Top 10 Conclusions I Made in the Year of Productivity Studies

Original author: Chris Bailey
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Translator's foreword : So many books on personal effectiveness and time management have been written in the world that, taking up this translation, I certainly asked myself the question: “Is there anything new here for which this article is worth translating, and most importantly read”? At first it seemed to me that I answered “yes” to this question, but the reality turned out to be somewhat more complicated. Now I think that it is almost impossible to say something new to a person who has read at least 2-3 books on time management and personal effectiveness. However, there is a huge gap between the topic that people know and what people do . Therefore, if you already have some kind of baggage of knowledge on personal effectiveness, I advise instead of the question “is this something I don’t know?” ask other questions: 

1. Do I agree with what is written?
2. If so, am I doing this?
3. If not, why and what can I do to start doing right? I am sure this article will bring you much more benefit. I have to say that it was with great pleasure that I followed the links in this article, especially those that describe Chris’s experiments (such as switching between 90-hour and 20-hour work weeks). Therefore, I decided to keep all these links in the translated article. 

I would also like to make a remark for lovers of the beautiful Russian language. I have been thinking for quite some time whether to change “productivity” to “productivity” and “personal effectiveness” closer to my ear, but in the end I decided to leave it as it was, mainly because of the impossibility of using the same word in different contexts.

As a last wish, this is a rather long article, so read productively: do not switch between tasks during the reading process; take breaks if you feel tired and loss of concentration; write useful thoughts without relying on memory.

Enjoy reading!

Top 10 Conclusions I Made in the Year of Productivity Studies

After I graduated from the university with a business specialty in May last year, I received two excellent job offers, which I rejected because I had a plan.

For exactly one year, from May 1, 2013 to May 1, 2014, I was going to absorb all the productivity information that I can reach and write every day about what I learned on the A Year of Productivity blog .

Over the past 12 months, I have conducted many productivity experiments on myself, interviewed the most productive people in the world, and read tons of popular science and academic literature on productivity - all this in order to explore how I can become as productive as possible, and then write about your findings.

After one year, 197 entries and a million views, I reached the end of my journey - there was only a bright conclusion.

As the end of the year of productivity, I put together a collection of the main things that I discovered trying to become as productive as possible. Below you will find 10 main conclusions that I made during my project; I also wrote an article about my 100 favorite “hacks” of time, energy, and attention that I experimented with this year.

Without further discussion, here are my 10 main conclusions that I have made over the past year.

10. One of the best ways to be productive is to work on the most highly efficient tasks.

In each of the main areas of your life (such as the mind, body, emotions, relationships, career, finances and pleasure) there are only a few tasks that bring maximum benefit. For example, in your work most likely there are only a few tasks that bring 80-90% of the benefit, no matter who you work for.

One of the best ways to do more is to identify high-performance tasks in each area of ​​your life and focus on them , so these things give the greatest return for your time, energy and attention.

9. The three most effective ways to become more productive are boring tips you've heard a million times already.

I think that behind every cliche lies such a powerful truth that people feel the need to repeat it again and again. This is also true for productivity tips.

For a year, I experimented with integrating into my life a huge number of habits and techniques for efficiency, but in the end I can say that the three things that worked best for me are:

1. Proper nutrition

2. Good sleep

3. Physical exercises

These tips repeated so often that they almost ceased to be perceived. But hear me as a person who has tried hundreds of techniques for managing time, energy and attention over the past decade: nothing has made me more productive than proper food, enough sleep, and exercise 1 .

8. Question all productivity recommendations.

There are productivity techniques that work equally well for everyone — including good nutrition, good sleep, exercise, and meditation — however, each rule has exceptions.

You can reject a generally accepted point of view if there is something that works best for you. Found to work better when you don’t need to wake up at 5.30 in the morning? Then sleep more! Do you think that you do more, not when you do the most important thing in the morning, but when you answer a packet of e-mails? Then reply to e-mails!

In any productivity technique, there is usually a grain of truth, as well as in every generally accepted truth, but there are a bunch of productivity techniques that just won't work for you. Each person has his own way of thinking and his own priorities, so there are no techniques that work perfectly 100% of the time for 100% of people.

Therefore, you can (and should) reject any advice on productivity if something works better for you.

7. Forming the right habits automatically increases your effectiveness

I believe that one of the ways to become more effective is to turn new, more effective behaviors into habits so that they can be done automatically.

Charles Dahigg, author of The Power of Habit , believes that 40-45% of what we do daily is automatic habits. Forming a habit is not an easy task, sometimes it takes several months to integrate a new habit into your life, but as soon as a new behavior becomes a habit, you automatically move to the next level of productivity.

For example, the formation of the habit of waking up at 5:30 every morning took me several months, but after this happened, it became a cornerstone habitand I started to wake up every morning automatically. I spent several weeks to switch to a new diet , but after I did this, this habit became one of many automatic habits in my life.

If you want to learn how to integrate new habits into your life, read my interview with Charles . The formation of new habits is not easy, especially when you have to spend willpower to force yourself to change your behavior, but the more you advance, the easier it becomes, and finally you begin to act more productively automatically.

6. There are three productivity ingredients that you combine: time, energy, and attention.

Toward the end of the project, I realized that any of the articles I wrote falls into one or more of three categories: how best to manage my time , how to better manage my energy and how to better manage my attention .

