Table of Contents
- Define productivity for yourself
- Drop pomodoro and engage in deep work
- Try listening to music or white noise
- Experiment to Find what works for you
- Closing thoughts on how to increase productivity
What if there was a better way to increase productivity and get more done? Nowadays, being productive is more important than ever before. Freelancers have to get the job before the deadline to keep their business alive. Entrepreneurs have almost infinite amount of tasks to do to keep their companies afloat. And, there is always another thing we need to do. In this article, you will learn about new way to be productive. Forget pomodoro. It is time to switch to deep work and flow.
Define productivity for yourself
The first step to increase productivity is defining what exactly productivity means for you. Different people have different guidelines for measuring how productive they are through the day. For example, for some people productivity means finishing all the tasks they have for specific day. Other people see themselves as productive if they work minimum amount of hours. Or, if they write specific number of pages or lines of code.
Another way a lot of people define productivity is how closer they are to their deadlines. For example, let’s say you are working on some project. This project is composed of a number of deadlines or milestones. And, every milestone is divided into smaller daily tasks. Then, you can measure how productive you are by monitoring these tasks and milestones. Are you ahead of time and working faster? Or, are you behind the schedule and a little bit nervous.
One old say says: “What gets measure gets managed.” However, you have to know what do you measure and how. You need to define what productivity means for you. At the end of the day, what, or how much work, would you need to get done so you can say you were productive? And, when you ask yourself this question, be very specific. Forget any vague statements that are not actionable or self-explanatory. Always look for specific numbers or ranges.
One simple test
One easy way to test your “guidelines” for productivity is by showing them to someone else. Find someone and ask her if he could measure her productivity using your guidelines. If you guidelines are clear, she should understand it without the need to ask any questions. And, she should be able to measure very precisely how productive she is. If both of these conditions are true, your guidelines are ready for sharp test in the field.
You may also use this as an opportunity to get some feedback on your guidelines for productivity. If you really want to increase productivity, find some people who are already very productive. Do you know anyone who is incredibly productive? Ask her to review your guidelines. Who knows? There might be some space for improving your productivity guidelines and to increase productivity. Always look for advice from people who are where you wanted to be.
Drop pomodoro and engage in deep work
Do you want to increase productivity? You have to try pomodoro! Over the time, pomodoro became almost synonym for productivity. It is one of the most popular tools or techniques for anyone wanting to increase productivity. Today, I will suggest that you try the opposite approach. Forget about working in short sessions followed by a couple of minutes of resting. Instead, try to work in long and uninterrupted sessions. Sure, followed by a couple of minutes of resting.
I want you to engage in something called deep work. Deep work is term coined by Cal Newport. Well, at least I think he was the first to use this term. Anyway, it is about focusing deliberately, and without distraction, on some demanding task. This task can be anything, from writing software, creating design, writing article or book to working on math equation. It has to be something that requires thinking. Repetitive tasks such as washing dishes don’t apply.
When you look at some of the most prolific and creative people, you will often find one thing. A lot of them engage in deep work. They don’t work in pomodoro-like 25 minute-long sessions. Instead, they work on one task for hours without any interruption or pause. This is quite common among artists, writers and inventors. In others words, some of the most creative people you can imagine. Some may tell you they are so immersed in work they even forget to eat the whole day.
As Cal Newport writes in his book Deep Work:”To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”
Deep work as a gateway to flow
Have you ever seen programmer working on some problems for hours without taking any break? Or, again, what about artist working on painting from early morning till late evening without taking his eyes off the canvas? It doesn’t matter what profession you choose. People are able to immerse themselves in work for a long hours, without noticing how much time has passed. This distortion of time and sharp focus are indicators of a person being in something called flow state.
There is one thing you need to know. You will not enter flow immediately. It takes some time. How much time will depend on a number of conditions. The more conditions apply to your situation, the easier it will be for you. Flow requires your focus and attention. Any distraction is very likely to get you out of it, or prevent you from entering it. So, the questions is, is engaging in deep work is better for entering flow state than other approaches such as pomodoro?
When you engage in deep work, you are not constrained by time. You know the task will require a bigger chunk of your time to get done. Again, it is important that this time is uninterrupted. There is no switching or multitasking. One session, one task. If you suddenly remember you need to do something later, write it down. Then, get back to that task. Logically, the more time you have for the task the bigger the chance you will enter the flow.
The problem with pomodoro
This is why I think pomodoro doesn’t work well with being in the flow. Imagine you work on some challenging task. You finally get into flow. As a result, the time may start to go by much faster. For some people the opposite is true. 25 minutes will go by very fast. It might be just a couple of minutes after you entered the flow when the timer will start buzzing to tell you one pomodoro session is over. This distraction will take you out of the flow immediately.
The problem here is that you will need some time to enter this state again. Now, imagine that this will repeat every 25 minutes. It is almost like setting a timer and then trying to fall asleep. When you finally start to drift off, the timer will wake you up. Result? Nothing pleasant. Commit to deep work and this will not happen. It is similar to going to bed knowing that you have seven or eight hours to get some sleep. I think you will agree that this is a lot of time.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that pomodoro doesn’t work because you are more prone to multitasking or being distracted. For both, deep work and pomodoro, working on one thing without interruption are the keys. Also, both are great ways to increase productivity. All I am saying is that pomodoro doesn’t work well because flow requires more time than one pomodoro session may offer. Also, the amount of time changes. Sometimes, you will need more and other times less.
