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Productivity Techniques: Tried and Tested

There are so many guides, books, apps, talks, social media posts and websites nowadays to help maximise your productivity, along with specific techniques to get the most out of your concentration – it’s everywhere nowadays! So, I decided to pick four techniques – some are general productivity techniques whilst others focus on writing – to see which work best for me.

Pomodoro technique

What is it?

This time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo uses a timer to break down work. The time you spend working is split into blocks, usually of 25 minutes, and each of these are then followed by a short 5-minute break before the process is repeated until you want to stop working.

How did I find it?

Whilst I was fairly productive within my 25-minute blocks, I found myself feeling as if I was against the clock. As a result, I seemed to be rushing, even though I knew after my short break I could come back and carry on from where I left off. The 5-minute break also went by extremely quickly! Perhaps it’s because I’m used to working for longer periods and then taking longer breaks, but I think using this technique would take some getting used to as a new habit.

Free writing

What is it?

This is commonly used as a pre-writing technique to get your brain engaged. Using a prompt, usually a question, you have to write down anything you can think of in three minutes relating to that topic or question. The topic or question can be relevant to your university work, or it could be something entirely different – this isn’t important. The idea is that by doing this exercise a couple of times, your brain learns to focus on one question and nothing else.

How did I find it?

I used this technique before doing my dissertation work. I made my question relevant to my dissertation topic. At the time I was writing a literature review draft, and so I focused my question around the reading I had done and the themes in the reading. I found it a useful exercise to get my brain focused and on task, and what I had written down was then useful in helping to organise my literature review, so that was a bonus!

Using the Flora app for vision-based productivity

What is it?

Flora is a free productivity app, and a no-cost alternative to a similar app called Forest which costs £1.99. All you have to do is open the app, start the timer, plant a seed, and allow the digital tree to grow. If you use your phone before your time is up, the tree will die! The app also plants real trees, so being productive pays off! This works well with the Pomodoro technique too if you’re using the app whilst writing.

How did I find it?

It’s an appealing app in theory. However, if you exit the app by pressing your phone’s home button and then click back onto it, this doesn’t kill the tree and the timer keeps going meaning you can still go off the app to use your phone without any consequences. I think a better alternative would be to simply put your phone in another room to avoid distractions!

The Eisenhower Matrix

What is it?

The Eisenhower Matrix makes you organise your tasks for the day based on their importance and urgency. You sort them into the following categories to help prioritise your tasks:

  • Important and urgent
  • Urgent but not important
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important and not urgent

How did I find it?

Using this technique was over pretty much before it even began! I gave up with it quite quickly; I like to think I’m pretty good at prioritising tasks without spending the time and effort sorting them into these categories. I think I’ll stick to a simple to-do list!

My Verdict: Whilst these techniques do have useful elements, and are probably very helpful to a lot of people, I don’t think you can go wrong with creating a good, clear and quiet workspace for yourself, putting your phone out of reach and creating to-do lists for each day. As for the time you spend working, for me the Pomodoro technique doesn’t beat my way of working. I much prefer working for longer periods of time, and then taking longer breaks that allow me to make a fresh drink or grab something to eat.

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