Ever since I came back to Ottawa 2 years ago, I have been juggling full time school with training for skiing. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about being productive and managing time. While I’m aware this is a pretty standard subject to write about, everybody’s techniques for productivity and time management are different – so I thought I’d share my views on this subject. I hope that some of my tricks will be helpful to some people. Read what I have to say, then decide for yourself what parts of it may perhaps be beneficial to you.
Let me preface this as well by saying that living extremely productively, while sometimes necessary for people in my situation, is not a very balanced way to live. It’s a tool, to be used when necessary. When it’s not needed anymore, do try to take a step back and enjoy the scenery.
For me, the primary source of stress in to a busy schedule is the uncertainty associated with not knowing if you’re addressing all the items in your schedule, and not knowing if you’ll be able to address them on time.
So while this is pretty obvious, keeping a to do list up to date is essential to keeping up with all the work you need to do. I find just a simple note document synced across all my computers works best for me (and believe me I have tried many different apps and tools). I keep the items arranged by the day on which I plan to complete them.
Some other tips on to do lists:
Every night before you go to bed, update your to do list for the next day so that the following day is planned out before you go to bed. This helps you stop working mentally when you go to sleep, since you're assigning the remaining jobs to the next day, rather than viewing it as just a continuous haul. It also helps you get started more quickly on your work the next day.
The way you write your to do list is very important. It’s important to break down complex tasks into manageble, doable ones. It’s also important to word your to do list in terms of specific actions you want to take, rather than general “Do x” items. Even more specifically, use words like “email” or “phone” instead of contact. It may seem trivial, but it helps. I swear. For example:
- Fix window
- Measure window dimensions
- Call XYZ winows (123) 456-7890 with dimensions
- Finish essay
- Choose 3 main arguments to support thesis
- Find evidence to support all three
- Write 3 main body paragraphs on each.
- Summarize body paragraphs into an introduction and conclusion
- Learn german
- Sign up for an account on duolingo.com and begin doing exercises.
Taking the extra time to write your todo list properly makes the entire thing seem much more manageable, so completing the tasks on it ends up being much easier.
Multitasking is never as efficient as focusing on one task until it’s complete. For that reason, I like to dedicate entire blocks of time to finishing a certain job or project. I refer to this as “locking in”, or alternatively, “crushing it”. Locking in requires an absense of all distractions for an extended period of time – so it’s important to prepare properly. These are the steps I follow, but they may differ from person to person.
Set up workspace properly. Ensure there are proper rations (water and snacks) to sustain you for the entire time you’ll be there. A large cup of coffee, a water bottle, and a bag of dried mangos is my personal favourite.
Eliminate contact with other people. Close the door to your room, put your phone on silent, close facebook. Then put on music to help you focus and drown out distracting noises. I do the following to create the correct study-music ambiance.
Step 1: Pick study music playlist. I find the best music is instrumental, epic music. Movie soundtracks are excellent – computer game soundtracks too. I created this playlist on 8tracks for this very purpose: http://8tracks.com/koercion/just-crush-it.
Step 2: Activate rain ambiance. Go here in another tab: http://www.rainymood.com.
Step 3: Actviate cozy fireplace ambiance. Go here in a third tab: http://endlessvideo.com/watch?v=eyU3bRy2x44.
- Work until your todo list is done.
Another aspect of staying productive is being efficient in the other aspects of your day. This is not a great way to live. But, if you are under stress having too much on your plate, then being efficient is key.
There are many ways about this but it comes down generally to the following things:
- Not talking to people much.
- Doing the bare minimum of day-to-day work – such as cleaning, cooking, etc.
- Pushing off jobs that aren’t time sensitive to a later date.
So like I said it sucks. But, if the alternative is not finishing your work, or large amounts of stress, then it can help. Especially for only 1-2 days to finish things.
When you’re working, it’s important to realize 2 things:
- Your time is limited.
- Your work ethic and focus are limited.
Because of this, how your sort your tasks is important. Whatever job you choose to do first will be the job you do the fastest and most efficiently of the day. The task you do last will be the lowest quality work and the slowest.
So if the first task you take on in a day is responding to emails, browsing reddit, and/or facebook, then you’re wasting your willpower. Instead, start with the tough jobs and get them done. Keep the lower priority, mindless jobs for later in the day.
Tough jobs could include: heavy reading, assignments, essay/report writing, etc…
Mindless jobs could include: cleaning, dishes, data entry, ski waxing, etc…
Again, this may seem obvious, but many people like to do jobs like cleaning, or cleaning their inbox, or responding to messages on facebook prior getting to work – and the opposite order is usually more effiicent.
This may just be for me, but I find breaks usually are more often than not an excuse to watch that video you’ve been dying to watch or do other mindless work. But that’s not an effective break at all.
For me, the best strategy is: work 2-4 hours in one shot, then, if you do need a break, make it a good break. Do something away from the computer, get something to eat, talk to somebody, go for a short walk. Browsing reddit isn’t a big enough difference from actual work I find, and does nothing to “refresh me”.
Planning your training for the time slot in between two big work blocks is another good method. Keep in mind another thing – training after a big work block will be less effective, and doing work after a big training will also be less effective. So for a given day, prioritize. If you have something that requires a lot of mental energy, do the bulk of it before your training. If you have an important interval set that you need to perform well at, perhaps do it before your work that day.
These are my thoughts on the subject! If some of them ring true for you, give them a try sometime. And if not, don’t think you’re doing something wrong – this is what works for me, but is definitely not what will work for everybody. Pick and choose the nuggets you like.