Ultimate productivity is what we’re all aiming at – but how do we increase productivity to get that sweet spot when we can do more in less time?
Productivity increases when you undertake the following steps that will help you work smarter, faster, and better:
- Establish a morning routine
- Plan your days and manage your time
- Take care of your health
- Work smart, and take breaks
- Leave room for leisure time
These are just the broad strokes, and here are the 25 specific steps you need to undertake each day to increase your productivity.
Productivity increases when you…
1. Sleep enough
Why? Sleep improves your cognition and concentration – and increased cognition and concentration lead to increased productivity, which, ultimately leads to better performance.
2. Get up early
Why? Most Americans wake up between 6 AM and 7:30 AM, in order to start work sooner, and finish sooner – so imagine how great a start you’d have if you were to wake up even earlier, say, 5 AM?
Getting such an early start of your day ensures you’re at least an hour ahead of everyone – you’ll finish your workday earlier, and, more importantly, start your work when barely anyone is around to distract you.
Why? As soon as you wake up, take some time to exercise – exercise helps your body wake up and your brain be more alert and energized.
And when you’re alert and energized you’re more likely to focus and concentrate on your work, thus more likely to be productive.
4. Plan meals in advance
Why? Meals are an important part of your workday, and planning them in advance helps you save time you’d otherwise spend thinking about what you want to eat when you’re already hungry.
Planning your daily menus will help you avoid stress, eat more balanced meals, and even learn how to plan ahead – a skill you can also use in your work.
5. Eat your breakfast
Why? About 31 million Americans alone skip breakfast – despite it being perhaps the most important meal of the day.
A balanced breakfast helps you build up energy in the morning to start your day right. Considering that everything you eat turns into glucose, by eating first thing in the morning you get a surge of glucose right away – which ensures you stay concentrated and focused on what you’re doing (at least until lunchtime).
6. Drink plenty of water
Why? Our brains are 85% water. If this percentage of water drops by just 1% you lose 5% of your cognitive abilities. You become less focused, less alert, and less likely to be productive.
But, by drinking about eight 8-ounce glasses, 2-liters, or, simply, drinking whenever you’re thirsty, you ensure you’re always fully hydrated, and focused to the max.
7. Keep a To-Do list
Why? By compiling a list of things you have to do, you’ll always know exactly what you have to accomplish until the end of the day.
Once you have everything on paper, you’ll be less likely to stray away from what’s truly important, and less likely to waste time.
8. Set your own deadlines
Why? Deadlines help you put your work into perspective – when you know you have to finish one important task by next week, and the other important task by next month, you’ll understand your priorities, and what you need to do first.
And when you set your own deadlines (no matter whether you have an official deadline for it or not), you’ll inspire yourself to fixate on a certain date and time – and aim to beat it.
9. Set goals
Why? When you set a goal, you’ll get a clearer idea of what steps you’ll need to undertake and what actions will help you reach said goal.
When you set a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), you’ll know your goal is manageable, so you’ll feel more inspired to go after it.
10. Set rewards
Why? Imagine a horse running after a carrot strapped to his head, just a little out of reach. The horse may run and run, eyes fixated on the carrot, but he’ll never reach it – so how long will he feel inspired to run after it, until he quits the race?
The same goes for people – unless you allow yourself a reward during a long race to success, chances are you won’t stay interested long enough to reach the finish line. Small rewards when you reach milestones, such as an evening out with friends, are a welcome boost to your determination and a nice battery-charge for your productivity.
11. Make good use of commute time
Why? Commute time is often lauded as dead time you’re bound to lose every day, stuck in traffic, or doomed to a long train or bus ride to work.
But you can use this time to your own advantage – take a nap, go through your emails, take on an online course, listen to an audiobook. You’ll take away from the workload that awaits you in the office, get more rest, or even learn something new.
12. Track time you spend on tasks (and aim to limit it)
Why? Time is finite, so it’s important how you spend it – but do you know how you spend it?
Tracking time you spend on activities will help you decide whether you spend your time effectively or not.
If your timer tells you you spend 2 hours aimlessly browsing Social Media every day, you’ll get the exact time you’re wasting and could be putting to better use.
13. Do your worst first
Why? When starting out your workday, it’s best that you do your most difficult or most important task first – this is called eating your frog.
Once you’ve “eaten your frog” first thing in the morning, you’ll feel more energized to tackle the rest of the tasks you have for the day – because you’ll know that the worst is behind you.
