I believe one of the most noble pursuits for human beings is to constantly try to improve, to become more efficient and more productive at the things we care about most.
In our profession, relentlessly pursuing that goal means smoother sessions, superior control of our craft, and better end results—all of which tend to translate into more and better-paying clients.
The following is a collection with some of the very best methods I’ve discovered so far in this evergreen pursuit of productivity. Although each of these techniques arose outside of the studio world and can be applied anywhere, I’ve found that they help a lot with my daily audio life. With any luck, they’ll help you too!
1) “10 Days to Faster Reading”
If you are reading this, I’m guessing you are already hooked on this self-improvement strategy as a way of life, and probably find yourself reading a lot of articles. In that case, you should give the book 10 Days to Faster Reading a try.
There are several exercises and techniques in the book.Here is one that can be very easily adopted: before reading any article, first do a fast previewing of it, by quickly reading only the titles, subtitles, and the first phrase of each paragraph. Go ahead, try it right now.
1. You’ll be able to decide if the article contains the information you are looking for.
2. You’ll establish a roadmap of the content, creating a better understanding of the general structure, even if you have not learned the specifics yet.
3. When you finally do read it completely, you’ll have a sense of familiarity that will help you to better absorb and solidify the contents.
Yes, I know you shouldn’t expect to grasp new concepts in any real depth from such a preview. But with this technique, you can significantly increase your comprehension of the material when you do choose to dive deeper—and save yourself the trouble of wasting too much time on a post that may be of little value to you.
Why don’t you try it for yourself? Do a preview of the rest of the article, and then return to this point and continue reading it in a normal way.
In your preview, you would read this phrase, as well as all the titles, subtitles, lists, and any other word that is highlighted in any way. But you should not be reading this phrase during your preview, as it’s the second phrase of the paragraph. Go ahead, give it a try!
2) The “Pomodoro” Technique
I’ve been using this technique for years, and from the first time I started using it, it made such a big change in my productivity that my friends began to decline opportunities to hang out with me, just to avoid hearing me talk about it yet again.
In essence, the Pomodoro technique is a time-management method that establishes fixed work and rest intervals. The technique was concocted by Francesco Cirillo, and its name comes from the Italian word for “tomato” because Francesco used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer for his early experiments with the method.
The traditional technique uses 25 minutes “pomodoros” (intervals of time), and 5 minutes rest intervals. Once you’ve decided the task you will be doing, just start the timer and focus entirely on that task.
During the pomodoro period you are not allowed to do any other thing except the task at hand. Ignore any calls, messages, emails or any other kind of distractions. Once the pomodoro has finished, rest for 5 minutes, and start a new pomodoro right after it.
Once you have worked on 4 pomodoros, you are allowed to take a longer break (20-30 minutes), before starting again with a new string of four pomodoros with three short breaks in between.
Although the technique looks very simple, it has several profound implications.
For starters, the fact that the timer is running makes you much more focused on the task. It helps to avoid distractions and makes it easier to enter “in the zone” of high concentration and productivity.
It also allows you to better manage your time because, when facing your to-do list, you’ll be able to estimate how many pomodoros a certain task should take. Maybe the first time, your estimations will be a little bit off, but soon enough, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much can be done in those 25-minute slots.
At this point, there’s also a component of gamification to the technique, because soon, you’ll discover yourself trying to improve your performance and striving to squeeze a little more into each pomodoro.
This technique also helps fighting procrastination because, even when you don’t feel like doing anything, once you push the start button you’ll jump into action. Usually, the first step with anything is the hardest one to take. But once you’ve started working on something, it is much easier to keep doing it. This new “let’s do something, I already started the pomodoro” thinking will help you with that.
Also very importantly, it forces you to take rests in a predictable way, which helps with your general health and stamina.
Now that the technique has become very popular, there are dozens of ways to implement it. In my case, I found the 25 minutes pomodoros too short, so I use 50 minutes pomodoros, with 10 minutes rests and 1-hour long break after 4 pomodoros.
This approach allows you to work for 50 minutes straight, moving a little and stretching your legs while maybe returning some calls during the 10 minutes of rest. Once you’ve done 4 pomodoros, you have 1 hour of rest—perfect to have a relaxed lunch and then start a new string of 4 pomodoros.
For some creative tasks, I’ve found that doing two consecutive 50-minute pomodoros without resting in between is even more productive, because just when the first pomodoro has finished, you are in the perfect zone, and stopping would mean losing focus.
You can adapt this technique in a way that best suits your needs. And, when you have several tasks to do that will take less time than a pomodoro, you can just group them together. When you divide your day this way, it is very easy to establish daily goals (for example, 10 pomodoros of 50 minutes every day), and measure your productivity during the week and month.
Of course, when you are working with clients in the studio, this schedule can be more difficult to follow, but don’t be afraid to suggest it if you feel it’s appropriate. Some of my clients have loved the pomodoro technique so much that they’ve gotten hooked themselves!
There are hundreds of pomodoro apps for both Android and iOS. I am currently using Be Focused Pro because it allows personalization of the intervals, and you can create tasks and assign pomodoros to them.
The app works as a small project management tool on its own, with which you can evaluate how much effort went into different projects.
I was in the middle of a pomodoro while writing this, but the timer has just rung. Give me 5, and I’ll be back.
3) Getting Things Done
As you can imagine, the benefits of the pomodoro technique vastly improve if you have a clear vision of what needs to be done, and when.