Increasing your productivity – A lesson from Super Mario

by Luis

I remember playing Super Mario games on the NES during my childhood (oh, the nostalgia). Whenever the time was starting to run out and the music started to accelerate, I would always think I wouldn’t make it to the end on time. So I made Mario run and jump as quickly as I could – carelessly, for sure -, and pretty much always got there on time. Really, even though this happened often, did you typically lose because of the time running out? I bet not.

Super Mario BrosActually, the pressure of the time running out made you more efficient. You probably were a much better player when you were rushing to the goal.

So, what if we could accelerate our lives’ music whenever we wanted so we could get that Super Mario effect and becoming ultra effective and quick at our tasks at hand?

It is indeed possible, by taking advantage of a small human psychological trait.

Parkinson’s Law

It is said that work expands to fill the time available for its completion (a principle known as Parkinson’s Law). Most of us have lived through this kind of thing in college. Did you ever start a huge final project the day before its due date? Of course you did. Were you able to deliver it on time? Of course you were.

And what if you had started it a week before? It varies, but you would have probably added the final touches the night before delivering. Without the urgency, you would have taken a longer time to do it, being able to obsess over insignificant things such as a nice cover or having better quotes from books. Or maybe you would have just been slower.

Basically, having more time to complete an activity leads to longer completion times. We always meet our deadlines, but long deadlines can cause us to let our mind wander, multitask or put off parts of a work. It’s understandable: if I have much time to complete my task, I won’t feel bad about losing my focus for a while, will I?

Conversely, deadlines pressure us, but they also bring out the best in us. Impressively, we get to that point were our abilities go superhuman – or at least they go up to our theoritcal limit, if you will – and we tend to achieve and excel even in the most difficult scenarios. It is not dissimilar to the ways we react in during a life threatening situation. The mind goes blank, except for the task at hand, on which it is fixed at, 100%. With this full and complete concentration, we can use all our mindpower to solve the situation – and thus our abilities seem enhanced and we are quicker and much more effective.

In a normal state of being, we don’t really use these kind of power because the constant thinking on all of the things stressful in life, which is a form of multitasking (something we are not made to do and we should avoid), clouds some of our power to actually do things.

You can see our mind like a computer. If you open too many programs at the same time, it will still work, but it will slow down (or sometimes even completely freeze). Au contraire, with only with application running, it will typically be fast and efficient. That’s were we want to be.

There is a way to generate the focus needed to access these “superpowers” consciously.

Accessing our superpowers

Large deadlines generate procrastination [Click to Tweet this quote]

We’ll base our system on this assumption, which is largely true, as explained above.

This is the process you should follow whenever you’re working on a task to maximize focus and effectiveness

  • Divide the task into small activities. You must train yourself to break down your activities into small pieces. By small I mean that each activity should be doable in less than 20 minutes. If it’s more, then it should be broken apart into even smaller bits. Don’t obviate any activities, even stuff like reviewing your work or reading an article should be accounted for.
  • Discard non-essential tasks. It is easy to create more tasks than are absolutely needed just to fill time or to feel productive. Working more in this type of activity is still procrastination. If any activity doesn’t add any value to your objective, discard it. Remember: working more rarely means being more productive.
  • Assign time limits for each activity. Choose the desired and optimal time-frame in which you wish to fulfill your task. I recommend that you ensure that your activities are small enough that you can feel comfortable doing each in 15 minutes or less. Remember, short deadlines incraese production.
  • Set up a countdown timer and start working. This is the centerpiece of it all. Let the timer be your Super Mario music, it will quicken your pace and increase your focus. Keep it visible at all times. I work with two screens, so typically one is my workspace while the other holds a timer (I recommend using For non-computer activity, I use a small countdown timer with an alarm.
  • Your timer represents your deadline, treat it as such. Feel the urge to finish your work quickly. You’ll thank yourself for it.

This “pressure” will now work on your favor, resulting in increased focus and results. Don’t pause at all. If you set short enough deadlines, you’ll feel them put you in a productive mood, and you’ll get faster and better results, sending your productivity through the roof. You’ve always been good at delivering on deadlines, so now it’s time to make those work on your favor.

Take action

So what are you waiting for? Next day on your job, try this approach with your next piece of work. Feel the increased focus and you’ll see the effects immediately.

To start you with your commitment, how about you Tweet this to the world?

I will increase my productivity with the Super Mario technique. [click to Tweet this quote]

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