by Chris Bailey
Efficiency is no longer enough. When you have more to do than ever before, less time to do it, and unparalleled freedom and flexibility with how you get it done, productivity is no longer about how efficiently you work. Productivity is about how much you accomplish. That requires you to work smarter instead and manage your time, attention, and energy better than ever before.
Part One LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
WHERE TO START
Everyone likes the idea of becoming more productive and making positive changes to his or her life. But in practice, both are tough, and having a deep, meaningful reason for becoming more productive will help you sustain your motivation in the long run.
NOT ALL TASKS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Not all tasks are created equal; there are certain tasks in your work that, for every minute you spend on them, let you accomplish more than your other tasks. Taking a step back from your work to identify your highest-impact tasks will let you invest your time, attention, and energy in the right things.
THREE DAILY TASKS
The absolute best technique I’ve found to work deliberately and with intention every day is the Rule of 3. The rule is simple: at the beginning of each day, before you start working, decide what three things you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Do the same at the start of every week.
READY FOR PRIME TIME
When you take the time to observe how your energy fluctuates over the course of the day, you can work on your highest-impact tasks during your Biological Prime Time—when you are able to bring the most energy and focus to them. In a similar way, tracking how you spend your time over a week will let you see how intelligently you use your time, and how well you focus throughout the day.
Part Two WASTING TIME
COZYING UP TO UGLY TASKS
Procrastination is human. The biggest reason your highest-impact tasks are so valuable is that they are often more intimidating; they almost always require more time, attention, and energy than your lower-impact tasks. They’re typically also more boring, frustrating, difficult, unstructured, and lacking in intrinsic rewards—which all act as triggers for procrastination.
MEET YOURSELF…FROM THE FUTURE
The more you see your “future self” (you, only in the future) as a stranger, the more likely you are to give your future self the same workload that you would give a stranger, and put things off to tomorrow. It’s important to get in touch with your future self, by doing things like sending a letter to future you, creating a “ future memory,” or even downloading an app that will show you what you look like in the future.
WHY THE INTERNET IS KILLING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
The internet can destroy your productivity if you’re not careful. The best way I have found to prevent the internet from wasting my time has been to simply disconnect from it when working on a high-impact or ugly task, and to disconnect as much as possible throughout the day. After getting over the initial withdrawal, the calm and productivity you’ll experience will be unlike anything else.
Part Three THE END OF TIME MANAGEMENT
THE TIME ECONOMY
When time was “created” by the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, the universe had a past, present, and future for the first time. Measuring time first became important during the industrial revolution, when factory owners needed their workers to arrive on time. Today, in the knowledge economy, if you want to become more productive, managing your time should take a backseat to how you manage your energy and attention.
When you work consistently long hours, or spend too much time on tasks, that’s usually not a sign that you have too much to do—it’s a sign that you’re not spending your energy and attention wisely. As one example, during my experiment to work ninety-hour workweeks, I found I accomplished only a bit more than when I worked twenty-hour workweeks.
Some time management is inevitable, but you’ll accomplish a lot more when you work on your most important and meaningful tasks when you have the most energy—not when you have the most time. Figure out when your prime time is; it’s sacred, and it’s worth spending wisely.
Gathering your maintenance tasks together and tackling them all at once is the perfect antidote to being a perfectionist about the wrong things. Nonetheless, maintenance tasks, or Maintenance Days, are essential if you want to have a life that’s healthy and productive. I simply collect all of my low-return maintenance tasks on a list an do them all at once.
- Grocery shopping
- Review my Accomplishments List
- Review my hot spots
- Clear out all my inboxes
- Define three outcomes for the week ahead ( this page )
- Review my “Waiting For” list
- Review my projects, and define next steps ( this page )
- Read articles I’ve saved up throughout the week
- Water plants
- Prepare lunches in Tupperware containers for the week
- Do laundry
- Trim beard and shave
- Create a meal and workout plan
- Clean house and office
Part Four THE ZEN OF PRODUCTIVITY
Support tasks like checking email are likely a necessary evil for your workday, but shrinking how much time, attention, and energy you spend on them is one key to increasing your productivity. By creating more time and space around your highest-return activities, you become more creative, focused, and productive.
SHRINKING THE UNIMPORTANT
Every single support task in your work can be either shrunk, delegated, or even, in a few rare cases, eliminated entirely. After you have a better grip on how much time and attention you spend on your problem tasks, the maintenance tasks in your work are a lot easier to deal with.
