I’ve been going big on productivity for the last couple of years.
It started somewhere around the time I enrolled in the uni. Since there were more things to study and I had to do it on my own at my flat, mostly alone, I had to find a way to stay focused and keep myself distractions-free.
Right now, most of the students and office workers are even more prone to the issue of working and studying on their own due to the current work-from-home situation.
For some, this is a blessing while for others it seems like a curse.
If you’re in the first group it’s likely you’ve already sorted out your productivity game. You have your favorite spot, go-to routine, or something that turns on the focus mode.
On the other hand, if you perceive remote studying/working as the worst thing on Earth, these tips might help you big time.
First, let’s break down what productivity is in the simplest terms.
Productivity is the relation between the progress (or the output) and the time committed to that progress.
Productivity = action/time spent
While there’s no universal score of how productive or unproductive you are, we can always associate one in regards to the specific task that we’re doing.
E.g. let’s say I’m setting up new furniture that I got from IKEA.
My productivity could be measured as such:
No. of pieces of furniture put together/minutes spent on that.
Thanks to Lego-like manuals I’ve managed to set up 2 pieces in 1 hour. That might be good but a friend of mine, whose hobby is putting together IKEA furniture has managed to set up 3 cupboards and 1 table at the same time!
Does that mean that I’m unproductive?
Here we come to the other point. Productivity is always a relative measure. It doesn't live alone.
When it comes to professional work your productivity will be judged in comparison to other people who do the same job.
Let’s say you’re a writer. Your productivity might be expressed as a relation of the written article to the days you spent on writing. In such cases, employers usually use the average to get a sense of how many pieces their employees should put out each week.
When it comes to productivity in our personal life, it’s best to measure it in regard to the output needed for completion of the task.
In simple words, let’s say you’re a student and you’re studying for an exam. You need to read 40 pages of a book to get ready. And let’s assume that you have 5 days left until the exam.
Then the productivity of 10 (10 pages read a day) is enough given that you also have time for other tasks. Could you speed it up to, let’s say 20? Sure. But the question here should be is it necessary?
Your goal should be a certain level of productivity. The one that satisfies you.
After I sorted it all out, in regards to both my uni life and my work life, I’ve tested many different frameworks, apps, and techniques that aimed to help me increase my productivity and focus.
There are many great resources on that topic but like with anything else on the Internet, at some point you just find that it’s way more than enough.
So, the conclusion was simple and the only viable solution was to apply the Occam's Razor as there are many tools (explanations to the problem) so the simplest one should be used.
And that’s how I stayed with just two tools:
The first one works on two premises.
1.) Various studies have shown that people are working best in 1.5h time windows. This means that you’re able to maintain working on one task on your maximum level of productivity.
I believe that it also depends on the nature of the task you’re doing (creative, repetitive, physical) but most of the time 1.5h seems to be a sweet spot.
Also, splitting up your work time into equal-lenght pieces helps create a routine that leads to certain behaviors. Soon you’re going to notice that your brain quickly switches between work mode and leisure mode.
2.) Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available. In other words, depending on how you set the deadline, you’ll do a certain task for that long.
Remember the last time you had a couple of weeks to complete the assignment but you’ve started to work only after “it was already too late”?
Yup. That’s that.
Thus, it seems reasonable to put our work into certain time frames. When I’m 100% honest with myself, I know that I can do certain things in a matter of hours instead of days.
Okay, so what about Brain.fm?
I reckon not many people are going to recognize this tool as - one - it’s quite new and - two - it’s not that popular.
The thing is I love music and, in general, listening to things. When I’m on the go I’m always listening to some podcasts, audiobooks, or some playlists on Spotify.
But, when it comes to learning and doing creative stuff like writing or designing, usual soundtracks make it worse. Lyrics make it hard to focus and you end up singing your favorite song instead of doing what you were supposed to do.
Brain.fm is what they call functional music. For the end-user, these are soundtracks that resemble movie-like music. It contains no lyrics and aims to stimulate your brain for a better focus and productivity.
The cool thing is that they have actually tested their technology on the human brain and have patented their method.
I found that with the timer set for 1.5h and Brain.fm popping in my ears, it’s really easy to focus and stay productive for a chosen period of time.
These two tools - one that everyone has in their phones and the second that is free to try and is quite cheap - are everything I need to stay productive.
I’m not saying this is a golden solution but who knows… Maybe it will be the one for you?