day, stopping the feeling of always having to do more, and leveraging my downtime to come up with insights.
It’s possible to achieve massive productivity gains by applying the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, to productivity strategies. I will share my top productivity techniques that produce 80 percent of my productivity gains. Keep in mind, the devil is in the details. Don’t just glance over the titles. There can be a ton of difference in how you think it’s done and how it’s actually done.
What I call my daily mission consists of three items.
First, a daily master list consists of all the tasks I need to do today. One hack from Eat that Frog is to put the most important task–i.e. the one you’re most likely to procrastinate on– at the top of the list.
I actually fill this up the night before so when I wake up in the morning I’m in execution mode. I don’t need to figure out what to do and in what order. This makes it so much easier to get into flow state in the morning and do some deep work.
The daily master list is the only required part of the daily mission, if you don’t do anything else, at least do this. If you’re more of a full-on productivity nut, then keep reading.
The second item is writing a journal. I will explain the benefits of my productivity journal below, but the general idea of the journal is to record daily events, with a purpose. For example, rate your productivity level at the end of each day or your energy levels. By doing this, your daily behavior will automatically change to optimize those levels.
Finally, the third part of the daily mission is that I track a few of my habits in a habit tracker. And staying consistent with those is part of the daily mission. Nothing new or special but it yields great results over time.
The daily mission brings several benefits: clarity in the morning, separate planning and execution time, have a definition of what it means to win this day and know when you’ve done enough, lower the amount of decisions to be done in the morning, helps get into flow and execution mode. Plus, once I eat the frog in the morning, I feel like most of the day’s work is done.
Pomodoro cycles done right
Pomodoro cycles are traditionally done with 25 minutes of work and 5 minute breaks. Well, that works for some tasks and doesn’t for others.
First, you need to adjust the duration by task type. For things I’m more experienced in, like coding, I work better in longer periods, such as 40 minutes work and 10 minutes break. For writing however, I like to do 25 minutes work and 5 minutes break. Experiment with what works for you. Nothing is set in stone.
Then, preparation and reviewing. It’s important to clearly define every task before starting and to review your state afterwards.
Before every cycle, answer three questions:
- What will I work on?
- How will I get started?
- How will I know it’s finished?
These three questions get you going in the right direction before even starting to work.
After every cycle, answer these questions:
- Did I finish the task?
- How is my energy level?
- Should I have taken a longer break or not?
This is useful when you get stuck on something.
Pomodoro cycles have many benefits. They force you to split your tasks into the smallest possible chunks, making it so much easier to get into flow. It’s also easier to protect against distractions, you will take care of everything once the short cycle is over.
Journalling provides the perfect balance between recording and reviewing.
At the end of each day I record the major things that happened regarding my goals, but I also answer a few questions that are designed to keep me present and push me forward. Some of them I answer in the morning and others at night.
Here are my top three prompts.
- Write 3 things you are grateful for.
- What are you looking forward to today?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how productive were you today?
For the recording part, I go into as little or as much detail depending on how I feel. There are no rules. Journalling is about self expression and getting your thoughts out of your head.
At the end of the week—once per week is more than enough—I review my daily journals and discover things about myself.
For example, what were the most productive days and what did I do on those days? What were the least productive days and what would I do differently?
These questions create an interesting brain exercise on Sunday when we are in planning mode and not stressing about work. You will notice it’s much easier to come up with insights that can be implemented the following week.
For instance, I noticed that I need to be careful with caffeine when doing deep work. After 30 minutes I can’t sustain the focus. When I noticed this, I knew it was time for a few days break from coffee.
Journaling brings many other benefits, such as getting the thoughts out of your head and clear your head. You could discover your positive and negative patterns in your behavior by reviewing them, become more aware of your day-to-day productivity by keeping a score every night, and be able to review and plan the next week clearly.