Designing Your Productivity (Part I)

I’ve been on the productivity journey since my freshman (first) year of college when I read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done,’ which proposes a time management method. Since then I’ve helped people increase their productivity through one-on-one conversations and classes. In this process, I’ve observed that people sometimes feel that there’s too much to do in one day or that the day is over without them getting in any real work. This is often because they just find it difficult to be disciplined and end up procrastinating their time away.

Then I realised I could help people figure out systems that were more tailored to their specific struggles by melding my knowledge of productivity with a popular design methodology we use at Akanka Consulting i.e. the design thinking process. It’s used to solve problems by focusing on people’s needs first. In essence, if individuals are at the heart of the constraints, my advice had to start with understanding the individual and his/her journey, then building a system around their unique situation. So what does the design thinking process look like and how can we apply it to our quest for discipline and productivity?

Source: UX Collective

Empathy

The starting point in any design thinking process is understanding the user. Let’s say you are the user. In this case, it would be monitoring and understanding your behaviour/habits. 🕵🏾‍♂️ Off the top of my head, some important information might be:

  1. What are you meant to do in a given day versus what do you actually get done?

  2. What times do you tend to be most productive? When are you in the flow?

  3. What triggers your urge to work or procrastinate?

  4. How much time are you spending on social media?

  5. What are you doing right before you feel the sense of helplessness at your inability to get anything done...okay, maybe that one's a bit too harsh, but yeah, you get the point. 😈

Define

Next is defining the problem you're solving. To define what's wrong with your productivity, you'll have to collate and analyse what you learnt in the empathy stage. You might find that you procrastinate a lot, get distracted easily, lack clarity about how your day should go or simply have way too much to do in a given day (I'm betting work and taking care of kids ranks high here). Many will find that it's usually a cocktail of internal and external reasons. What matters is that you're able to look through your user journey and identify your pain points. 🛣 Once you've identified what problem you're trying to solve, you can frame it in the right way e.g. 'How might I get through the most important tasks of the day without getting distracted by social media?' Now that you have a sense of what your problem is, you can start to solve for it.

Ideate

If you managed to get to this stage by being honest with yourself, congrats! 👏🏽Now we can get to ideating on a solution to your problem. In the case of time management, the solution will most likely (99.99%) be a system-focused one. Time management is more about a system that works and less about a tool or just a method. The parts required might vary from person to person, but it will require a system. For an executive, a key step to solving his/her productivity problem could be getting a super-competent assistant. For an intern, it could be adapting to a super volatile schedule that makes planning difficult. However, these are just parts of a system that both must develop.

In both cases, whatever system gets ideated will likely be a meld of tools and methodologies like the GTD methodology, the practice of essentialism, deep work, Pomodoro and a calendar. For those who might be hearing about these for the first time or wondering how they all mesh into a system, the next sections we’ll send to your mail will explain all…and if you’ve not signed up, sign up now. 😉

Prototype

Prototyping lets you immediately test your new system without needing to invest too much time and money. This lets you gain valuable insights pretty quickly. In this case of time management, you can immediately commit a day to test out the proposed system. You could run a prototype that day by making a number of key intentional decisions like creating a list of high impact tasks for the day, deliberately allotting them time, listening to a podcast or audiobook during a specific activity like doing the dishes or sitting in Lagos traffic 🚙🚙🚙. Go through all of these steps that make up your proposed system for a day and you'd have made the important step towards discovering what works for you and what doesn't.

Test

This step is crucial because this is where you get feedback on what works, what doesn't, and what needs to be tweaked. See it as an experiment where failure yields valuable insights 🔬.

  • Do you find that having your task list on your phone doesn't work because your phone distracts you? You could switch to a hardcover notebook.

  • Alternatively, you could be the sort of person who forgets his notebook in random places, then you might need to switch to your phone.

  • Maybe you thought you could take that online course after getting back from work, then you realised family obligations make it difficult, then you might have to switch to getting it done first thing in the morning.

  • You might also discover that you're more productive in the morning and that the only reason you think you're not a 'morning person' is that you sleep late.

These discoveries help you build a better system of time management that’s uniquely tailored to your life.

Design is never complete, so designing your productivity will never be complete, but for whatever stage you're at, you can optimise it by being more intentional about your time. The next section will introduce a framework to help you be more intentional about your time…so if you still haven’t, sign up for this newsletter and share with your friends!

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