For some people, being more productive is wishful thinking and often an unfulfilled, lifelong dream. For others, it’s a motivating life-changer.
With busy lives made even more complicated by being constantly plugged-in, sending texts, tweets, replying to posts and e-mails and getting bombarded by outside stimuli and distractions, a lot of people end up wasting time and chronically get sidetracked about any goals they may have set for themselves. “There aren’t enough hours in a day” is a familiar excuse.
The newer suggestion — to work smarter, not harder — makes refreshing sense.
According to time management experts and formerly unproductive people who have found the secrets to effective productivity, achieving more with less effort — to take control of your days, your energy, and your resources to experience more success in your life — is life-changing. Here’s how to do it:
1. Do Less, Not More
Many driven people’s vision of success requires them to always do more, more and more. They invariably have long lists of things they need to do as high-achievers. It ends up spreading some people far too thin.
Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most successful people, says the most important key to business is learning to say ‘No’ to more things. Many time-management coaches agree. The best way to start being productive and creating more success is to subtract, not add.
2. Develop Routines
Productive individuals are creatures of habit. They make productivity habitual — being productive is what they do.
It all starts with having effective routines. These aren’t routines that leave an individual braindead, but routines that enable growth, development and making the most out of the time in a day. Adopting a routine of effective productivity is vital. A study of massively productive people like Stephen King, John Grisham and Thomas Edison showed that the consistent thread of their success is strict daily routines that dictate when they get up, when they start work, when they exercise and when they relax.
Peak productivity is not about luck — it’s about devotion. Getting up early works for many (but not all) productive-types. How you get up is another thing. Rather than using an alarm that makes you scramble and dread the day ahead, try your kind of music!
3. Try the Timer Trick
The Pomodoro technique is where you set a timer for 25 minutes (or longer when you’re used to it) and switch off all other stimuli, while working non-stop on the most important tasks or projects. Some people use a simple kitchen timer and work in 45 minute bursts.
At the end of each session of high productivity, they take a break. It may include stretching, lifting weights, doing brain training exercises, or engaging in silent mindful meditation.
4. Reduce Decision Fatigue
It may sound airy-fairy, but it has been a legit topic of research for scientists and management consultants alike. Everybody’s willpower and judgement gets affected as a result of making decisions all day, every day. People get tired of making decisions and it saps their productivity.
Plan ahead, especially the night before. Legendary productivity heroes like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein famously chose to wear the same outfit each day so they could devote their mental energy to being creative, productive and worthwhile.
5. Prioritize Tasks
Experts suggest dealing with smaller, simpler and easier tasks to start the day. Don’t start with a crisis. Zuckerberg says, “A simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.”
Try the WMIT — What’s Most Important Test — a helpful tool for identifying top priorities.
6. Sleep Well
Good quality sleep recharges, restores and fortifies the brain and enhances the ability to be productive. Figure out how to sleep better, and do it! Think of your sleep hygiene: do not have any electronic light fizzing your brain for an hour before bed, make sure your bedroom is the right temperature, your bed is comfortable, do not eat or exercise too close to sleep time, and cut down on caffeine and alcohol close to bed time.
A lot of restorative, energising, replenishing, repairing work occurs in the brain during sleep. Not enough, or poor quality sleep affects energy levels in the day. Consider going to bed earlier. You’ll get more sleep and will wake up more refreshed.
7. Practice the Art of De-Cluttering
You do not have to wait until spring for a tidy up and de-clutter session. Having a purge of the space you spend time in can really uplift and energise as well as feeling like it is clearing the mind. Just a single cupboard or set of drawers works wonders and leaves many feeling great afterwards. Stepping into a work space that has been de-cluttered can make us feel very productive and energised.
8. Watch Your Health and Activity
Eating foods with healthy fats help us to be energized for longer, and science suggests they are good for cognitive functioning, better focus and clarity. And don’t forget exercise! At least 20 minutes a day boosts the intake of oxygen to the brain.
9. Do What You Love
It’s a proven motivator. When you set yourself goals, don’t include things that you feel you ‘should’ be doing or ’should’ be achieving. Make it about the things that you want — or even better, engage with things that excite you.
Create work that you are proud of. Being productive is so much easier when you enjoy it.
Contrary to pop myth, multi-taskers are NOT heroes! More importantly, they’re usually not more productive. New research confirms that all the distractions invading our lives are rewiring the way our brains work (and dropping our IQ by 5 points!). Stick to one thing at a time for more success.
11. Take Time-Outs
Do not just step away from your desk — step out of your work environment for regular breaks. Punctuate each hour with at least a small break and ensure your day has plenty of breaks in it. A good way that we all know to be more productive is to get unplugged, let go and rejuvenate. When you’re on one of your breaks, move your body! Stroll, walk, stretch, shake and get your body moving differently.
12. Listen to Music
Whatever kind of music gets you going and gives you a shot of energy will do. Music has been proven to lift us up and out of a slump, and music energizes us if we need it.
Dance music. Rock. Heavy metal. Country. Pop. Whatever works! Some research suggests that people who listened to classical music such as Bach and Mozart increased productivity levels and were better at problem solving and more creative.
13. Take a Power Nap
It’s not just folklore. It’s been proven by research that a nap, ranging from 5-30 minutes in length, can be incredibly healthy. Beware: too much nap can make us groggy. The power nap helps reduce stress, increases alertness, and is good for the heart.
Research in Greece on over 20,000 people showed that a 30-minute nap three times a week reduced risk of heart related illness by 37 percent and added to cognitive functioning.
14. Write a Stop-Doing List
Every productive person obsessively creates To Do Lists, but those who play at world-class levels also record what they commit to stop doing. Steve Jobs said that what made Apple great was not so much what they chose to build — but all the projects they chose to ignore.
15. Create Action Plans
Action plans are essential to being effective and productive. Establish on-target action plan timelines and stick to them.
16. Drink More Water
When you’re dehydrated, you have far less energy, and get less done. Drink more water to keep that energy up!
17. Don’t Say Yes to Everything!
Most of us have a deep need to be liked. That translates into us saying yes to everything – which spells the end of your effectiveness and productivity. Choose your projects wisely so you can excel at them.
18. Get Lost
Don’t be so available to everyone. Spend some time intentionally MIA. Turn off your e-devices. Go ahead! You’ll survive.
Think. Create. Plan. Write. Zero interruptions. Pure focus. Productivity will happen.
19. Manage Your Time and Projects
Tackle the sordid time-wasters that zap your productivity. All hours aren’t equal. Understand your own personal peak productivity zones. Be a contrarian when you need to.
Why buy your groceries at the time the store is busiest? Why go to movies on the most popular nights? Why hit the gym when the gym’s completely full? Optimize your time for peak productivity.
20. Minimize Meetings
Don’t do so many meetings. A super-successful CEO has admitted that he avoids meetings whenever possible. He calls meetings “administrivia.” If you’re not getting any real value out of meetings, cut them out of your life.