Time is finite. There is so much that needs to be done, and so little time to do it.
In the last year I have noticed a lot of people around me saying things like “There’s not enough time in the day.” This really bothered me, since scarcity is an inherent characteristic of time.
The fundamental principles of economics are as follows:
- Wants are many.
- Resources are few.
- Decisions must be made.
Time follows an almost identical set of principles:
- Commitments are many.
- Hours are few.
- Decisions must be made.
I’ve got some disturbing news for you: you cannot make a day any longer. You can try things such as forgoing exercise and sleeping less, but that will make you less productive and lead to your downfall. What you can do, though, is optimize your use of time.
The key here is to eliminate excess. Eliminate all distractions, time absorbers, and inefficient systems, and you will effectively be able to add to your day all those hours you desire.
There are a few tips reach your productivity potential:
- Minimize the number of notifications you receive on your phone.
We are too plugged in. It is impossible to focus on what we need to do when the phones are ringing or vibrating every couple of minutes. I’ve heard that it takes an average of 20 seconds to regain the focus and productivity we lose when our attention is diverted. This can add up to minutes a day! Compounded over time, you can save hours by just minimizing push notifications.
Be ruthless about what apps you allow to contact you. Snapchat, Text messaging, phone calls, emails, Twitter: the list is endless. Disable the notifications setting on as many apps as you possibly can. I personally need to have the notifications for every single application zeroed out. Those little red circles give me anxiety and distract me from what is important.
- Be Ruthless with your emails
Admit it, you saw this one coming. No conversation about productivity would be complete without discussing emails. I once heard a joke that there are two kinds of people in this world: those with zero notifications and those with 1,000. If you are the first type: congratulations. If you are the latter, I’m here to tell you that you have to become the former.
Having hundreds of unread emails is inefficient. To reach your fullest productivity, that inbox has to be at zero, for all your email accounts combined. There’s just no way to manage all the incoming messages if the notifications are in the thousands.
When it comes to promotional types of emails from companies, utilize Gmail’s feature of dividing the emails into three categories: primary, promotions, and social, and set the notification system to only notify you for primary emails.
Be ruthless with unsubscribing. All institutions are required to leave an unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email, allowing you to no longer receive their emails. Do this for as many newsletters as possible, only keeping the ones you truly care about. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even do this. I just send anything I don’t like directly to spam to save myself the time.
As a general rule: Keep the unread messages as close to zero as possible and never let the number get into the double digits.
- Simplify Repeated Tasks
Being the health nut that I am, one of the things I do to make sure I eat the right amount of food is counting calories. I enter every single food or drink I consume into an app called MyPlate. After a while, I noticed that I was often eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, but I was still taking the time to enter in each item individually. To simplify this, I created a set list of meals so that each time I ate one I could press a single button, rather than entering each item individually. This saves me time each time I sit down to eat.
If you need to go for a run and walk the dog, take the dog for a run. If you find yourself eating unhealthy during the week because you are short on time, make all your meals for the week on Sunday and throw them in the freezer. The idea is to make small things easier and less of a hassle.
- The News
This one’s going to be a little controversial, but here is my proposition: eliminate all sources of news in your life. No newspapers, no TV or radio broadcasts, no online news articles: NOTHING.
The news is completely useless. There is absolutely no positive effect that comes from being up to date with all of the latest homicides and high speed chases. It is just a source of negativity that will poison your mind. It is unpleasant and takes up too much time.
Be honest: have you ever actually felt satisfied after watching the news?
There are certain exceptions to this rule. Some professionals such as economists and stock traders rely on the news for their job. That’s fine. To a certain extent, it is necessary to be up to date on current events to be a well-informed and voting citizen. My advice is to follow the minimum amount of news to be able to vote during elections. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you absolutely have to know about a current event, you will hear about it through word of mouth. I’ve found this is a good way of only hearing what you need to know. If it affects you, someone you know will tell you about it. If it is irrelevant, no one is going to bother you with the information. Filter the news through the minds of other people.