REMOVING THE UNIMPORTANT
The word no is a powerful tool in your productivity tool kit. While time is no longer money in the knowledge economy, money can buy you time when you spend it intelligently. For every low-impact task, project, and commitment you say no to, you say yes to working on your most valuable tasks.
Part Five QUIET YOUR MIND
EMPTYING YOUR BRAIN
Externalizing your tasks and writing them down is a powerful way to free up mental space and get organized. Performing a “brain dump” not only reduces stress and helps you focus, it also motivates you to action.
Doing a weekly review of your tasks and accomplishments not only gives you a better perspective on your wins and the areas you need to improve, it also gives you more control over your life. Adding in “hot spots” is a powerful addition to this technique that will keep you on the right path. We have seven areas in which we invest our time (and attention and energy) every day:
A simple list of your seven hot spots, of course, isn’t all that powerful. But when you expand the areas—to list all the commitments you have in each part of your life—the list springs to life.
The basic idea behind the technique is that once a week you review your list of hot spots, to think about how much time you spent in each one during the previous week, and to think about what to focus on and think about in the week ahead.
Every Maintenance Day, I look through the expanded areas of my life and ask myself a few questions:
- What do I need to spend more time on next week?
- What did I spend too much time on last week?
- What do I need to schedule or do next week?
- What do I have to be mindful of next week?
- What are some unresolved issues I’m having in each area?
- What opportunities do I have in each of my hot spots next week?
- What obstacles will get in the way of my goals next week?
- Am I going in the right direction with all my commitments?
- Are there any commitments I need to add or remove? Expand or shrink?
- What did I knock out of the park last week?
Letting your mind wander without distraction, such as when you’re in the shower, is beneficial for brainstorming, problem solving, and becoming more creative.
Part Six THE ATTENTION MUSCLE
BECOMING MORE DELIBERATE
Research shows we only focus on what’s in front of us 53 percent of the time. Developing a strong “attention muscle” is what makes it possible to focus more on the task at hand, which lets us spend our time and attention more efficiently in the moment.
Dealing with distractions before they happen, like by shutting off alerts on your phone for new messages, helps you avoid attention-hijacking interruptions. It can take as many as twenty-five minutes to refocus on the task at hand after being interrupted.
THE ART OF DOING ONE THING
Single tasking is one of the best ways to tame a wandering mind, because it helps you build up your “attention muscle” and carve out more attentional space around the task you are tackling in the moment. It is also a powerful tool for improving your memory. Just as working out in the gym builds the muscles in your body, continually drawing your attention back to your chosen task has been shown to build your attention muscle.
THE MEDITATION CHAPTER
Practicing mind-fulness and meditation makes you more productive because it makes your mind calmer, happier, and more focused. Meditation is also far less intimidating than you imagine.
Part Seven TAKING PRODUCTIVITY TO THE NEXT LEVEL
The power of incremental improvements lies in the fact that although they’re not significant by themselves, week after week, month after month, they add up to produce results in the long term that will blow you away. Small changes lead to big results, especially when food is involved.
DRINKING FOR ENERGY
Luckily, what is good for your brain is good for your body. To drink for energy, drink fewer alcoholic and sugary drinks, drink more water (which is incredible for your brain health), and learn to drink caffeine strategically, when you’ll actually benefit from the energy boost—not habitually.
THE EXERCISE PILL
The amount of energy and focus that exercise provides you with in return for your time is incredible, and easily worth the challenge of integrating an exercise routine into your life. After you feel how much of an impact exercise has on your brain, I think you’ll want to continue with a routine, if only to make the feeling last.
SLEEPING YOUR WAY TO PRODUCTIVITY
Although cutting back on sleep saves you time, any amount of sleep you lose below the amount your body requires is not worth the productivity cost. For every hour of sleep you miss out on, you lose at least two hours of productivity—the costs associated with not getting enough sleep are that great.
Part Eight THE FINAL STEP
Over the course of my project, I discovered a number of fun ways to take it easy on myself as I invested in my productivity, often after unnecessarily beating myself up for not accomplishing the goals I set. Oddly enough, you may feel less productive—or if you’re like me, even guilty—as you become kinder to yourself. But doing so will allow you to accomplish more at the end of the day because you’ll continue to stay motivated.
- Disconnect from productivity more often
- Recall three things you’re grateful for
- Journal about a positive experience you had
- Break tasks down
- Ask yourself for advice
- Reward yourself
- Know You Can Grow
- Create an Accomplishments List
- Look at pictures of cute baby animals