For 21 days I had committed myself to becoming as productive as possible. My plan was to implement a number of productivity techniques and report back which of these I found worked and which didn’t. You can skip down to read them - but before you do, here’s a couple interesting things that I realised during these three weeks.
Time flew by. Like, really flew by. Thinking back, there was no distinction between my days. I had a solid routine with not much variation. The days are just blurred together in one big mess. I think I know why this happened. I came across an email about why time passes quickly, and how to slow it down. Apparently, and I obviously fell victim to this, was that repetition makes us feel that time moves fast. When we engage in our habits, we go into autopilot mode. This uses less of our brain and it doesn’t bother storing fresh memories. Since memories are the only way for us to experience the past and in a sense, experience time moving, our perception changes. The solution they offered, was to make small adjustments to your routine. Do something new or different to give variety to each of your days and your perception of time becomes stretched, you’ll end up remembering more details and it will feel like time is moving more slowly.
Another thing I found was that working for as many hours as I had aimed for, I should have planned more things to work on. I have a YouTube where I post some gaming related content and I wanted to do a few videos for that, I had some work I needed to be done in my bathroom, and of course there was my blog that I was wanting to write lots of content for. The first week went great, I was full speed ahead in all my tasks and getting a lot done. So much so that by the end of the second week… I was running out of things to do. I found that I would want to write, or want to do some video editing but when I sat down to do that, coffee at the ready, I just drew a blank. There was nothing for me to do! I had the will, I had the motivation, I had the caffeine, but I didn’t have the work.
If you’re ever going to commit to something like this, ensure that you have a LOT planned. It’s better to have too much work so that you don’t finish it all, rather than not enough and end up wanting to work, but not being able to do so. Having too much work can be a motivating factor to tick things off and get it done. So long as you don’t put too much pressure on yourself, which can inflict undue stress, this can be a good technique to use. I think next time I do this I’ll shorten it down to maybe just a week or two, and pack my schedule with things that I want done.
Here’s my review on each of the productive techniques I decide to implement.
5 minute rule:
First up, the 5 minute rule. Which is, if you don’t feel like doing a task, promise yourself after 5 minutes you can stop. It’s much easier to keep going once you’ve started something. It’s very easy for us to find a convenient excuse to start later, or why it doesn’t need to be done now. If you can find the energy to remove the wheel chocks, the vehicle will start rolling by itself. You just need to promise yourself to get started. I have heard (although I cannot find a link at this stage) that it takes more mental effort to start a task, than it does doing the task itself. How easy is it to start the day once you’ve rolled yourself out of bed? The thought of leaving the safety of your duvet and to venture out into the world seems impossible, but once you step out, you remember it’s not as hard as you believed it was a few seconds ago.
So how did the 5 minute rule work out over my 21 days? Well, I don’t usually struggle with starting tasks. In fact, because I became dedicated to being productive, I jumped into everything with alacrity. The 5 minute rule on paper is great, but over the last 21 days I don’t recall ever actually using it. Either I was ready to jump into any task, or the times I didn’t I was sick, hungover and totally not in the mood. But… now that I think about it… that was exactly the time that I needed to implement the 5 minute rule (right now I’m resisting putting in ‘but it was only a couple times’ - this is cognitive dissonance). So I guess I didn’t stick to it as much as I could have. It is something that I will keep in mind and may potentially use in the future.
2 minute rule:
This is where anything that takes less than 2 minutes to do, you do it immediately. No putting it off.
Now this one was difficult. Very difficult. And not due to my unwillingness to commit to it. What I currently do, is all the little things that need to be done are left unattended and at a certain point in the day I will clean everything up and put things back in their respective place. So I combine all these things that take less than two minutes, and end up spending 10 - 15 minutes doing all of them. While doing this I listen to 20 - 30 minutes’ worth of a podcast (click here to read why I listen to podcasts at double speed), which I find to be more efficient with my time rather than doing each task one by one as they arise.
I guess it’s hard to break a system that I’ve used for a number of years. But that wasn’t my real problem.
The real problem was that my brain could not identify these small tasks. Right now, I have an empty coffee cup sitting next to me. It’s been empty for the last 10 minutes and only now, when I was trying to think of examples, did I realise that this is something that would fall under the 2 minute rule. Excuse me while I go put my coffee cup in the sink.
I would commonly leave things out, like my small step ladder because I was painting earlier, and rather than taking 10 seconds to pack it up and put it to the side, I would just step over it. Multiple times. Before it finally occurred to me like a slap in the face: ‘holy crap I can just put this away’.
I see the utility in the 2 minute rule. One’s home would be completely clutter free if this was strictly adhered to. But my brain just can’t recognise these small tasks, my eyes pass over them without a thought. It’s like I don’t even see them, they don’t register with me. I think the 10 minutes of cleaning each day, for me, is a better system. I feel I have a pretty high standard for what I consider tidy so I don’t let my place fall into disarray.
