Morning Coffee About

Specific time & Specific place

Igor Šarčević Igor wrote this in October 2017

Being more productive was always a topic that interested me. Small life hacks here and there can definitely add up.

As a strong believer in the scientific method, I like to tests out various new ideas regularly, measure their impact on my productivity, and to reflect on the results to make the process even smoother in future.

Specific time & specific place

What follows are my attempts to do more, with less effort. Especially when it comes to accomplishing one-off tasks that will benefit me in the long run. For example, getting an eye exam, purchasing a bicycle, or renewing my passport.

Why do I struggle with achieving my goals?

We can divide my goals into three categories:

  • low priority, with significant benefits in the long run
  • high priority, that have to be dealt with immediately, like paying rent

I have no issues with high priority tasks. They have a burning deadline that I need to resolve immediately.

However, low priority goals with long term benefits are an issue. Tasks that would improve my quality of life, but have no deadlines. These are the tasks that you always want to do, but you never have time to do them.

First, I say “I’ll do them tomorrow” and then I continue with “I’ll do them next week” and finally I put them in a basket of no return, the dreaded “I’ll do them when I have time or motivation”. Turns out that I never have the motivation to do them.

Strategy #1: Setting up OKRs

Borrowing good practices from the software industry, I started this year by setting up a list of Objectives for the first three months of the year.

Previously, I was simply “trying my best” to improve my life with no clear direction or plan. This worked to some degree. Waiting for the magic to hit me, the moment when I would do some amazing things. This in practice happened rarely, and even when the it hit me, I was not entirely sure what I want to do.

OKRs are a huge improvement. Now I have a clear vision what I want to achieve and a tool for measuring my progress.

However, this strategy failed in one crucial aspect. Three months are a big time window. In the first three quarters of this year, my productivity only spiked at two occasions: the week when I wrote down the OKRs at the beginning of the quarter when my motivation was high, and the last week when I had to score my progress when I panicked and finished all possible tasks that are achievable in one week.

I wanted to achieve a more consistent output from myself. I wanted to do at least one important task per week.

Strategy #2: Weekly plans

To further improve my output, every Sunday I’ve reviewed my OKRs and constructed a list of tasks for the upcoming week that would bring me closer to my goals.

This reduced my response time, as I’ve reviewed my goals at least once per week, however the underlying issue didn’t go away. I was still leaving the important task for the last day of the week, and unfortunately many of the plans were not achievable during the weekend.

Strategy #3: Selecting a specific date and time

Finally, I’ve recognized the core issue. I was setting up deadlines, but I didn’t have a specific time when I would execute the task. This way, it was far too easy to move the task for the next day or next week because I wasn’t committed to the action.

To fix the issue, now when I’m planning my week I set up a specific date and time, and log it into google calendars. For example, now if I want to go to the dentist, I don’t say I will do it next week. Instead, I write down: “I’ll go to the dentist next Wednesday at 18:00h”.

This precise formulation gives me urgency. I even get a notification on my phone if I forget about the task. A huge productivity win.

Combining all the strategies for the best result

Currently, my best approach is to combine all three strategies.

First, I set up high level goals for myself in form of OKRs. I do this every three months. Then, every weekend, I review my OKRs and based on them construct a list of tasks that I want to achieve that week. Finally, I take the list of tasks, find a precise time slot for them, and set up the alarms.

Do you have any other productivity tip you would like to share? Please leave in the comments.