A 3-Tier System to Unleash the Productivity Monster Within You
Try a system-driven approach to staying productive.
I consider myself a maniac when it comes to productivity. And if you’re like me, you’re familiar with the enormous satisfaction that comes from producing high-value output.
But, whether you aspire to direct your productivity force into your job or into your side hustle, you can’t deny that the pandemics and the work-from-home movement are putting some obstacles along your way.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Atirnity — an enterprise digital experience management company — shows that prolonged remote-working entails a significant decrease in productivity. They have even coined the phrase “productivity tax” to refer to the issue.
So, whether working from home or in the office, how can we ensure continued productivity?
What follows is a 3-tier system which is the distillation of my 8 years of studying and experimenting with the productivity habits I’ve learned from the Titans — from Elon Musk in tech to Anthony Trollope, one of the most prolific novelists in history.
A System-driven approach to productivity
If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal. — Scott Adams
I have recurringly noticed this pattern, that almost all the extraordinary achievers have a system with these three elements:
- A vivid idea of what is their high-value task.
- A robust schedule for practicing that high-value task on a regular basis.
- A tangible self-monitoring system to track and monitor their system.
Let’s examine each.
1. Find your high-value task
“Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.” — Elon Musk
The first step to creating an effective productivity system is finding your high-value tasks.
But what defines a high-value task and why is it important?
According to Cal Newport — the best selling author of Deep Work:
If you want to go high on the ladder of achievement you have to consistently produce high-value results.
But here’s the catch.
Producing-high value results require that in your lists, you give the priorities to the items that end up producing a valuable outcome.
Therefore, you have to make the distinction between high-value productivity ( the ability to consistently produce highly-skilled, highly-valued output) and the traditional task-productivity ( the ability to organize and execute non-skilled obligations).
For instance, if you are an aspiring writer, it means that you must designate the majority of your time to write (instead of getting wrapped up with the trivialities such as growing your twitter account).
“The amateur tweets. The pro works.” — Steven Pressfield
After figuring out your high-value task, you must go for the next level of the system: attending to your high-value task regularly.
2. Time-block your days
In a digital economy where distraction is a currency, if you can focus on one thing, for 3 to 5 hours, and block out all the distractions, you’ll have a huge leg up to do the deep work and connect dots that are connected. — Tim Ferriss
Your next step in designing your productivity system is to dedicated specific time-blocks to your high-value task on a regular basis.
Ramit Sethi — who made a multi-million dollar business out of a tiny blog — sets out 3 to 5 hours EVERY Wednesday.
And here’s an important note:
It DOES NOT work if you connect 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there, adding up to 3 to 5 hours. They’re just not the same. Protect your time-block as if they’re sacred.
So, what happens if you don’t?
Most probably you will fall prey to the banalities of trivial checklists and to-do lists.
Doing what’s urgent rather than what’s important.
3. Establish a robust self-monitoring system
Anthony Trollope. one of the most prolific novelists in history — who is a perfect embodiment of this 3-tier productivity system — had cultivated the habit of writing each day for 3 hours early in the morning.
As for the self-monitoring, for each of his novels, he would draw up a working schedule, typically planning for 10,000 words a week, and then kept a diary:
“In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labor, so that the deficiency might be supplied. There has been the record before me, and a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.”
A blister to my eye. You won’t find anything on psychological literature that would so aptly summarize the efficacy of self-monitoring.
My own high-value task that I practice daily is programming or devouring related tutorials. This is how I conduct the self-monitoring part:
Given such a rigid systematic working, what happens to creativity, you might ask?
Well, I‘ve been entertaining the same thoughts when I was reading Murakami’s book what I talk about when I talk about running.
And here’s where I found my answer:
If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy: focus — the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value. — Haruki Murakami
With the new normal, it’s important to consider ways to maintain your productivity. Start by figuring out your high-value tasks: What activities generate the highest returns on the time you invest.
Allocate specific and regular time-blocks to your high-value tasks. Establish a monitoring system to track how much you engage with your high-value tasks
Then exile all distractions to better stick to your time blocks. Remember that laser travels far because the photons are focused towards the same direction.