Shikhya, writing a book, substituting whenever possible, researching learning and teaching, learning new stuff myself, and being a mother are, as a combination, surprisingly time-consuming. So productivity hacks are essential. There is still work to be done here, so if anyone has really good productivity hacks, please leave a comment and let me know.
My favourite methods are
- Partition to small enough tasks
- 5 most important things to do tomorrow
- Prioritising days for bigger projects
- Remembering to take breaks
I have a background in project management and learned partitioning while doing my PhD. It is a fantastic way of dissecting a mountain of work into easily manageable bits of work, or individual steps, that can be done in a limited amount of time. A good example of this are the interviews I am doing. For each interview, I need to:
- Find a person I want to interview with expertise in a topic I need
- Ask them to participate
- Arrange a time for that interview with often very busy people
- Make the questions as, even though I have a basic set, I vary them greatly based on need
- Do the interview
- Transcribe the text
- Write it out a bit so it is more easily read
- Choose the bits I want to publish now and what I want to publish later
- Send for approval (I want the interviewed to have a chance to look it over)
- (often) translate into English
- Reread and check that it is legible and fairly good English
- Share on various channels on social media
So finding time to do an interview, when thinking of combining these tasks into a big task named interview, is next to impossible. But doing one step one day and one step another day, that I can do.
This also helps in the next productivity hack, which is the 5 most important things to do tomorrow. The idea behind this is that the previous day, or in my cases, mostly previous night, I can tell what are the 5 most important things to get done the next day. I write them down in the order of decreasing importance, so the most important one comes first and the second most important thing comes second and so on. The idea then is that the next morning I start doing the most important thing and do that until it is done. Then I move onto the next one and do that until it is done. If I get all of them done, the process states that I should then take a brake and relax, but I am still practicing that as it is easier to find other things to do. If I get only parts of the list done, then I can add them to the next day’s 5 top most important things if they belong there or postpone them to a later date. If my tasks are continually too big to finish in a day, then that is a sign that I need to partition better. This also helps with the feeling of having too much to do that sometimes creeps up especially after a bad nights sleep, because I only have the 5 thing to do and it is quite enjoyable to cross things off that list.
However, this in itself is not sufficient, because urgent but less important than the big things come up all the time. If I just focus on the 5 most important to get done tomorrow, it is all too easy to lose track of the advance of the bigger projects with less clear individual projects (aka book). So I am doing a new thing to combat this: I divide the working days of the week on different projects. One week I may do two days Shikhya, one day substituting and two days of the book. The next I can spend 4 days on Shikhya and one day on the book etc. So week by week I choose the most important ones to advance in that week and divide the days between them. Then on the day I am supposed to write the book, I can have a small task for something else, but the majority of tasks and time needs to be spent on that project.
Breaks and the importance of sleep are things I have been practicing for a while now. My sleep is easily disturbed and I am used to sleeping less than I probably should. That is why I wrote about sleep. Teaching, or writing, about something is a really good way of learning it. Prioritising sleep was a conscious decision I had to make because spending less time sleeping is a deceptively easy method to get more working hours into a day, but as a method for a knowledge worker as myself, it backfires so very fast.
I also am more of the type that I work without breaks until I am done either by having done the things on my list or just having my brain freeze over and not being able to do more. While the first option is attractive, the second happens too often for me to say that my previous way of doing things was working. So I am learning taking breaks. And it is working. I am getting more done and I have more brain left to do more later on.