- Clear Out Overhead
Minimalists believe that every possession takes up mental space. From my experience, I have found this to be accurate. Having stuff stored away is overwhelming.
As a songwriter, I have dozens of notebooks to keep track of all my lyrics and music. This takes up valuable space in my brain; space that could be cleared if I consolidated all that information into one folder.
Clear out your draws, throw away the useless papers you have lying around, donate that coat you haven’t worn in a year. Purging is a very freeing feeling. I’m not exactly sure why doing this leads to a higher level of productivity, but trust me, it does.
This phenomenon also applies to the digital medium as well. Over the years I accumulated a large digital closet to keep track of everything worth remembering that I saw in the digital world. I found that purging this space created the same result as purging in real life. All the YouTube playlists, the Google Chrome Bookmarks, iNote files, and Word documents were filling up my mental attic and, like any attic, any more storage would cause it all to come crashing down. Conduct a digital purge, and free yourself of this mental baggage.
- Get On The Plane
Getting back to step number one about notifications hindering focus, you can set your phone to either Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode to ensure that nothing gets in your way while working. Do Not Disturb will not interfere with any of your phone’s function. All it does make sure the phone doesn’t light up and zap your focus. Airplane Mode shuts off all contact with the outside world and is the equivalent of going dark.
I prefer Do Not Disturb because it still allows me to utilize my phone for texting and Internet browsing. If you are the kind of person that has a hard time staying off your phone, Airplane Mode is probably for you.
- Work In Intervals
One trick I learned from YouTube fitness guru Big Brandon Carter is to work in intervals. I set a timer for 25 minutes and work without interruption until the time is up. After that I set the timer for a 5-minute break. I use this window for transitioning, doing things such as going to the bathroom, checking my phone, or reorganizing my workspace. Working in this way allows for higher productivity and breaks up the monotony of the grind.
- Have A System
Having a solid system to keep track of deadlines and tasks is essential for organizing. Originally, I followed the route of using a planner to keep track of everything. However, after a while, the type of projects and commitments I had began to shift from daily tasks to long-term projects. Always adapting, I invented a new system with a two-prong approach.
First, I kept a small note pad full of two types of lists. The first kind was a weekly list to keep track of all the deadlines I had for the week. The second was a daily list where each day I would write out five tasks I would complete, another idea I got from Brandon Carter. At the bottom of that list I would plan out every hour of my day, scheduling in everything from appointments to gym workouts. To me, the beautiful thing about these lists is the dopamine rush I get from checking off completed tasks.
The second part of the system involves hanging a large calendar on my wall to help me visualize the long term. On the calendar I also write down my appointments, obligations, and deadlines so I understand how they fit into the big picture. It’s hard to understand what next week looks like just by looking at a pad.
I believe both systems have their own merits. Choose whichever one works best for you. Also, be willing to adapt and switch systems if need be.
- Bounce It Back
While this is going to contradict what I said about having a system, I think it is worth mentioning that lists can sometimes be bad. Similar to what I said in step number five, lists also take up mental space. Investor and YouTuber Tai Lopez has an easy solution: Bounce it back. As soon as something easy lands on your plate, address it immediately. Don’t put simple tasks on a list. Instead of writing a reminder to take out the trash, just take out the trash. If the dishwasher needs to be emptied, empty it. Do not let any simple task take up mental space that it does not deserve.
Now if you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that this contradicts some of the things I stated above about breaking focus. An easy way to work around this is to only bounce something back when your focus is already broken. Let’s say you get an email that needs to be answered by the end of the day, but not at that very moment. If you are in the middle of working on something, ignore it and come back to it later. If you are not focused and are already checking your phone or taking a break, reply to the email immediately.
Some of the tips in this article may not work for you. These are just ideas that I know work for me. If you can implement as many of these tips as possible, you will be on your way to achieving your fullest productivity potential.