This post series on how to increase productivity includes some content featured in the upcoming book The Super Student’s Guide to Productivity (coming later this month). Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there were two great friends, a Sultan and one of his laziest servants, a man named Haria. One morning, the king told him “You can go into my treasury and collect as many gold coins as you can, till sunset”.
Haria rushed home to tell his wife. She said “What the hell are you waiting for? Go!”. “I cannot go now, I need to lunch first so I can be strong enough to bring all the coins”. After lunch, he napped for an hour. On the way to the palace, he bought some bags in the local market. Then, he rested under a tree for two hours.
When he got to the palace, it was already time for sunset. The palace gates were closed shut and Haria lost his chance. If only he had learned the value of time…
Time is the denominator in the productivity equation. The less time you take to complete a certain task, the more productive you’ll be, provided that the output stays the same. Taking advantage of time and maximizing the output of each minute is also a priority for the productive Super Student.
To do things faster means to be skilled, like the chef who cuts an onion in a tenth of the time I take to draw my kitchen knife. He got there by practicing a lot – he probably cut hundreds of onions before developing the muscle memory necessary to cut an onion like a pro. Consistent practice will therefore make you more productive. At the neurological level, your brain will even restructure its neural connections to streamline the process.
According to Psychology, your skill in any given activity will vary between four levels of competence:
- Unconscious incompetence: you don’t know you’re unskilled and you don’t recognize the importance of that skill yet. Perhaps you don’t need it or you’re not even aware it will aid you in some way. To move from this stage you need a stimulus to learn. E.g. What the hell is programming?
- Conscious incompetence: you just recognized your lack of skill and how valuable it would be to address that weakness. This stage symbolizes the beginning of your training. E.g. I don’t know anything about programming, but I’d build an app if I did.
- Conscious competence: you are fairly proficient in the new skill, but you still need a high degree of focus to get things done. Practicing is still required to become less mentally involved in that particular task. E.g. Why am I getting so many bugs?
- Unconscious competence: using the skill has become part of your muscle memory, so to speak. You’re so familiar with the steps and intricacies of the process that you don’t even think about it. 010101000110110011.
For example, a lot of people are unconsciously incompetent when it comes to playing the piano, since only some would find that skill compelling to learn. Suddenly, there is a stimulus to learn – maybe your grandfather used to play – and you become a consciously incompetent.
After 1 year of online courses and practicing almost every day, you can play a few simple tunes or even a Rachmaninoff suite (with a lot of effort). Five years later, by expanding your music knowledge and practicing tirelessly you play most sheets without even thinking about moving your fingers – the unconscious competence phase kicks in.
Practicing will eventually elevate Super Students from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence, provided that they are willing to practice for years if need be. Evidently, a seasoned baker is more productive than an apprentice baker, yet the transition does not happen overnight. No matter what Learn Chinese in 90 Days adverts led you to believe, any skill worth learning takes a lot of time to master.
Consistent practice of key skills will transform you into a more productive student, since it will decrease the time you take to accomplish most tasks. If a lot of your studying sessions depend on memorization, train your memory regularly. On the other hand, if your exams are all about problem solving, solve as many problem sets as you can. For self–expression (in text–based questions), learn how to write clearly and assertively. Practice those skills and you will get better outcomes in less time.
In short, how to increase productivity? Practice. Your personal productivity will increase since your work output increases and the time spent on a task decreases. Practicing is one of the few productivity tools that will benefit both elements.