Productivity is a word that probably has already been waved at your face enough times lately. Tonnes of YouTube channels and blogs serve content with productivity booster tricks that are appealing to people like myself. And it is justified since with crushing workloads and ruthless competition, we are always trying to make the best out of our limited time and resources. But the question I ask myself quite often is, how significantly more productive I have been after adopting a particular productivity booster trick? Turns out not much!
After a close look at how I utilized my time, I caught the culprit. I found that the amount of time and effort I put in implementing a productivity trick was way more time consuming than the value I derived from it. In short, I was not just less productive but I was doing something counter-productive!! But how does that happen? How can a productivity trick turn out to be a total counter-productive disaster?
The answer lies in our brain. The chemical Dopamine is our body’s natural happiness hormone; it drives us to do what we do and want to do the most. Food, sex, alcohol, smoke, cocaine, shopping, etc. have always been in the list of dopamine inducing stimuli. However, with the dawn of the internet age and cheap high-speed data, we can safely add digital-content consumption into mass-consumerism.
But what does dopamine has to do with it? Here’s the thing. While we, the more aware users of the internet are looking for productivity boosters that we hope would push us ahead of every other consumption addict, we are actually consuming a quick shot of the happiness hormone by feeling good about the mere prospect of doing something productive.
Simply put, we are satisfied by just thinking of productivity, way before achieving it. Its sort of like having post-sex depression. The build-up during foreplay is strong and all our juices are flowing, more and more dopamine is released while we await the peak pleasure. A few minutes after the orgasm, the dopamine production in our brain ceases, leaving us with a tired body and a memory of a short-lived pleasure. This sudden cork in the supply of dopamine makes us anxious and sad and we feel like we haven’t achieved anything despite a sweating performance.
But we can outlive this feeling. If the orgasm was not the primary focus of the act and if the fact that we can hug our partner and talk, laugh, kiss, sleep next to them, is what would actually make us happier, then there is no question of a post-sex depression. After all, sex is supposed to bring the partners closer and not repel each other.
Similarly, if our happiness lies not only in the act of adopting the productivity booster tricks into our lives or the excitement in fantasizing about the prospect of a monk-level productive life, and instead if we actually aim to be productive with a specific goal in mind, then we might actually reach a level of productivity that drives us to our primary goals faster. That’s it. That’s all required to be productive.
It is not a magic spell to turn your life all around. It is just a carefully designed blend of tools and habits that help you achieve what you set out to.
Now since we have it established that consuming content on the internet about productivity and not being able to use it fruitfully, is also a byproduct of mass consumerism, we can now move onto the next steps towards leading a productive life.
Being productive sounds exciting and motivating, but surprisingly many of us are still struggling to have a clear vision of our goals. I am not talking about short term and long term goals, you can have both however it suits you. But with the age of mass consumerism, where an action as trivial as buying a packet of salt would have so many options to leave you confused whether to buy low sodium, pro-iodine, clarified, organic, ayurvedic, or just simple plain salt; what we really struggle with is not goals but options. In short, the problem is not the lack of goals but the abundance of it.
How to Choose Goals?
Rajeev is a banker who excels in building perfect investment portfolios and aims to start a firm of his own. He suddenly decides to devote a part of his time to start a chocolate shop because he likes chocolates. 5 years down the line, he is bored with the chocolate shop because he can’t be there full time. He is still nowhere close to opening his own investment firm. There may be many things we dream of and might want to have or do. But we do not really have the time or resources to do all of those and hence we must choose.
For people who wish to stay within their ultimate calling and need a cutting-down of unwanted and irrelevant goals, I recommend them to learn about the ancient concept of Hedgehog. It looks a bit like this and you can find more on it in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
How to Set Goals?
Once we have chosen our goals, we now need to break them into specific actions or mini-goals that push us towards our ultimate aim. The SMART method is a powerful tool to help set better goals.
There are plenty of resources on the internet that have detailed explanations on the SMART method. Just make sure you don’t start a binge.
What Tools to Use?
1. Online Calendars
The best way to manage your tasks is by using an online calendar such as Google Calendar or iCal. These calendars have great features such as:
- Colour coding for different task types
- Set repeating tasks
- Works directly with Gmail, Zoom, etc.
- Simple drag and drop function to move tasks across time slots, etc.
There are plenty of YouTube videos to help you learn to use these calendars. But one thing that you may have to teach yourself is to follow the best practices of using Calendars. I am listing some of the key points that I follow consistently every day.
- Be realistic and realize that you need a balanced life. So, don’t bite more than you can chew. Elon Musk is an extreme example of a productive person and copying him might cost you a lot. Add only as many tasks to the calendar that you really can achieve in your set working hours.
- Read about the Parkinson’s Law and Asimov’s Corollary.
- It’s a good practice to review all tasks and their progress before going to bed every night. Go through tasks one by one and move (drag and drop) those that still need work, to the next day.
- A task is not finished until it accomplishes what it was meant to do. It’s tempting to close a task by simply thinking about it and convincing ourselves that it’s complete.
- We should always plan our next day before going to bed and this will heavily depend on how the current day progressed.
- Make sure not to procrastinate by moving the same tasks every day. Its a trap. If you find that a task has already been moved twice over, then that particular task MUST be dealt with, the first thing in the next day as number one priority.
- Adhoc tasks that might creep up during an already planned day, may ruin your plans and delay the more prioritized tasks. But if you get a distress call from your loved ones, you have to go and there is nothing wrong with it. The calendar can never be perfect but we can try to follow it as much as possible while accommodating for urgent matters.
- It’s alright to be lazy sometimes. Even machines have fatigue and that is indeed a technical term in engineering studies.
2. Digital Wellbeing (Android) / ScreenTime (iOS)
The most important aspect of productivity is to make sure that our time is being utilized fully in the targeted direction. If you have an essay to write and you find yourself checking your phone for notifications, then you can be sure that the task will not be completed within the allotted timeframe. Furthermore, our attention leaks and we find ourselves slipping further and further away from the motivation to finish the task.
Apps like Digital Wellbeing, force us to stay away from unnecessarily unlocking our phones and opening distracting apps. As of this writing, I have been awake for 9 hours today and I have already unlocked my phone 82 times and spent a total of 3 hours on WhatsApp, Chrome and other apps. Go ahead and check yours and I am sure you will be surprised at the appalling numbers!
3. Eisenhower Matrix
When you find yourself battling to decide between tasks that seem equally prioritized, let the Eisenhower Matrix help you. It looks something like this and you can find tons of material on this on the internet.
This is not an ultimate guide for productivity. This is my personal way of doing things and there is so much more for me to learn. I invite you to make use of the points made above and to suggest any other methods that might have helped you. Share your thoughts with us by getting in touch with us or comment your thoughts below to let us know more.