Everybody has a productivity hamartia. Unless you are a fan of Shakespeare I bet you would not be familiar with the word hamartia.
So let me explain.
A hamartia is a fatal flaw that leads to the tragic fall of the hero or heroine. So your productivity hamartia is your fatal flaw–that kink that keeps you from getting work done.
Maybe you are a procrastinator, like me, or you spend too much time on one task and have no time left for anything else. With the following list of productivity techniques, you can tackle your hamartia and increase your productivity exponentially. Think of these productivity techniques as a perspective or a system that will help you tick off the tasks on your to-do list.
Productivity Technique #1: Get Things Done
Productivity Hamartia: Overwhelmed by too much work and not able to focus on anything specific.
This productivity technique is aimed at making a good planning system. It the helps you manage the stress caused by the clutter in your head. It is actually about — not getting things done, but creating the mental space that will allow you to accomplish your various projects when you are overwhelmed.
Say, you have too much on your plate and you are all over the place trying to accomplish this and that and this. In this frenzy, you don’t get any work done. The lack of focused work puts you at a huge disadvantage. You’re busy the whole day but haven’t really made a proper dent in your to-do list.
What you need is a system to keep you organised. Getting Things Done, devised by David Allen will sort you out.
If everything seems to be a muddle in your head, first you have to get it out all on paper. Write everything down. In bullet points write down your worries, your long term goals, various projects etc. Basically, everything that is cluttering your mind.
Next, you have to prioritise. The ones that are most important get immediate attention. These ones are broken into smaller tasks and get tackled accordingly. Plan the projects you have on your mind on paper. This way your mind is clear and you can focus on the present task. You won’t have to worry about what is next because you have already mapped it out on a piece of paper.
The head space that you get through by following this method lets you appropriately engage with the task at hand. This kind of focus will help you get things done. The psychological clarity it creates, is its strength.
To get the best of this technique you can read the David Allen’s book, Getting things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity. Or if you feel you can manage the method with lesser amount of instruction, you can watch David Allen’s TED talk. This will give you a concisely the ideology presented in his book.
Productivity Technique #2: Personal Kanban
Productivity Hamartia: Difficulty in visualising and keeping track of tasks.
Prioritisation is the most taxing thing your brain does. It takes a lot of effort and if done right, you can save yourself from a lot of stress and time. Personal Kanban is meant for this.
Jim Benson has created this method to help visualise your priorities. It also allows you to keep a track of your progress. It is like a comprehensive to-do list that you do in order of your priorities.
This technique also rides on the idea of not biting off more than you can chew and limit your work. Decide to only have one or two priorities for the day. You should do only the work you can handle not anymore so that you can give each one the attention it deserves, thus completing it effectively. It helps you stop multitasking.
To use this technique you will need a board and post-its. Categorise your work into “To-Do”, “Doing” and “Done”. You can also divide this into high, medium and low priority by dividing the columns into rows as shown in the digital example given below. Or you can show priority of the task by colour coding it with post-its.
You have all your task prioritised and laid out in front of you. If you noticed, this technique, like :Get things Done”, helps you clear your mind so you can engage appropriately with the task at hand. Personal Kanban can be used in combination with Get Things Done to help you visualise and prioritise everything.
The video below has the creator of Personal Kanban, Jim Benson, introducing the technique to you.
Productivity Technique #3: Pomodoro Technique
Productivity Hamartia: Not focusing on the task at hand.
The names comes from the tool used for this technique.
A tomato-shaped timer. Of course you can use a normal timer.
This is a simple productivity technique that gets you to do focused work in short sprints. The brain works better in sprints than in marathon. The breaks are important so that you can feel refreshed. You get tired less and you do not dread the work so much as you know the break is right around the corner.
Each Pomodoro session lasts upto 20 to 25 minutes after which you take a five-minute break before jumping into another sprint of focused work. This is meant for when you really have to get stuff done. Focused and undistracted work is the only way to go. You complete big tasks by breaking them down into Pomodoro sessions that you don’t get overwhelmed by trying to finish at single stretch.
This can also be used to measure the amount of effort each of your tasks take to complete. Big tasks can be tackled by breaking them down into smaller bouts of work. Taking breaks is an essential part of this technique.
Productivity Technique #3: Time Boxing
Productivity Hamartia: When you don’t seem to have enough time to do everything in one day.
This productivity technique requires you to plan your day ahead, into time blocks.
Assign tasks to these time boxes and make sure you finish that work in the limited time box. Or you can also be ok with completing how much ever you can for the designated time period. Kick out distractions and interruptions, as they hinder productivity.
People who decide to do something at a specific time and place are more likely to get the work done than when they simply assign the task for them to do in the future. Having a specific time for each task helps in tracking your productivity and makes sure that the one task does not take over your whole day. Regardless of you finishing the task on time or not, you need to move on to the next one right on the clock. This could also motivate you to finish it within the time frame so you don’t have to it again.
Studies show that people were more likely to do something when they specified ‘when and where they would do it’. So if you allot an hour to work out in the morning, you are more likely to stick to that and go through with it.
Drawback: Once you set your time, and if you are not sure how much effort a task actually takes you could end up not completing it. It allows for slacking off within the time limit.
Productivity Technique #4: Eat that Frog
Productivity Hamartia: Procrastination
When you don’t feel like being productive because of that one big task which is hanging over you like a dark cloud. This technique helps you face it and tackle it head on.
That abominable task is your frog. You dread it but you still have to eat it. You gotta do what you gotta do. Prioritize this task as the top most. This technique will help you combat procrastination. Procrastination is a habit and so is productivity. Once you get into the flow of it, you are less likely to break the pattern. And the fact that you have already made progress keeps you going. Once that difficult task is done, you will feel like you can accomplish anything.
Productivity Technique #4: Eisenhower Matrix
Productivity Hamartia: You don’t know how to prioritise.
Many a times you end up wasting time on something that is not a top priority. Later you are left with no time for the important work. This happens due to lack clarity of your priorities. Ideally, your current task should be the one that is of highest priority.
But, how do you decide which task that is?
The above matrix places your task into four categories:
- Do now
- Do later.
This system keeps in mind the importance and urgency of your task. This way you know which one to focus on, and don’t end up wasting time on something that can be done later. It puts your work in perspective.
With these productivity techniques, you can start to deal with your productivity hamartia. Remember that it can be hard. Don’t expect these techniques to magically solve your problems unless you stick to them. A combination of the above can help you stay productive. For example: When Time-boxing an activity, to get maximum results from it, you can work in Pomodoro sessions.
Focused and undistracted work is the key to getting work done, with breaks of course. You can cultivate a habit to incorporate them slowly and gradually. Eventually, you will be able to get you shit done without breaking your head too much.