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Stop Wasting Time on Low-Value Tasks

Cold showers and braindumps won’t help with your productivity — it doesn’t matter how early you get up.

Don’t get caught up in the ‘do more’ philosophy. Constantly trying to do more is killing your productivity. If you want to be productive, do less. It’s all about reducing the number of low-value tasks that fill your day up to make room for what’s really important.

Stop checking notifications

Breaking your flow to look at a text message hurts your productivity a lot more than you think.

A UCI study found that your brain “takes an average of 23 minutes” to refocus after a distraction, and that’s not counting the time it takes to deal with that distraction itself.

When your phone rings, your attention gets sucked away from the task you’re currently working on. Ignoring your notifications isn’t enough — the attention shift is subconscious.

The human brain is terrible at multitasking. Seeing or hearing an alert switches your focus — even if you decide not to respond.

If you want to reap the benefits of a distraction-free work environment, use ‘Do Not Disturb’ and put your phone face down.

Block out some time during the day to go through your notifications and respond at the same time. In addition to saving your brain the trouble of switching back-and-forth between tasks, waiting helps you respond proactively to problems.

Don’t get caught up in the 6 am hype

Most internet gurus will disagree, but getting up at the crack of dawn to shower in ice water and dump all of your problems into a journal will never be the key to productivity.

If you want to get stuff done, you need to figure out what works for your body.

Everyone’s internal clock is different. Some people are more creative in the mornings while others get the buzz at night. It’s okay to work in short intervals and take frequent breaks if that helps you avoid burnout. On that same note, getting lost in a project for hours and scheduling the rest of your day around that is fine if that’s how you work best.

The important thing is that you find the work interval that feels right. If you’re burned out, you won’t be productive — keep that in mind when you’re filling up your plate.

Schedule according to how you work

Once you know how your body works you can start to schedule your tasks accordingly.

Investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham wrote a blog post about two different scheduling styles for managers and makers.

On the manager’s schedule, your calendar embodies a traditional appointment book, cutting the day into multiple one-hour intervals. Working this way is great for bosses who need to quickly schedule meetings and pivot what they’re doing numerous times throughout the day.

On the maker’s schedule, your day is instead broken up into two longer slots of time that allow you to dive deeper into a single task.

“You can’t write or program well in units of an hour.”

It’s vital to keep this in mind when you’re thinking about how to structure your day. If you know you’re someone who doesn’t refocus easily, try to get all of your meetings done at one time — either in one morning or one afternoon.

On the other hand, if you’re quick to adjust and like hopping from task to task, you’ve got a little more flexibility with your appointment scheduling.

Again, the main takeaway here is that you should always be blocking out chunks of time in the way that works best for you. Having a packed schedule doesn’t mean anything if you can’t adhere to it.

Protect your most productive hours

Productivity expert Brian Tracy likes to start each morning off by eating a live frog.

“Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.”

Everyone works best at different times and in different cycles, but your mornings are still particularly sacred. Getting the hard stuff done early on in the day helps you build momentum and prevent procrastination.

If you have to eat a live frog, don’t just sit there and stare at it. Take action before you have time to think about it.

Learn to leverage your downtime

You can’t get better if you don’t reflect on what you’re doing. Dropping low-value tasks from your schedule doesn’t mean refusing to take breaks.

How can you distinguish between low value and high-value tasks without taking the proper time to identify what that means to you?

High value and low-value tasks are different for everyone, but as a general guideline, high-value tasks are anything that contributes directly to growing your business, improving your health, expanding your knowledge, or helping others. How this translates to you is dependent on what you’re passionate about, where you’re at in your life, and what you’re looking to get out of your business.

One Thing at a Time — the Human Brain Is a Terrible Multitasker

Make Calendars, Not Checklists — Give Important Tasks the Appropriate Time

T L D R

Turn off notifications to eliminate distractions and improve focus. 

Don’t get caught up in the morning hype — figure out how you work best and build your schedule around that. 

Reserve your most productive time for the hardest task you have scheduled that day.

Leverage your downtime to frequently reevaluate which tasks are actually important and reflect on how you’re working to get them done. 

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