I want to start this blog about by doing something reckless. I am going to pretend – just for a moment – that the internet is a safe space. More specifically, I am going to pretend (hope) that the Helix House blog is a safe space.
I am going to admit something.
I am going to admit something to myself, regular readers, potential clients, coworkers, and maybe even my bosses (fingers crossed they skip over this one).
Sometimes, at the end of a long workday, I will look back at everything I have accomplished… and find it lacking. I see to-do list items un-did. I see due dates encroaching on all sides. I see my project manager peeking over her computer screen tossing me side eyes. In fact, those side eyes may just be the inspiration for today’s blog on personal productivity.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When push comes to shove, I get everything done. Here at Helix House, we consider anything under a 95% hit rate on deadlines to be completely unacceptable. But that doesn’t mean my productivity is everything it should be.
Yes, hitting deadlines feels great. You experience this massive sense of accomplishment when you complete a project just hours before a major deadline is about to hit.
You breathe a massive sigh of relief. You feel like you’re king of the MF’ing world. Ain’t no one got nothing on you! You just did a whole thing! On time no less!
Personally, I think you deserve to feel that way. Revel in that feeling. Take it from my main-man Bukowski:
“you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
Excerpt from The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski
(You should really just go ahead and read the entire poem)
Enjoy your victory lap! Delight! Then, let’s take a few steps back and collect ourselves. You finished up the project just hours before the deadline, right? And how long was it on your plate? A month? Two months? But this came down to a matter of hours?! Holy moly. You were really cutting things close there, weren’t you?
Don’t worry. I know exactly how all this goes. I have been there countless times before. We all have.
If we are being honest with ourselves, most of us could go a long way in improving our productivity. Making even incremental progress in this area can bring about incredible transformations in both your professional AND personal lives while helping achieve whatever goals you have for yourself.
To learn more about achieving goals, read our blog on the subject!
What does it mean to become more productive? How do we go about that? What type of process do we use?
Today, we are going to discuss a three-pillared method for improving productivity that is built upon time management, focus, and motivation.
Pretty brilliant, right??
Now, let’s go over 5 actionable strategies for putting these pillars into action.
Start a conversation about productivity with any random person on the street, and I am willing to bet that time management is essentially the only thing they will talk about. If, that is, they are the type of person to have any thoughts on the subject to begin with. The Venn-diagram cross-section between productivity enthusiasts and strike-up-a-conversation-with-a-stranger-on-the-street-people probably comes down to just you, me, and Jeff Bezos.
There is no doubt about it, awesome time management can be transformative all across your life. That is why we are discussing it after all! We consider it the framework of a really potent personal productivity plan. You know, your ideal quadruple P.
Even if you are struggling with the other pillars we discuss here, losing your clear-headed focus or burning through your motivation, time management will be your rock. A safety net to fall back on.
If you go ahead and Google time management, you discover that there are more fancy software programs designed to help you use your time better than you could possibly install in a lifetime. Talk about time management…
What we have here, is something that has run out of control. A simple concept has been made so complex that it is now fighting itself.
Great time management comes down to two essential things – prioritization and, uh… time-schedulization.
This is THE FIRST THING YOU SHOULD DO when sitting down at the office (or when you begin a particularly productive Saturday). I mean before you check your email, before you talk to anyone else in your office, before you let your boss distract you, before anything.
Sit down and write out everything, big and small, that you need to get done today. Then, draw a line, and write out everything you would like to get done today. After that, draw a final line and write out everything you need to get done tomorrow.
Now, you need to establish your working priorities. Always, always, always start with largest, most difficult task first. It is human nature to want to avoid these big, scary, intimidation jobs for as long as possible. Most people start their day by chipping away at smaller, easy to complete tasks. Yes, that feels good. There is always a little dopamine hit when you check something off your to-do list. However, when you do this, you are training your brain that it feels good to avoid the difficult jobs. You establish, then cement, bad habits.
When you tackle the difficult tasks and get them done early in the day, you free up immense space in both your schedule and your psyche. Once the hard tasks are done, you will start flying down the rest of your hit-list. You will finish all your need-to-dos, blow through all your-want-to-dos, and maybe even get into tomorrow’s tasks!
