Due to recent events, I thought I would share the top 5 productivity tips, that I learned from reading The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. Learning these techniques had a huge impact on my productivity, which I find especially useful during these times. For those of you who are more visual learners, you can skip to the end of this article and watch my video animation, which I created over a year ago.
1. Pomodoro technique
The first tip is to use the pomodoro technique. According to Josh, multitasking is a myth that has been proven to be ineffective by several neurological studies. What actually happens during multitasking is your attention rapidly switching from one task to the other. But this prevents you from getting into that so-called ‘flow’ state-studied by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi- which takes approximately 10 to 30 minutes to reach.
The pomodoro technique, which was named after those tomato shaped kitchen timers, is one of the most effective productivity tools I’ve ever discovered. So this is how it works. When you don’t feel like doing something, just use a kitchen timer/timer on your phone or a pomodoro app to force yourself to do something for just 25 minutes. 25 minutes are short enough to be doable, but long enough to get you into a flow state. If you still haven’t been able to accomplish anything after this time, you can give yourself permission to stop and take a break. What normally happens to me though is that after 10-15 minutes, I feel so productive that I usually take an extra 5-10 minutes after my timer is up before I take a short 5 minute break.
An extra tip is to use a piece of paper that you can use as a brain dump. It is totally normal to get distracted, especially at the beginning. Whenever you catch yourself having a distracting thought, just put it down on a piece of paper and get back to it in your break. Interestingly, I always remember to do the laundry or answer someone’s message when I start my pomodoro. But that’s okay! Just get back to it after you’ve finished with your more challenging tasks.
2. Batching tasks
The second tip is batching. Have you ever felt like you have to do so much that you’re switching from one task to the other to try to keep everything under control? There is a reason why there are thousands of articles about the batching/blocking technique, and that is because it works! For example, I travel quite a lot by bus between Budapest and Vienna (but not right now, of course). Instead of trying to do everything at once, I take all those 3 hours of travel time to write. That can be writing scripts for my channel, journaling or even just replying to e-mails. Many writers take the first couple of hours of their day for uninterrupted writing as well. But you can do the same thing with phone calls. Many people hate making phone calls but that doesn’t mean that we can avoid them forever. Batching multiple phone calls for one time of the day gives you an advantage as you still have the energy from completing the first call to keep going.
Many experts also recommend to do creative work at your prime time (which is before noon for me) and save tasks that require less brain capacity for outside of your prime time. This could be answering messages, taking care of administrative tasks, and doing chores.
3. MIT List
Third tip from the book is to keep a Most Important Tasks list. This list should be limited to max 2-3 things which are non-negotiable. Even if you were not able to complete all your tasks for that day, if you have your MITs you’ve been productive. The advantage of setting MITs is that it helps you maintain a monoideal state by setting priorities. MITs give you permission to say no to interruptions that are less important.
For example, the day I wrote the script for the video that you can find at the end of this blog post, I had two MITs on my daily schedule: finishing this script for you and make an important phone call, which I had to do before noon. After I was done with these, I still had to do a lot of things, but I knew that my priorities for the day have already been taken care of.
4. Deadline to avoid Parkinson’s law
Tip number 4 is to set a deadline to avoid Parkinson’s law. If you haven’t heard of Parkinson’s law before, here it is in a nutshell: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. What this means is that no matter how much time you have for a task that you need to finish, you will always prolong the time until it’s actually due.
According to Josh: “We plan based on how much time we have, and when the deadline approaches, we start to make Choices and Trade-offs to do what must be done to complete the task by the deadline.”
Parkinson’s Law is best used as a hypothetical question. Ask yourself the question: What would it look like if you finished the project on a very short deadline? If you had to finish a huge project in a day, how would you go about doing it? If you take time to answer the question, you’ll discover techniques or approaches you can use to get the work done in less time.
Setting a deadline for projects or important tasks which by default don’t have one, can get you where you want to be much faster. So just remember Parkinson’s Law: “if you don’t set a limit on your available time, your work will expand to fill it all.”
5. Setting goals
And the final big idea is to set Positive, Immediate, Concrete and Specific (PICS) goals. So how does that look like? If you have a goal like “I want to start a business/finish my degree, etc.!. Try to be as specific about that goal as possible by trying to answer questions like: Where? When? and Why?
So here’s my example: By the end of this year I want to publish at least 12 videos on my channel to keep my resilience even when my motivation is lacking.
Find a goal that is in your Locus of Control. For example, I didn’t say how many subscribers I want to reach because I have no influence over the number of people who find and subscribe to my channel. But what I have control over is the work I put into growing the channel by uploading regularly.
If you don’t have clear goals, you’re making it difficult for your mind’s automatic planning systems to find ways to get what you want. Therefore, setting goals is key. Well-formed goals achieve two things: they help with visualization, making what you want look achievable, and motivating you to do the work to achieve it. A goal is no more than a statement that clarifies what you want to accomplish. A clear goal makes it easy for your brain to find solutions for achieving your goal.
Not convinced yet? Maybe this quote from the book by Steve Pavlina will help: “Setting a vague goal is like walking into a restaurant and saying ‘I’m hungry. I want some food.’ You’ll stay hungry until you order something.”
Final thoughts & Animated Video
Alright these were my top 5 productivity tips from The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman. If you’re interested in the book, just click on the button below.
Let me know down in the comments section below what productivity tricks help you the most when you feel distracted and unmotivated. As promised, you can also find my animated book review here:
Kaufman, J. (2010). The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business. Portfolio. https://geni.us/9voSPUA