Your ability to be highly productive is one of the key determining factors in your professional success. Those who are able to consistently produce high-quality results at a fast rate are the ones who get ahead in business and life.
However, in a world where distractions are overly abundant and to-dos never seem to end, it can be quite challenging to actually be highly productive and do the things you know you should do.
That’s why I decided to write this article. I’ll share five productivity techniques that you can apply right now, this very moment, in order to make your day a highly productive one. I personally use these techniques on a daily basis and all of them build upon each other. So the more you apply, the more productive you become.
Technique 1: Create A ‘Success List’ Using The ABCDE Method
Instead of creating a to-do list, I recommend you create a ‘success list’. Even though the two seem quite similar, there is one fundamental difference between both:
Where a to-do list doesn’t distinguish between the importance of tasks, a success list does.
When you have 14 items on your to-do list, there are always a few tasks that are much more important than others. However, as a to-do list doesn’t indicate this, it’s easy to get lost in productive procrastination. Before you know it, you find yourself crushing many to-do’s, but not really making any significant progress or getting meaningful results.
That’s where a ‘success list’ comes in. Contrary to an ordinary to-do list, your success list does indicate which tasks are more important and thus it clearly shows which tasks should be your priority to get done before you move on to lower value tasks.
Personally, I use the ABCDE Method to create my success list and I’ve found it to be one of the best prioritization tools out there. For each item that’s on my to-do list, I assign either an A, B, C, D or E to it.
I assign an ‘A’ to those 1–3 tasks that the most valuable and most important tasks for the day. You never want to procrastinate on these tasks (even though most people do) because they have the biggest upside if you do complete them, and the biggest downside if you don’t complete them.
If you have, multiple ‘A’ tasks, your most important task should be labelled as A1, followed by A2 and A3.
Then, I assign a ‘B’ to those tasks that are somewhat valuable and somewhat important — but not as much as ‘A’ tasks. These tasks have some upside if completed and some downside if not completed. It’s good to get these tasks done, but they should never get in the way of your ‘A’ tasks.
I then assign a ‘C’ to all those tasks that don’t really add that much value anyway. This is the typical ‘busywork’ that we can fill hours of work with while not really doing anything meaningful.
And, last but not least, I assign a ‘D’ to all the tasks that I should delegate, as someone else can do it faster, better or cheaper. The letter ‘E’ is left for all the tasks that you can actually eliminate because they aren’t necessary after all. But if you plan your day right, you won’t need this letter that often.
Important: I resolve to finish my ‘A’ tasks before working on my ‘B’ tasks, to avoid productive procrastination and to make the most effective use of my energy and mental resources (which run out as the day progresses).
Technique 2: Schedule Your Day Based On Your Success List
Based on your created ‘success list’, you can now start to schedule your day. By scheduling your day, you create the exact clarity on when you’re going to do what. This is such a simple productivity technique, yet it’s essential for actually doing what you set out to do.
Instead of keeping in your mind when you need to do what (which occupies valuable mental resources that should actually be used for focusing, solving problems and deep thinking), you actually create a solid plan for achievement by scheduling your day.
In fact, research has shown that making an implementation intention by scheduling your tasks leads to an average 91% success rate (which means, actually doing the task instead of procrastinating on it).
In contrary, the participants who didn’t specify exactly when and where they’d work on what only had a 34% success rate. That’s a big difference for such a small and easy productivity technique.
When scheduling your day, plan your most important tasks (A-tasks) at the start of your day, when your brain still has the energy to focus deeply. When possible, resolve to complete most of your A-tasks before you start working on your B-tasks, etc.
Technique 3: Apply Parkinson’s Law On Your Tasks
Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’ which means that if you give yourself an entire day to complete a 2-hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting.
We will, in fact, take the entire day to accomplish this relatively minor task.
It’s not like this extra time truly improves the quality of the work. Instead, most of the extra time is wasted away procrastinating, pondering over irrelevant details and getting distracted by things like e-mail and social media.
Therefore, the essence of Parkinson’s Law is to set deadlines that are much shorter than you’ve ever set them before. This forces you to focus on the essentials, avoid distractions and stop procrastinating — making you extremely productive as you’re forced to make the most of your time.
When you have too much time available for completing a task, you won’t feel the necessity, motivation or pressure to work with focus and intensity. There’s space available to waste time, so you’ll (subconsciously) make use of this space. The solution is to make your deadlines shorter. Much shorter.
