Articles on productivity are a dime a dozen, and the vast majority of them are worthless.
The sad truth is that there is a content war being waged online today with thousands of websites pumping out tons of low-grade, generic content that are mostly written by recent college grads with little to no experience on the given topic.
Why is this? Content creation is expensive and laborious and younger people will work for basically free in exchange for the hopes of some exposure and maybe a full-time job one day. The Huffington Post built a media empire without ever paying a single writer and thousands of other websites use the same model.
With that said, there are lots of high-quality blogs out there creating amazing content, they are just harder to find as the big media players tend to drown them out with endless amounts of generic content.
Anytime I see a productivity post telling me I have to do something specific in order to be productive, my eyes roll. Everybody is different and everybody has a different way of being productive. I can't tell you how you can be productive because what works for me might very well not work for you.
Being productive does not start with learning from others, it starts with learning about yourself and what will work best for you. You have to figure out the best way to make yourself productive. Your body and mind are your own and it works differently than anyone else. Once you understand yourself and how you work the best, then you can go externally and start to see examples of how others like you are productive.
The productivity articles I like are the ones that discuss the things that work best for the author and they leave it up to the reader to decide if it would be helpful to them or not. Kind of like how Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do, you have to look at a lot of different productivity styles and strategies, taking the best of each and creating your own system.
Everyone is different so when someone tells you this is the only way to do it, ignore them. Take what is useful for you personally and disregard the rest. You'll find that you will be disregarding the majority of content you read on productivity, but the small nuggets you do find will add up and become very useful for you.
So I am not going to tell you how to be productive, though I will share how I try to be productive and what works for me. What I am going to do is give you some things to think about and then you can decide what type of productivity strategy will work best for you.
What times are you most productive?
Are you a morning or evening person? Does it take you a few hours to get going or do you have lots of energy in the morning? Your body has it's own internal rhythm, waking up naturally without an alarm clock is the most natural way to wake up, your body knows when it has had enough rest, whether that is 6 hours or 8 hours of sleep. Some people only sleep a few hours at night but take a nap in the afternoon instead. Everybody is different.
Find out what time of the day where you feel like you have the most energy and mental focus and use those periods for your most productive work. For me, I am the most productive in the morning and then later in the evening, so I use those times to work on my important projects that require mental focus. I leave the afternoons for email, phone calls, general planning and non-important tasks.
What kind of learner are you?
Are you a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner? Everybody learns differently, which is why the school system fails many children as it teaches everybody only one way. Having an understanding of how you best digest information can help you learn and absorb material quicker.
Are you a visual learner where you need to see something visually before you can better understand it or are you an auditory learner, where hearing it helps you better comprehend the information? This is why some people are more drawn to reading and watching a video as opposed to listening to podcasts or having a phone conversation with someone. Others are kinesthetic learners where they need to physically do it before they can really understand it.
Most people have a dominant way of learning, take some time to find out what learning styles work best for you.
Back in the day when I was studying for the captain's test for the NYC Fire Dept, I had to memorize about 2K pages of boring manuals and procedures. This was not going to work for me as I'm more of an auditory learner so I transcribed every page onto audio cassettes (yes, it was a long time ago) and used that to pass the test. I would never have passed if I only read the manuals, I needed to hear it in order to really understand the material.
How long can you focus?
All of us have different attention spans. Our attention span is also influenced by the time or day, how tired we are and what we are working on. We have limited mental focus so we need to understand how to use it wisely. Understanding how long you can effectively work before needing a break is very important and can help you better organize your day to be the most productive.
For me, I find I can focus really well for about an hour before needing a break. I have the most mental focus in the mornings and then later in the evening. I will work on a project for an hour and then take a 10-15 minute break. During that break, I might respond to email, take a short walk, grab a snack, or straighten out my office. The break can be anything that works for you as long as it doesn't require mental focus as you need your brain to take a rest before starting again. I personally like to take breaks where I have to get up and do something active, I get restless sitting or standing in front of a computer for long periods of time.
If you find times when you are feeling mentally stuck, try some of these tips to get unstuck.
How do you prepare for your day or week?
One thing I will say is that if you do not take the time to plan out your day or week, you will most likely waste a lot of time and mental energy trying to figure out what to do rather than getting stuff done each day. Planning properly will definitely make you more productive with your time.
I take an hour during the weekend, usually Sunday evening, to plan out my week ahead. I create a list of my most important projects as well as smaller items that need to be done during the week. I then schedule out my days using one-hour chunks of time with breaks in between. I usually plan out the first few days of the week and then plan out the rest of my days the night before.
I find that planning my days ahead of time allows me to jump right into work without having to think or expend mental energy trying to decide what to do.
Paper or Tech?
I own an online marketing company and spend pretty much all of my days on a computer. Yet, paper and pen are how I have always planned out my days. I've tried so many different productivity apps over the years but I always come back to my paper planner. Jerry Seinfeld wrote every single episode longhand on a yellow legal pad, so going old school on paper does not mean you are any less productive.
My advice is to try out a bunch of different methods and see which ones work best for you. Don't be swayed because someone else or a blog post told you that using a certain app is the best way to be productive, only you know what will work best for you.
Like I said, I've always used a paper planner and have a single app, Google Keep, for basic to-do list keeping and writing down ideas when I am out.
These are some of the things I do to make my week as productive as possible
- I plan out my week and days beforehand so I don't waste time mental energy doing it every day
- My most productive times are in the mornings and later in the evenings, I use these times for my most important projects
- I can focus for about an hour before needing a break, so I work for an hour and then take a 10-15 minute break in between
- I use a paper planner and keep it in front me during the day to keep me on track. Apps do not work for me and keeping my phone next to me all day is a distraction
- I get restless sitting for long periods, so I do physical stuff during my breaks like take a walk, hit the heavy bag or clean my office so I can get up and move around
Create your own productivity strategy
Hopefully, this will give you some things to think about and help you create your own strategy for making your days the most productive as possible. I don't read too many productivity blog posts anymore, especially from the bigger media outlets, as they are just rehashes of the same old stuff. If you do want to read some quality stuff on productivity, check out Zen Habits and James Clear's blog.