We’ve all heard that time is relative, right? An hour spent watching your favorite movie passes much faster than an hour spent in traffic. Well, the same basic principles apply to personal productivity. Something you are excited to work on is likely to go much faster than the annoying tasks that you would rather not do. Unfortunately, sometimes the fate of our passion projects rely on those menial tasks that are the mental equivalent of staring at the bumper in front of you for 60 minutes.
Throughout my career I have made it a hobby to explore and employ some productivity strategies that have helped me to maintain a breakneck pace, and to get through my to-do list faster and more efficiently. Below the three main ways I trick myself into being productive. Try them out, maybe they can work for you too.
1) Reverse Engineer your Schedule
When I look at my to-do list, I do not see a list of tasks, I see a list of timed activities. Next to everything I have to do, I jot down how long I expect it to take. Do I have to send a follow-up email to a colleague? 10 minutes. Write one of these blog posts? 30-45 minutes. Then, based on how much time I have available, I pick two to three tasks that will best fit into my window. Let’s say I have an hour, starting a 3 hour project will just lead to frustration, and a waste of my future time. If I get a third of the way into a project and stop, the next time I pick it up I will have to remind myself of the work I had done prior, thus spending more time than necessary on one item. Instead, I will choose one 30-minute activity, and 3 ten-minute activities. That way, no time is wasted, and I can save my larger projects for larger windows of time.
2) Consider the ROI
In my previous post on the "3 Grand Essentials of Life", I discuss how my success and happiness is depended on the presence of three things: something to pursue, something to love, and something to hope for. If something on my to-do list does not fit into one of those three categories, then it is not worth doing. Let’s say I have an old school acquaintance coming into town for an evening. Spending three to four hours with someone I haven’t known well in years probably will not help me in a business pursuit, and will probably eat into time with my family. If the ROI on the time commitment isn’t good, I am going to send a catch up email in lieu of spending an evening on something that is frankly, not worth it. It may sound harsh, but in order to accomplish a lot, you have to be discerning with what you say yes to.
3) Capitalize your time on a plane
My friends and I often say that one hour on a plane is equivalent to four hours at a desk. With no ringing phone, no obligation to interact with anyone, and no distractions other than the beverage cart, you can easily clear an hours worth of tasks in 15 minutes. Leave the book in your bag and forgo the sleeping pills for some uninterrupted productivity time.
So the next time you catch yourself staring at an excel spreadsheet blankly, remember these strategies. You may just be amazing with the amount of work you can get done as long as it is prioritized effectively.