Productivity Hack: Use Opposite Techniques

Many things appear to be polarized, they’re either one extreme or the other. For example, one might habitually speak loudly or quietly. To be effective communicators, we need to know how to be both quiet and loud, depending on the situation. In a library, speaking loudly is a terrible idea. Speaking quietly at a sporting event will be ineffective. Context is critical.

Below I present two contrasting productivity techniques I’ve learned over the years, and show how they can be used to complete a specific task.

After you read this post, you’ll know why I included this random photo :)

Break it Down (Divide)

When you have a huge task to complete, sometimes just the thought of it brings up all kinds of anxiety. To combat this, break the task down into several small, well-defined steps. This helps you get started because the first step will very take little time or effort, and you’ll immediately start making progress. When you finish the first step, walk away. Since you know the remaining steps, you can complete them one step at a time until you’re done. Once you complete the first step you might not want to stop, that’s a little sub-hack.

For example, most people don’t read a book in one sitting, you might break it down and read a chapter every day.

Batching (Combine)

When you have many tasks to complete, you can get overwhelmed easily. You can overcome this by grouping similar tasks together and completing them in batches. You’ll save a lot of time by reducing the number of context switches your brain does throughout the day. With batching once you complete the first task, your brain is already “warmed up” for the upcoming similar tasks in the batch.

For example, instead of doing one errand every day during the week, you can use batching to do all of your errands on the weekend.


Case Study: Washing Dishes

You just got home from a long day at work, walk into the kitchen hoping to find your favorite beverage and, remember you have a sink full of dirty dishes from last night!

I don’t know about you, but my natural tendency is to procrastinate until it becomes painful enough to address (like I run out of dishes). Procrastination sucks. If only I had some productivity techniques for dealing with this disaster… oh wait, I just learned two!

Let’s explore how these opposing techniques are valid approaches for the same person (me) to solve the same problem.

Break it Down

There’s many ways to break it down, here are some ways I’ve done it:

  • “I’ll just wash one spoon”
  • “Every time I go to the kitchen, I have to wash one dish”
  • “When I dirty one dish, I have to wash two”

Batching

Batching can also be implemented in various ways:

  • “I’ll wash all the dishes right now”
  • “When every single dish is dirty, I’ll wash all of them”
  • “Before I go to sleep, I have to wash all the dishes in the sink”

Hybrid

Not only can these techniques by used at different times, they can also be used together! Check out these bonuses:

  • “I’ll just wash all the flatware”
  • “First I’ll wash the easy dishes, soak the rest and wash them later”
  • “Every time I dirty a dish, I have to wash every similar dish (all plates)”

Sometimes when I start washing one dish (break it down), I end up washing all of them (batching) since I’m already washing dishes. I’ve used both approaches before, the technique to use is really depends on my mood.


Takeaway

Some people naturally tend towards one of these techniques (i.e.: they’re polarized). However, I think there’s huge benefits to combining seemingly contradicting ideas to “hack” productivity, among other things. This post is an expression of how we can think in a non-binary manner to uncover new methods of doing things.