Photo via Ashley Ella Design
Struggling with your level of productivity recently? Yeah, me too. And everyone else and their mom.
(Except for that one friend that everyone has who manages to accomplish a ridiculously long to-do list, still have time to work out and get 8 hours of sleep every night.)
But you and me, we aren’t those people. (YET.)
I was listening to my favorite podcast, The Lively Show last week and one of her latest episodes really struck a cord with me. It was an interview with Alex Ikonn, who is an entrepreneur (also husband to Youtube famer Mimi Ikonn). He spoke about his tips for productivity (he just released a productivity planner which I purchased about 2 seconds after trying out the tips below, because he totally sold me on his smartness).
He shared two tips that really stuck with me and have already changed my levels of productivity drastically. Surprisingly–they’re incredible simple, but they make a huge difference. So much so, that a mere few hours after putting them to use, I opened up WordPress and drafted this blog post.
Because, really. You should implement these immediately.
Tip #1: The Pomodoro Technique.
This is something I was already kind of doing, but I wasn’t going about it the right way. I would schedule my time in blocks, but during my “breaks” I would do things like check email or Instagram, which would inevitably send me down a rabbit hole and throw my entire day off track.
The Pomodoro Technique is essentially a tactic of breaking up your working time into a matter of increments that work well for you. The recommended starting time is 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, and so on. However, for me, it usually takes me more time to get into a “groove” than that, so 90 minute increments work better for my brain.
Here’s what you do: Write down the tasks at hand (start with the 3 most important, max–more on that below) and then set your timer, or pencil in a block of your calendar for 90 minutes. When time is up, step away, and take a break to do something totally unrelated to work. The longer your “pomodoro” the longer your break can me.
For example, if you work in 25 minute increments, take a 5 minute break after 25 minute work period. If you find that to be too disruptive, try 90 minutes, with a longer, 30 minute break in between increments. The important thing is to give your brain a break during this time.
Your breaks could be something administrative, like cleaning out your desk, running a quick errand, refilling your coffee, or squeezing in a quick workout. If you’re like me and don’t work in a traditional office setting, you could do the dishes left over from breakfast, make the bed, run to the post office, or call your mom. This gives your brain a chance to recharge, and makes you hyper-focused when you return to your tasks.
My experience: It works tremendously. I’m actually almost a week ahead on my blog posts now because I did this for HALF A DAY. I’ve never been a week ahead on my blog posts, ever.
Tip #2: Three Things Technique
On the flip side, the “three things” technique (i.e. I couldn’t think of anything else to call it) is another that is proven to be highly effective.
Ikonn mentioned that Charles Schwabb once paid the equivalent of a quarter-million dollars to receive this advice on how to make his workers more productive.
The night ahead, plan out the three things you will accomplish the following day. Then, in the morning, write those three things down, in order, from most important to least important.
Begin at the first task, and do not do anything until you’ve finished it. This means, do not pick up your phone, do not open your email (I’m completely serious. Don’t even have your inbox OPEN) and do not talk to anyone in person, over the phone, or on g-chat. You and this task are in complete isolation. That is, until it’s done. (And, might I add, you’ll be surprised at how quickly that happens.)
We live in a world where multi-tasking is on every job description, but it’s actually the total enemy of productivity. You cannot do any one task well when there are 10 others distracting you at the same time.
Once you’ve completed task one, move onto task two. Don’t even think about task three, or anything else, until task two is complete. And so on.
This isn’t rocket science–but it’s harder than it sounds to stay this focused. It definitely takes determination, but it pays off big time. BIG TIME.
How these work for me
I’ve actually found that combining both methods works best for me. I write out the most important tasks I have to get done for the day. (Email is one of them!) and I tackle them, in order, with the Pomodoro technique. I dedicate as many “Pomodoro” sessions as I need to in order to complete task 1, and then move on, until my list is complete.
This has worked so well that I’ve been able to finish my lists early, adding MORE things to it to accomplish more in one day than I ever thought possible.
To give you a taste of how effective this can be: today I wrapped up two freelance writing articles, completed 3 blog posts, caught up on my [urgent] emails, cleaned my apartment, set out the outfits I need to shoot tomorrow in advance, did a load of laundry, listened to two podcast episodes and even vacuumed my living room rug. And as I’m writing this–the day isn’t even over yet!
Now, can we use these techniques all day every day? No, personally I don’t think I could “Pomodoro” a day where I have to do 5 different shoots and run to two different meetings, but even if you have a small window of time to sit at your desk and accomplish something, these principles can be applied if you have one hour or eight.