The Essential of True Productivity No One Talks About

Rest and recovery is a part of the equation

We all talk about how to get more done in less time - how to have more energy throughout the day, how to multitask like a machine, and how to stay focused on every waking minute. But, what is the flip side of that?

The thing is, most of us forget about the importance of rest, the crucial role of taking breaks, and all the benefits that come with a good night's sleep.

The groundbreaking invention of the Internet then the smartphone helped us to do things faster and stay connected easier. At the same time, however, they made us work more since most of us are working with our electronic devices nowadays.

I have to admit I was the guy who checked my mobile phone first thing first in the morning and the last thing last before bed. And always connecting to the Internet (read: work) all the time, from family dinners to getaway trips.

I believe you’re the master of what you’re doing, but many of us don’t know how to take a break. In this article, I’m going to show you a few methods to do just that.

Completely switching off

You never tolerate half work, so don’t tolerate half break. Many of us are doing that. The fact is, spending your breaks on work-related activities leads to higher physical and emotional exhaustion.

We check our email while we’re working out; we go for a lunch break and think about the meeting that happened before that at the same time; we wake up and can’t wait to check if we receive any urgent notifications.

Information is the new drug.

When our brain receives fresh information, it fires up like we’re on drugs. It’s toxic, and it’s addictive. With time, we are wired to the need to stay alerted and connected with everything, especially information related to our work because work is the biggest piece of our life for most of us.

It’s not easy to switch off completely when we become heavily habitual to half-break when hustling becomes the sub-definition of success. Some willpower is required during the early stage. The best way is by starting with something small and simple and slowly breaking the habit of half work completely.

  • Be present when you’re with others. Listen to your colleagues during the lunch break, to your spouse during dinner, and to yourself during meditation.
  • Leave your phone behind during non-work activities such as working out and cooking.
  • Don’t start and end your day with work-related routines and activities.

Only by completely switching off from work you’re truly taking a restful break. It turns out to be essential for works that require creativity and critical thinking because only by stopping our conscious brain from analyzing and making constant decisions, our subconscious mind can come into play to connect the dots.

The Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is nothing new. It is an extremely popular technique for boosting productivity because it actually works. If you haven’t heard of it before, here is how you do it:

  1. Set 30 minutes as a time block.
  2. In a single time block, fully immerse into the task at hand and avoid all distractions for 25 minutes.
  3. Then, you’re allowed to take a 5-minute short break. During this break, you can do whatever you like - from having a cup of coffee to surfing social media.
  4. Continue your work with another time block if it’s not done yet.
  5. Start a new task with a new time block if the previous one is completed.

This is not just a technique to boost your productivity but also a technique to take focused breaks. The Pomodoro technique helps you to fully immerse yourself in both working and playing.

It reduces your time spent on multitasking where you get nothing done at the end of the day but yet feel exhausted without any periodical break. By reducing multitasking, you are able to stay sharp because your brain spends less time switching from one task to another.

Notes: I cover more of the Pomodoro Technique and four more time management strategies that will change your work and life here.

Repurpose your working space

We shape the space around us. I like the color white, therefore, my wall and working desk are white. I heavily depend on my laptop to work, and that’s why I always have my laptop charger with me. This applies to all of us. We are constantly changing our space so we can work better with it.

And that is exactly the problem. On the flip side, we design a working space that encourages us to work more. We use a wheeling chair, so we don’t need to stand up and walk when we need to get something else on the other desk. We turn on every app notification to make sure we don’t miss anything even if they are not important 99 percent of the time. The next thing you know you haven’t taken a break for six hours yet not getting anything done.

In other words, we are shaped by the space around us. To truly maximize your working performance and productivity, your working environment needs to do two things:

Thing #1: Encourage focus and reduce distractions

Thing #2: Encourage periodical short breaks. There is no need to completely renovate your working space, a few simple twists and tweaks could easily achieve this:

  • Go paperless or minimize the use of paper to keep your working desk neat and tidy.
  • Working with only one tab at a time. Close all the other tabs now while you’re reading this!
  • Pick a less comfortable chair that encourages you to stand up and have a walk. However, make sure you can sit still and stay focused for at least 30 minutes on that chair.
  • Have a small glass of water by your side, so you’re not distracted when you’re thirsty. But don’t place a 2L bottle of water on your desk that eventually glues your butt on the working space.

There are many more small things you can do to design a working space that promotes both focus and short breaks. You can spend some time and a tiny ounce of creativity to experiment with some of your own ideas to see how they work out.

You’re more than your work

We’re so bound to more tasks, more work, and more hustle. On the flip side, sufficient break and good rest are equally important, if not crucial. With proper breaks and rest, you will gain more clarity and energy on executing in the long run.

I can totally understand the time when we get to tap into the flow of work. Therefore, I like to point out the tips above are not absolute. Be flexible with them.

One idea I like the most on the topic of productivity and time management is the concept of energy management. Instead of scheduling your task with a cookie-cutter timetable, identify your most productive hour in a day, and spend that hour on the task that requires deep focus and creativity.

For me, my best hour is 11 AM to 12 AM after my non-work morning ritual, and I spend that hour writing, sometimes designing.

Footnotes

  1. Information addiction doesn’t happen only to human. It’s a series of biology reactions closely tied with the brain and the hormones. Scientists and researchers have designed experiments to observe how animals develop the addiction to information. Click here to read more about the research. In other words, information addiction can’t be cured by simply stopping information consumptions, but by working on the behavioral psychology and the environment architecture.
  2. The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 90s by a developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system "Pomodoro" after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student.
  3. I was inspired to write about this by Dr. Christian Jarrett after I read one of his articles on 99u - A Science-based Guide to Taking Truly Restful Breaks.

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