Monday 14 January 2013

Improving productivity

I'm quite a fan of the Brain Pickings blog, and last week they featured this animated video about the science of productivity, from AsapSCIENCE.

The main points raised by the video are;
  • Willpower can be depleted, so simply convincing yourself to 'try harder' won't work;

  • Starting a project is the biggest barrier to actually being productive;

  • Successful people don't work more, they work better, putting in periods of intense work of around 90 minutes followed by breaks of 15-20 minutes to see more work done;

  • Habit and discipline are key to establishing a productive routine;

  • Deadlines focus the mind;

  • A list of progress should be made so you can evaluate what you've actually done, helping you avoid mindless tasks;

  • Avoid multi-tasking as you end up doing less; and

  • Split big tasks into smaller tasks to make them more manageable.
Given I have to divide my time between PhD work, study for a teacher training qualification, preparatory work I need for teaching, writing, and having a life, I thought I might share my top three tips for being productive.

1) Make lists
I make two types of lists. The first is the things I need to do - I split this list into two columns, listing what needs to be done against when I'm going to do it, and I list things according to when they need to be done (naturally the things due for Tuesday will be higher up the list than those due on Thursday). I can cross things off as I've done them which gives me a natural sense of achievement as I end up with more crossed out tasks than uncrossed out tasks.

2) Set deadlines
If something doesn't actually have a deadline, I find that I'll procrastinate and find all sorts of reasons not to work on I set myself a deadline to ensure that I will. I also do more work the less time I have in which to do it because I'm very much aware of the clock ticking. Even self-imposed deadlines get me working faster.

3) Take breaks
I have the attention span of a particularly hyperactive spaniel so I find my attention wanders very easily, no matter how engrossing the task at hand may be. The only way for me to get through it is to promise myself a break. Rather than making myself sit and focus on something for several hours, I work for an hour or so, take a break, then come back to whatever I was doing. Even when I'm writing something like a blog post, there are usually mini breaks, during which I check Twitter or read other blogs. It breaks up my work and gives me something to come back to.

What about you? What do you do to remain productive?


Anonymous said...

I follow a similar methodology to yours, Icy. Comes from being a teacher, too, and a little OCD :)
I need to build in more deadlines to my planning.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

Sage words!

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