14. Follow the “2-minute rule”
Why? Most of the time, the most difficult part of a task is – getting started.
But, if you start small, by saying you’ll only work for two minutes, you’ll make the notion of getting started less scary and more manageable.
Newton’s 1st law says that objects that are in motion stay in motion – and the same is true of your work. Most of the time, you’ll find that you’ve worked for 2 minutes, and then continued working.
15. Work in intervals (and take breaks)
Why? Science that defines ultradian rhythms says people are wired to work focused and concentrated in 90-minute intervals. After that time, they need to take a break.
You can parse your workday into 90-minute chunks, followed by short breaks – this can be anything from meditation to short exercises, or going to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.
Or, you can try out the pomodoro technique, and work in predefined cycles – work for 4 cycles of 25-minute work time and 5-minute breaks, and then take a 20-minute break, before resuming work for another 4 cycles. If 25 minutes for work and 5 minutes for breaks don’t work for you, you can tweak this time to fit your needs better.
16. Don’t multitask
Why? Logic may tell you that doing more tasks at once will help you finish more work in less time – but by doing more tasks at once, you’re essentially stopping yourself from focusing on any of your tasks.
You finish quicker, but you perform subpar on all your tasks, and then have to redo most of it, leading to more time lost than gained. But, if you start working on another task only after you’ve finished with the previous task, you’ll give it your full attention and finish in the best way possible – no to little time needed for redos.
17. Don’t be a perfectionist
Why? You may strive for perfection in everything you do – but, as nothing is ever really perfect you’re just wasting your time.
Instead, you should stop tweaking your work, and hand it in for feedback – if there are some mistakes left, treat them as teachable moments that will help you be better in the future (by not repeating them).
18. Don’t skip meals
Why? People often decide to power through their work days by skipping meals and staying at their desks – but this practice does more harm than good.
Unless you eat regularly your glucose levels will drop, and you’ll be less concentrated, more moody, and less likely to be productive.
19. Say “No”
Why? Doing everything people ask of you will only make you lose time you should be spending on priorities – if you do everything, you’ll eventually find that you’ve done nothing.
It’s OK to say “No” to people’s requests from time to time – a lot of yeses may lead to less free time, more stress, and a higher chance of burnout. Oftentimes outsourcing some of the work is also a good idea and can lead to an increase in overall productivity.
20. Block distractions
Why? Distractions such as Social Media, your smartphone, or the TV, are OK, in small doses, in your free time. But, they’ll only disrupt your schedule when you have to work on an important project with a close deadline. And background noises (such as outside traffic) that irate you even in your free time, will irate you even more when you have to work.
Block Social Media websites, leave your smartphone in another room (perhaps best one you can lock?) and put on your headphones. When you’re in a bubble, it’ll be easier for you to concentrate.
21. Limit information
Why? The 21st century is the century of easy access to information – everyone can know (almost) anything in a matter of a few clicks. But, this information overload will temper with your ability to process what’s really important.
Limit what you read, and limit what you take in – this way, you’ll leave more room to think about and process the best ways to tackle your priorities.
22. Listen to productivity-boosting music
Why? Certain music boost productivity on certain tasks – when in doubt, remember that three-chord, instrumental music you’re used to, and that you’ve chosen yourself works best, especially when you’re working on simpler tasks.
By listening to music while you work, you’ll focus your mind on your work and block out distracting sounds around you.
23. Take naps
Why? According to research, naps help you perform better with tasks you have to do in the evening. Naps you take earlier in the day help boost creativity, and naps you take later in the day help you restore your physical abilities – either way, naps prove even better than caffeine for your memory and overall performance.
24. Practice a hobby
Why? Working hard without playing hard won’t reflect well on your productivity levels – you’ll start to wonder why you’ve been working so hard with no reward in the first place, and lose your drive.
But, a hobby you can look forward to when you get home can inspire you to finish your work faster. If you pick a creative hobby, you may even improve your cognitive abilities – reading, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language are all good choices.
Why? Thinking about work from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, won’t help you do more today – but relaxing over a good book, meditating, or simply socializing with friends and family can help you recharge batteries needed for tomorrow.
In the end, high productivity is more about working smarter than working harder – if you establish a morning routine, manage your time and plan your days in relation to your goals, take care of your health, and remember to have some “you” time, you’re bound to increase your productivity.