There are two permanent limits that every human’s productivity is restricted by, and they are not impacted by whether you’re wealthy, poor, smart, or dumb:
#1 is we all have 24 hours in a day, and
#2 (which we’ll be talking about today) is that each of us can only retain so much information at one time.
It doesn’t matter who you are; there is only so much the brain can hold onto before we begin dropping the ball. Once the ball is dropped, we get stressed out and begin to frantically adjust our plans to acclimate for the unexpected mishap. We spend 5 minutes shuffling everything around, getting ourselves relaxed and back on schedule; until we forget something else.
While many people will get frustrated by their forgetfulness and begin to think negatively about themselves (I’m so forgetful, why can’t I keep on-track, I can’t do this, etc.), that is the opposite of what we want to be doing! Rather than fight against their forgetfulness, the people with the most productivity will accept their limits and find ways to overcome them through other means. Today, we’re going to explore some techniques that help with keeping productive throughout the day and conserving that precious brain-space for what’s actually important!
#1: Develop a “Thought-Jot” System
A “Thought Jot System” is quite literally a tool for jotting down your thoughts (clever name, I know).
If you’re anything like me, dozens (if not hundreds) of thoughts pop up in your mind on a daily basis. “I have to remember to swap over the laundry, I have to remember to email that coworker back” and so on and so forth. I can hold onto two or three of those thoughts for awhile, but as soon as more start popping up, it’s game over. Something will slide through the cracks and then it will stress me out all day while I try to remember what it is (inevitably forgetting more along the way).
This is where the Thought Jot System comes into play. I use the notepad on my phone, but you could easily use a pen/paper or a StickyNotes app on your computer. Any time something pops into my head that I need to remember, I write it down immediately before it has a chance to fly away.
I’ll admit it felt somewhat silly and unnecessary at first, but over time my brain became much more calm. I didn’t have this constant nagging feeling that I was forgetting about something, because I trusted that I wrote it down when it popped up the first time! That massive lack of stress allowed me to focus more brainpower on actually completing tasks and improving my productivity. This eventually led to our next point:
#2: Create a task board
So we have a giant list of thoughts that we’ve put down so that we don’t have to remember; great. How does that help us actually complete the tasks?
In come’s the task board. This is something that I’ve used both as a consultant, as a business owner and in my personal life to keep things on track and make sure things get done on-time.
My board has columns broken down by timeframe (Monthly, Weekly, Today/Tomorrow). Every day around lunch and at night, I will sit down and empty my entire Thought Jot system into the proper categories. Need to schedule car maintenance; put it in the weekly column. We’re down to half a roll of toilet paper at the house; probably a today/tomorrow type of task.
If you use an application for this purpose (I use Miro, but there’s many different types out there), then you can access it from anywhere you have a device and internet access. It took awhile to build the habit, but I now return to my board every time I complete a task. I toss it in the “Done” pile and then proceed down the list of to-dos.
Not only does this keep my Thought Jot system uncluttered, but it also allows me to prioritize my items during downtime (lunch, before bed, etc.) rather than amidst a hectic workday.
#3: Have A Calendar
Calendars have been around so long for a reason; they’re really good at helping us maintain our productivity.
Not every task is a one-and-done type of deal. If I get groceries once a week, I’m not going to continuously make a “Get Groceries” task over and over again; that’s a huge waste of time and energy. Instead, I’ll take any recurring tasks and toss them onto an online calendar that I can check from anywhere.
I personally love Google Calendar for this. Not only can I color-code and have reminders sent to my phone, but I can also create different calendars for different businesses. If I’m strictly working on tasks for one business today, then I can temporarily turn off all the other calendars and only see what I need to see.
This helps me maintain a high productivity routine, which leads into our last point for today…
#4: Have a In-Depth Daily Routine
Everything about my days are as scheduled and routine as I can make them. I know that the first hour of my day is for making calls on my drive to the office. I know that between 8am and 5pm is my “at a desk” or “in a meeting” time. 5pm to 9pm is time to teach or to be up and completing active tasks, and then 9pm to 1am is my “read, relax and video games” time. Although some things pop up that I can’t control, this routine holds up 95% of the time and allows me to maintain the freedom that I want to have in life.
#5: Understand That The Path To Freedom is Routine
“You’re full of it. How can you be free when you’re planning out that much of your life in advance?” is a question I hear a lot of people ask.
My answer; there’s a difference between “being free” and “being spontaneous”.
If I take a day off or decide to go on a vacation, I can drop everything and focus 100% on enjoying my time for myself. I don’t have any nagging thoughts of “gotta remember to do this on Monday” or “will I have time to finish that project? Am I being too relaxed or too tense about it?”
I don’t have to do that because I know that it’s all been covered by past-me as part of my routine. I know that future tasks have already been scheduled in a way that future-me will be able to handle them when the time comes. I will only occasionally put something in my Thought Jot system if a creative idea comes to mind, but then I will drop it from my memory and go back to enjoying my day.
I remember taking vacations when I was less-organized and while they were still fun, I spent half the time worrying about something else. Then, when I came back, I was overwhelmed by the amount that I had to catch up on once I returned from my time off. By the time I was caught up, it felt like my vacation hadn’t even happened. Now that doesn’t happen, But I can only have that 100% free time because I have things so meticulously planned out.
Not everyone needs to be as OCD as I am about things, but everyone can gain productivity via these five points. I generally require many of my students to at least come up with a morning and nighttime routine, and I’ve never had a student that implemented it come back to me and say it didn’t help them improve.
Find a balance. Figure out how you personally can juggle productivity time and relaxation time, and remember to always work towards being your most successful!