Productivity Methods That Actually Work

The internet is awash with "lifehacks" and tricks for staying productive at work.  Some work better than others, but ultimately we all learn that you can't fake willpower.  Nevertheless, the four methods below can be successfully implemented into your daily routine immediately.  There is no procrastination panacea, but with these techniques you will see immediate results as you start to develop good habits.   A common theme with all these methods is the deconstruction of larger goals into smaller, digestible actions.  Often procrastination sets in when we focus too much on the end goal and begin feeling overwhelmed before we even get started.

Graphic designer Chris Campbell gets his small chunk on at The Pioneer Collective.

Graphic designer Chris Campbell gets his small chunk on at The Pioneer Collective.

 

Method 1 - Don't Break the Chain

The Don't Break the Chain method uses psychology to help build good habits.  Supposedly used by Jerry Seinfeld to self-motivate while writing new jokes, the method only requires a calendar and a Sharpie.  Choose a paper calendar and hang it next to your desk, your bathroom mirror, or somewhere you will be every day.   Choose a skill you want to learn or a task you want to begin performing regularly, for example: "run 30 minutes", "write one blog post", or "paint for an hour".  Each day that you complete the task successfully , draw a large red x across the corresponding date box on your calendar.  As you start to build up a streak, your chain of Xs will get progressively longer.  The idea is that as the chain grows, you will become invested in it, making it psychologically harder to skip a day and break the chain.  If it is more realistic, cross out weekends or days that you know will be impossible ahead of time and give yourself a pass as long as you pick up on the next blank day.  A key to employing this method effectively is to choose realistic goals.  If you set out to exercise for two hours per day, you probably won't ever build a chain long enough to care about!

 

Method 2 - Small Chunks

Also known as The Pomodoro Technique, the Small Chunks method is great for kick starting a task and shaking off the procrastination bug.  It's simple and it works.   Start by finding a timer.  If you don't have one on your phone or watch, use  Online Timer.  Set the timer and pick a task to start working on until the timer goes off.  Force yourself to focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions for the entirety of the 25 minute chunk.  Once the bell rings, stop and take a break for 5 minutes, allowing yourself to do whatever you feel like (walking around is a good idea).  When the 5 minutes are up, get back to work, either on the same task if you're on a roll, or on something completely different.  Repeat the process three times before taking a 30 minute break.  That's one round.  If at the end of any 25 minute chunk you are really cruising, work through the bell if needed.  Just make sure to take a 10 minute break as soon as your focus begins to wane, and then hop back into the process.  A single round of the technique is visualized below: 

One Round of The Pomodoro Technique (2 hours)

  • 25 minute work chunk
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute work chunk
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute work chunk
  • 5 minute break
  • 30 minute break
  • REPEAT

Method 3 - Shrink Your List

One of the biggest deterrents to productivity is burnout.  If you make your to-do lists too big, you'll finish each day with the deflating feeling that you didn't accomplish anything.  Start setting realistic goals for what you can get done each day and you'll improve your mood and ultimately your endurance and productivity.  Start by dividing your to-do list for the into two boxes, work and personal.  Under each category, subdivide again into must-dos and everything else.  Limit your must-do lists to three items per day.  Limit the everything else lists to five items.  Doesn't sound like enough?  Operating under the conservative assumption that each task only takes a half hour on average, this adds up to a solid 4 hours of work tasks and 4 hours of personal tasks before accounting for family, email, lunch, bathroom time, commuting, talking to coworkers etc.  Everything that didn't make it into either category can go into a "holding pen," but don't even glance at it until it's time to plan another day.  If you get all of your must-dos done in a day, consider it a 100% success.  Any additional accomplishments are gravy.