Productivity learned the hard way
PRODUCTIVITY = (Best timing X Task with most leverage) + Plays to your strengths
I am slightly obsessed with productivity and have read many books on productivity, time management, leadership, and neuroscience. In addition, I have tested many techniques and tools. Based on my reading and my personal experience, above is simplified version of my productivity formula. The full formula is in the conclusion.
Formula for best timing: Highest energy + maximum willpower + fewest distractions
When do you have the highest amount of energy? For most of us, that is first thing in the morning. This is the first element of the best timing equation.
The second element of timing is willpower. We tend to have our maximum willpower earlier in the day. We have a reserve of willpower that gets depleted as the day goes on. That is why you may feel helpless to resist a sugary treat in the afternoon.
The third element of timing is fewest distractions. You need to find a time when you can limit distractions. One of the best ways I have to do this is to create a power hour. I first learned about power hours from Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project. My power hour is my first hour at work.
Create your own power hour
- Decide the night before what your first task (the frog) is going to be.
- Schedule a 60–90 minute block first thing where no you will not be interrupted.
- Set yourself up for success by avoiding temptations. Turn off your email. Put your cell phone on airplane or Do Not Disturb mode. Or even turn it off. Let your office phone go to voicemail and turn off the ringer.
- Close your door if you have one. If you are in an open office, see if you can reserve a conference room or work offsite. Or put on headphones or signal in some way to others not to bother you. Educate your coworkers about your method so they will not bother you during this time.
- Set a timer for 20 or 25 minutes. Work on the task. Think of it like a sprint. When the timer beeps, take a few minute break. Stretch. Use the bathroom. Get up to get a glass of water. Most importantly, move in some way.
- Repeat work sprint/break cycle.
- Final work sprint.
- When you have completed three work sprints, take a 10–15 minute break. Do something completely unrelated to work.
Start your day by eating a frog
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. ― Mark Twain
Mark Twain is not advising you to literally eat a frog. He is suggesting that you do your hardest or most important most important task (MIT) first.
Choose the task with the most leverage. In other words, the task that will get you closer to achieving your big goal.
This task is often the one you are most likely to procrastinate on. Completing your MIT first takes the pressure off of having to do it later in the day.
Play to your strengths
When you play to your strengths, your projects and tasks seem easier to finish. You may even get into a flow.
The detailed formula for productivity is:
PRODUCTIVITY = Best timing (maximum willpower + highest energy + fewest distractions) X Task with most leverage (the frog) + Plays to your strengths
After you complete your power hour, ask yourself what is the best thing that you can be doing with your time right now. Throughout the day, take a break to breathe and ask yourself that question.
Here’s to a productive day. Get to work.
(This piece was originally published on Medium.)