Are you one of the many New Yorkers obsessed with being as productive as possible at all times? Well, the best way to be productive is to spend time tracking data . . . on your personal actions and your mood. And, I hate to say it, but unless you’re Deepak Chopra, self-reflection is something most humans royally suck at.
Here’s the secret: Personal data tracking is the secret key to productivity.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you were a Mcdonald’s franchise. Would you try to improve your drive-through capacity without actually measuring how many people go through the drive-through first? Nope. Or would you try to improve the productivity of your employees without first observing what they do in a day? Probably not.
The same should apply to busy folks in New York. Somehow, though, we treat ourselves differently. We look for hacks and download apps promising to improve our productivity when what we really need to do is observe and track our own actions.
I’m sometimes guilty of failing to track my actions as well. Around 2:30 pm, I hit a massive slump in creativity and productivity. This is something I have tracked, but until recently, I hadn’t planned for this slump. I just shut my brain off and weathered it. Right after lunch (I eat late), I usually turn on the television for a few minutes and blissfully zone out. (And, unfortunately, I usually keep watching TV for much longer than I had planned.)
What I could do is to try rescheduling tasks that require little to no brainpower for when I know I’m inevitably going to be a zombie for an hour. (For me, these tasks can involve cutting and pasting my work onto other platforms like my personal blog, responding to email, scheduling posts, etc). Or, I could force myself to keep writing things whether I’m feeling productive or not. Both work.
The point is that, rather than giving up during an energy slump, you can choose to target your task to fit your slump. And then you will eliminate wasted time in your day.
When I was in grad school, we created flow charts to find where the bottleneck was in fictional companies. So, for instance, Sally bakes ten cupcakes per hour, but John only ices 6 cupcakes per hour. In this instance, you’d hire a second cupcake icing person to increase your company’s productivity. It only makes sense.
However, as a writer in New York, I am my own bottleneck. If I could slam out 10,000 words per day like Tim Denning, I could slay the writing game. But I don’t. Not yet anyway. I get tired. I get brain fried. I get distracted. I suddenly decide that I need to eat a wheel of Babybel cheese and if I don’t do that right now I will absolutely perish.
So, I have recently begun to observe and track my productivity, I’ve created a list of brain-fried tasks, and I’ve slowly but surely taken control of my day. Here’s what I did and what worked for me:
Find a baseline
Every two hours, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to jot down what you have accomplished. Do this for a week or so and then look to see what patterns emerge. Did you accomplish 17 things between the hours of 10 am and noon and five between 3 pm and 5? Or was it the opposite? How did you feel? Sluggish or sharp?
Incidentally, if you don’t know what you’re measuring, that is the first thing you should decide. If you’re an educator, are you measuring lessons planned or tests graded? If you’re a writer, is it a number of words or is it quality of content? You can’t measure something if you don’t know what ruler you’re using.
Once you decide what your metric is, you will inevitably see patterns that emerge in your daily productivity. Humans in New York are, for better or for worse, creatures of habit. And habits aren’t bad as long as you know what they are and you change the ones you don’t like.
Compute the data
After you have about a week of productivity data, look back at your notes and give each hour or two a productivity rating score. Ten means you are a lean mean productivity machine and one means you are drooling while staring blankly into a wall.
Don’t forget to include the hours that aren’t your New York workday. These days, so many people don’t work from 9 to 5 and perhaps you’re missing out on an 8–9 pm potential goldmine of accomplishment.
So, from when you wake up to when you go to bed, give your time a score based on how much you accomplished and how you felt. If you stop right here at this step, you’re doing more than the average person does.
Pair up your tasks
Once you have identified your patterns and given a productivity score to your hours, create your schedule. Your most creative and intensive tasks should be assigned to your times with the highest scores. Your lowest scores should be times at which you do things like checking your email, tidy up, go for a walk with a coworker, or do any other mindless task involving clicking and dragging.
Because I work from home, I schedule my housework at the times I am the least sharp. Folding laundry or doing dishes is a great way to get moving and reset your dull noggin.
The point is that if you don’t do the right thing at the right time, you’re essentially wasting your time. If you try to do the task that requires maximum creativity right after lunch while your eyelids are drooping, it is very likely that you won’t be very creative at all.
Incidentally, there are some people in New York that are perfectly productive and alert all the time. 99 percent of us do not fall into that category (that’s a completely unverified statistic, by the way). Sometimes you need downtime. Even in New York. In fact, our brains process more information during our downtimes. So, schedule it, and don’t beat yourself up about it.
A final note
While we are creatures of habit, there are some things that are not always the same. The key to productivity is noticing yourself, but if, on one particular day you’re jazzed about a project and you’ve scheduled yourself to take a break, KEEP WORKING ON THAT PROJECT! Chase the flow state and when you get there, ride that wave to the sand.
The most important takeaway from this (kind of long) article is that you should know yourself, know what you need to accomplish, and do the right things at the right times.