Finding your flow
One last thing you need to know about flow. I mentioned that flow happens under certain conditions. Reading that wiki article might be boring. So, here are some of them. First, you need clear goals. These goals have to be challenging, but attainable. Second, you must focus your attention on the task. Be so focused on the present that you lose track of time. Third, the task should be intrinsically rewarding. Fourth, you need immediate feedback.
Fifth, you need to feel in control over the task and its outcome. Sixth, your physical needs are met. Entering flow will be hard if you are starved to death or thirsty. Or, if the only thing you can think about is that you need to go to toilet. The same is true about psychological conditions. High levels of stress can make it harder for you to enter flow state. Interestingly, for some people, stressful situations can do the opposite. Stress can make entering flow easier. So, see what works for you.
So, the action plan for you is following. Find a challenging and doable task or activity. Next, commit to yourself. You are doing it for yourself. Next, divide the task to set of smaller realistic goals. Before you start, remove all interruptions and distractions. Next, track and regularly evaluate your progress. Remember, you need immediate feedback. So, when something doesn’t work, make corrections. Trainer will be helpful. Finally, focus solely on the task and enjoy it.
Try listening to music or white noise
So, we ditched pomodoro in favor of deep work and entering the flow to increase productivity. Another interesting question is how to make it easier to focus. I heard from a number of people that listening to music helps them to focus and increase productivity. There are also some studies suggesting that this is indeed true. What’s more, some sources suggest that white noise has positive effects on productivity and creativity. However, for some people this doesn’t work.
Some people, especially introverts may find background noise or music overwhelming. Extroverts, on the other hand, handle sound and music much better. At least, it seems like it. There is also the issue with finding the right type of music. For example, Baroque music is often suggested as a way to increase productivity. What if you don’t like this style of music? How productive you can be if you are thinking only about how horrible the music is?
It has been actually shown that, when you listen to music you don’t like, your productivity suffers. So, if baroque music is not your thing, it may not work, not even placebo effect. Instead, try different genres. One theory says that, any music is good if it doesn’t contain lyrics. Lyrics can grab your attention and interrupt you. So, for deep work, music without lyrics might be better. One tip. Try movie or game soundtracks, something instrumental. For me, this work very well.
Another way to increase productivity can be listening to sounds of nature. Sounds of nature can improve your ability to concentrate and focus. Since focus is necessary for entering flow, it is possible that sounds of nature can be helpful. Personally, I found sounds of nature very helpful for meditation. Sounds like listening to sounds of rain or river helps me concentrate. I have to admit that I haven’t tried this during deep work, to reach flow faster. It is an interesting idea to try.
Experiment to Find what works for you
It is okay to look at how other people approach productivity to get some inspiration. However, don’t adopt some approach just because someone else is doing it. Let’s say that someone told you he likes to use mind maps for planning his day. In that case, test that idea first. If you don’t find yourself comfortable with this approach, you don’t have to force yourself. Just try something else. Some people like mind mapping and some prefer writing down a simple lists.
Digital vs analog
The same is true about other ways to increase productivity. One segment of people love to use pen and paper and write down everything. Another segment of people swear by todo list apps on their smartphones. And, some people like to combine both approaches. I do that as well. On one hand, I like to write my business and blog ideas on paper. On the other, I’m using Wunderlist app on my smartphone to plan my day. This approach works for me very well.
Sprints vs marathons
The length of work sessions is another great example. Some people like to work in short sprints. Other people like to extend their work sessions to hour or longer. We discussed this in the section about deep work. I used to work in shorter sessions, the pomodoro style. I didn’t like it. Recently, I switched to long work sessions, hour or two at least. And, I love this style of work. It is much easier to immerse myself in the task and get into flow. For me, it was great way to increase productivity.
Sound or silence
Another example is listening to music or noise. This can be one of the best ways to increase productivity. As I mentioned, some people find any sound distracting. For them, working in complete silence works much better. So, the question is, what about you? Can you increase productivity by listing to music or noise or decrease it? Also, it is possible that music or background noise is not the right type of stimuli.
Maybe spoken word without any music will be better. For example, I like to listen to podcasts while I work. True to be told, I can listen to music (not too loud) as well. However, I see that as a waste of time. Listening to podcasts allows me to combine work with learning. The worst thing for my productivity is listening to white noise. Increase productivity? I’m glad if I get anything done with white noise. I can’t focus on anything else than that noise. What about you?
Through trial and error
The only way you can find out if white noise, music, podcasts or anything else works for you is by trial and error. Give yourself the freedom to experiment. The next time you will sit down to do some work, try to listen to music. Another time, try to listen to background noise. And, try also podcast or something with spoken word. Then, compare the results and see it for yourself what is the best way to increase productivity for you.
Closing thoughts on how to increase productivity
This is all I have for you today. Contrary to some popular productivity tips, working in short sprints is not the best way perform at your best. Engaging in deep work and entering flow state seems like a better approach to increase productivity. However, don’t take my words for granted. You should experiment with different approaches, tools and techniques to find what works best for you. In the end, being productive is about working in a way you find pleasant, not painful. Keep this in mind.
I hope that this article was useful, easy to follow and to implement for you. The truth is that writing this article was a bit unusual. This text was a result of stream of thoughts popping up quite randomly. As the saying goes, I let myself go with the flow. It was like an improv session. I hope that you enjoyed this article.
Do you have any questions, recommendations, thoughts, advice or tip you would like to share with other readers of this blog, and me? Great! Please share it in a comment. Or, if you want to keep things more "private", feel free to contact me on twitter or send me a mail. I would love to hear from you.
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