As the business world continues to run ever-faster, productivity is increasingly important for success. But what is it that makes us more productive?
Many articles have been published about productivity, by publications ranging from Harvard Business Review to Medium, a blog-publishing platform founded by Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams. It’s a topic everyone seems to be talking about these days. Here at LifeHealthPro.com we have also published our fair share of productivity tips, apps and even podcasts.
This time, we scoured the Internet to find the best advice on how to help you become more productive — and I will say that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there. We have culled the very best of these to present ten productivity tips, and some pros and cons to each one.
Do you have your own tips on how to become more productive? Leave them in the comments below.
10. Set daily goals.
Sure, you have set yearly, quarterly and monthly goals. But have you set your daily goals? How many cold calls, emails, in-person meetings have you planned for tomorrow?
Planning a day ahead will help you curb distractions and maintain your focus on what you need to get done that day. Make sure to set simple goals that are realistic enough for you to accomplish in eight or ten hours at the office. Then, get to work!
Pros: You know what the day ahead looks like and what you need to do to accomplish it.
Cons: What if you don’t make your daily goals? Don’t stew on failing … move on. Adjust your goals and be as honest and as real as you can with yourself in terms of what your work bandwidth really looks like, until you find your happy medium.
9. Figure out your ebb and flow.
Just as there’s an ebb and flow to the ocean, we all have our own flows of energy. There are times where we are highly focused and other times we are are easily distracted. This might also depend on your daily routine, the time of day and other factors, such as the weather.
Map out the times of day that you feel the most focused, clear and energized and use those to your advantage: Plan your most intensive or complicated work during this time. Then, tackle work that is lower-priority during your times of lower energy.
Pros: It feels great to see that you’re making a dent in your workload.
Cons: It might take a little bit of time to figure out your ebb and flow, but give it time, and don’t give up! Think of yourself as a football star: knowing your strengths and weaknesses only works to your advantage.
See also: Are you being effective or just busy?
8. Short bursts vs. long bursts
After you’ve figured out the time of day when you have the most focus, open your calendar app or Outlook Calendar and block out a three-to-four hour time frame to work on your most important project. Do not let anything interrupt you.
Is this a realistic approach to your day? For some of us, who are constantly juggling between urgent emails, calls, webinars and social media, this sometimes is not possible, unless we give a few weeks’ notice to all of our clients.
If you fall into this category, try to find at least a couple 30- or 60-minute blocks of time, perhaps time that you would usually spend catching up on email. Take that time back! Set “micro-goals” by looking at tomorrow’s calendar and identifying the “time gaps” between appointments in your schedule. Then, create a list to get them done. Be aware, of course, that these micro-goals might need to be flexible enough for the unexpected client call or urgent email.
Pros: It feels great to get things done in a short amount of time that otherwise might be spent gazing at less important stuff.
Cons: “This all sounds like Utopia.” Well, let’s not get too snarky here. Try it for a little while. Like everything in life, if you don’t try it, you don’t know if it’s going to work for you. As you experiment, you can tweak these tips to make them work to your advantage.
7. “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”
Before you start singing this very famous Mary Poppins song, let’s take the lyric apart: Why does the sugar make the medicine go down? Because we all love sugar, and medicine tastes terrible. Disguising it with the sweetness helps make it more palatable.
How can we apply this to being more productive? Take that bitter pill first: If you avoid it, it will only get more bitter. Do the task you least want to do quickly — maybe with a bit of sugar (and caffeine)! In the end, the sense of relief and accomplishment that you’ll feel will be well worth the effort.
Work on your worst task first, and create that momentum for being your own superhero for the rest of the day.
Pros: The feeling of accomplishment at the end.
Cons: Getting started can be difficult, but push through it. Superman never quits, even when there’s Kryptonite around. Neither did Mary Poppins. She worked relentlessly to show the Banks family the joy of being a kid again.
See also: 8 ways to beat procrastination
6. Prioritize prioritizing
Write down what your priorities look like and maybe use a process to get these tasks done. For example, some people like to number the tasks on their lists from 1 to 10, with 1 being the top priority and 10 the last.
