You might be a productivity professional, or you might need a good kick up the a** to get started, chances are you’ve been given some advice on how you can be more efficient and accomplish more in your day. Maybe you’ve heard if you wake up at god knows when in the morning, cut your lunch in half, and start time tracking your activities you could become a task completing machine. Unfortunately there is no universal solution to productivity lapses. I tend to look at every piece of productivity and efficiency advice as somewhat subjective, meaning what works for you might not work for someone else.
Like I said, there is no one plan or advice a person can give you that each person in the world can apply and get the same results. We are not all morning people! Most of the time forcing yourself to wake up at 5am is just going to make you feel worse.
You’re probably wondering why I’m writing this article if there is no one answer that fits all. I want you to take everything you read about productivity and work mentality from here with a pinch of salt. Test out advice you are given to see if it fits your business and personal needs.
The best productivity book I have come across is by Chris Bailey and is called ‘The Productivity Project’. In Chris’s book he explains the importance of creating small experiments based on productivity advice you find. Instead of jumping into work and giving up at the first obstacle, he took some time to learn how he worked best. Then he found how most of the cliche productivity advice didn’t actually help him.
If you want to try to conduct your own productivity experiments, keep reading this article and I will show you how you can progress through the steps and understand your results.
How to conduct a productivity experiment
If you’re not sure how to run an experiment, let’s go into the scientific method:
You start with a baseline level that you want to improve, then you do your research to find possible solutions. Once you have an idea, set it in motion as an experiment to test how this advice works and if it helps you. All results are good results, even if they don’t meet your expectations, you need to repeat your experiment with different solutions and ideas to find the results that improve you from the baseline as much as possible.
We’ll do the same thing with using productivity as our question!
#1- Creating your baseline
If you could put down on paper out of 10 how productive you are at this very moment what would your number be? I know, how are you meant to sum up a question this big by one number. If you break it down it makes the question a lot more tangible.
You can measure things like the percentage of your to-do list you accomplish each week. The score out of 10 can be an average of these factors, how focused you are, your attention span, how much energy you have while working, and the most important one… How long do you put off difficult tasks. If you test yourself out of 10 for all of these personal factors you will have a pretty good idea of how productive you are being. Other indicators that may affect your productivity are things such as your mood, relationship with people you work with, or the volatility of your job and how well you adapt to different situations.
When it comes to measuring how many tasks you complete in a day or week, you want to make sure you apportion the percentage based on the task. For example in my job, completing a 2000 word article would be a less important task than creating course material for my investment group. One takes a lot more time to complete so I would bare that in mind when measuring my tasks.
The final factors you could measure are things such as, the number of times you were distracted during a task, or how many times you got an unnecessary notification from your phone. You should get creative with this part of the experiment and think of ways to tell if you’re being productive or not.
#2 - List the productivity advice, tools, or tips you want to test
Everything you’ve read, everything you’ve heard, everything that’s been scribbled on the back of the cubicle door, write it down if you want to try it. If you think it could help you be more productive you need to try it. Some of these tests could include:
- Wake up earlier (Not for me!)
- Reduce your caffeine intake
- Work with background music (I use Brain.fm)
- Use a standing desk
- Exercise before you go to the office, or during lunch
- Start your day with the most boring task (Eat the Frog)
- Track your time during the day to see how much time you spend working (Harvest is a great tool for this)
- Only respond to emails, texts, or missed calls at a specific time of the day
- One of my favourite is the Pomodoro Technique, if you haven't heard of it check out our last post Introducing The Pomodoro Technique: Create Long-Lasting Productivity
#3 - Start your experiment - Try one at a time and measure your improvement
Whatever you decide to measure during your baseline period, you need to now measure the same metrics again as you start new experiments. When you test how well you improve during the ‘Wake up earlier’ experiment, you need to see how the results compare with your baseline.