Maybe the 2 minute rule will work for you, but I think I’ll stick with my daily cleaning instead.
The Pomodoro method is used when one needs to work for an extended period of time. It’s when you set yourself 25 minutes of uninterrupted work (this means putting your phone on silent or away) then schedule a 5 minute break, and repeat.
This one was the one I found most useful. At the start of the 21 days, I had committed to completing Jim Kwik’s speed reading course. Read the full review here. And at the end of it I had promised myself that I would do something I had never done before. Read an entire book in one day. Funnily enough, during the speed reading course, it was suggested that, to increase comprehension, one should implement the Pomodoro method. I was planning to do this anyway, and I believe it did help me focus more than if I sat down and tried to read the whole thing in one sitting. I took multiple breaks and managed to finish the entire book. I’m glad that it was a book that was interesting to me and it’s something I’m very proud of.
The Pomodoro method can be something that is adjusted to one’s preferences. I’m sure there’s no specific rule against working for 30 minutes and having a break for 7. But the idea is that you shouldn’t work for too long as this will supposedly burn you out. What I was most afraid of was that it would conflict with me attaining my ‘flow’ state, which is achieved after around 20 minutes of the right type of work. Fortunately, what I found was that when I was really getting into something for 25 minutes, after the 5 minute break I was able to jump right back into it no problem and the flow state came rushing back. It didn’t feel like the 5 minutes was breaking my momentum in any way which I was very happy with.
This is definitely something that I’ll be using in the future from here on out.
Time Keeping App:
I love statistics. One thing that I wish would happen when we die is that we get to see all of our statistics and rank them against other people. Statistics like, how many steps did I take in my lifetime, what swear word did I use the most, how many raindrops touched me, etc. Some of them would be important to know, (was I in the top 1% of fit people?) and others, not so much. But they would all be interesting just to see.
This helps capture that. Although there was no raindrop counter, I managed to capture 99% of my time. I find this fascinating. Seeing how much time you dedicate to each task relative to others can help put things into perspective, take for instance, social media. You know you spend too much time on social media, it can really creep up if you’re not careful. This is a great tool to know exactly how much time you’re potentially wasting.
Now, the utility of this is interesting. During the 21 days I never felt guilty for scrolling through social media - because I assigned time for it. Sitting down and saying ‘I’m going to go on social social media now’ and recording my time spent was very helpful, rather than just sneakily taking a peek for a few minutes every half hour, which always turns into more than just a peek.
What I struggled with was remembering to start or end the tasks. I would get 5, 10 minutes into a task and realise I hadn’t started the timer. Fortunately I was able to fix this, but it was a pain having to do this so often. The effort of starting and stopping a task was minimal, I just hadn’t developed the habit. I think, more for the sake of interest over anything else, that I will continue to do this.
It’s important to note that I wasn’t aiming to be working for all of my waking hours. It was that I was wanting to be efficient with the time I set aside for when I worked. So yes, you will see a lot of leisure time, some of which is actually essential to my bedtime routine.
Time blocking is where you pre-plan your day in advance. Some people are very strict with this, for instance Elon Musk time blocks in 5 minute intervals. So if he needed to attend a meeting for an hour, that would be 12, 5 minute time blocks. Other people are a bit more lenient and go for 15 or 30 minute time blocks. For me, I take the easy way. I divide my days into 3 chunks. Morning, afternoon, evening. It’s sort of a glorified to-do list. You’ll be more likely to do something when you write that thing down, and even more likely for it to be done if you write exactly when you’ll do it.
Brains are for having thoughts, not keeping them.
Remember this next time you say to yourself, ‘oh I’ll just remember to do that’. How about you don’t put that pressure on yourself and just slot it into your day by writing it down, either physically or digitally. I like the idea of me splitting my days up into 3 parts, it gives me a lot of flexibility when it comes to completing everything that needed to be done. Sometimes I would go to the gym in the late afternoon, other times it was the morning. Having this flexibility really suited how I work.
I actually love writing to-do lists. Waking up in the morning and having a few tasks that need to be done ends up being satisfying because you’re constantly ticking things off once you’ve completed them. Since I have a physical list, ticking something off felt like a real accomplishment, even if it was something small.
Time blocking is essential to getting things done. I highly recommend anyone do this who feels like they can never get on top of all the jobs they need to do in one day.
I’m not going to give an official rating on each of these productivity rules that I used as what worked for me, may not work for you. I would encourage all of you to try any of these techniques out if you want to improve your productivity. I hope that you can see the utility in each of them. Please, let me know which ones interest you and why. I’d also love to know if you currently employ any of these methods, or some variation of them.
Until next time,