Five methods to improve your productivity

15 December, 2016

One way to get through your day is the pinball method. Jump into the chute early in the morning and carom from activity to activity, hoping to ring some bells and win some reward points.

Harvey Schachter

One way to get through your day is the pinball method. Jump into the chute early in the morning and carom from activity to activity, hoping to ring some bells and win some reward points.

Actually, there’s no such system – or none recommended by productivity experts, anyway – but if it rings true, you may want to look at five more highly recommended scheduling processes that tech writer Stephen Altrogge collected:

– Time blocking: Plan your day in advance, scheduling activities in your calendar, and then work on them in the pre-determined fashion.

He stresses blocking out both proactive and reactive blocks. Proactive blocks involve focusing on important tasks known in advance while reactive blocks allow time in the schedule for the inevitable requests and interruptions that will occur.

Productivity expert Cal Newport, who cherishes this approach, has been asked why he bothers with such a detailed level of planning: “My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60-plus-hour work week pursued without structure.”

– The Most Important Task Method: Here you focus on the essential challenges, the one to three tasks critical for success. You don’t limit yourself to three tasks in the day but make sure those are completed.

“The reality is most days there are only a few essential things that must be done. Yes, there are a thousand voices clamouring for our attention, but most of those voices aren’t crucial. The notifications blowing up your phone and the e-mails filling your inbox can all wait. If you can complete the one to three essential tasks, everything else becomes secondary or even unnecessary,” writes Mr. Altrogge.

– The Pomodoro Technique: With a timer, work in a 25-minute burst on a task and then take a five- minute break before beginning another 25-minute interval (known as pomodoros, after the Italian word for tomatoes, since the creator of the approach used a tomato-shaped timer).

The difficulty, of course, is protecting 25 minutes of uninterrupted time. But while Paul Klipp, president of Lunar Logic’s Polish branch, only manages two such uninterrupted sessions in a day, he says they allow for more productivity than the remaining work hours combined.

– 90-Minute Focus Sessions: Research has shown that our focus wavers after about 90 minutes so this breaks your day into 90-minute sessions of focused work and 20- to 30-minute breaks, in line with the body’s ultradian rhythm.

“Most people pay little attention to the natural rhythms of their body and use stimulants like coffee to power through periods of low energy. This almost always results in a complete crash around 2:30 p.m., which corresponds with a trough in your ultradian rhythm,” notes Mr. Altrogge.

“Working in 90-minute bursts allows you to correlate your maximum energy levels with your task list, which then gives your productivity a major boost. You’re working with your body instead of against it.”

– Polyphasic Sleep Method: This asks you to change your sleep patterns so instead of it coming in one six-to-eight-hour chunk you break it into smaller pieces, such as a four-hour respite twice a day or even a bunch of naps throughout the 24 hours. It can free more time up for work and provide a different – very different – balance for the day. Productivity experimenter Steve Pavlina tried this approach, but gave it up because of the difficulty of chopping his work and other activities into 3.5-hour blocks, around his various naps, and the fact his schedule was so wildly different from his wife’s.

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