There is a growing movement against productivity. People have the belief that productivity is the cause of the stresses and anxieties in their lives — I beg to differ. I consider productivity as Cal Newport puts it, “…a combination of two forces, organisation and intention, united toward increasing the quality of your life. To be productive here is to enforce some organising structure on the inputs and obligations pulling at your attention, so you can sort through what matters and what doesn’t, minimise the energy wasted on activities that add little to your experience, and overall become much more intentional about where you direct your attention.”
When we refuse to dedicate energy towards organising our days, we relinquish our power to take control of our lives. We are always the plane, never the pilot or engineer.
Stephen Covey, the author of ”The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, shared a productivity system aimed at helping you prioritise tasks relative to their importance and urgency. The system, also referred to as a productivity matrix, is split into quadrants:
- Quadrant I — important deadlines with high urgency
- Quadrant II — long-term development and strategising
- Quadrant III — distractions with high urgency
- Quadrant IV — activities with little to no value
If you were to take your week’s tasks and put them into the matrix, you might notice that most of your tasks are in Quadrant 1 and 3. This is how most people go about their lives — switching between distractions and panic while sacrificing their personal development — running in place. This is the true cause of work-related stress and anxiety.
Quadrant 2 is reserved for strategic planning, health, education, exercise and your career. Investing time in these areas might not be urgent at the present day, but in the long term, it will be of the greatest importance.
I’ve begun dedicating the first productive hour of my day towards being a Power Hour, the specific time has proven unimportant, just as long as I make it happen before noon, before the tasks in quadrants 1 and 3 take over my day. On the days I go to the gym in the morning my power hour is scheduled for 8 — 9 AM, else I can slot it into my favourite time for work, 5:30 — 6:30 AM. I enjoy working at this time as most people aren’t awake and there’s a certain peace that comes over me when I have obligations to none but myself.
I managed to design and build an App prototype in the past week using only 4 Power Hours. How was that possible? I start my Pomodoro timer and work on the single task before me. Given that my productivity battery is at its fullest, I seem to have boundless amounts of focus and clarity. Imagine if I’d managed 5 Power Hours? How much more could I have accomplished?
The key to a successful Power Hour is planning and the elimination of distractions. I try to make a list of Q2 relevant tasks and projects on Sunday or take a few minutes before starting my day, and I pull from this list at the beginning of my Power Hour. Once I have my task and my Pomodoro has begun ticking down, there is no phone, no email, no social media, no coffee or water refilling — the only target for my focus is the task before me.
Whenever something masquerading as “important” or “urgent” pops into my mind, I empty it onto my to-do list to attend to AFTER my power hour. This prevents me from slipping into costly context switching, which often results in working on Q1 & 3 tasks.
Want to experience the power of the Power Hour yourself? Answer these questions honestly to get started:
- Is there an area in your life you are letting unnecessary “work” slow down your progress?
- What actions take up the majority of your working day? Are these things that will contribute to your goals in the long term?
- Consider turning one extra “working hour” per day into one “progress producing hour” change your income over the next month? Repeated consistently over the next year, what would that be worth to you?