Creating a properly prioritized hit-list also adds structure and dependability to your day, something we could all benefit from.
I just want to start off by saying, I love the Pomodoro Technique. What it is, is a simple time management technique developed in the late 1980s by a guy named Francesco Cirillo.
The technique breaks work down into manageable bite-sized intervals. Traditionally, these intervals are 25 minutes long.
When you are ready to start a task, start a timer. Now, here is the important part – you work on your chosen task uninterrupted for the length of your interval. When the interval ends, you give yourself a short break, usually between 3-5 minutes. When the break is up, you get back to work! After you repeat this process about 4 times, you give yourself a more extended break. Maybe like… 10 minutes!
I can speak from personal experience when I say that this technique is incredibly helpful in helping you establish an uninterrupted, focused flow of work.
There are lots of apps and programs out there to help you put this technique into action. My favorite is a website called Tomato Timer.
The website might not be for everyone. There are many proponents out there of taking a more low-tech approach. If that sounds good to you, I recommend purchasing a cheap kitchen timer. You might make some enemies in the office when it chimes out every 30 minutes, but you do you!
Now that you have a framework for scheduling your time and your work, you need to make sure that the time you spend working is as productive and efficient as possible. You need to make sure you can stay focused!
It’s 2017. We understand that there is an epidemic rampaging across our world. No one can stay focused on anything for longer than… 30 seconds?? Maybe a full minute if you are some kind of superhero?!
We have trained our brains to expect – to crave – constant and ever-changing stimulus. For many of us, focusing on one single task for a prolonged period of time doesn’t just feel difficult, it feels downright impossible! We get all psyched up to do something, then, before we know it our phone is magically in our hand or our Facebook feed has just started scrolling itself down the screen.
Knowing this, what can we do to achieve the type of laser focus that will improve our personal productivity? Don’t worry – we have answers!
If you were an avid podcast listener back in 2014-2015, you are probably already familiar with the meditation app, Headspace. I know they spent about 2 years dominating the live reads of just about every podcast I listen to.
It. Is. Amazing. You can see right here how often I use it.
For a lot of people, there is a sort of mystery and allure attached to the idea of meditation. It sounds nice and all, I mean, who couldn’t benefit from a little Zen? But actually doing it is a step too far for most.
Who knows what to do? Doesn’t it take years to get good at it? What does it really accomplish? Who has the time???
Headspace is a beautiful and caringly crafted app that solves all of these problems and answers each of these questions. Meditation demystified, just for you!
Spending a session with Headspace only takes 10 minutes. Anyone can carve out that type of time in their morning.
For your first 30 days you will move through the Headspace basics, learning about mindfulness. Once you finish the basics, you have free reign of the app and you can begin exploring its extensive collection of specialized meditation packs.
It just so happens, there is one specifically designed for focus!
Other meditation packs include productivity, creativity, self-esteem, patience, appreciation, and communication.
No matter which pack you choose to start with, you WILL be developing your ability to focus your attention and develope your productivness.
Okay, we can’t blame you for being a little confused right now. When you started reading a blog about personal productivity, you probably didn’t expect to be guided by the advice of a comedian.
Trust us on this one.
Earlier this year, the second season of Ansari’s Netflix show Master of None was released. In conjunction with that release, he went on the standard massive media tour. Ansari’s creative process became a frequent topic of discussion in the various interviews he did.
Time and time again, he offered one powerful piece of advice.
When you sit down to do something difficult, and you NEED to focus, you need to think creatively, remove all distractions.
Now you are sitting there thinking… DUH.
But do you ever truly do that? I bet you don’t. In fact, I am willing to bet that when you sit down to work, you are surrounded by distractions, from your phone and your coworkers, to the constant looming presence of the internet. It’s been 10 minutes since you checked the news. Maybe something has happened!!!
Perhaps if we explain the true power behind removing distractions, you will do what it takes to truly remove all distractions – you’ll lock the phone away, unplug from the internet, toss up a do not disturb sign, or scowl at anyone who walks up to your desk with a question or a comment.
