At FLDWRK, we believe in the world’s best future. We also believe the world’s best future involves books. Real, smell-good books with covers and pages, marked with a heavy amount of highlighter ink. However, we recognize that finding the time to sit down and read often requires more time, energy, and commitment than you can afford. A study done by Time Magazine found that the average American spends a paltry 19 minutes per day reading. If you’re anything like the next person, you set some lofty reading goals for yourself at the beginning of the year, and now you’ve found yourself somewhere in the middle of seven different titles. You may pick one up at night before bed, determined to make progress, and find yourself cashed out three paragraphs in. It’s ok, we forgive you.
But what if you could glean all the most valuable content from a book in 10-12 minutes?
Consider us your literature butchers: removing the hide, trimming the fat, and handing you the meat.
This month we dove into The Productivity Project. Published in the spring of 2016 and written by a guy named Chris Bailey, the title is rather self explanatory. We live in a culture where everyone is trying to get the most done in the least amount of time. Meanwhile, our relationships and personal sanity often take some brutal hits in the process. If that’s the case, is anything really getting done, or are we just doing damage control? Chris spends an entire year of his life conducting experiments in the pursuit of extreme productivity, and this book covers his surprising results, best practices, and actionable suggestions for effectively and strategically getting stuff done.
Check out some of the experiments Chris put himself through on his quest to maximum productivity:
- 90 hour work week, followed by a 20 hour work week, followed by another 90 hour work week
- Living like a complete slob
- Waking up at 5:30 every morning for a few months
- Living in complete isolation for 10 days
- Gaining 10 pounds of muscle mass, lowering his body fat by 7%
- Drinking only water for a month
- Watching 70 hours of Ted talks one week
- Only eating Soylent for a week straight
Here’s our artfully butchered version of his findings:
This is important. Picture a Venn diagram of Time, Energy, and Attention. Productivity is at its prime where the three intersect. Stop convincing yourself that productivity means doing more things. Doing more things leads to stress, poor work quality, and low productivity. Instead, Chris poses this idea that pursuing excellence in productivity means buying back your time, energy, and attention by doing the right things.
Get your values straight.
Before you decide to make changes in your life to become more productive, you have to decide WHY you value productivity in the first place. When making any big changes in your life, it’s important to zero in on your values first. Try this: grab a sheet of paper and list out your values. Listing what you value will help you determine what you do with your time. If you put some of these things this book suggests into practice, you could end up with two more hours of free time each day. Use that time wisely! You will experience the most life when you spend time doing things you value.
Set goals at the beginning of your week and at the beginning of your day. Even if they seem petty, tasks like goal setting are a worthy investment of your time, because they lead you to accomplish more. Make sure some of these items include personal goals, things you WANT to do! This includes cleaning up tasks in which you hold little value, but take up a lot of time. If a task takes less than two minutes, don’t even think about to-do listing it, just do it right away rather than adding it to your ‘to-do’ list.
Find your biological prime time.
Find your BPT (biological prime time), and maximize during those hours. Your biological prime time is simply the hours of the day in which you have the most focused energy. How do you find your BPT? Chris suggests conducting a small experiment on yourself: “Cut out caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and as many other stimulants as possible from your diet. Eat small, more frequent meals during the day. Wake up and fall asleep naturally, without the aid of an alarm.” Your BPT is the time that you should use to work on the three most important tasks that you set during your goal making at the beginning of the day. Give yourself permission to be selfish with your BPT, schedule all your meetings either before or after your BPT so that you don’t have to switch gears and keep refocusing your attention.
If you do procrastination the right way, it could actually increase your productivity. Let’s get to the root of WHY you’re procrastinating in the first place. There are two parts to our brain: Our limbic system and our prefrontal cortex. The limbic system deals with all of our emotional decisions, while our prefrontal cortex deals with all of our logical decisions. If a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, unstructured, or lacking in meaning or reward, those factors trigger procrastination and our limbic system beats our logical prefrontal cortex. These two are having a conversation all day long, leading us to either make reasonable decisions or emotional decisions. Directly counter each trigger with something! For example, if a task feels unstructured, give yourself 25 minutes to work on it, followed by a five minute break. (This is called the Pomodoro Technique) Still find yourself procrastinating? Just start the task, it will suddenly seem a lot less daunting.
