There are early birds, night owls, Monday haters, yes people, procrastinators, micromanagers, slackers, over achievers, team players, do-ers, busy bees, and everything in between. The question is: what kind of a worker are you? Going one step further, which productivity methods are just right for you and how (and when) you work best?
Take a moment to think about how you work. When do you have the most energy, focus, and motivation? Do you take breaks when your energy’s zapped?
Over achievers, for instance, are highly productive, but there may be a cost to their overall performance, quality of work, and personal well-being. How long do yes-people have until they burn out, having taken on too much? Procrastinators, on the other hand, may avoid working on important tasks but they’ve only just prolonged how long they stress over it.
Finding the right productivity method for you and the way that you work best could make a world of difference to your performance, happiness, stress levels, and quality of work. You may just find that you like Mondays and that mornings aren’t so bad. Let’s find out.
7 Productivity Methods: Which One Suits Your Work Style Best?
1. Eat The Frog: For Big-Task Procrastinators
Mark Twain wisely once said, “if it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. If it's your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” In other words, identify the most important and biggest task on your to-do list and do it first. It’s probably a task that you’ve been thinking about for a while and procrastinating on, moving it from yesterday’s tasks to today’s or tomorrow’s. This is your frog—and you have to suck it up and eat it. Get it over with fast. Don’t let your frog sit there long, psyching you out.
Some of the most successful leaders and entrepreneurs follow this productivity method (there’s even a book on it). Why? Because it works. How much precious time and energy have you spent worrying about or putting off the biggest, ugliest, and, most often, important tasks? Procrastination is a productivity suck. Until you eat your frog of the day, it will hang over you like a cloud that affects your performance and ability to get stuff done.
Tip: Write down your task list, circle your frogs, and eat them first—then move on to the smaller, easier tasks now that you’ve gotten the worst over with.
2. Time Blocking: For Mapping Out Busy Schedules
Writing down your daily task list is an awesome habit to get into. Plus, it’s satisfying to check items off (hello, dopamine release!). But what happens when your day is action-packed with meetings, phone calls, emails, lunches, breaks, and other disruptions? What happens when you’re so busy that deadlines come and go? Enter: time blocking.
Time blocking is another productivity method that’s followed by many successful CEOs and world leaders such as Bill Gates. Unlike a checklist of tasks, time blocking takes your time into consideration. For example, if you have a two-hour morning meeting, block that time off in your schedule. Then, according to proper energy management, you’ll need a 20-minute break to recharge, so block that off too. Set aside, say, 30-minutes for checking emails and 90-minutes for a focused, productive “power hour.” Do this for your whole day and watch your productivity and focus increase, while meeting realistic deadlines.
Tip: Time block out your entire day—meetings, tasks, emails, and breaks included—and tick each item off as you complete them.
3. Pomodoro: For Focused Work Sprints And Breaks
For those of you who work heads-down for hours on end to complete a project without a break, this one's for you—but it will be a challenge. Pomodoro is a time management method not unlike Sprints, where you work in quick and focused increments and then take a break.
The idea is that you work off of a timer and in 25-minute intervals, aptly named pomodoros, with 5-minute breaks. After about four of these work sprints and breaks—120-minutes—you take a longer break of up to 20-minutes before getting back at it.
Breaks can be as simple as refreshing your water glass, going for a walk around the block, stretching, dancing, socializing, you name it. During the 25-minute productivity interval, focus on one task and see how much you can get done before your timer goes off. You may be tempted to ignore the breaks, but don’t. Watch your productivity, quality of work, and performance increase, while your stress levels and tendency to burn out decrease.
Tip: Set a 25-timer and focus on one task, seeing how much you can get done before you take a 5-minute breather.
4. Biological Prime Time: For Your Best Productivity Times
Your biological prime time is just as it sounds: your personal best times in a day to get work done. It’s based on your dips and peaks of energy levels, productivity, motivation, and focus throughout the day. What you’ve eaten and when, your sleep patterns, how much exercise you’ve had, and so on, are external factors. Think of your biological prime time as a constant.
Some folks, for example, tend to be “morning people,” having increased drive and focus in the morning and crashing in the afternoon. Others are “night owls,” feeling unmotivated until later in the day. For the next few weeks, take a quick note of your energy level every hour. You’ll see a pattern take shape. Once you know your biological prime times, focus your high-energy moments for important projects and your low-energy for rest and recovery or easier tasks.
