Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Simple Method to Take Control of Your Productivity

Charles Chu
Feb 12, 2017 · 3 min read

Take a look at how Beethoven spent his day:

Source: Info We Trust

“Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care — he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then he sat at his desk and worked until 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity.” (From Daily Rituals: How Artists Work)

Beethoven spent eight hours a day composing, plus a few hours walking in the afternoons.

Rock solid productivity.

Compare that to your average person’s day:

  • 2–3 hours of work (Yes, it’s sad. That’s what you get after factoring in social media, weekends, inbox cleaning, etc.)
  • 20 minutes of reading (Compared to Warren Buffet, who reads 6+ hours)
  • 2 hours on social media
  • 5 hours watching television

You have to give the man credit — he worked hard.

Sometimes, the right answers are the obvious ones. If you aren’t getting the results you want in work or life, maybe you simply aren’t working hard enough.

Over the years, I’ve developed a simple method for (1) identifying my productivity “blind spots” and (2) replacing them with something better.

1. Track Your Time

Our memories are flawed. We tend to put a positive spin on everything. That’s a great way to stay optimistic, but a terrible way to get results.

The only way to stay honest is to track your time.

For a week, track everything that you do. I like to do it in 15-minute blocks.

Some options you can use for tracking:

  • RescueTime for automated time tracking.
  • Toggl for manual, digital tracking
  • Spreadsheets for old schoolers.
  • Pen and paper. My personal favorite.

2. Analyze

After you track your time for week, review your records.

Ask yourself:

  • What activities had the worst outcomes?
  • What did I spend the most time on?

You might notice a pattern.

The time you waste in a week will be spent on the same few activities. Usually, this is entertainment — TV, social media, YouTube, etc.

We can’t tackle everything at once. Instead, we’ll pick the 1–2 most damaging activities and tackle those.

3. Rewire Habits

Like heroin, bad habits are addictive. Instead of quitting cold, try to rewire your bad habits into good ones.

  • Find a trigger. Habits have triggers. Seeing the TV will make you watch it. Driving home might trigger you to order junk food. Examine your habits and see what’s causing them. Then…
  • Build a replacement trigger. We want to “rewire” our trigger to a good habit instead of a bad one. Read a book instead of watching TV. Eat healthy instead of junk. You get the idea.

It helps to write down your replacement triggers or say them out loud.

What helps even more is removing bad options from the environment. Throw away your TV and put books in the house. Don’t bring your wallet to work. Carry a bag of beef jerky and munch on that instead.

Keep it up for a few weeks — rewiring habits takes time.

(“Keep it up” is easier said than done. Luckily, self-control is a learnable skill. Two good reads on this are Progression and Superhuman by Habit.)

4. Reflect and Repeat

This is the step most people miss. That’s too bad, because it’s the most important one.

After your rewiring phase, pause and reflect.

Did you succeed in replacing your bad habits? If not, why? Did you lack self control? Were there too many distractions? Did you choose the wrong trigger?

Ask a lot of questions — that’s how learning happens.

If all went well, you’re a better version of you than before. Repeat this process several times a year for some impressive results.


The Polymath Project

Figuring out how to live in a world we don't understand

Charles Chu

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The Polymath Project

Figuring out how to live in a world we don't understand