Living a Productive Life

July 25, 2017

Posted: June 1, 2016, 1:06pm

Let me preface this post by saying that I’ve never been accused of being a workaholic. I really enjoy my free time and I probably take coffee breaks more than the average guy. But, like you, I want to be productive, disciplined, and diligent with my working hours. I also want to live my life in a way that doesn’t turn me into a workaholic who cannot find the time for the important things in life. I’m currently on a break from school to visit my family in Ohio, where I’m originally from. That means I have less responsibilities for the week. Even so, I still have been putting in a few hours of work to read some academic papers, check my email, and write a few lines of code for my research. This balanced life (which is new for me, haha!) gave me pause to consider how I want to organize a normal week of my life in order to be effective enough at work so that I can enjoy my free time in peace with no worry. I recently downloaded this app called Rescue Time. It’s a time tracker for my computer which plots the time spent in each app and gives me feedback on how I’m using my time. If you want to be humbled, I encourage you to download it too.

Above is a screenshot of how I spent May. In my defense, it only tracks time that you spend on your computer. So those hours I spend in meetings, seminars, or reading papers aren’t tracked here. But every last one of those Netflix binges are embarrassingly noted for perpetuity. (Speaking of which, why did I post this screenshot?? Poor life choices.)

Tracking Your Time Is Extremely Enlightening

A few interesting things pop out to me. First of all, it counts Communication & Scheduling (which is mostly email for me) as productive time. If we are honest with ourselves, this is not always true. Sometimes email is a way of slacking off that still “feels” productive. I can definitely work to improve habits in this area. Second, it’s astounding how much time we spend on social media. This is obvious to us, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse but I do want to analyze my work habits to increase my effectiveness. I did notice that directly after switching tasks (after a meeting, after lunch, or after a casual conversation) I’m more likely to check social media than I am to go directly back to work. The first step of a productivity improvement is to track your time. You’ll notice areas that you can improve almost immediately.

Goals Are The Only Way Forward

I have found that it’s helpful to set a specific goal of an improvement that I want to make. Without a goal to pursue, you might just spin your wheels without direction. For example, last year I set a goal to read around 20 new books. That seemed daunting to me at the time. But I realized that most books can be read in 2 weeks if I only read about 15 minutes a day (2 chapters a day, 14 chapters total). That translates to 24 books. I met my goal, finishing 22 books (some of these books were rather short; I’ll be honest). The point remains: I never, never would have been able to accomplish this without a clear, specific goal to work toward. It’s rewarding to check my progress and be able to accomplish what I set out to do.

What have you found to be your most productive habits? Take some time during your next vacation to find out how to attack your work with renewed vigor and increased effectiveness. For me, that meant time tracking and goal setting. What does it mean for you?

Published on July 25th, 2017

Last updated on August 10th, 2017