Tip: Map your energy levels throughout the day. Schedule high-energy and focus tasks for your biological prime times and rest for your downtimes.
5. Zen To Done: For Productivity Habits You’ll Stick ToZen To Done (ZTD) is a productivity system that’s based on the most helpful aspects of the ever-popular system called Getting Things Done (GTD). “It’s about the habits and the doing, not the system or the tools,” quotes ZTD’s creator, Leo Babauta. ZTD is a simple system based on choosing one of ten habits, all meant to keep you more productive and organized, and focusing on it for 30 days before moving onto the next habit. This is great for anyone who struggles to focus and needs to simplify what needs to get done.
The 10 Habits Of Zen To Done Productivity Method:
- Collect: Write down ideas, tasks, and thoughts as they come to you to get them out of your head and onto paper.
- Process: Make decisions and answer emails quickly, so that it doesn’t pile up, procrastinating for later.
- Plan: Write down your biggest must-do’s for the week, schedule them out, and do them first every day.
- Do: Focus on one task at a time—turn off your phone and don’t check emails or task switch until a set time or it’s done.
- Simple Trusted System: Keep simple lists, check tasks off as you go, and stick to your daily lists.
- Organize: Declutter and organize your space, your inbox, and your mind—that means dealing with action items as they arise and deleting the rest.
- Review: Do a weekly review of your goals and your progress, adjusting your systems and objectives accordingly.
- Simplify: Reduce your tasks and goals down to the bare essentials and focus on them.
- Routine: Set and keep a daily routine that gives you time to be focused and productive and recharge.
- Passion: Seek work that you’re passionate about or love and notice how little you procrastinate (and how happy you are).
Tip: Pick the productivity habit that is most useful to you (or start at 1 and work your way through), try it for 30 days, before moving onto the next.
6. Don't Break The Chain: For Visualizing Your Daily Wins
Comedian Jerry Seinfield made it his goal to write one joke a day. The joke didn’t even have to be funny! He could spend as little as five minutes a day on his craft. But that was his goal, plain and simple: to work on what he loved every day.
To hold himself accountable, he took a big bright red marker to a calendar and crossed it off with a very satisfying ‘X’ once he’d written his daily joke (or more, if he got into the groove). Soon, he had a chain of bright red X’s on his calendar, hence where the phrase don’t break the chain came from. This is a visual reminder of the effort put in and a good motivator to keep up the work. After all, practice makes perfect.
Tip: Do one thing, however simple, quick, or small, related to your craft every day and mark that day off.
7. The Commitment Inventory: For Those Who Do It All
For those of you who have tried every productivity method, but still can’t focus your attention, Mark Forster’s Commitment Inventory might be just right for you. This is ideal for those who try to do it all and can’t choose or prioritize tasks. You’re a yes person. As a result, you have a big task list, too many commitments, and are stretched too thin to perform your best. Let’s avoid burnout and total destruction, shall we?
6 Steps To Making A Commitment Inventory:
- List: Write down a complete list of how you spend your time (including chores, family time, meetings, exercise, and task breakdown).
- Combine and categorize: Narrow the list down into categories and assign a percent of time spent on each. Visual pie charts are helpful here!
- Review: Ensure that important commitments have enough time to do it well, cut the rest, and adjust your totals to equal 100%.
- Schedule: According to how much time you want (or need) to spend per category, schedule out your day.
- Checklists: Work in checklists, rather than to-do lists, because they are more granular, breaking down tasks into smaller parts with less resistance.
- Work in bursts: Focus on one thing for a set amount of time before switching to another, switching between work commitments and play.
Tip: Drawing out your commitment inventory will help you see how you’re spending your time versus how you want to be spending it. Make time for work and play—to see just how productive you can be.
Finding Your Personal Best Productivity Method
Back to you. Only you know how you work best, but it may take some soul searching to bring it out. You are unique—and that’s so beautifully human of you! Now it’s time to honor your uniqueness by working with your strengths and weaknesses (or opportunities for improvement), rather than against them.
If you take on too much and have a wildly busy schedule with no time to get anything done properly, where can you let go of some control? What do you need to do in order to balance your workday schedule? If you procrastinate, think about how much time you spend thinking about the project. Does it take up more time and energy than just doing it?
Get to know how you work and experiment with productivity methods until you find the one that’s just right.
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