In fact, try cutting your deadlines in half. If you’d normally take 4 hours to finish an A-task, see if you can finish it in 2 hours. This may seem unrealistic at first, but you might surprise yourself at how much more productive you become when your time is limited. It’s very likely that you’ll find ways to get it done within the limited time — and get it done well.
If you can’t make the new deadline, you either (1) have to truthfully analyze if you’re still pondering over irrelevant details or whether you’re still wasting time on meaningless distractions, or (2) loosen the deadline a bit until you find your ideal sweet spot.
Technique 4: Get Into ‘Flow State’ To Work Super Productively
In order to actually reach the new deadline set using Parkinson’s Law, you need to be able to focus deeply and intensely on your work. In other words, you need to get into ‘flow state’ on a daily basis so that you’re able to work much faster while also making fewer mistakes.
Instead, most people work in a state of semi-distraction. A Harvard study has actually shown that the average knowledge worker spends 47% of his or her workday in a state of semi-distraction. In other words, there’s a lot of productivity to gain there.
While writing a blogpost, they also regularly check social media, have their email tab open, refresh news websites or quickly work on another (often easier and more stimulating) task.
This is detrimental to your focus and productivity, as each time that your attention is pulled away from your important work at hand and directed to another task or distraction, your ability to focus decreases due to something called ‘attention residue’.
Essentially, attention residue means that some of your attention is left behind at the other task (or distraction) and it takes about 22 minutes before 100% of your attention is back on your original task. Consider the fact that research has shown that the average knowledge worker is distracted every 11 minutes, and you quickly see how problematic this is.
Most of us probably haven’t reached our deepest levels of focus — or flow state — for years.
Getting into flow state is a whole topic in and of itself, that’s why I recommend you check out this article that I’ve written about it. However, I’ll give you a quick overview of the 6-steps that I use in order to reach flow state daily.
Step 1: Work At Your Peak Biological Time — Work in the morning or right after a solid break so that your brain has the energy required for deep focus.
Step 2: Remove All Possible Distractions — Before you start working, close all unnecessary tabs (especially email, social media and news websites), put your phone on flight mode and put in earplugs to avoid getting distracted. Remember, distractions are enemy numero uno of your focus and productivity.
Step 3: Hydrate Sufficiently — Your brain needs enough water in order to prevent brain fog and fatigue.
Step 4: Pick One Task & Objective — To avoid multi-tasking and to create the clarity you need to focus deeply.
Step 5: Set A Time-Limit — You can only focus for so long. Determine beforehand for how long you’re going to work with intense focus in order to increase the odds of success.
Step 6: Use Music To Your Advantage — Instrumental and repetitive type music such as trance, techno or classical music helps to keep external and internal (inner chatter) distractions at a minimum. You can also put one song on repeat for your entire session if you prefer.
I recommend you follow these 6 steps daily in order to reach ‘flow state’. From this highly productive state, you can make sure you actually complete your A-tasks within the ambitious deadline set using Parkinson’s Law.
Technique 5: Batch Produce Lesser Important Tasks
By applying the productivity techniques that we discussed above, you’re already highly productive. However, we simply can’t always escape those lesser important tasks, whether it’s email, answering comments or making phone calls.
One way to efficiently finish these lesser important tasks is by batch producing them. With batch production, you essentially lump a few tasks together and finish them all in one effective go instead of doing them scattered throughout your day.
You can compare this to doing your laundry. You wouldn’t do your laundry each time you have a new dirty pair of socks. Instead, over the period of a few days, you collect your dirty laundry and you ‘batch produce’ it all in one go. This way, you don’t have to do your laundry multiple times per day, which would be crazy.
Yet, this is what most of us do with routine and low-value tasks such as email, answering comments, checking our business statistics or making phone calls. We scatter them throughout our day, thereby distracting ourselves from important work and we lose a lot of time by continuous switching between tasks. We, metaphorically, do our laundry multiple times per day instead of in one efficient go.
Personally, I find it highly effective to pick one (or two) hours at the end of my workday to lump certain B- and C-tasks together and get rid of them in one efficient go — batch producing — so they won’t get in the way of my A-tasks or disrupt my focus. I often apply Parkinson’s Law to these batch production sessions as well.
Now Do It
Knowing is not enough to increase your productivity, you actually need to take action upon what you know. Therefore, I invite you to try out these 5 productivity techniques as soon as possible and see the results for yourself!
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab