Rob’s productivity cheat sheet

Rob’s productivity cheat sheet

Written on: 03/11/2023

Over the 20 odd years I have been in the workforce, I have used a ton of productivity methods to help me stay on track. I sometimes have trouble staying focussed on my day, and can easily spend large chunks of my day on work that isn’t a priority when I consider my deadlines. I was chatting to a colleague and decided to make a bit of a cheat sheet on each of the methods I use most often.

The methods I use are:

The Pomodoro Technique

Work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break.

After 4 cycles, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used during his university days, the Pomodoro Technique has since risen to prominence as a staple for productivity aficionados worldwide. At its core, the technique is disarmingly simple yet profoundly effective in boosting productivity and managing working time more efficiently.

The method consists of breaking down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as ‘pomodoros’. After completing four pomodoros, one takes a longer break, which ranges from 15 to 30 minutes. The steps can be outlined as follows:

1. Choose a task to be accomplished.
2. Set the pomodoro timer to 25 minutes.
3. Work on the task until the timer rings, then put a check on a piece of paper.
4. Take a short break (5 minutes is the standard).
5. Every four pomodoros, take a longer break.

Despite its drawbacks, the Pomodoro Technique remains a beloved and widely implemented approach to time management. It promotes discipline, aids in the struggle against procrastination, and helps users gain a better understanding of their working habits. It serves as a reminder that often, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication when it comes to managing the finite resource of time. Those who struggle with procrastination or who often find themselves overwhelmed by the enormity of their tasks may find the structure provided by the Pomodoro Technique to be particularly liberating. However, like any productivity tool, its effectiveness is contingent on the individual’s working style and the nature of the task at hand.

Time Blocking

Plan your day into sections dedicated to specific tasks.

Set aside blocks of time for focused work and breaks.

Time Blocking is a productivity method that involves dividing your day into blocks of time, each dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks. This approach contrasts with multitasking and reactive work habits, where attention is scattered and tasks are handled as they appear. Time Blocking requires planning your day in advance and assigning time-slots for focused work, akin to scheduling appointments with yourself to tackle various responsibilities.

Time Blocking is a potent method for those looking to take control of their time and significantly enhance their productivity. It can transform a chaotic, reactive workflow into a structured, proactive one, where time, the most precious resource, is allocated purposefully towards the achievement of one’s goals.

The 2-Minute Rule

If a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it immediately.

Helps clear small tasks quickly and reduces procrastination.

The 2-Minute Rule is a concept popularized by productivity consultant David Allen in his book “Getting Things Done”. It’s a straightforward strategy designed to help overcome procrastination and get more tasks completed with minimal delay. The core principle is simple: if you come across a task that can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This rule takes advantage of the fact that the time it takes to review and postpone these tasks often exceeds the time to simply do them.

The beauty of the 2-Minute Rule lies in its propensity to clear the mind and reduce clutter in our mental space. It works on the premise that the mental bandwidth required to remember and manage a plethora of small tasks can be more draining than completing the task outright. By immediately handling quick tasks, you avoid the accumulation of the “little things” that can often create unnecessary stress and impede productivity. This method also has a ripple effect on one’s productivity; as you tick off a succession of small tasks, you create a momentum that can be channelled into tackling larger, more complex projects.

Implementing the 2-Minute Rule can lead to a tidier workspace, a more organized inbox, and a more efficient daily routine. It’s about making immediate decisions on small tasks and taking immediate action, which cumulatively can lead to significant gains in time management and overall productivity. The rule encourages a proactive mindset, propelling you into a more dynamic and decisive way of working.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Organise tasks by urgency and importance into four quadrants.

Prioritise tasks that are both urgent and important.

The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, is a time management tool that helps prioritize tasks based on their level of urgency and importance. This method is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, who is often credited with originating the concept. The matrix is a simple four-quadrant box that allows you to categorize tasks into:

1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks you will eliminate).

