25 ways to increase productivity
Last updated on: March 21, 2022
Ultimate productivity is what we’re all aiming for — 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…
…do the following.
Sleep improves your cognition and concentration — and increased cognition and concentration lead to increased productivity, which ultimately leads to better performance.
When you sleep at least 7–8 hours every night, your problem-solving skills and memory improve — so you finish more in less time.
On the opposite side, sleep deprivation can have many damaging effects on our overall performance. It not only directly decreases our productivity, but can also impact our physical health and emotional well-being, as well as negatively affect our cognitive abilities.
Get up early
Most Americans wake up between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., 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 a.m.?
Getting such an early start 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.
However, keep in mind that early rising is not for everyone, particularly if we are sacrificing sleep in the process.
So, do give it a try, but don’t feel too bad if it doesn’t work for you.
The most important thing we can do is listen to our bodies and note the times of day when we usually feel most awake and most tired. Then, we can plan our days accordingly.
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, and thus more likely to be productive.
In fact, the impact of exercise on employee performance is so strong that many companies have taken steps to include exercise in the regular workday. Perhaps we should make it a habit too.
Plan meals in advance
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.
While there is much scientific research supporting the link between nutrition and workplace productivity, maintaining a healthy diet while working is not always as easy as it is recommendable.
Planning in advance helps us prepare the resources and carve out the necessary time to ensure we eat healthy while working.
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.
Eat your breakfast
Many people 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).
Furthermore, studies have shown that skipping breakfast can have many adverse effects, such as decreased short-term memory and lack of concentration.
Call it common wisdom or a scientific fact — but a hearty breakfast will set you up for high performance.
Drink plenty of water
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.
The findings of a recent study show that proper hydration has a particularly emphasized positive effect on mood and vidual attention, while dehydration has a negative effect on short-term memory, concentration, and mood.
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.
Keep a To-Do list
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.
💡 Clockify pro tip:
Keeping an effective to-do list is a bit of a delicate art, and they can come in a variety of shapes and purposes. Find the right to-do list for you and start planning smarter with:
Set your own deadlines
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 better, and what you need to do first.
💡 Clockify pro tip:
Deciding on your priorities can be confusing. Learn how to properly set your priorities and make better use of your time with our guide:
Many professionals find it hard to find motivation in a deadline-free environment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the No. 1 piece of advice for overcoming this situation is to — wait for it — make a deadline! Depending on the nature of the task, you can set daily or weekly milestones, or set a fixed date for the task completion. Defining the timeline has a twofold effect — it helps you get a better grasp of the scope of work, and it provides you with a sense of urgency to get things done.
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.
The biggest value of setting goals lies in defining and detailing the roadmap towards their achievement. It turns abstract wishes into concrete plans that help us envision the actions and the effort needed to realize our objectives.
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.
Visualizing the goals you set can boost your teams’ productivity by 18%, according to this timeline article.
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.
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 motivated 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.
According to a study conducted by Cornell University researchers Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Woolley, delayed rewards are the foundation of long-term planning. However, smaller immediate rewards serve as a far stronger motivator in persisting in the pursuit of a long-term goal. In other words, it is perfectly fine (and even recommendable) to occasionally treat yourself for your good work.
Make good use of commute time
Dead time you’re bound to lose every day, stuck in traffic, or doomed to a long train or bus ride to work — that’s how commute time is usually described.
Our new COVID-impacted reality has placed a greater focus on (the absence) of commuting, with some studies going as far as to state that long commuting kills productivity, particularly among the highest-performing employees. Even pre-pandemic studies have determined that the type and the duration of the commute impact productivity, with short-distance and active commuting having the most positive impact.
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.
Track time you spend on tasks (and aim to limit it)
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 that 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. Time tracking allows us to identify areas and roots of sub-optimal performance and start making the first steps towards making the most of our time and effort. You can learn about some of those steps through our guide to best practices for time tracking.
Do your worst first
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 technique.
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.
Furthermore, the proverbial frog is often the most important task in your workload, which is why it makes perfect sense to dedicate your peak energy periods to its resolution and save the rest for low-priority tasks.
Disclaimer: “eating the frog” is not a substitute for a proper breakfast.
Follow the “2-minute rule”
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. You’ll also be much less likely to procrastinate.
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. Just watch out for any apples falling on your head.
