How I skyrocketed my productivity without burning out

The internet is brimming with productivity hacks of all sorts. Rightfully so because success is hinged on two main aspects; quality and quantity. You have to pair these two to gain traction in anything — from writing a book, producing goods and services, and creating online content.

Having said that, though, being productive(quantity) is much more beneficial than focusing on quality. Because over time, productivity can create quality. Do one thing consistently, tweaking a few things as you go, and you’ll achieve a quality body of work. Guaranteed.

However, here’s what most people don’t know: Not all productivity strategies work for everyone.

Cold showers don’t work for most people, especially those living in cold climates. Dedicated work spaces aren’t realistic for people in small living spaces. And avoiding multitasking is impossible for stay-at-home parents with kids.

Adopting other peoples’ strategies isn’t a guarantee they’ll be effective because their habits, lifestyles, locations, and demands may be entirely different from yours. It’s crucial to identify strategies that fit your lifestyle like a glove.

This article contains basic strategies that I used to skyrocket my productivity. They’ve worked effectively for my writing, personal projects, and managing multiple daily tasks while working from home. Feel free to apply them if you want to breeze through your to-do list efficiently and quickly.

The cherry on top?

They’ll help free up some time for the real fun stuff — you know, the kind that makes you come alive. Because hey, isn’t that what life is about?

If you work without being distracted, you can do so much in one hour. Something that is not even achievable in a month― Neeraj Agnihotri

The tool that enables me to execute all my tasks efficiently and still have time for myself

Living in Australia has stretched my ability to execute many tasks. Here’s why; back in Kenya, or in Dubai, which was my second home for over a decade, it was easy to get help with house chores without breaking a bank. Not in Oz. At least not for “normal people.”

And although I don’t have an 8–5 job per se, I run a project back home, I write, shoot, and edit my YouTube videos occasionally. Then, there are all the other domestic tasks that come with running a home — grocery shopping, vacuuming, dishes, laundry, closet organization, and whatnots. There’s always a task screaming for attention.

So you can imagine how overwhelmed I felt when I landed here. With time, I winged my way out and formulated a system that involved allocating certain days for specific tasks. Fridays were laundry days, and Thursdays were house cleaning days.

The rest of the weekdays were spent doing more important things like writing and running my personal projects. I tried hard to free my weekends. However, even with all the planning, I still felt I wasn’t spending my time as I wanted. I felt like a slave of endless tasks.

I mean, there’s got to be more to life than executing tasks, right?

Like a social life, some Netflix chilling time, or simply some me-time. Then I discovered the timer! Where have you all my life? It’s changed my life by giving me more hours to myself.Unlike in the past, where I focused on an individual task, now I concentrate on the exact time required to execute it.

For instance, I hate waking up to a dirty kitchen. And yet, on some days, I resent cleaning up. But, I’ve learned how to trick my brain. I’ve got a wall clock in my kitchen, all I do is look at it and tell myself before the clock hits the next 5 minutes, I’ll have a sparkling clean kitchen.

Besides, who wants to stumble on dirty dishes first thing in the morning? That’s a sacred hour that can make or break your day. But there’s more to a clean house than aesthetics. Research from the University of Indiana shows that people with clean houses are healthier and more active than those who don’t. A cluttered home increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

When it comes to writing, I employ a modified version of the Pomorodo technique to write for 40 minutes and rest for 5. I use my phone’s timer, although you have to be self-controlled not to fall into the temptation of scrolling through your phone.

There are many options of timers to choose from. You just need to find what works for you. Timing myself in everything means I can execute tasks faster and free some hours to do the things I enjoy doing, such as reading and watching inspirational videos.

Why it works:

Parkinson’s Law states that: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Unless you allocate a specific time for your tasks, you can work all day and all night to your eventual hospitalization for a pressure-related breakdown.

This is what makes a timer your BFF because it acts as a workload containment tool by introducing order into your chaotic schedule. Each task is quarantined in a specific time slot and doesn’t bleed into other important duties.

You’re also able to have a firmer grasp of each task’s duration, which gives you control over your time. Besides enhancing productivity, a timer shows you what you’re capable of and how many tasks you can get done within the day. Best of all? When you keep your nose in the grind, nothing feels more satisfying, like taking a break that you’ve earned.

If you make a habit of timing each of your tasks, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll have accomplished by the end of the day. The cherry on top? Seeing your long to-do checklist completed is a real confidence booster and motivates you to take on more tasks.

The rule that helps me become efficient without burning out

I’d never heard of this rule until I stumbled on a podcast. Immediately, I was like, Hello, 85% rule! Where have you been all my life?

