The following article is an excerpt from the rough draft of my next book. The title is still undecided.
Business books love to toss around productivity hacks that can help you manage your time. Many of them are rehashed versions of old methods, but with catchy new names. A few of them have stood the test of time, though. Here are a few that have worked for me.
The Pomodoro Method. Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, this technique involves using a timer to manage work sprints. Cirillo named it after the Pomodoro kitchen timer, which is shaped like a tomato. The standard method is to do focused work for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. After four sessions of focused work, take a longer, 30-minute break. Many apps use the technique. Search your phone’s app store for “Pomodoro timer.” The official website is at pomodorotechnique.com.
The Pomodoro Method, Revisited. In 2014, the time-tracking app company DeskTime looked at the habits of its top users. They found that the most productive users worked for an average of 52 minutes before taking a 17-minute break. You can read the original article on the findings is at The Muse (www.themuse.com/advice/the-rule-of-52-and-17-its-random-but-it-ups-your-productivity).
GTD. Getting Things Done (or GTD) is a method of doing work described in a book with the same name, by David Allen. It involves collecting tasks, processing and organizing them, planning them, and doing them. One helpful hack in GTD is the Two Minute Rule. Whenever you’re looking at your to-do list, if you see something that takes less than two minutes to do, just do it immediately. Read more about GTD at the official website (www.gettingthingsdone.com).
Don’t Break the Chain. This was advice that comedian Jerry Seinfeld once gave to software developer Brad Isaac when he was performing stand-up at open-mic nights. It makes a game out of your work. Identify your most important daily task. For Seinfeld, it was writing jokes. Get a calendar and put it in your work area. Each day you do your important daily task, put a big red “X” on today’s date on the calendar. In Seinfeld’s case, on each day he wrote a joke, he would put in “X” on the day. See how many days in a row you can do your important task. Don’t break the chain, or you’ll have to start over.
Franklin Planner. The Franklin Planner is a paper-based time management technique based on the notebook Benjamin Franklin was known to have carried. The system involves spending the first fifteen minutes of each day planning. The planner has sections for noting appointments, prioritizing daily tasks, and notes. Today, many of these features are on your smartphone, but the Franklin Planner is ideal if you don’t want to be tethered to your phone to get things done. You can buy Franklin Planners at their official website, franklinplanner.com.
The Action Method. The Action Method is another paper-based tool for getting work done. It was created by the Behance Software Company, now owned by Adobe, to help creative workers in organizing their thoughts and taking action. You can find out more and buy Action Method workbooks at theghostlystore.com/collections/behance-action-method.
Learn speed-reading. Imagine how much more you could read if you increased your reading speed by even 10%? It all adds up over time. Learn some of the basic speed reading techniques. Many speed reading systems claim you can double, triple, or quadruple your reading speed. Give it a try. Like I said, even if you end up only increasing your reading speed by 10%, it would be worth the effort.
Inbox Zero. Many people get hung up in a flood of never-ending emails. Learn to process email efficiently. One of the most popular approaches to e-mail is called Inbox Zero. It was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. The steps look something like this:
- Turn off e-mail notifications. Instead, check your e-mail at set times each day.
- First go through and delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
- Then go through each new e-mail one by one until there are no more unread e-mails. Forward what can be best answered by someone else. Respond to any messages that you can reply to within two minutes. Move messages that need longer replies to a “requires response” folder.
- Set aside a time each day to respond to all emails in your “requires response” folder.
Create checklists. Checklists are a great way to remember to do things. They also allow you to get the tasks you need to do out of your head. Some tasks are so complex that having a checklist may be the only way to remember to do everything. An excellent book about the importance of checklists and their applications is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
Media diet. Many people waste much of their productive day browsing media. Whether it’s social media, entertainment, or news, you can probably afford to cut much of it out of your life. Try a “social media detox” by quitting social media for one week. See how it affects your productivity.
Speed up your typing. If you spend most of your time working at your computer, it helps to learn touch typing. Touch typists type at twice the speed of “hunt and peck” typists. If your job requires a lot of typing, learning touch typing can translate into hours of saved time. One of the most popular ways to learn touch typing is through the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing line of software products. You can find them at mavisbeacon.com.
Learn the shortcuts. Another way to speed up your computer usage is by using keyboard shortcuts. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for each of your most-used software applications. You can find the keyboard shortcuts for any software application by browsing through the application’s menus. The shortcuts are typically noted on the righthand side of the menu options. Another way to find the keyboard shortcuts is to search the application’s help documentation for “keyboard shortcuts.”
The Eisenhower Method. A time management technique that is attributed to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower is known as The Eisenhower Method. Every task can be placed into one of the following four quadrants:
- Important/Urgent quadrant: must be done immediately e.g. crises, deadlines, and disaster response.
- Important/Not Urgent quadrant: must be done, but not immediately e.g. relationships, exercise, most work.
- Unimportant/Urgent quadrant: tasks that can be delegated e.g. interruptions, meetings, phone calls.
- Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant: tasks that can be dropped e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, and busy work.
Turn off notifications. Few events are so important that you must be notified of them immediately. But many people have their smartphones and computers set to notify them of every event that occurs, whether urgent or not. Do you really need to be informed that a new version of an app you rarely used is available? Or that it’s your third cousin’s wife’s best friend’s birthday today? Or that stranger198712 just followed you on Twitter? Turn off all your phone and computer notifications except for the ones that are actually urgent. You work most efficiently in large blocks of uninterrupted time. Don’t let your devices ruin it.