How to save time and increase productivity

Time management and productivity
Time and Productivity

Did you ever feel that 24 hours in a day are just not enough for you? Did you ever wish that you were on a different planet where a day has more hours?

You might have seen Urgent-Important matrix at some point in your life and ignored it as yet another self help tool. At least, I did. But, I have come to realize it's significance only recently...after starting this blog. I have a job to keep and I have got some new work assignments which demand learning. At the same time, I have my new-ish blog to maintain. May be no one reads my blog, may be no one is going to read this, but I feel obliged to post at least every Friday. And I always do lot of research before posting about anything. Trust me, that needs lot of time.

Image source: Wikipedia

Anyway, what you are seeing is called Eisenhower matrix. Here's how you got to treat each quadrant:
Q1. Urgent and Important
Do it right away.(may be after reading this post)
e.g : work assignment, this blog post

Q2. Not urgent and Important
Have a deadline and work towards it.
e.g: Interview preparation to switch job, relationship, exercise
You really need to think in all the three categories that matter - your relationships, your career, yourself. Sometimes we get too engrossed with work that we tend to ignore our relationships. Or it can happen vice versa, people who just get into a relationship tend to give too much time in investing in their relationship and focusing very little on their work.

Q3. Urgent and Not Important
Try to automate these. If you can't, try to delegate.
For example, we download n number of things like music, movies, series etc. Many people automate this by writing some scripts. Automation takes some initial time to invest. But after that you save lot of time. Did you hear about the guy who automated his job for 6 years? It was proven fake, but still it was an awesome story.
e.g: Groceries, mails, paying bills

Q4. Not urgent and not important
Drop them
e.g: TV, 9gag, facebook, prolonged lunch or coffee breaks, youtube recommendations of lol videos
You are supposed to drop this Q4. But for me personally, when I am too tired or having a bad day, that 10 minute 9gag helps a lot than any other motivational video.  Just make sure you don't indulge too much in Q4 and neglect other quadrants. If you think you can't resist something, then just install some blocking plugin or app and block all distractions till you complete your work.

Take some time to make a To Do List and fill out this matrix by placing each item into different quadrants.

Plan your priorities:
  • It's not that we don't have time for something, it's just that it's not a priority.
  • Whenever you are spending a lot of time in some activity, ask yourself how long will it be significant. If somebody asks you next year "What did you do in 2017? What are all the exciting new things you did? What did you achieve?" Will the top activity you did today make it to the list?How about after five years? Will it still matter?Think long term.
  • Write down your performance appraisal-professional and personal for this year. See how you want to change it. For example, switching job, making  better posts in blog, surprising family with something they want. Remember to think through three categories - career, relationships, self.
  • Yes to one activity = No to million other activities. Keep in mind that when you are saying yes to an activity, you are saying no to another. Like how I am saying no to my work while writing this post.
  • Think about the top 5 things you are going to do today immediately after you wake up.

Eat the frog first thing in the morning:
Not literally. Always finish the most dreaded task of the day first. It matters because you will have great amount of energy in the morning and as the day progresses, your energy diminishes. Also, finishing off such gruesome task early in a day boosts your confidence and gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Two minute rule:
If something is in Q1/Q2/Q3 and takes just two minutes, then be done with it immediately and shift+delete it from your brain. All those reminders by brain through out the day for that two minute task is just an overhead.

Don't wait ever:
Sure, we have lot of waiting to do in long queues, traffic,etc.  Many people say that this is when you need to trade-off money to save some time. For example, not taking the cheaper shared transport as it's time consuming. But you can still use that waiting time to do something productive.
  • Read a book
  • Call your family or friends
  • Play some puzzles on phone to put your brain to work- sudoku, Lumosity(brain training) app
  • Write down your next blog post on your phone
  • Listen to audio books
  • Check news feed
  • Reply to emails
Say NO:
Be ruthless with your time. Learn to say no to unimportant things.Something may be a priority for someone, but they may have pushed it over you which isn't your priority.

5 minute plunge:
You are too scared to get under cold water in winter-you test the water by first placing your pinkie finger under shower, then your palm and slowly your entire body. Once your entire body feels the water, it's very easy to take shower and you think "what was all that hesitation for?". And then the next day, same story repeats.
The 5 minute plunge works exactly like that.
You don't feel like studying today. Force yourself to study for 5 minutes. Tell yourself that it's just 5 minutes. Not more than that. After 5 minutes, you will definitely feel at least little bit connected to the topic. You may go on studying for an hour after that. If not, hey, you studied for 5 minutes at least.