Take time to slow down.
Chris spends a lot of time talking about mediation. “If you are turned off by the idea of meditation, think about it as ‘mindful breathing’ instead. Mediation simply helps you create space to refocus your brain. He even goes as far to say you can mediate while eating, walking, sitting, or even cleaning. Chris meditates 35 minutes a day, but try starting with 5! Chris found that, “For every minute you meditate, you gain back ten minutes of productivity.” Breathing mindfully and refocusing your attention allows you time to, “identify what’s important and then work deliberately and with intention.”
You’re probably questioning this one. Isn’t multi-tasking the key to extreme productivity? Think again. A roman philosopher once said, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” Multi-tasking is a lie. “In fact, your brain can’t focus on two things simultaneously - instead, it rapidly switches between them, which creates the illusion that you’re doing more than one thing at a time.” Start re-teaching yourself to be in one place at one time.
Chris says it best, “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.” Your limbic system FEEDS off the internet. Scrolling, searching, pinning, it’s all mindless and your brain is in limbic heaven. A guy named Tim Pychyl did an experiment on procrastination & found that, “participants spent an average of 47% of their time online procrastinating.” Chris found that “Most people check email about every fifteen minutes, which adds up to thirty-two times over an eight-hour day. That’s thirty-two times that your attention is derailed from what you’re supposed to be working on.” Try this: Turn off all notifications as much as you possibly can, especially during your BPT! Also, if your job allows, schedule two thirty minute slots during your work day to respond to emails, rather than responding throughout the day.
Take care of yourself & your environment.
Leave room in your week for house-keeping tasks. Your week will be incredibly more productive if you prioritize a clean environment. What Chris does, is he schedules 3-4 hours on a Sunday to work on things like mowing the lawn, doing laundry, grocery shopping for the week, answering personal emails, cleaning the house, the list goes on. Also, work out regularly! Chris puts it real simply: “The more active you are, the more energy you’ll have to burn.” Make sure to drink water, caffeine, and alcohol strategically. Drink water right when you wake up, drink caffeine right before conquering a big task, and try not to drink alcohol right before bed as it steals your energy from tomorrow by causing you to sleep restlessly. Finally, did you know you can eat your way to productivity? head here and learn more.
Brain dump & dream big.
Chris brought up a great point, “While you may have the odd Eureka moment while you let your mind wander in the shower, chances are you rarely have a brilliant insight while you’re on your smartphone.” Every day, Chris lets his mind wander for fifteen minutes. He keeps a notebook handy, ready to write down and externalize any brilliant (or not so brilliant) thoughts that come to mind. This includes writing down anything you’re worried or anxious about, as a way to free up mental space and refocus your attention. Try to figure out what kind of actives boost your creativity and allow you to shift into mind-wandering mode. I find the most joy, the most creativity, and the most mental freedom while cooking. Finally, don’t you dare forget to capture, reflect on, and celebrate things you’ve accomplished! Because you’re a big deal.
Shut down early.
Chris recommends, “a nightly electronics shutoff ritual, where you shut off your electronics two to three hours before bed.” The blue light from your screen is actually a stimulant that keeps you awake. Don’t think this is hard enough? Quit watching TV, you could gain back13.6 years of your life.
Create habits that set yourself up for success. Habit cues are the idea of conditioning our brain to recognize certain patterns in our behavior and decision making, so that over time certain neurological pathways are solidified, which allow our brain to act accordingly. Chris describes his workout routine as strategic combination of habit cues: “I had almost every habit cue under the sun: a time (6am) place, (the same gym every morning), emotion (feeling energized after having my pre workout drink or coffee), the presence of people I knew (my workout buddies), and a preceding behavior (waking up early).” Each of the suggestions above are practical, effective habits that you can put in place to reach new levels of productivity and teach yourself to handle your time with deliberate intentionality.