Here’s how it works; You dedicate 85% percent effort towards whatever you’re working on, instead of 100% as you usually would. Without depleting your reserves, your mind is a bit relaxed. You can focus better, which translates to a better outcome. You get the job done without burning out. Win-Win!

I use this strategy for my fitness. Being a runner has changed my life in a million ways, like keeping my weight in check (the most crucial aspect for me) because without good health, I’ve got nothing. Running has elevated my confidence and sharpened my mental clarity.

And yet, although it’s my feel-good thing, I’ll be lying if I told you I’m always looking forward to it. The truth? There are days when I’d rather snuggle in bed rather than sweat it out. Digging up that mental motivation feels like climbing Everest. And once the mental willpower becomes deflated, physical will follows suit.

Enter the 85% rule.

It’s been a motivating game-changer for me on such days. Knowing that I don’t have to hit it hard but only exert myself to 85% capacity takes the pressure off. It’s relaxing. Sure, I might run a little slower, but I’ll still get my morning run done, and that’s a win.

Is that all? Nope. It gets even better.

You see, winning in my morning run elicits a ripple effect for the rest of my daily activities. If you succeed in one task, whether or not you wanted to do it in the first place, your mind gets a winner’s high. This increases your motivation and makes you take on more tasks.

Why it works:

Ideally, you want to approach your tasks with enthusiasm and execute them at 100% energy. But on days when your motivation gauge is low, the 85% rule will get you going because there’s no pressure to push hard. When you’re about to start on your project, allow yourself to relax.

Tell yourself that done is better than perfect. Once you start, keep going and don’t listen to your perfectionist voice. Two things will happen:

  1. You’ll be amazed at how easily and efficiently you’ll accomplish your project without the pressure and tension that comes with most tasks.

2. You’ll be surprised at how a jolt of motivation takes over, and before long, you’ll be riding that wave, and you’ll probably end up taking on more tasks.

The simple trick that increases my reading productivity

Since I was a young girl, few things give me pleasure than getting lost in a good book. I spent years reading fiction and always turned my nose up to non-fiction because I found it boring. A few decades later, my reading preference has taken a 360. Now? I’m a sucker for self-help.

I wish I’d started earlier. I’d be so far by now. Three months ago, I increased my reading productivity by changing how I read. When I’m reading, I’m doing it in a deeper way — not to tick a box or add to my collection of how many books I’ve read.

Here’s what I mean by going deep:

  • Using the title as a pivot.

I’m looking at the chapter of the book and attaching the title at the back of my mind. As I flip through the pages, I keep reminding myself of the title so that I’m not distracted. You see, when reading, it’s easy to get sucked in the stories, examples and scenarios that the author is painting.

Once this happens, your mind starts to wander. Before long, you’ve deviated from the book and are picking fruit in wonderland. (Or whatever they do in wonderland) Mind-wandering harms your concentration, memory, and ability to read.

Not only does it take time to regain focus, but you waste time getting back to the flow of your reading and don’t get value from the book as you should. But with the title of the chapter as a pivot, it’s easier to realign your thoughts if they deviate. You’re able to flow systematically because your thoughts are no longer “free-flowing.”

Using this strategy has improved my book-reading productivity tenfold. I’m reading more books in a focused manner and retaining a lot more content.

  • Using my finger as a guide:

I got this trick from Mark Manson’s YouTube Video when I was trying to figure out how to read more books. Finger reading works wonders. Because our eyes are drawn to motions, they operate in small fixations (brief staggered movements). However, these small discontinuous movements slow down your reading process.

This is where the finger comes in. Using my finger keeps my eyes fixated in a single continuous gaze, making it easier to read much faster.

Why it works:

If you struggle to focus, read faster, and devour more books, finger reading will save you. When your eyes are guided, they know where to focus, and the temptation to look at other lines in the book is eliminated. Also, when your finger (you can use a pen) is moving, concentration becomes easier.

It’s impossible for your mind to wander because our minds can’t concentrate on two things simultaneously. How will this change your life? Reading will take you to places you’ve never been. It’s the best way to infuse great ideas into your mind. It’s practically the best life hack in existence, and finger reading will help you hasten the process.

Bonus point:

I was a bit late to catch the bus on this one. I used to read to sharpen my brain and increase my knowledge. But three months ago, I started asking myself, “Is this something I can use?” I know it’s probably a no-brainer for most people.

But reading this way has sharpened my “FBI skills” I’m always hunting for ideas and clues and nuggets of wisdom to use for my writing, videos, and conversations with people.

You don’t have to try all these strategies at once. Start small. I suggest timing everything to start with, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can accomplish within a short amount of time. Then take it up from there and watch your productivity skyrocket. Good Luck!

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This article first appeared on Medium.