Work in intervals (and take breaks)
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.
Of course, the 90-minute cycle is not carved in stone and there are almost countless time management techniques that offer their twist on the work-rest equation.
For starters, you can try out the popular 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, once again, you can tweak this time to fit your needs better.
💡 Clockify pro tip:
- For the ultimate Pomodoro experience, try the Clockify extensions for Chrome and Firefox — you’ll get a built-in Pomodoro timer that notifies you when your 25-minute work session is done, and reminds you when it’s time to resume work after your 5-minute break. You can also define custom time for your work sessions and breaks, and include a recurring longer break.
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.
Of course, things aren’t entirely black and white, as one study shows that the performance greatly depends on the degree of multitasking — errors are more common and more severe when juggling tasks at a higher level.
Therefore, you can give yourself a little bit of leeway with multitasking — but you should definitely not make it your modus operandi.
💡 Clockify pro tip:
Whether a matter of necessity or preference, multitasking can be a serious obstacle to productivity. Learn how to better juggle your responsibilities with our guide:
Don’t be a perfectionist
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).
University of Kent professor Joachim Stoeber differentiates perfectionist strivings and perfectionist concerns.
According to Stoeber, perfectionist strivings have an entirely positive, motivational quality and impact on performance.
Perfectionist concerns, however, are unhealthy and can have a negative impact not only on performance but also on mental health and general well-being.
Don’t skip meals
People often decide to power through their workdays by skipping meals and staying at their desks — but this practice does more harm than good.
Sticking to consistent eating patterns in the workplace improves our cognitive performance. A combination of mental breaks and the necessary nourishment for our body and our brain is what keeps us focused and alert over an extended period of time.
Unless you eat regularly your glucose levels will drop, and you’ll be less concentrated, moodier, and less likely to be productive.
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.
Many of us are reluctant to refuse additional work, as we fear our colleagues may perceive us as rude, selfish, or any other variety of the dreaded “difficult” label. There are, however, constructive and respectful ways to say “No” without harming professional relationships. Ultimately, avoiding stretching yourself too far will benefit your performance, and thus the organization as a whole.
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.
According to a recent study, employees who are more susceptible to online distractions in the workplace experience significant increases in focus and productivity when those distractions are blocked. In other words, if our attention is not consistently interrupted by external factors, it is a pretty safe bet that our performance will improve.
So, 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.
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. Constant exposure to different streams of information makes us distracted, more mistake-prone, and less engaged with our core work.
Limiting information is, essentially, about prioritizing: our time, our tasks, our responsibilities. It is the process of choosing the required or optimal amount of information relevant to our current work, while blocking and/or ignoring any other sources of information.
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.
Listen to productivity-boosting music
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.
The greatest benefit of music recognized by scientific research is not its impact on cognitive performance, but its relaxing quality. In other words, music puts us in a pleasant state of mind, which then indirectly impacts our attitude towards work itself.
Of course, music is not equally suited for every kind of work.
Even those of us who never take our headphones off will occasionally turn the music off for deep-focus, high-attention tasks.
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.
A growing number of companies are going as far as to enable and encourage workplace napping as a productivity resource. This is not necessarily an unfounded trend, as recent scientific research has suggested that early afternoon napping increases alertness and overall cognitive performance.
Perhaps it won’t be long before we see workplace napping lose its long-held stigma.
Practice a hobby
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.
Hobbies are a big part of the eternal work-life seesaw. In the context of our workplace performance, they don’t need to be a separate entity from our work, but its supplement that can not only expand our skillset, but also keep us positive, inspired, and engaged. If you’re looking for an engaging hobby to take up, our extensive list of productive hobbies might give you a few ideas.
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 the batteries needed for tomorrow.
Furthermore, you can take steps in the workplace itself and establish practices and boundaries to prevent being overwhelmed by work. A lot of excessive time and stress dedicated to work can be prevented by timely planning, optimization of processes, and prioritization of our time and our effort. Working more efficiently allows us to switch off and regenerate.
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.
✉️ The productivity tips we have provided here are hardly the only performance-boosting activities you can choose. We are certain that professionals around the world use various other productivity hacks to good effect. What works for you? Do you have any particular tricks and practices to help you perform better? We love finding new ways to improve, so feel free to share your ideas with us at firstname.lastname@example.org — we may include your productivity tips to this or a future blog post!