The word productive is defined as ‘’achieving a significant amount or a result’’. This means being in a state of mind when you get work done, achieve tasks or planned goals. The Cambridge dictionary definition of being productive here means achieving good results. Do you notice how the word ‘achieving’ seems to stand out in all these definitions? That is because being productive must have an outcome, which is usually marked by a feeling of achievement.
We all know what it feels like to achieve our goals whether it is bagging an MBA, winning a medal in a race, getting a long-awaited promotion, building your own house or simply just completing a task left undone. According to the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology, a need for achievement is ‘’a strong desire to accomplish goals and attain a high standard of performance and personal fulfilment’’. If you are someone like me that is result-oriented and has a high need for achievement, you have a strong desire to attain a high level of personal fulfilment.
There is so much distraction all around us that sometimes makes it difficult for us to attain this personal fulfilment. These distractions either interrupt our train of thought or draw our attention away from our primary focus of interest per time.
Here are a few tips to help you zone in and get into a productive work mode:
1. Find your creative zone: this could be an actual location or spot in your home (if you work remotely); a time of the day when your thoughts seem to come together; or elements around you that inspire you e.g. books, music, art, nature, movies etc. You must identify it and activate it especially when working on tasks that require focus.
2. Activate your ‘rituals’ leading up to the day’s activities: we all have habits for starting the day. Before I started working remotely, my daily routine to get prepared for work was to choose an outfit, decide which bag I was taking to work (I usually decide at the beginning of the week), decide what am having for lunch (take food from home or eat out), and pack my bags. If I break this routine e.g. decide to wear a different outfit the next morning, it kind of moves me away from my flow and I usually end up being late to work on such days. Just identify what works for you and be consistent with it so it becomes a habit.
3. Capture the random thoughts: some tasks require deep thought over a period of time. Be sure to captures these thoughts or ideas somewhere as they flow through your mind. It could be in a journal, to-do list, or calendar app. The idea is to put the thoughts down as they come, sort them into buckets and decide what you want to do with them later and when you plan to get to them. That way you don’t lose those creative ideas and at the same time, you minimize their distraction, so you can get back into a focus zone.
4. Harmonize your schedule: we all have various commitments we have made to people, activities or responsibilities you have committed to. It is important that we have a ‘bird-eye’ view of all these commitments to prevent overlaps, missed deadlines, or unscheduled tasks cropping up that disrupt your plan. For example, I use the calendar on my phone alongside Microsoft Outlook to plan my meetings and I consult both schedules before I agree to any meeting or event.
5. Setting deadlines: setting a deadline creates a sense of accountability and encourages you to deliver on your goals. You mustn’t fear deadlines, but rather embrace them as it is usually the pathway to accomplishments. For example, you can choose to deliberately set a deadline target for yourself, even when the beneficiary of the task does not set one for you. I observed that the times I have done this, I complete such tasks on time and deliver something good. Where I don’t set a deadline often I procrastinate on such tasks.
Deadlines should be SMART, i.e. very specific, measurable, realistic, achievable, and time-bound. Deadlines can also be tied to rewards or penalties that will motivate us to complete the task. For example, while doing my online MBA, I assigned myself an extra course load in the last month, so I could finish in line with my deadline. Once I achieve this, I intend to reward myself with a trip to the spa (a.k.a ME time!). What do you think? (winks).
6. Have a separate strategy for handling long term goals and day-to-day tasks: the approach for handling long term goals which will be different from tactical tasks. Curate tasks that could not be completed within that day and determine how many days you require to complete them e.g. one day, 2 weeks etc. Plan your strategy to achieve them based on the volume of work and your velocity i.e. how much work you can get done within a specific time frame.
7. Adopt Time-boxing: this is called a zero-based calendar, where you block every minute of your day, even bathroom breaks and gisting time. This workstyle is said to reduce distractions and has already been adopted by some of the world’s most productive people, including Elon Musk and Bill Gates. It involves:
a. Reflect on your priorities: why are you doing this? this will encourage you to get things done.
b. Start with your routine: most of your daily tasks already follow a rhythm so start with that and add in your planned tasks for the day.
c. Schedule your most focused tasks: put in the most complex and meaningful tasks that demand unbroken blocks of concentration.
d. Plan for “reactive” time: note that you need time to react to unexpected emails and urgent but important tasks that arise each day.
e. Add a daily to-do list: write out your tasks for the day and fit them into the appropriate time slots.
Tricks to avert distractions
You need to take note of what usually distracts you or interrupts your work. Decide how you intend to handle them before they happen. For example, if you work from home and your kids return from school at a certain time, try and get most of your thinking work done before they arrive or after they have gone to bed. Nir Eyal, Author of the book ‘Indistractable’ shares some tips on overcoming distractions for further reading here.
Repeat the process: conduct a daily ‘retrospective’ at the end of the workday. See how you fared, discover what worked well for you and what didn’t. Then make the changes you need and keep improving.
Stick to your schedule – as much as possible avoid changes to this routine till it becomes a habit. You can delegate those reactive tasks so as not to break your flow and come back to it later.
Eyal, N. (2019). Being ‘Indistractable’ Will Be the Skill of the Future. Retrieved from https://onezero.medium.com/being-indistractable-will-be-the-skill-of-the-future-a07780cf36f4
Stillman, J. (2020). Being Indistractable Is a Modern Superpower. Here’s How Elon Musk Nails It. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/how-to-eliminate-distractions-schedule-day-productivity.html
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Carol Ariyibi assists individuals to develop a strong work ethic around their passion using practical principles for execution. Carol is a certified Agile Practitioner and Coach, Change Leader, Programme/Project Manager in the Digital solutions delivery space. She currently oversees the execution of transformation strategies, digital products, and champions agile and change management practices in Sterling Bank. Outside work, Carol loves writing, watching movies, teaching young adults and spending time with family.