These days the word “productivity” has a lot of different connotations. In many minds, this conjures a robotic, capitalistic mindset driven to produce as much profit as possible. My friend, Henno, and I have developed a productivity challenge with another goal. Rather than focusing on specific job, school assignment, or project in a rigid environment, we have co-opted the challenge for ourselves and others in an effort to make better use of time.
In many ways, you are your habits. Our goal is to use the 30 day productivity challenge to build productive habits so that it becomes second nature after this period of time. Obviously, this challenge does not fit for everyone so feel free to co-opt this into your own program in order to reach goals that you have set. Let me know what you think should be added to the comments and I may even use your ideas!
After a brief brainstorming session, the 30 day productivity challenge that I started Monday, January 21st will include the following stipulations. Even though there is nothing truly keeping me accountable, I have partnered up with a buddy so that we can make sure principles and practices are being followed. If it seems too long, I have a TL;DR under each rule of the challenge.
Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) – as someone in my early 20s, social media has been a large part of my adult life and although I have managed to keep my time spent on these sites to a minimum, it is much more effective to produce rules that will change my habits. Therefore, the rules for social media are that they can only be used for my work purposes (marketing) once per day for around 5 minutes or so. No checking of news feeds, no viewing provocative party pictures, and no gawking.
I will only be allowed to hop on Facebook so that I can post blog posts to the fan-page, do some low-level promotion for a few minutes, and that principle is the same for Twitter and Reddit as well. In order to avoid ignoring friends who might want to get in contact with me via Facebook, push notifications will come to my phone for messages ONLY.
TL;DR: Social media can be a huge time suck. To be more productive, limit visits once per day for work purposes with no time spent on news feeds and pictures.
Morning Routine – after about 6 months of experimentation, I have concluded that the morning ritual is imperative for the productivity of the entire day. It is arguably the most important time of the day, which is why it is added to the 30 day productivity challenge. This rule stipulates that waking up from sleep should be done at a reasonable time (7:30 am for me, sometimes earlier for others, sometimes slightly later. The point is to not waste mornings in bed). After that, I will immediately start working on client work or other business projects straight from the bed. Getting the brain focused on work while you are fresh will go a long way to defining the day. You will have much more stamina and focus at this post-sleep time.
If you want to do meditation upon waking up, school work, etc., these are all productive and fine. However, I would suggest doing something stimulating and productive immediately rather than checking social media as most people like to do. After a brief period of intense work (perhaps 30 minutes or so), I’ll cook a healthy and filling breakfast to finish my routine.
TL;DR: The morning can define your entire day. Start off by waking up at a reasonable hour, immediately putting the mind to use while it is fresh, and eating a healthy breakfast.
Sleep – Being productive and efficient the next day is going to depend highly on the amount of hours you dedicate to sleeping. If you are unable to get 7 – 8 hours worth of sleep, retention will be weak and overall it will just be much harder to stay effective. Trying to take it a step further, I’m going to try to sleep utilizing 90 minute sleep patterns. This means I will try to get either 7.5 hours or 9 hours of sleep in order to not disrupt the cycles and feel more rested, alert, and focused the next morning.
As I described in Mental Noise and Willpower, scientific research shows that sleep can greatly increase your effectiveness and brain function (primarily in decision making).
TL;DR: Without being well rested, productivity is already an uphill battle. Try for at least 7.5 – 8 hours of sleep if not 9 so that you can function better the next day.
Meditation – Clearing your mind of mental distractions is as important as clearing your day or workflow of distractions. I have been meditating for 20 minutes each day for about two months, but it is time to step it up in order to be even more productive and sharpen my skills. Considering meditation in itself is productive, it’s doubly useful to do it.
Therefore, I’m starting at 30 minutes for the 30 day challenge and by the end of the challenge I shall be spending 60 minutes daily on meditation.
TL;DR: Meditation is fabulous for increasing productivity. For this challenge I’m going from 20 minutes a day to 60 minutes.
Work Distractions – whether you are doing school work, projects at your professional job, or running your own business, there are plenty of distractions that will prevent you from being productive. If you are logged in to chat programs, your friends and family have no idea when you are busy working and will certainly interrupt. Your phone will be similarly bothersome so my rule for the challenge is to log out of all communication distractions, put my phone in a place I cannot see or hear it, and work within that period of time.
Also, even though I rarely listen to music while I am working, I will make it a rule to not distract myself with the use of music. For noisy environments, non-distracting classical or peaceful music is okay, but pure focus is best.
TL;DR: Distractions while you work are plentiful. Phones, chat programs, music etc. – I’m cutting all of them out for the 30 day challenge.
Planning – sometimes unexpected things will occur throughout the day, but a certain level of planning can go a long way to improving productivity. I’m going to plan my morning routine, plan the time that I am attending classes, and the time that I am free at home. Accounting for meals and everything else, the planning should work as a task list as well. Every night before the next day I’m going to spend a couple of minutes planning what needs to be done and writing it down. That way if a distraction or event occurs, I can compare the value with the task I am missing to determine whether it is relevant (an example would be an invitation to a social gathering that is worthwhile).
TL;DR: Roughly planning the next day will be part of the challenge so that I can maintain good use of my time and avoid feeling “finished” with tasks.
What is Considered Productive?
Of course, my definition of productive is different from other people. I believe that productivity is not necessarily just school or professional work, but can also be learning a new and useful skill. Being productive can also include honing social skills in order to feel more comfortable in uncomfortable situations (however, this does not mean watching TV with your friend).
For those who spend inordinate amounts of time consuming media (such as TV or movies), there might be a huge amount of time where you feel there is nothing that you can do. Try to fill this period with any of the following productive tasks that I will be using on my 30 day challenge (feel free to add whatever you feel best for your own needs).
1. Pushing yourself into more uncomfortable social situations
2. Exercising to a higher degree than “maintenance” level
3. Learning how to cook new things and eating healthy food
4. Cleaning and organizing yourself, your room, your car – whatever
5. Learning a new skill that might help you socially, professionally, or just something that is cool
6. If you really need some media consumption time, try watching TEDx videos rather than TV
Problems That Might Arise
Obviously, as with any other challenge, there will be a number of problems that might arise as a result of maintaining productivity. There will always be a tendency to fall back into lazy and familiar habits, such as using too much social media. Boredom in class will lead to problems so it will be important to focus on lectures.
Waking up early has not been a problem and finding a good and healthy routine is pretty rudimentary for me these days, but the meditation will get difficult. Going to an hour by the end of the challenge will indeed be quite…challenging.
The biggest problem is the tendency to promote one productive thing over another due to ease. For example, it is productive to read a biography of an inspiring and enlightened individual, but that doesn’t mean I should do that versus finishing work for clients. At the same time, spending countless hours cooking new things is a poor use of time if I am not focused on university work. This will be the decisive factor, but only time will tell how effective and worthwhile this challenge will be.