The upper left quadrant (Quadrant I) contains tasks that are both urgent and important. These are the tasks that require immediate attention and usually involve critical issues or tight deadlines. The upper right quadrant (Quadrant II) is for tasks that are important but not urgent, such as long-term planning, relationship building, and personal growth. These are the tasks that contribute to long-term missions and goals.

The lower left quadrant (Quadrant III) includes tasks that are urgent but not important. These are often the tasks that demand attention because of other people’s needs or requests but do not necessarily help you achieve your own goals. Finally, the lower right quadrant (Quadrant IV) is for tasks that are neither urgent nor important. These are often considered time-wasters or activities that offer little to no value and should be minimized or eliminated.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix helps you to visually prioritize your to-dos and focus on what truly matters. It encourages strategic thinking and enables you to spend most of your time on tasks that enhance your career or personal life while keeping distractions and time-wasters to a minimum. By categorizing tasks, you can more effectively manage your time and energy, leading to increased productivity, less stress, and a clearer path to success.

The 90-Minute Focus Sessions

Work with intense focus for 90 minutes, then rest for 20-30 minutes.

Aligns with the body’s natural energy cycles for optimal performance.

The 90-Minute Focus Sessions method is a time management technique that aligns work patterns with the body’s natural rhythms. Also known as ‘Ultradian Rhythms’, these are the cycles of concentrated energy that our bodies go through each day, typically lasting for 90 to 120 minutes. This method leverages the cycle by encouraging periods of focused work for approximately 90 minutes, followed by a significant break to rest and recharge.

The concept was popularised by researchers like Anders Ericsson, who studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, and chess masters. Ericsson found that the best performers practiced in uninterrupted sessions of no more than 90 minutes and took breaks between sessions. This method encourages deep focus and maximises cognitive efficiency by respecting the body’s need for rest after periods of high-intensity brain activity.

Implementing 90-Minute Focus Sessions can dramatically enhance productivity and creativity. It allows for deep work, where the quality of output is often significantly higher than during fragmented work periods. This method can also help in managing the feeling of being overwhelmed by large projects, breaking them down into more manageable units of focused effort.

Moreover, the breaks are crucial as they prevent fatigue, maintain a high level of performance throughout the day, and provide opportunities for subconscious problem-solving. Adhering to this approach can lead to a more disciplined work ethic, where the respect for concentrated effort is as important as the recognition of the need for rest.

The ABCDE Method

List tasks and assign them a letter based on importance (A for most important, E for least).

Tackle tasks in order of their assigned letter, focusing on high-priority items first.

The ABCDE Method is a powerful prioritization technique that encourages meticulous scrutiny of tasks and assignments based on their significance and urgency. Developed by productivity guru Brian Tracy, the method directs individuals to list their tasks and then categorize each one with a letter from A to E—with ‘A’ being of the highest priority and ‘E’ representing the lowest. This method is especially effective because it forces a deliberate evaluation of each task’s impact on one’s goals and objectives.

In practice, an ‘A’ task is something that is both important and has consequences if not completed, such as meeting a critical deadline. The ‘B’ tasks are important but come with milder consequences, serving as the secondary actions that support the primary goals. ‘C’ tasks are nice to do but ultimately have no impact if left undone; they do not move the needle in terms of overall productivity or goal achievement. ‘D’ tasks are those that can be delegated—these are often tasks that need to be done but not necessarily by you. Lastly, ‘E’ tasks can be eliminated altogether with the least impact, as they are neither urgent nor important.

By systematically working through tasks in the order of their designated letters, one ensures that effort is placed where it has the greatest effect. The ABCDE Method not only clarifies what needs to be done; it also instills a discipline of disregarding trivial activities that do not contribute to overarching goals. It’s an exercise in discernment, promoting a work ethic that aligns daily actions with longer-term objectives and discouraging the squandering of time on matters of little significance. The result is a more structured approach to the workday, where the focus is on achievement and productivity is significantly enhanced.

I hope you find these methods useful. They always help me to keep things structured.

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