Our self-esteem no longer exists independent of our achievements. For most of us, the amount of work we do, translates into how we feel about ourselves. Personally, I need to complete N number of tasks in order to value myself as a human being. When I fail the impossible standards I set for myself, it feels like the end of the whole world. While that does reek of deep psychological malfunctioning, it has led me to work my way through myriad personal productivity systems.
I say ‘personal’, because there is no hard and fast rule that works for everybody. Concentration spans differ markedly, and so does work load. That is why there are so many digital applications based on starkly contrasting philosophies, all (almost) equally popular. Every productivity system finds its due audience. Today, we will try to figure out the best one for you.
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Here is a compilation of productivity systems that have appealed most, to me:
- The Pomodoro
This is my favorite personal productivity system, because it focuses on the biggest problem that I have- the inability to concentrate for an extended period. I love taking breaks, and Pomodoro allows that amply.
According to this technique, you have to divide your ‘tasks’ into 25-minute segments. After each, you have to take a 5-minute breather. Once you complete 4 Pomodoro, you can and must give your brain a 30-minute rest.
The time divisions are negotiable. You can start off with a 15-minute Pomodoro, and a 15-minute breather combination. It can be very difficult to suddenly invest a big chunk of your attention into something. Ease into it so that the workload does not completely scare you off of your path.
A Google Playstore application aimed to increase productivity, is called ‘Forest’. It lets you plant a virtual tree and set a timer for its growth. For example, let us assume that I have set myself a 25-minute Pomodoro. I set the ‘Forest’ timer to 25 minutes and choose a virtual tree to plant in my virtual garden. If I unlock my phone before the set timer goes off, then the tree dies. The higher the minutes of your concentration, the more options you get in the ‘tree section’. It is an interesting leverage to manipulate my productivity ducts, albeit quite brutal.
- Getting Things Done
It employs the simplest of mechanisms. Imagine a Factory Assembly Line. The product keeps moving from one employee to the other, and the end product is dumped into a common basket. In this particular method, you happen to be all of those employees.
The key is to break your task down into simple bits and execute them lineally. It is like running a marathon for your brain. The finished products’ pile, pumps the productivity even further.
A helpful tip for this and all other productivity methods is the 2-minute rule. If you think you can finish a task in roughly 2 minutes, then you must get up and do it immediately. You will be surprised at how many things you accomplish if you just imbibe this simple tactic.
- The Chain
We are creatures of habit. Once we start doing something on a regular basis, it becomes an inherent part of our system. For example, I wake up at 8 am to go to the University. Even on my holidays, my body is programmed to become alert at 8. While it is incredibly annoying, it goes on to prove the efficiency of this particular method.
‘Don’t Break The Chain’ needs you to keep a track of the tasks you accomplish every day. Put a cross on the calendar, for each day that you achieve a minimum number of tasks. That way, when you avoid working, the gap in the crosses will guilt you into doing something.
An alternative and equally important use of this method is to know when to reward yourself with a break. If you keep a track of the chain of accomplishments, then you will know when your brain requires a breather. We are not robots, irrespective of how hard we try.
- Zen to Done
This technique suggests tiny changes in your everyday lifestyle that will help you be more productive. ZTD depends on the creation of new habits that are healthy for your work life.
First, carry a pocket notepad everywhere in order to list the sudden tasks or projects that come to mind. Second, respond to emails or urgent messages immediately, instead of postponing them into an inbox explosion. Third, list your Most Important Task(s) for the week, at the very beginning, and get done with 1-3 MITs religiously, per day. Fourth, when you are devoting time to a task, ensure that you do just that, without any distractions. Fifth, keep simple lists, divided under broader subheadings, which you continuously check off throughout the day. Sixth, be more organized about your work, and dedicate a specific space for the incoming projects. Seventh, keep a statistical analysis and review your progress weekly. Eighth, keep your tasks restricted to the most important ones, and get to them hierarchically. Ninth, maintain your routine, come hail or high storm. Tenth, try working on things that bring you happiness, and satiate your zeal.
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- Final Version
This is an incredibly effective way to proceed for procrastinators. This method asks you to list the major tasks you need to complete in the day- the MITs. Once that is done, you start with the first boulder, but realize that there are a couple of rocks you need to arrange in order to get started with that boulder. One by one, you jot down these small rock-tasks as and when you get to them. The MITs being the set goal for the day, demand being achieved, and this method of work tricks you into rapidly completely the small in-between tasks, as well.
Jotting them down as we go, instead of enlisting them with the MITs right at the start, prevents us from being scared and overwhelmed with our workload. When we have too much laundry, we keep postponing it, and the pile just keeps rising higher.
Why then do we jot down these intermediate tasks at all? Because we are human. We deserve credit for the smallest things we achieve in this century that is a literal pressure cooker. In addition, the act of “adding accomplishments” to the list, instead of “crossing out completed tasks”, brings a more positive spin to the entire process.
- Take A Nap
Sometimes, our system needs a desperate reboot. In trying to force our brain to exude boundless productivity, we forget that it is, at the end of the day, only an organ. We cut out machines more slack, give them more rest and freedom, than we do to ourselves. Our health suffers, our brain shudders, and yet we thunder forward with the last vestiges of what used to be our sanity. If you feel tired and incredibly worn out, please, for the love of Beyoncé, take a nap. It will not be the end of the world. If it is any consolation, then your tasks will be waiting for you, even when you get back. Trust me, they are not going anywhere.
Once you have settled upon a personal productivity system, you have to learn how to maintain it. Sticking to a set routine is very, very important. The brain works best in repeated patterns, since it has gotten used to it. This is why a ready prescription for crippled inspiration encourages people to change methods. If you keep flipping through methods, then your mind will not be able to settle on any, become unnecessarily jittery, and cause harm to your deadlines. Don’t spend too much thought on choosing a perfect system either. All of these methods are aimed at one thing: getting the job done. That is all that ever counts. Also, this is not a marriage in the medieval ages. If you start with one system, then it does not require you to spend the rest of your life in loyal association with it. You are allowed to shift to other methods if this does not quite work to your benefit.
Another important aspect of a personal productivity system is the flexibility. You do not have to abide by the rules as they have been given here, or anywhere else. They are subject to, and should be modified by what brings you comfort, and serves you best. If you can concentrate for 2 hours at a stretch, then do not allow the Pomodoro to restrict you to 25 minutes. Similarly, if 25 minutes seems like an eternal stretch to you, then you can start from as less as 10-minute Pomodoro. The goal of this entire enterprise is to help you devise a method that suits your individual, unique working style.
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I hope this discussion helps you settle on a productivity system that you love, and can work with. God knows there is nothing better than laying down at night knowing that you are not carrying any baggage forward into the next day.
Featured image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License