You see, when we encounter something difficult, a problem in our work, our minds naturally seek out a distraction. Thinking critically and creatively about a problem is HARD. It’s demoralizing. Answers don’t come quickly. The process of cracking something difficult requires mental engagement, the clock has to tick before we come away with a solution.
When we are surrounded by distractions, we will engage with them. You’ll come upon something hard and you think about it for a moment or two, then check Twitter or check the news. You’ll come back to the problem in a few moments, but you will have reset that level of engagement.
It is when you are stuck on a problem that true creativity is born. If you never give yourself a chance to be stuck, you are actually making it more difficult to make forward progress. By removing all distractions, you force yourself to wallow in that difficult space. You force your brain to work in a way that it has avoided for a long time now.
Next time you have a difficult job to do, go to a new coffee shop. Don’t ask for the WiFi password. Don’t bring your phone. Sit down with your disconnected computer and get to work. See what happens.
Motivation is a tricky thing. One moment you have it and you feel ready to take on the world! You could run a marathon, work until the wee hours of the night, fight a pack of wolverines (why are you doing that?! Stop! That’s dangerous!), or even eat healthy for an entire day.
Then, the next moment, your motivation is gone, slipping like sand through your fingers. You don’t even want to send an email. It’s too much work. Pointless. Who cares. No one notices. No one will appreciate you for it.
Jeez, stop being such a downer!
But really now, motivation is a powerful tool when it comes to increasing personal productivity, so what can we do to harness that power?
Nothing is scarier than committing to something in public. In front of people. Who you know. Who you can’t avoid. People who can hold you accountable. Who can (and will) judge you. I’m terrified just thinking about it. And boy isn’t that motivating!
Do you want dependable, long-lasting motivation for moving through your hit-list? Make it public. Post it up somewhere in the office. Let people know what you are committing to get done that day or that week. Even if they are not actively holding you accountable in some way, it will sure feel like they are.
We use a very similar technique in our office. It’s important to note, however, that this is mean-spirited or judgey.
There is great power in declaring your intentions publicly which motivates you to stand by them, to uphold them. Your intentions become analogous with YOU. That type of motivation can grip you deeply, helping you focus through distraction and commit to productivity
We dumped a lot on you today so we are going to wrap up these final thoughts quickly. Like any self-improvement project, whether it be personal or professional, you are not going to have a linear journey as you set out to improve your personal productivity. Some days, you will find yourself being 4-5x as productive as usual. Other days, you will backslide into old habits, and find yourself looking back at the end of the day wishing you had done more. It’s okay.
Real changes don’t come immediately. They take time. As long as you stay committed and you see incremental improvement over time, you are on the right track. Before you know it, you will be more productive than you could have possibly imagined!
And with that, we leave you with one final thing – this quantifiably perfect comic from Calvin & Hobbes. Enjoy!
If you enjoyed this post, I highly recommend you check out a few of our other blogs. To get to know the gang over here at Helix House a little better, read our individual rankings of our top 5 TV shows of all time.
If you are looking for a little more hard-nosed marketing and advertising related information, I recommend checking out our post on 3 stellar marking automation tool.
Last but not least, if you have any further questions or if you’d like to have a little chat about, say… your most pressing marketing and advertising issues, feel free to reach out to our lead marketing strategist Jon Spurling.
He is a really smart and friendly guy with a delightful British accent and a great mind for marketing, who definitely didn’t bribe me to say these nice things about him.
He also loves talking to people just like you about how we can help your business thrive and grow. Send him an email by clicking HERE, or give us a call at (800)588-2188.
[separator type=”” size=”” icon=”star”]
Nathan Rea, the lead copywriter at Helix House, is an Arizona native and a graduate from the University of Arizona in Tucson. With a B.A. in English Literature, he is wildly passionate about reading, writing, and boring his friends by talking Cormac McCarthy. He loves writing about the intersection between marketing, culture, technology, and business development. In his free time, he hikes, rock climbs, eats (a lot), and goes to just about every live music event in town.