Busyness is not productivity:

We think that if we look busy, we’d look productive. Yes, you would ‘look’ productive but that doesn’t mean that you ‘are’ productive. A lot of busy people have no mental clarity of what they are doing and in which direction they are going. They are just running in circles. The purpose of productivity is to produce quality.

Why do you Procrastinate: Lazy or Stressed?

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

“Procrastination is the dance between the brain and the situation”
—Jeffrey Combs (The Procrastination Cure)

To procrastinate is to delay a task or action. If you ever feel guilty about procrastination, just know that everyone tends to procrastinate a little on daily basis. It is normal and natural.

Jeffrey Combs, the author of ‘The Procrastination Cure’ says that procrastination is like an epidemic because everyone is afflicted with it. However, it can be cured if you successfully identify the root causes, address them and take suitable action.

There can be several reasons why one would procrastinate but I want to narrow it down to two broad categories – Laziness and Stress.

  1. Laziness - Are you one of those last-minute people who don’t start doing the work and put it off unless the deadline is close? Perhaps, you don’t plan your day, and if you plan you don’t execute. Disinterested and distracted you give in to ‘instant gratification (some sort of short-term pleasure). When D-day starts approaching, you get this adrenaline rush that ignites the fire in you and you start completing the task. Maybe, you finish it just before the deadline, but is it really worth it? Do you always need a crisis or emergency to get started? Aren’t you worried that your quality of work may be compromised because of your chronic procrastination?
    The sole remedy Is to pick a pen and paper, plan a day in advance and execute. Set non-negotiable deadlines for yourself and get in the habit of execution by applying Mel Robbin's 5-second rule (At the count of five, just get started with the work). Do not hate the work, find a way to love it. One day at a time build your consistency and you will transform.
  2. Stress - You know that you have the will and potential to work hard and get better. But, you struggle with perfectionism or you worry constantly about the outcomes. When you procrastinate, the resistance you face isn’t unwillingness but a response to the stress.
    Your work gives you anxiety because you are too afraid of failure. As a stress-coping mechanism, you turn to other activities which are less stressful and you too give in to instant gratification because that alleviates your stress temporarily. When time flies by, you feel guilty and undeserving.
    Your solution is again to take actions but you need to take baby steps. Set small targets and hit them. Each time you avoid the task and replace it with some recreational activity, you lose confidence and the situation worsens. Therefore, converting your big and overwhelming goals into tiny chunks and finishing them will give you confidence. Sooner or later, you can increase the size of the chunks. Once the inertia is overcome, build momentum and then push harder to accelerate.
    No matter how small The efforts are, if put in the right direction will give you a compound effect over a long period of time. For perfectionists, getting done something is better than doing nothing. You get better with time. For worriers, no amount of worry can help so practice meditation and use your mental faculties to face the situation and not escape the situation.

Impact of Technology on Productivity:

Photo by Marissa Grootes on Unsplash

  • New Notifications, Infinite Information
    You may wonder how can the rise of technology impacts the nature of productivity. If at all, the changes should be positive ones making you more productive than your ancestors. Surely, industrial production has risen by unimaginable times compared to the old days but our productivity has been challenged by novel problems. David Allen in his book ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity', points out that technology has altered the nature of work and rendered most of the old methods of productivity insufficient and redundant.
    In olden times, the nature of work was “self-evident”. People knew what they have to do. They knew where to begin and when the task was finished they could see that it is finished. In modern times, we live in a digital and globalized world where there is an easily accessible and unlimited amount of information all over the internet. Due to this, the nature of work has become “blurred”. People face the problem to identify where to begin from and once they begin they don’t know where to end. People want to produce quality work, but they are constantly worried about “How better can the project go?” A student asks “Which resources and how many resources should I go through and how do I know that I’m prepared enough to have a competitive edge?”
    In addition to it, globalization and digitalization have shrunk time and space to exaggerate the notion of ‘connectedness’. Your friends and family want to stay connected with you. You are easily accessible to them via text and call. Maybe you find it hard to say “No” to them when you’re busy and you dread saying “No” because they might get upset.
    In the olden days, to be productive was to increase the efficiency of the process by working harder or longer. But infinite information and notification may cause you to stress out, and lose focus and momentum while working. Thus, the old ways fail to address these problems.

