6 One-Time Actions To Boost Your Productivity
Sometime in 2016, I discovered that I suffer from GSA.
GSA refers to “Gnawing Sense of Anxiety”. It’s a feeling of dread that creeps up on me when I am working on something — whether at work or on a personal project. It’s the unshakeable feeling that I should be doing something else other than the things that I am currently doing. That I’ve ‘mis-prioritised’ my work and things will fall apart soon.
I started my career believing that every email is top priority and every task is super important, so it was only natural for me to develop GSA.
Additionally, there never seemed to be enough hours in a day to get to everything.
I had to find a way to limit my distractions, find a way to clear my mind and set my priorities straight.
So I jumped down the rabbit hole of productivity books to find a solution. Four years of rigorous experimentation later, I’ve curated a list of one-time actions you can take right now to help with your productivity levels.
The appeal of one-time action techniques in combating my GSA is that I take these actions when I am not overwhelmed about the things I have to do.
It’s a bit like pre-setting the oven for the right temperature so that I don’t have to check the dish I’ve placed inside every 2 minutes.
I’ve included screenshots and app links in the paragraphs below for you to implement these tactics immediately.
Without further ado, let’s get started with technique number 1…
1. Give your devices amnesia
One of the main threats to productivity is the time that is siphoned away by our devices.
One can spend hours glued to one’s phone because there is very little resistance in between wanting to check a notification and actually checking it. The average person spends 4 hours looking at their phone screen per day! These are just the 5 minute check-ins at various points throughout the day on popular social media apps. That little “news feed” check is actually costing you more time than you realize.
By logging out of all apps/social media profiles, you’re adding one hurdle between your attention and your notifications. Having to key in your username and password every time you need to check your feed is a great way to limit the demands on your attention and combating the anxiety of having your attention pulled in too many directions. Try it for a week starting today — log out of everything; even click the “forget me on this device” option where you can and watch the quietness descend on you. It’s quite liberating
2. Ground yourself
One of the main deterrents to productivity resulting in GSA is the tendency to use “infinity-pool” apps to take breaks during the day. If you’re looking through Twitter or thinking of watching a YouTube cat video during your breaks, there’s often a chance that you’ll have spent 20–30 minutes completely absorbed by the dizzying array of entertaining content that these kinds of sites pump out. The endless availability of distractions also dilutes your attention span making it harder to stay focused on tasks requiring undivided attention for long periods of time. One way to manage this is to make sure your breaks involve some form of “grounding” — whether that’s taking a walk, stretching, observing your breath and the sensation of what it is like sitting down at your desk — taking a break that gets you out of your mind and into your physical body is a lot more nurturing than mindlessly looking at your feed while hunched over your phone. You can set up one favorite grounding routine for yourself right now to combat the lure of infinity pools.
3. Have a digital warrior guard your kryptonite
Placing your device in a cage may not quite be the most practical thing to do for the modern day professional — but locking specific apps comes pretty close. If you know you’re addicted to a specific app or apps, consider using apps like “Digital Wellbeing” to limit your usage.
These app control devices “unlock” your kryptonite apps for 5 minutes at a time so that you only use those apps for specific tasks within the 5 minutes of the ‘unlock’ period. You only have to set it up one time but once you do, even if you fall back on old habits, the app control notification will remind you of the commitment you’ve made to limit your time on kryptonite apps
4. Schedule a meeting with yourself everyday
Another source of a gnawing sense of anxiety is the unfinished to-do list that is long overdue. Our work schedules usually allow the urgent and most important tasks to take top priority although important but not urgent tasks usually get relegated to lower rungs of the to-do list. Scheduling 3 hours of uninterrupted time for yourself to tackle these kinds of tasks can ease the sense of dread accompanying the list of items that are long pending on your to-do list. The one-time action is to schedule a meeting with yourself — block a solid chunk of time, maybe 3 hours in the morning where you won’t admit any other meetings/low value tasks. One recurring invite is all it takes to get started.
5. Build a “distraction space-station”
One of the reasons for feeling restless while working on a task is that there are too many stimuli in the work area. In a WFH setting, if you eat, work and sleep in the exact same area of the house, it might become difficult to switch off from work mode when the work day ends. Even more interestingly, scrolling on the phone while lying in bed can interfere with sleep patterns. Having a specific area of the house far away from your work area/sleep area where you can use your devices for your entertainment is a way to train your mind to associate only this designated area as your “distraction space station”. This is the best way to avoid the haze of constantly worrying about work while you’re not at work and keeping your personal worries filed away until the end of the work day.
6. Wipe your screen clean
One of the easiest things I’ve ever done to help me focus better is to remove all apps from the home screen of my phone except for the actual “Phone” app. If I need to use an app, I’ll have to go to the app folder to retrieve it. While this doesn’t seem like much, this has the exact same effect as someone hiding chocolate bars/cookies in the back of a kitchen shelf when they’re on a diet. Their favorite food is still there, but it just isn’t immediately accessible.
By just taking one action to add a barrier between the craving and the means to satiate the craving, the person has freed up a tremendous amount of mental space to focus on their most important priorities. The technique works on any kind of craving/distraction and you only have to “hide” your distractions one time to reap the benefits multiple times.
The best part about these techniques is that they don’t require you a superhuman amount of discipline and will-power.
Please consider sharing this with a friend if you’ve found this useful and let me know in the comments section which technique you like the most!
Until next time, stay happy, healthy, and productive :-)