The Productivity Guide: All You Need To Know To Be Efficient


Productivity Definition

Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person to perform a specific task.

We often think it is a state of constant efficiency that allows us to do everything faster and better, but this is wrong. Productivity is a measurement per individual task.

If you try to measure productivity as the number of tasks you accomplish daily, you still have to count in each individual assignment, which endorses the idea that productivity is a measurement per task.

Productivity From Within And Without

There are different strategies for productivity, and all those strategies can be classified into two main categories: external productivity and internal productivity.

External productivity is what usually people put their emphasis on. Also, it is what all those products, apps, and services promise to deliver. External productivity is all about automation, better tools, frameworks, software, and anything that allows you to perform your work better and faster. It has a significant potential to improve your performance by taking advantage of technology and advanced tools.

Internal productivity, on the other hand, is often overlooked. Unlike the external one, internal productivity is all about your cognitive and physical performance, about your ability to focus, sustain your attention on the task at hand, manage your energy, and, generally speaking, understand how your body and mind works.

Gaining Productivity Expertise — The Pyramid Of Mastery

Pyramid of Mastery

The Pyramid of Mastery is a model that defines any domain in terms of 4 categories:

Elements are the fundamental building blocks that make up a domain. In productivity, elements are abstract: focus, attention, working memory, sensory channels, etc.

Rules are the laws by which the elements interact with each other and general principles that govern a domain. Some rules are: goal-directed attention is easily distracted, senses have a different throughput, working memory cannot perform two tasks simultaneously (hence multitasking is a myth), etc.

Tools are the instruments that help you operate with the Elements and Rules. The majority of productivity tools nowadays are software apps. One of the best productivity tools is pen and paper.

Frameworks are a combination of the previous layers. A Framework is a layer of abstraction that hides the underlying fundamentals behind a friendly facade that is easy to use to achieve a specific goal. Some frameworks in productivity are office suites and various productivity methods (e.g., 80/20 Rule, The Eisenhower Method, and others).

All four layers together allow you to be an expert in your field. Leave one out, and there will always be something you do not fully understand. And when you don’t understand something, you cannot be fully efficient at it.

If you would like to find out more about how the Pyramid of Mastery applies to the field of productivity, I wrote a separate article on that topic.

Productivity Approaches

Generally speaking, you can be more productive by taking one or several of the following approaches:

1. Delegate/Outsource the task. This approach is the most efficient from the time standpoint as it frees all your time and allows you to focus on other tasks. Although it is limited in how much you can delegate/outsource, it is crucial to keep in mind that you can and need to delegate.

2. Automate the task. If you cannot delegate/outsource, think about whether your work on a task can be either fully or partially automated. There are lots of services, products, and programs that can do the work for you in a broad range of areas. If their cost is smaller than the value of the time you can save using them, then do it.

3. Use better tools and learn them well. If automation is also not an option, then it means you need to do it. Having good tools is crucial if you want to be productive. A thorough understanding of their functions can make a big difference. In the case of software, learn its features and the shortcuts of the most frequently used functionality by you.

4. Understand cognitive processes and learn what works best for you. Whenever we need to perform mental work, understanding how our senses, attention, working memory, and other relevant processes work can make a huge difference. As a plant flourishes, when the conditions are right, our brains can be incredibly performant whenever we offer them the right environment in which they can function.

My Top Productivity Strategies

The SOY Rule. This is a meta strategy I came up with some time ago that help me make the right decisions when it comes to taking on new opportunities. No matter how productive you are, if you have too much on your plate, your attention and energy will split into too many places, and that will affect your productivity. The rule is simple: at any one point in time, I should have no more than three ongoing projects, and by an ongoing project, I mean any work that spans for longer than one week. Having more than that will scatter your energy and attention to the detriment of effectiveness.

Plan Your Day In Advance. It is much easier to follow a predefined list of steps rather than having only the destination in mind and think about your next course of action after each task. The 10–15 minutes spent in the evening to decide and prioritize what you will work on will save you plenty of energy and time the following day.

More Productivity Tips For Every Day

1. Reduce Distractions As Much As Possible. If there is something that can distract you, sooner or later, it will distract you. Therefore, if you want to keep focused for a longer time, remove as many distractions as you can. This includes visual distractions on your table and screen (yes, those Facebook and Twitter tabs are hooking your attention pretty easy, aren’t they?), audial distractions (buy yourself a good pair of noise-canceling headphones), and other types of disturbances that distract you regularly.

2. Put Your Phone Away. Although it is also a distraction, this tip deserves a separate mention. Put your phone on silent mode and away from your sight (not in your pocket). All those sounds (including notifications, calls, etc.) and flashes are nothing else than stimuli that have their primary goal to grab your attention and distract you from the thing you are focused on. It is also essential to put the phone away, as having it in your area of sight will also urge you to grab it when you see it on the table.

3. Split Your Tasks Into Manageable Chunks. If an assignment is too big for you to comprehend, consider splitting it into several smaller subtasks until you get them of a size that you can easily accomplish. A positive side-effect of this is that smaller tasks provide a sense of progress, positively affecting your overall state and mood.

4. Use Good Tools And Learn Them Properly. If you use software tools, learn the shortcuts of the programs you work in as it will save you dozens of hours within a year. If you use physical tools, buy high-quality tools, as they will pay off multiple times.

5. Your Energy Is More Important Than The Allocated Time. Time Management is overrated. It’s not that timing your tasks is not essential, but time is absolute. It is independent of anything. Consider your energy levels when planning your tasks. Your energy is what matters when working on a job. You can spend 2 hours banging your head against something in the evening when you are tired and then complete that task in 30 minutes the next morning. Know when you are more productive and work on the most important tasks then.

6. Use Visual Aids. A pen and a piece of paper are sometimes the best, simple, and most efficient productivity tools you can use. If the task you are working on relies on manipulating multiple pieces of information at a time, write them on paper or draw a diagram. That will free up resources necessary to store them in your working memory so that you can focus on processing and manipulating them instead. This will also involve your visual sense, allowing you to make more potentially relevant connections between ideas.

All Productivity Articles

These are all articles I have written on productivity. Enjoy!

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