Other people use the “step method” in which they assign the top three priorities for that day to three different steps: The top of the stairs would be the most important, and so on. As your day goes on, maybe one of those priorities “falls down a step,” and the next one can take its place. It could be that you got one big part of a project done, and the next part isn’t as important as something else that deserves your attention right now.
Another method could be batching, in which you group similar tasks together and complete them. You can use this process to handle phone calls, emails or errands.
Also, consider the time that you will spend on each task and the best time of the day or week to complete it.
Pros: Visualizing the tasks you have in front of you and identifying what deserves your foremost attention will help you plan out your days and weeks.
Cons: I know, the “step method” seems somewhat complicated, and switching tasks might take away from your focus. It might also seem like you’re leaving some tasks unfinished on the table. This is one you’ll have to try to determine if it works for you.
5. Take a break; go for a walk.
Exercise is the best brain-boosting substance known to man. Your brain loves endorphins, which tend to bring clarity to your work. So make time to walk for at least 30 minutes daily. It could be during a mid-morning break, your lunch hour, or a quick afternoon exercise break with your dog.
Another upside of exercising is the fact that you’ll be healthier and feel better all-around.
Small breaks can help, too. Looking away from the computer to a photo of a loved one, or even watching a funny cat video, can help reenergize your day. No one can work with a full focus for eight straight hours (or ten, or twelve). When you’re not focused, you tend to make more mistakes.
Pros: Healthier living, happier days, a clear mind … and many more.
Cons: None. Period.
4. Establish a routine.
What is the first thing you do in the morning after waking up? What’s the second thing? Figure out what you do and what gobbles up your time. In short, which activities add value to your life and day? Keep those. And which activities subtract from that value? Away with those!
Having a routine makes you more productive because we tend to be very good at executing patterns; everything else can be automated. For example, responding to routine requests and archiving emails — say it with me — automate!
Pros: It feels great to get that inbox to 0 messages, doesn’t it?
Cons: Finding an email app management that works for you, setting rules within your inbox, or figuring out the “how” can get you stuck. If this happens, do a quick Google — or LifeHealthPro.com — search for the best ways to automate these tasks.
See also: 9 tech tools to increase productivity
3. Do NOT multi-task.
When you read multi-task, what does this word mean to you? One way to define it is: “rapidly switching between tasks.” So, this includes taking a quick look your email — which I just did because there was a notification coming in that I had an email — or anything that takes away your full attention.
It IS difficult to not look at some of the notifications, emails, texts, blippy-sounds that are constantly surrounding our very technologically advanced world these days. But if you have to get things done, you must re-train yourself to avoid distraction at all costs. Assign a block of your day to tackle email, to reply to comments on your blog, to engage with people on social media. Or better yet, delegate those tasks to others in your team.
To this same point, close all those applications that are competing for your attention. It’s difficult, I know. But close them right now. I’ll wait …
When your attention is called away from the main task at hand, you lose precious time to regain your focus.
Pros: Getting through your tasks will seem faster, which will free up more time.
Cons: But how do I stop looking at the notifications? Turn them off. Assign a specific channel for “emergencies” — and define emergency while you are at it.
2. Get some tunes.
What kind of music gets you going? Identify the type of tunes that help you concentrate, and then make use of it!
In my experience, I’ve found that some electronic music without lyrics sets the tempo for different tasks: If I’m doing somewhat automatic tasks, such as pushing out posts on social media, I tend to prefer music with faster beats per minute and maybe some vocals. But if I’m in the middle of an article, it’s all about a constant beat without ANY vocals, which helps keep my focus on the piece. This is what works for me. (Read this article for more about this topic.)
1. Get creative and have fun.
What do you like to do for fun? If it’s drawing, keep a sketchbook and colored pencils handy, or have a white board or chalkboard in your office to doodle on. If it’s dancing, take a five-minute break and move around at some point during the day.
Do you like writing? Keep a journal nearby and write down whatever pops into your mind. (In fact, I would recommend this to anyone, even those who are not passionate about writing, because this is how you keep track of those random ideas. You never know when the Muses will strike.)
Do you like cooking? Cooking is one of the most creative ways to express oneself. Cook more often.
Pros: Finding the joie de vivre in everyday tasks will help you get through to them.
Cons: There are no cons to this tip. We were all kids once and we can tap into that now that we are “kidults” again.
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