The world of internet is filled with tons and tons of gurus giving out life hacks that they claim will make you a god of productivity (read: increase productivity by 10x). I am a productivity geek myself and try to implement as many of those hacks as possible to see which ones actually work.
Over the past two years, I have tried over three dozen of such hacks ranging from simple one-minute breathing exercises to planning out the entire day using the bullet method. Some of them worked while some helped only to make the day more haphazard.
The two of the simplest and the most useful ways that I have found to increase productivity are the ‘Parkinson’s Law’ and the ‘Pomodoro technique’.
Simply put, the Parkinson’s Law states that the work expands to fill the time allocated to it. If you have an essay to write and sit down four hours before the deadline, the chances are you will consume those entire four hours to complete it. On the other hand if you sit down to write two hours before the deadline, you will take only two hours to complete it. This holds true for all activities with a deadline. Even in a job environment, if you don’t set down a fixed deadline to complete each stage of the project, the project will continue to linger on for ages. You can take help of e.ggtimer.com which provides a simple, clutter-free online timer to hold yourself accountable to the deadline.
Tip#1: For all tasks, set a self-imposed deadline (even if there isn’t one in reality). Want to clean up your desk? Set a 20 minutes deadline. Want to write a blog post? Set a two hour deadline. Want to make the slide pack to present to your boss in the next meeting? Set an appropriate deadline. Only when we put a deadline to a task, we put in our 100% into doing it and limit the mind from wandering around. That is the key to increasing productivity.
Contrary to what our mind may tell us, we are not capable of multi-tasking. It has been proven time and again that the best method to getting things done is to focus on a single task at hand, complete it and then move onto the next one.
Pomodoro technique is a time management tool which makes use of this fact and makes the user focus on a single task at a time. You set a timer for 20 to 40 minutes, work on a single task during that time and as soon as the timer rings, take a 5 to 20 minutes break. This completes one Pomodoro. Then reset the timer and begin the next Pomodoro. You can move from working on one task to another between different Pomodoros but never in the middle of one. This ensures that you remain laser focused on a single task for an extended period of time.
By taking regular breaks, you give your mind time to relax. It is mini-reward that it gets for accomplishing the session. It also has a scientific importance to it. We tend to recall more information during the starting and the ending phase of an activity. Think about when you were studying for your university exams and pulled an all-nighter. Weren’t the topics you studied first and the one you studied last easiest to recall? The same goes for when we are sitting in an hour-long meeting. You are most active during the first 5 minutes and the last few minutes when you know it is going to end.
Therefore, by using the Pomodoro technique you are increasing the number of sessions (and the breaks in between) which makes your mind retain more information. This technique helped me top my class during my time at GIK university.
Tip#2: For any task or a set of tasks that requires more than an hour combined to complete, make use of the Pomodoro technique. I find that 40 minutes-15 minutes (work-break) sessions work best for me. Try working out what works for you and start using it. You will be amazed at the results this simple technique can help you achieve (in terms of increased productivity).
Ps: Don’t even check your phone’s notifications during the Pomodoro session, keep yourself completely distraction free.