Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

If I’m being honest, until I hit my late 20s, the term productivity & all the concepts pertaining to it – from Personal Kanban to Eisenhower Matrix- were strictly restricted to my MBA grad books, which I was forced to mug up for scraping through end term exams. At the time I used to internally curse why someone would need 10 different methods to rephrase what I felt could be articulated in 3 simple words like Nike did – Just Do It! Looking back, I attribute that naivety to my age - wherein all I was responsible was for myself & my mind was like a one track race horse focused solely on studies and landing a good job offer that could help pay off my student loans. It wasn’t until much later when I got married & started trying to tread that tightrope of work-life balance did I realize– boy was I wrong and how!

It first hit me like a truck that, just like my metabolism, if I plotted my age against my productivity, the relationship would be inversely proportional. I would often wallow in self-pity, reminiscing of the good old college days when I could effortlessly juggle my studies with extra-curricular activities, outings with friends & still manage to have energy leftover for a game of badminton at the end of the day. Cut to the present, I could barely manage to tick off half the items on my to-do list at work/home & having time to pursue interests & hobbies was nothing short of a Utopian dream!

Once I came to grips with my new reality, I decided to take the bull by the horns & figure out a way to boost my productivity with increasing age & responsibilities. For days on end I immersed myself in all the books & articles I could lay my hand on pertaining to productivity, which I had so foolishly scoffed at once-upon-a-time! Gradually over time, by adopting a multi-pronged approach of combining these research insights along with experimentation & introspection, I managed to derive 4 simple techniques to help make the most of my time without feeling like a candle being burnt at both ends.

1. Prioritizing is key:

From the time your alarm clock goes off in the morning, you’re faced with a slew of decisions & tasks that demand your time & attention. And the only way to ensure you do not have to rely on a time machine for going back in time & completing an activity before the deadline is crossed, is to simply learn to prioritize your tasks at hand based on importance urgency. I find that jotting down a list of to-do activities (both personal & work related) along with a realistic timeline for the same the night beforehand, helps to start my day on an organized note without scrambling around trying to decide which task to tackle first. However, while doing so I always leave buffer room for uncertainty, so as to ensure any last minute activity which crops up does not result in my entire schedule going for a toss. Moreover, at times when I struggle with prioritizing based on importance & urgency, I add a third dimension- that of impact of completing a particular task- what do I gain from completing it? Answering this question helps me to tap into my intrinsic motivation & keep going even when I don’t particularly fee like honoring my to-do list.

2. Eat the Frog First:

 “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning” Productivity consultant Brain Tracy translated this quirky piece of advice from Mark Twain to an effective tool in the productivity arsenal. It simply means identifying one important task for the day and doing it first. Once you get it out of the way, the rush of accomplishment spills over to the rest of your day, builds momentum & ensures you approach the other tasks on your to-do list with a can-do attitude. For a person like myself who loathes physical exertion, exercising is the proverbial frog which I choose to eat first thing every morning. It serves the dual purpose of energizing me with the rush of Serotonin, Dopamine & all other feel-good hormones as well as freeing up my entire day to focus on other activities, without the dread of working out at the end of a tiring day weighing me down throughout the day.

3. Manage your energy along with time:

Generally, productivity struggles have more to do with focus management than time management. And if the same holds true for you as well, then it is high time you learn to efficiently manage your energy & focus along with time. This essentially boils down to identifying the time of day when you’re at your peak efficiency & utilizing that period efficiently to get work done by eliminating all distractions. I use this principle to boost my productivity at work particularly. I generally feel at my perkiest best the first few hours after I reach work & sit down with my cup of coffee. Hence I set aside my phone (along with the urge to check my inbox, meander through social media posts etc) and allot this time strictly for tasks which demand creativity & brainstorming. The latter half of day post lunch, when I generally feel a bit sluggish, is the time I utilize to get routine mundane tasks out of the way-like clearing my emails, follow up calls to stakeholders etc. This ensures an optimum work schedule since the task at hand aligns with my energy level.

4. Carve out your “Me time”:

It’s easy to get caught in a flurry of activities & devote attention to everyone & everything but yourself, which over a period of time results in mental & physical fatigue. Hence with an eye on ensuring productivity consistently, as opposed to intermittent bursts, the importance of carving out me time on a regular basis cannot be overstated. You owe it to your mind & body to break from the grind & press pause before you decide which buttons to hit next. Don’t let social media deceive you into believing that me time equates to indulging in elaborate self-care rituals like spa massages, overpriced cappuccinos etc. It can be as devoid of frills & trills as you like. For example, my “me-time” is the 1 hour of solitude I enjoy on reaching home from work in the evening till my husband reaches around an hour later. I consciously choose not to get sucked into routine tasks during that one hour & instead utilize this window to do whatever I please like on that particular day- sometimes it’s enjoying a cup of tea while basking in the receding sun rays on the balcony, other times it’s catching up on my favorite Netflix show, picking up a book which I have been meaning to read for long or simply meditating & praying. The bottom line is that this me-time recharges me for repeating the entire grind the next day without getting burnt out.

While these 4 simple techniques, which I now swear by, might not be the holy grail of productivity enhancement, it’s definitely a start in the right direction as it helped me break out of the vicious cycle of frustration at unfinished tasks, pushing myself too hard & consequent exhaustion. Most importantly it helped me feel more in control of my life - back in the driver’s seat with a road map in hand & the confidence to forge on towards my destination.

Franz Kafka had beautifully articulated that

“Productivity is about being able to do things that you were never able to do before”.

I resonate deeply with this thought as my pursuit of productivity remains an ongoing one & with every passing year of increasing responsibilities, I look forward to adding new tips to this list to stay on top of my game! 

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