Scottish bath:
Speaking of cold showers, why does splashing cold water on our face helps us get rid of drowsiness?
It's because of something called diving reflex which activates nervous system. A Scottish shower is alternating cold and hot showers many times to improve circulation and energize you. Try this to stay active and energetic through out the day.

Wake up early:
I am planning to post more on this soon, but while we are on it-waking up early gives you alone time to finish off the tasks with no distractions.

Write it down:
Don't overload your brain by trying to memorize everything. Outsource everything on your brain-ideas, todos on to a paper. I want to stress on ideas here-always get them on paper. Ideas are evasive, you forget them as soon as you get them. My brain lied to me several times that it can remember some freakish idea I got and after five minutes, my brain is like:

Having a system beats any other productivity tool. What does that mean? Don't study 10 chapters a day and study nothing the next day. Have a routine, make your brain habituated to a system. Study one chapter every day. Show up everyday. Build a system, become a regular. You can't and shouldn't defy the system. Keep the everyday task so simple that you can't say no to it.
(This is kind of V for Vendetta-A man can fail, but the idea wouldn't).

You wouldn't believe how much time I waste checking my blog stats. So I started using Pomodoro technique, work for 25 mins and waste time for 5 mins by abusing the refresh button on my blog stats page. Pomodoro is working in short bursts of time, but these short bursts need to be epic with zero distractions. There are number of apps which do this. Get one.

10,000 hours rule:
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. He gives examples of Beatles and Bill gates who have spent lot of hours mastering their skill.

Get enough sleep:
If you can't function properly and act like a zombie, you can expect sloppy results. Have Chamomile tea with dinner. It induces sleep.

No I'm not going to suggest Mark Zuckerberg's way. His wardrobe consists of all identical grey t-shirts. Why? Because it reduces one decision to make. If not that extreme, perhaps you can pre-select what you will wear per week on Sundays instead of standing in front of your wardrobe every morning and staring at each piece of cloth forever.

Weekly meal plan:
Plan your weekly meals and prepare ingredients on Sundays for the entire week. For example, if you plan on having oats dosa, you can prepare oats powder. Same like wardrobe, you won't be brainstorming every day as to what to prepare.

News drama:
It's important to know what's happening in the world. But is it necessary to watch minute by minute update of Shashikala's drama? Get news feed updates.

Track time:
If you still can't understand where "your time" is going, then you can perhaps track it for couple of weeks or a month. Following is a screenshot from 'Now then free' IOS app, which lets you record time for each activity and gives you a report :

Have you read about Elon Musk's latest company? He founded Zip2(online yellow pages), Paypal(online payment system), SpaceX(commercial rocket launches and Mars mission), Tesla(electric cars), SolarCity(commercial solar systems),Hyperloop(high speed transport) and now Neuralink(brain-chip interface). And he spends time with his five kids! He is not human. Agreed. But we can probably learn how he achieves so much from his 100 hours per week working style.

Batching is combining several tasks together. Elon Musk doesn't even waste his lunch time and combines them with meetings and emails.
You can watch a short video on something new while you are brushing. You can meet your friends or ex-colleagues over lunch.
He has a very tight schedule- as in his day has five minute slots. That is he has fine-tuned his day so much that probably no five minute slot ever goes waste in his life. He sleeps for 6-6.5 hours.

Multitasking and Context switch:
It's easy to batch non-brain-er tasks or even batch a non-brain-er with a brain-ey task. But context switching isn't always good. You would know how bad it is if your manager keeps toggling your work assignments. Because sometimes context switch itself takes lot of time to adjust to the new task.

But, what if I don't feel like being productive?
  • Go clean your room. Clear all that clutter.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Doodle something. 
  • Plan your next revenge plot.
  • Do nothing. Take a break from everything.
  • Write in a journal. Anything.
Sometimes, we get ideas only when we are sitting idle not when we are brainstorming. So it's okay to have some idle time. Just make sure you are not procrastinating too much.

Phew, we are done. I will let Shia motivate you.


  1. Great post! I do think it's important to do some of the bigger things earlier in the day, because I DO tend to dwindle as the day goes on. At the same time, people have different peak productivity hours and those are good to figure out. I read this book The Productivity Project that gives more details.


    1. Thank you :) True enough. I was and am still not a morning person, but I am struggling to become one. Reason being - I don't want my peak time to be in the night anymore when there are lot of distractions and when my hyperactive mind doesn't let me sleep even after 2 AM.


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