“Productivity”. A word we know all too well.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, productivity is defined as “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input”.
As most people see it, productivity = bulldozing through humongous piles of work in as little time as possible.
High-achieving people with large hopes and expectations are guilty of trying to chase after this idea of “productivity”. We like to throw ourselves into as many opportunities, challenges, and obstacles as humanly possible. There is discomfort in free-time and consolation in a jam-packed schedule. Sound familiar?
These past months, I have learned to re-define the term “productivity”. I strongly believe productivity shouldn’t be seen as launching ourselves into as many tasks and accomplishments as possible. Rather, it should be about pacing, as well as prioritization, rest, and passion.
The First Ingredient: Pacing.
When one buries themselves in tasks upon tasks upon tasks, they can feel overwhelmed and drained. As well, (naturally) their energy-level and effort goes down, as each item on their to-do list becomes a heavy chore. This is inevitable.
Take elite-runners, for example. Even the best runners in the world can not maintain their top speed throughout the entire race. This is where pacing and prioritization come into play.
Eliud Kipchoge is well-known for having ran a sub-2-hour marathon. His pace for the record-breaking marathon (42km) was an incredible pace of 2:52mins/km. However, for the much shorter distance of a 5km, his pace was 2:33mins/km, significantly faster than his (already lightning speed) pace for the marathon.
This is because of his strategic pacing. Had Kipchoge ran the marathon at his 5km pace, he would have eventually slowed down, causing him to have a slower time overall. Pacing oneself when it comes to tasks is no different. Taking it slow and steady to ensure that you are fully understanding critical material and making the most of your learning time is key!
Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Especially when it comes to learning, taking the time to solidify and understand foundations will help you in the “long run” (pun intended).
The Second Ingredient: Prioritization.
So how exactly do you pace yourself? How should you, like Eliud Kipchoge, manage your energy levels to complete tasks successfully? The answer is to prioritize — know what your priorities are.
Many people, myself included, have the tendency to put too much effort into assignments that don’t really matter. Prioritizing means that you are able to create an effective to-do list that makes sense, and goes down in descending order from most to least important.
For example, if you have a project due next week, and a sheet to fill out due in a few days, you should probably split your time between the two tasks, but give some focus to the project first, as its results will have a bigger impact on you and it will take more time to complete. Specifically, you could spend the first 30 minutes on your project, the next 10 on the sheet, and repeat until the sheet is done, returning your complete attention to the project after.
This is especially true when participating in a group activity, such as a group challenge. Prioritization will help you to manage your time, and to communicate with your group on your involvement.
The Third Ingredient: Rest — Be kind to yourself.
We all have rough days, when no matter how hard we try to focus on an assignment, we’re restless and impatient. Although it sounds obvious, giving yourself an intentional break or reward can help improve long-term endurance and productivity.
Spending balanced time doing a relaxing activity, such as painting, or going on a walk, run or having a picnic can boost your mood and help you stay on-task. Especially with COVID-19, it is important to take a break from the screen, give your eyes a stretch, and to take a breath of fresh air. According to a study at the Human cognitive Neuroscience unit in Northumbria, subjects given fresh air performed up to 20% better on a memory test! Fresh air can also help promote the production of serotonin, making you feel less anxious and overwhelmed.
One may also choose to dedicate a part of their day or week specifically for fun and “laziness”, giving them something to look forward to after hard work.
The Last Ingredient, the Finishing Touch: Passion!
Passion is ultimately the driving force behind the hours put into practice, performance, learning. If you feel as though after pacing yourself, prioritizing, and having a balance of work and fun, the tasks you do still feel like a chore, consider WHY you do them.
If you are feeling stress due to a course or project of your choosing, ask yourself why it was chosen. Did you choose to do it because you were pressured and felt it was necessary? Or was it because you found it fascinating and wanted to know more? The reason behind your decision makes all the difference.
One can not put in 110% effort into something they do not feel passionate about.
Finding what works takes time and experimentation. Every day is a new opportunity to redefine the ingredients that make up your ideal of productivity, and it is my hope that this article has helped you to reflect on the skills covered.