You must make sure however you only test one productivity hack at a time so you can get an accurate read for what is working. If you wake up early and skip your morning coffee you could see one works really well, but when coupled with the other, it causes you to be tired and inefficient. You won’t actually know which one is helping and which is hindering your productivity. In science talk, this is called controlling your variables.
Don’t get me wrong, some weeks will be more testing on your productivity than others. As an accountant in the UK the entire month of January was the busiest most stressful month of the year, I didn’t have time NOT to be productive. However May through July were quite calm and focused more on improvement and gaining new clients, so it was easy to put things off, this did not serve me well for the hell that was January submissions. What I’m trying to get across is that there is no way you will get a perfect result all of the time. You will be doing different tasks everyday, you’ll have different deadlines and meetings. This is why, come the end of the week, really drill down and understand how the experiment impacted your overall productivity.
Because you want to be as scientific about this as possible I want to discuss the timeframe you should set for each experiment. One day just isn’t long enough, if you don’t drink coffee for a day, you’ll feel tired and maybe a bit irritated, you need to give your body time to react and your brain to realise the difference. One week is minimum, this is the amount of time it will take you body and mind to adjust to any change you make, but if you want to really see how these different factors affect your work day, I would try and last a month on each experiment, unless there is a massive problem with one of them.
If you start exercising as your first experiment and you see an increase in your productivity, there is no reason why you couldn’t carry on exercising throughout your other experiments. Because you know exercising works for you, try and find something that works well alongside it.
#4 - Analyze your performance against your baseline
You should try as many or as few experiments as you want!
You’ll likely find most of them will have minor impacts on your productivity, some may have huge influences on how you live your life, and some will have none at all. Just keep trying new things and keep getting better, change the variables as much as possible, and retest them under new conditions. Once you have your new results to compare again your baseline see if they work when it comes to education, home life, or even a new goal. Then stick with the activity that works for as long as you can.
At the top of this article I gave you some tips on how to record your baseline, marks out of 10 for each of your main productivity factors, distraction tracking, and task completion. Now that you have implemented your chosen ‘productivity hack’, retest yourself to see how well you’ve done.
Lets talk about Shift and Productive
If like mine, your company uses G-Suite or Gmail your entire day is switching between accounts and tabs on your browser. Shift gives you all of your email accounts, all of your drive files in one place, no need to log in and out of accounts anymore, it's all there.
I personally use my personal email, business email, and the general enquire email on shift on the pro plan which is $29.99 per year. On this plan you can connect unlimited email accounts on one window, download applications such as Trello, Evernote, Harvest, Spotify and thousands more to run alongside your email. Also you can create drive files such as spreadsheets and Google docs with in the app, as well as surf the web, which was a new update in November 2019.
Shift has a free option where you can use up to 2 emails, and 1 app of your choosing to be featured on your window, the next step is the Pro Plan which is $29.99 per year, you will get unlimited downloaded apps and store unlimited email addresses, then you can go to the Max Plan for $99.99 per year, this means you can get all the things already mentioned, but any app that requires a paid download is free.
You can download Shift for Free HERE! and have a look.
Productive is a tailor built tool for agency business. If you are have an online presence or serve a client base that is of a technology related industry you will find the most value in this all encompassing tool.
Productive is the only tool you need to run a profitable agency. Tailor built for professional services, it's a perfect fit for software development shops, marketing agencies, design studios and consultancies. With a strong focus on profitability, Productive also includes employee cost rates and company overhead costs into your profitability reports. As a cherry on the cake, we can also predict your future revenue with our resource planning and progress reports.
Enough about my opinion, here is a video outlining who Productive are and what they can do to help you:
Productive pricing starts at $12.00 per month, per user. There is not currently a free version of Productive. However they do offer a free trial. If you want to check Productive out further, you can go HERE! Or if you want to start you free trial go HERE!
Some other productivity tools we recommend are in our post 5 Tools That Will Make Your Business More Efficient!