  • Be Flexible and Fluid


We will not be able to manage our workload if our mind is scattered. David Allen, therefore, suggests his readers develop ‘Mind like Water'. Imagine throwing a pebble into a lake. The pebble will cause water to splash then form ripples and finally come back to its calm state. The water didn’t overreact (causing a tsunami-like situation) or underreact (like staying still). It did what was scientifically expected from it. Similarly, many pebbles-like disturbances (notifications, new information, and projects) will be thrown at you but be mentally prepared for the surprises by having a ‘mind like water’ which doesn’t get overwhelmed or underwhelmed. The key idea here is to have a sense of control in your life. We get anxious only when we feel like our life is beyond our control.

“Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation, and action.”
—David Kekich


David Allen suggests the following Five-step method:

  1. Capture - Just capture (collect) all the tasks that are being thrown at you and put them in your imaginary bucket ( list of to-dos). Things can be work-related or family/friends related
  2. Clarify - Question yourself about what the tasks mean to you. If you feel like something is not worth your time have no hesitation to drop it from your list.
  3. Organize - All the things on your list are to be sorted and prioritized based on their urgency and relevance. You can categorize them by grouping similar tasks in one list.
    Then, you must prioritize them. Someone rightly said, “Priorities are not to be managed, they are to be created.” You would have to figure out for yourself which task requires urgent attention and which one can be delayed.
  4. Reflect – After the priorities are set, you pick the first thing on the list and reflect on the tools that are required to get it done. What are all people you’d have to communicate with to get it done? You analyze your resources and arrange them.
  5. Engage - Once you’ve reflected, it’s time to engage with the task. You put a well-thought plan into action.

Time Management or Focus Management

Let us discuss in detail the time intensive and focus-intensive styles of management.

On Managing Time-

I appreciate the perception of Ankur Warikoo, an author, entrepreneur, and YouTuber, on time. He says,” Time is Allocation, Time is Energy and Time is Money.”

  • Time is Allocation- Whenever you choose to do something, you are in a way allocating a portion of your life to it and the way you allocate your time tells a lot about your priorities in life. For example, if right now you’re reading this article instead of doing chores/other work then you’re saying,” Right now reading this article is more important to me than doing anything else.” If you spend time watching Netflix instead of studying then in that very moment you’re saying,” Watching Netflix is more important to me than studying.”
    Many people these days use the famous Stephan Covey’s Time Management Matrix to help them decide what can be done right now and what can be done later. But, first, let's look at this model.

(Note: ‘Q’ means Quadrant)

Q- I) Urgent and Important—Do it now (Study for the test which is due tomorrow)

Q-II) Not Urgent but Important—Do it Later (Relationship building with friends/family)

Q-III) Urgent but Not Important—Delegate to someone else (Answering e-mails/texts)

Q-IV) Not Urgent and Not Important—Don’t do it (TV/Entertainment/lengthy phone calls with friends/family)

Ankur Warikoo has identified a crucial weakness in this matrix. He says that according to Covey, things falling in quadrant IV is a total waste of time and one should stop doing them to enhance productivity. But, we need recreational activities, we want instant gratifications and socializing. So, Warikoo suggests that why not allocate time to ‘waste your time?

He says if you like watching YouTube then allocate some time to it in your schedule. Make sure you pick the most non-active slot of your day. Say, you allocate 9 pm to 10 pm to watch YouTube then throughout the day don’t watch YouTube but when the clock strikes 9 pm then don’t do anything else just watch YouTube till it’s 10 pm. This allocation of ‘wasting’ time will keep you happy and you won’t feel guilty.

As far as allocating important tasks is concerned. Brian Tracy in his ‘Eat the Frog’ suggests allocating the most detested / hard task of yours as the first thing you do. Once you have eaten the frog (most hated/heavy work) you will feel a sense of achievement. Tracy also says that if you are confused between two hard tasks then eat the uglier frog first.

  • Time is Energy- This implies that you can’t make the best use of your time if you lack energy because it causes burnouts. You can’t work when you are ill. You can’t work when you are experiencing sadness. You can’t work when you find that life is meaningless.

