You’ve probably heard loads of advice about how to be more productive. Perhaps you’ve been told (probably by me) to block your tasks onto your calendar. Maybe you’ve tried the Pomodoro technique or the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. Some people will tell you to write down “three absolutes” for the day or week.
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These techniques are what I refer to as “productivity methods” which define HOW you do your work. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” and when it comes to managing your workload, there’s no shortage of methods to choose from.
The truth is, there’s no one best way to manage your productivity. You probably need to try a few methods to find the thing that works for you and your personal style. The method you choose may even change based on the type of work you’re doing.The best productivity method is the one that works for you and your personal style. Stop trying to be like everyone else.Click To Tweet
Using “time-blocking” to be more proactive (and less reactive)
When we’re doing our work, we can either be in a proactive or a reactive state:
- Proactive – This is where you are being very intentional with your time. You’re planning ahead to decide what to work on and how to get everything done. You’re in control.
- Reactive – This is where you are responding to things in real-time. Your work is being determined by the need to respond to things outside of your control.
While being “reactive” may be seen as a bad thing that can hurt our productivity, it’s often a requirement of a lot of our jobs. Depending on the urgency or importance of a task will determine where you need to respond and do something now (reactive), or whether you can wait and come back to it later (proactive). The key is to get this balance right.
I’d say most people spend too much of their time being reactive and not enough time thinking about their priorities or planning their time. This is what leads to a lack of productivity and always having to “catch up”.
If you want to be more proactive, this is where we can use different productivity methods to help us switch between different modes.
Last week, I was talking to a client who’s often in a reactive mode. During the day, he’s answering phone calls from clients and responding to employees who come into his office. He asked me how he should manage his time so that he can still be reactive like this but still get his own work done at the same time.
We talked about the benefits of time-blocking and how this can be used to plan when he’s going to work on different tasks. Now he can’t take time-blocking to the extreme that I do (some people can’t stand time blocking). He has a team of people and many clients to manage. His work requires that he be in a reactive mode at least some of the time. But he can use time-blocking when it suits him to carve out periods of time for his own work and priorities. The rest of the time he can leave his calendar open and take a phone call or chat to an employee.
And I said to him, it’s okay to break the rules sometimes. Often I’ll have a client ask if they can talk to me tomorrow. I’ll then look at my calendar and can make a decision on whether I’m happy to push back some of my own work to free up some time, which I often do. Other times I’ll be more protective over my time. It really depends on the urgency and importance of my work and the client.
Borrowing concepts from Getting Things Done (GTD)
As you may have seen from my Asana training videos on YouTube, I’ve incorporated a few concepts from GTD into my own productivity system.
I really like the idea of having “Next actions” and “Waiting” sections on my todo list.
- “Next actions” are generally small tasks I can complete in a few minutes aren’t time-sensitive and I’ll do them when I get a chance.
- “Waiting” is a section of my tasks list for things I’m doing that are on hold because I’m waiting on someone to get back to me.
I’ve also been conducting a weekly review for the last 6 or 7 years and can’t imagine finishing my week without going through this ritual.
So while I don’t strictly follow GTD, I’ve adopted the parts of the system that work for me.
Staying focussed using the Pomodoro technique
Some people swear by the Pomodoro technique. This is where you work in 25-minute blocks of time (called a “Pomodoro”). The goal is to focus on one thing for the duration of the Pomodoro and not get distracted. Some people will keep track of the number of times they get distracted and work to reduce distractions each time. When the Pomodoro has ended, you take 5 minutes to have a quick break and switch to the next thing.
I’ve tried working like this but can’t get into it. I don't like having to stop working every 25 minutes for a mandatory break. And due to the nature of my work where I’m often on a few back to back calls, so it doesn’t really fit the format of my work.
I have nothing against the Pomodoro technique, it’s just not for me. Other people love using Pomodoro’s to stay focussed and reduce task switching. If you’re someone that tends to get distracted easily it’s a nice technique you can use to build focus and discipline.
“Theming” your days
Ever since I interviewed Mike Vardy a few years ago, I’ve really been into this idea of theming your days. This is where each day of the week has a particular theme of work that you focus on.
For example, Monday is my “content day”. With the time difference to the United States which is where most of my clients are, for most of my clients it’s a Sunday and they’re not working. So I use this day to work on content like blog posts and videos. This doesn’t mean that I’m don't working on other things on Monday’s. It just means that the overarching focus for the day is content.
Another example is Wednesday which is my “project day”. This is where I exclusively work on my own projects and non-client work.
Other themes could be things like: administration, client work, creative work, planning, focussed time etc.
Just like with time blocking, sometimes I break the rules and don't stick to my themes. I’ll often have to schedule the odd client call on my “project day”. With all the different productivity techniques you can use, it’s okay to deviate when the situation calls for it.
When experimenting with different productivity models and planning your work, it’s okay to try a few things and borrow the ideas that work for you. Don't worry what other people are doing. The best system or method is that one that works for you that helps you to achieve that balance between proactive and reactiveness.