I think all three ingredients are critical if you want to achieve regular productivity.Some people have amazing reserves of energy and concentration, but they do not know how to manage their time, so they work on the wrong things and do not achieve much in the end. Some people are good at managing their time and they have a lot of energy, but are constantly distracted, and therefore can not achieve their goals. Others are perfectly focused and know how to manage their time, but do not manage their energy very well, so they get tired quickly and cannot achieve much.

Productive people know how to manage all three components.

Interlude. 10 productivity experiments I conducted over a year of productivity research

1. 35 hours of meditation in 7 days .

2. 70 hours of watching videos on TED for 7 days .

3. Nutrition only with soylent for a week .

4. Life in complete isolation for 10 days .

5. 90-hour work weeks .

6. Switch between formal wear, business casual, and pajamas for 21 days .

7. Be completely slopped for a week .

8. Using a smartphone one hour a day for three months .

9. Drink only water for a month .

10. Day siesta for 3 hours.

5. There is no single secret to productivity, but there are hundreds of tactics you can use to achieve this.

If the secret of productivity exists, then I could not find it in a year of studying productivity and experimenting with it.

What I managed to find were hundreds of tactics that I could use to better manage my time, energy and attention. In fact, I found so many tactics that I wrote a list of 100 of my favorite tactics when I was finishing this year.

Productivity is a very global concept characterized by an understanding of its individual interconnected parts. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of factors that influence how much you can do per day, each of which is related to the ability to manage your time, energy and attention.

There is no one secret to becoming more productive - there are hundreds .

4. Too hard work impairs your productivity.

During my project, I found that too hard work or too much work completely degrades my productivity.

As a productivity experiment, I alternated 90-hour workweeks and 20-hour workweights for a month. I found that in the 20-hour weeks I did about the same as in the 90-hour ones. The reason is simple: when I limited the amount of time that I can spend on a task, I forced myself to allocate more energy for a shorter period of time, so I was able to make the task faster .

What happens when you work too hard and spend too much energyto the task? You burn out. (Interestingly, I did not find any third-party effects when using increased attention, but I found that levels of attention and energy very often rise and fall synchronously). I think of energy as the fuel that a person burns during the day in order to do the work. When you spend more energy on your work and don’t take the time to restore and improve your energy — in ways like exercise , work interruptions , proper nutrition, or investing in effective stress reduction strategies — your fuel will run out and you will burn out.

Too long or too hard work completely destroys your productivity, because it depletes your two most important resources: your time and your energy.

3. The best way to feel motivated is to know why you want to do something.

The most motivated (and productive) people are those who constantly ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing.

When you concentrate on doing more instead of doing what is in tune with your goals and what you believe in, you can force yourself to be productive in the short term, but in the long term you will be less satisfied and productive. The key is to define your values ​​and what motivates you the most, and then take on the tasks and responsibilities that are most relevant to your values.

The fact that you are constantly busy and produce a lot does not mean that your productivity is high, in fact, I am ready to say that everything is exactly the opposite. Productivity is not how much you do, it is whether you achieve the results that are most important to you.

If you always know why you are doing something, you will be much more motivated and productive.

2. It makes no sense to try to become more productive if you do not have a good attitude towards yourself.

The reason I write so much about caring for myself is because this part of productivity is the hardest part for me.

When I first started A Year of Productivity, I plunged into this project with my head because nothing captivates me more than the opportunity to become more productive. At first everything was simple, and I liked it; I didn’t have to strain, so I didn’t have problems with the work.

But the project grew, and thousands of site visits per month turned into hundreds of thousands of visits, and I began to force myself to put more effort into writing, experimenting and doing. As a result, I began to receive much less pleasure.

This fact is quite difficult to admit, especially considering how many people would like to be in my position - to research my favorite topic and achieve success in this. But this only proves how important it is to take care of yourself in the process.

Increasing productivity does not come without effort - you need to work on yourself to become better; but it’s important not to start scolding yourself while trying to bring positive changes to your life.

You need to constantly monitor how kind you are to yourself, trying to force yourself to do something. Given that according to statistics, 80% of what we think of ourselves is negative , it is critically important to treat ourselves kindly as often as possible, especially when you try to get better.

Some of the tactics that have helped me get better this year are meditation , more interruptions in work , a complete disconnection from work several times a day, and the development of habits that increase the level of happiness .

1. Productivity is not how much you produce, but how much you achieve.

When I just started my year of productivity, I created a statistics page in order to accurately reflect how productive I was every day. Every day I wrote down the number of words I wrote, the pages I read and the hours worked, because it seemed to me pretty good indicators of how effective I was.

It was hard to make a mistake stronger.

If you are not the director of a plant, a productivity measurement based on the number of units produced gives you an extremely shallow, limited picture of your productivity. For example, if you find a smart and creative approach to solving a problem - for example, you can rewrite text to turn 500 words into 100 - a simple measurement of the number of units produced will show that you have become much lessproductive.

Quite simple to fall into the trap of measurements and statistics, but where it comes to personal productivity, statistics are secondary. Productivity is not how much you do, but what you achieve.

Of course, you need to do highly effective and meaningful tasks; It is also important to know how to manage time, energy and attention in order to have more resources for work. But in the end, when time, energy and attention end, you only have what you managed to achieve, and the changes that you managed to make in this world due to the fact that you lived the day of your life to good use.

This is productivity.


1 I also wanted to include meditation on this list, but quickly realized that this practice is not as accessible to most people as proper eating, more sleep, and more exercise.

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