There are three types of energy:

  1. Physical- If you don’t eat well and take proper rest, it will take a toll on your health. Eating a balanced diet to get proper nutrients and good immunity is important. You should never lose your sleep. Having an adequate amount of sleep is of utmost significance to good health. If you don’t get enough sleep, your cognitive skills decrease.
  2. Emotional- If you are emotionally exhausted, you won’t be able to function well. Unhealthy relationships can drain you and impact your professional life. Therefore, be wise in choosing your inner circle. Good interpersonal relationships leave you contented and satisfied while bad ones not only affect personally but also professionally.
  3. Spiritual- If you are spiritually drained, you will stay agitated and confused. Therefore, meditation, yoga, or if you have any other way to connect to a Higher power, do that. Find the purpose of your life, what values are important to you, and how you identify yourself as.

When you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy, you feel energized to work and be productive.

  • Time is Money- Time is the currency of life. Nothing is truly free in life as whatever you choose to do you are actually exchanging a portion of your life with it. So just like you manage your finances, keep a record of what you do and how much time you spend on it. Because it is said you cannot manage what you can’t measure. These days people don’t know how much time they end up wasting on Internet, but some applications would inform you of your screen time and app usage. You can use your data to reduce your screen time and do something useful.
    Talking about record-keeping, here’s the concept of a ‘Retrospective Schedule’ shared by Ali Abdaal, a doctor, you tuber, and podcaster. Ali said that as a student he quit ‘Prospective Schedule’ and replaced it with ‘Retrospective Schedule’ and continues to use it.

A prospective Schedule is what most of you are already familiar with it. This is how it looks:-

(Suppose today is 11th October)

12th October – Study History (Aristotle, Plato)

13th October - Study (Theories in Public Administration- Classical, Scientific Bureaucratic.)

14th October - Study (Theories in Public Administration- Human Relations, Behavioral and System)

Now, here you are assuming that by 15th October you’ll be done with all these aforementioned topics. But, this schedule seldom works because the human brain is not good at predicting. You may not be able to cover half of the topics.

So, here’s the ‘Retrospective Schedule’:-

  • Aristotle:
    • State and forms of government- 12 Oct,
    • Citizenship- 12 Oct
    • Justice- 12 Oct, 14 Oct
    • Theory of Revolution- 13 Oct
  • Plato
    • Justice- 14 Oct,
    • Education- 15 Oct, 16 Oct
    • Communism of wives and property- 16 Oct
    • Ideal State-
  • Theories in Public Administration
    • Classical – 14 Oct
    • Scientific Management- 14 Oct
    • Bureaucratic – 13 Oct, 16 Oct
    • Human Relations- not done
    • Behavioral- not done
    • System- not done

In the above schedule, you not only studied Plato’s Justice on the 14th, but you also revised Aristotle’s concept too. Thus, in the Retrospective Schedule, you are not predicting what you will study tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. You are maintaining a record of the things you did today and so knowing exactly what portion has been covered , left, or what needs to be revised. This is a way to measure your progress and set targets.

On Managing Focus-

Some writers opine that instead of trying to manage time, we should learn to manage focus.

Parkinson’s Law - The famous Parkinson’s Law given by Cyril Northcote Parkinson. He wrote about it in an essay published in ‘The Economist’ in 1955. It says, ”Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.” It means if the deadline for a project is today, you’ll finish it today. If it is one week, you’ll take one week to finish it. If it is one month, you’ll take one month to finish it.

Oftentimes, we think of work in terms of ‘how much time it will consume and even if something can be finished in a few hours, we will drag it to several days.

Therefore, it is being discussed that we should try to be focus-intensive instead of time-intensive while planning. What Carl Newport calls ‘Deep Work’ is nothing but work done with full devotion and without distraction.

Newport calls the ability to work deep “the superpower of the 21st century”. I totally agree with it because it is an open secret that our attention span is decreasing with the advent of modern technology. A study shows that in 2000 our attention span was 12 seconds, while by 2015 it was 8.25 seconds which is embarrassingly shorter than a goldfish’s attention span which is 9 seconds.

You can observe that the content is getting shorter and shorter. Ever since Tik Tok popularized, the concept of short videos has been adopted by applications including popular platforms such as Instagram (Reels) and YouTube(Shorts). Each time you click a video, you see new content that gives you a dopamine rush in your body. Dopamine is a happy hormone and so it makes you feel good. But the more we get it, the more we crave it. When the content used to be lengthier, our attention span was long too. Now, with a dopamine boost within every one to two minutes, our mind is seeking more and more of it. Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, the authors of ‘Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Everyday’ call such endless distractions ‘infinity pools’ which is always refreshing and full with luring content but they suck our time and handicap our skill to focus. Therefore, ‘digital detox’ is a very relevant concept of our times. It is believed that spending less time on smartphones would improve our cognitive skills and concentration power. Daily meditation can also increase focus building.

Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo is a old but very popular method to increase productivity. It says that you can break your work into focus sessions with regular short breaks in between. The focus session is usually a 20 to 25 minutes long and the break is 5 minutes. This way your work will not appear very tedious and draining.

Justin Sung, a full time learning- coach, suggests a modification to the Pomodoro Technique. He says instead of having concrete 20 to 25 minutes long sessions, you can personalize the sessions. Use a stop watch while working/studying and the moment you lose your focus, check how long could you focus. Say you were focused for 15 minutes then your break should be (fifteen divided by ‘four’ , which is roughly four minutes). Justin uses the concept of Pomodoro but advise on customizing sessions and breaks because there is a possibility that while studying you would like to be focused for a time longer or shorter than prescribed 25 minutes. Also, knowing how long you are successfully able to focus will help you push your limits and elongate your focus.

“The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus.”(Bruce Lee)

Avoid multi-tasking as switching between works is not good for productivity as your focus becomes fragile. I like to think of focus as ‘quality’ and time as ‘quantity’. Number of hours doesn’t matter if you are not focused enough.

Motivation : An Unreliable Ally

You may be willing to organize your agendas and work in short bursts with maximum focus you can achieve but then you realize that you aren’t motivated enough so you procrastinate and watch a lot of motivational videos and podcasts on the internet. They are external sources of motivation we turn to when we can’t find the drive to work. Similarly, sometimes we find that our internal motivation is not sustainable and we feel like we need more of it to get started and keep going.

Justin Sung breaks this myth around motivation. He says that one should not see motivation as a fuel which you need again and again to keep you working because it is unsustainable and you will run out it. He says that one should perceive motivation as a reservoir which is used under unfortunate and tough situation. It is really pathetic if one rely on motivation to do simple tasks such as getting up and studying.

Habits: Breaking Bad, Building New

“Habits are the compound interest of self- improvement.”
-James Clear

Habits are your reliable allies. If you are used to certain pattern of behavior, you will do it naturally. If you are used to working four hours, you will not have to rely on willpower or motivation to work that long enough. When we are building self-discipline, we try to build good habits that will give us a compounding effect (success/progress/growth achieved after continuous efforts over a long time). We strengthen our willpower and self-discipline each time we break a bad habit and replace it with a good one.

The International Bestseller, Atomic Habits by James Clear give us a practical solution to breaking bad habits and replacing them with a good one. He emphasizes the importance of small but useful habits. Small habits over time will give big results. Since the goal is a destination the journey is the process that involves a system of habits. There are four stages to creating new habits:-

  • Cue - This is based on the principle of environment. You have to make your habits obvious by exposing yourself to an environment that will give you a cue or will nudge you to pursue a good habit. In simple words, if you want to build a habit of reading a book, then keep that book near you. So that when you see the book, you want to read it. If you want to break the habit of checking your phone daily in the morning then keep your phone in the other room before sleeping so that you don’t see the phone around you when you wake up.
  • Craving - This is based on the idea of making habits attractive. Since we crave dopamine and similar rewards, we have to make our work interesting. We resist boring and dull work. So, use your creativity to make the habit tempting. For example, you can make your workout interesting by listening to music. You can use workout time as the only time to listen to your favorite music.
  • Response -This is based on the principle of making your work easy. Focus on reducing friction between you and the work you want to do. If you are going to read a new concept, it may cause you to stress out. You have two responses now. Either crawl back to your cheap-dopamine pastime like watching YouTube and checking social media or you can try reading about the topic to build a familiarity with it and hence make the task a little easier to approach.
  • Reward – This is based on satisfaction. Once you get the work done, your body releases dopamine to reward you. To make habits, you have to make them satisfying.
” What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”
- James Clear


In a fast-paced life, it is easy to get lost and feel demotivated and inadequate. It is easy to feel like you are lost in a crowd and crushed under the highly competitive world. Success does not come easily and it doesn’t end with an established professional career. True success is satisfaction. It is finding a work-life balance.

It is working hard and smart so that you can take care of yourself by eating a balanced diet, having proper sleep, building good relations, and working on yourself to increase focus and self-discipline and also to find new ways to be efficient and effortless in your work 

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