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6 Counterintuitive Ways to Increase Your Productivity

I'm a computer programmer and game developer who is also deeply curious about the arts, philosophy, health, and psychology.

In today's fast-phased world, the pressure to stay competitive and successful is ever-growing. We are experiencing advances and development in almost every field. There's a lot of pressure to keep up.

There is tons of advice on the internet on how to be more productive . . so many tricks and tips to try. The basic reasoning is that if we do more and if we try more strategies, sooner or later we'll find the successful way. That's not a bad starting point, but it's easy to get stuck looking only in one direction and failing to develop your full potential.

Let's take a closer look at a couple of ways that are somewhat counter-intuitive, but can help you become more balanced, and eventually dramatically improve the depth and quality of your work.

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1. Know the Difference Between "Urgent" and "Important"

Often we give more priority to urgent tasks, since they may be time-sensitive. Most of the urgent tasks on our to-do lists need to be addressed before they expire, and often we don’t get a chance to “win” those tasks if we miss the deadline.

The thought of losing all access to the benefits of completing a time-sensitive task for the rest of your life is intuitively scary. However, sometimes the urgency of a task may make it seem important even when it’s not really. Marketing specialists often exploit this human weakness, and advertise "limited-time offers."

What can you do to improve the quality of your work is to give more priority to important tasks whenever possible. If you already have an extensive list or planner, sit down and analyze those “urgent” tasks, and think more deeply about the cost of simply quitting them. If you find that it’s not a really big damage to miss out on some urgent task, drop it from the list and replace it with some more important task or activity.

2. Get More Sleep

Although sometimes we just have to get more done, often quality is more important, especially in the long run. One not-so-intuitive but very powerful way to improve productivity is to actually get better rest.

Japanese carpenters in the past used to sharpen their wood-cutting tools daily. Constantly overworking yourself and not getting quality rest will dull you out, and your focus will become less and less.

The more important the work you do, the more important the quality of your rest. If your lifestyle allows, give yourself some periodic rests to restore your capacities, mental and physical. Arrange an extended weekend to escape the routine and spend some calm time to replenish your energy.

3. Find Sizable Uninterrupted Blocks of Time

Multitasking is the prime enemy of quality work, yet daily life is often full of micro-tasks, and lots of switching between different types of tasks. It’s very important to periodically find extended periods of "no-distractions" time. Guard those blocks of time fiercely because many other distractions will try to steal your attention.

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4. Do More by Not Doing: The "Not-to-Do" List

A counter intuitive way to increase your productivity is to drop the less important to-do items from your extended to-do list, and focus just on a couple at a time. It’s okay to later bring back some of the “dropped” items, but the point is to just focus on a few, finish them, then move on. Starting and not finishing many tasks is the death of productivity.

Not doing can also be considered from a minimalist point of view as a way to reduce clutter, and in that way give more power and attention to the vital aspects of your everyday living.

5. Practice Deep Work Even When You Don’t Have Any “Real” Work

Maybe this is very related to the concept of being self-driven and self-managed individual, in your professional and personal life. This is very important, because many people under the pressure of problems, risk and responsibility, give away their greatest power - they let other people make the important choices for them. But let’s not get too abstract about this concept, because it has a very practical nature. It means that, when you don’t have someone else managing your capacities, you take the initiative, and do things for the sake of practice, exploration, development … this is how to most brilliant people and performers build their skill set and attitude.

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6. Take On Some Bigger Projects

Doing small tasks quickly and successfully is the beginning of productivity and success, but don’t settle for that. Doing small tasks is also a way to get momentum and confidence, manage daily life and find fulfillment, but don’t run away from bigger projects also. Start small and build your way up. Challenge yourself with tasks that will take more than just a couple of minutes, or even hours. A project that may take a weekend, will open the way to confidence and skills to finish a project that will take a week or a month. Really amazing success rarely comes in just a couple of days. The project that are really life-changing will take at least a couple of years.

Want to Learn More?

Some of the core ideas in this article are actually inspired by the book Deep Work, a valuable read by Cal Newport. He is working on Science Research and has a very successful academic career.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.