On average, humans live for approximately 27,375 days. Are you making them count?
Productivity is the key to optimizing your life. It’s tough to improve the status quo if you don’t make room for new habits. That’s where productivity comes in. Productivity makes you more efficient. It allows you to find time to do the things that you really want to do.
But the importance of productivity isn’t just to do more in less time so that you can become even busier; when you’re efficient with your time and activities, you’ll end up with more free time so that you can work on self-development, enjoy your hobbies or just put your feet up and relax.
Most people don’t have productivity systems in place, though. You may have a to-do list or an idea of your goals. But do you take the time to consider whether your activities are efficient? Productivity and time management go hand in hand. In this article, we will go over some techniques to improve your productivity so that your time isn’t wasted unless you choose it to be.
Track Your Time
The first step to developing a productivity system is to become aware of your current level of productivity. People often say that they want to change something about their lives. They work hard to shift their mindset or alter their routines. But they usually forget the most important step—getting crystal clear on what is currently going on in their lives.
If you say that you want to get more done, do you know exactly what you’re currently getting done? You probably have an idea. But there are many pockets of time that seem to disappear into the ether when you don’t pay attention to your productivity.
People often complain that they don’t have enough time to do everything that they want to do. But they may not realize that they’re checking social media for two hours a day or texting for 35 minutes a day. If you realized that you could have an extra 2.5 hours in your day if you just put down your phone, imagine what you could get done.
That’s why it’s vital to track the time that you’re already spending on various tasks before you start implementing productivity hacks. Take a week to do this. Every day, use your planner, a notepad or an electronic calendar to make a note of what you do, when you do it and how much time you spend on it.
Don’t try to change anything; just keep track of the way that you currently spend your time. You may be surprised by what you learn by doing this exercise.
Every time you feel like you lack productivity, go back to this step. Sometimes, this type of clarity is all you need to make a meaningful change in your life.
You can adapt this exercise for use in any environment. If you’re a manager at work, track what your employees are doing with their time. If you’re a parent, keep track of how your kids use their time. Teachers can use this strategy to help their students become more productive.
Set a Schedule
Once you understand how much time you spend on different tasks, create a schedule. You’ll be better able to arrange your activities when you know exactly how long they take.
If you’re just starting out with a productivity system, you shouldn’t try to add tasks to your schedule. Take the activities that you already do every day and arrange them so that you know exactly when you’ll be doing them.
You may find that you can save time by clumping similar tasks together. For example, you may choose to check texts and emails in the morning and at night instead of sporadically during the day. When you do this, you may be able to put your phone down during other periods, freeing yourself up to be more productive with your other tasks.
Setting a schedule with your current workload (instead of adding to it) also helps you develop discipline. It’s not easy for everyone to stick to a timetable. However, being able to plan your time is crucial to being more productive.
You may not want to move forward with the other techniques in this article until you’re confident that you will be dedicated to the schedule that you set. Of course, you will need to be flexible from time to time.
But if you have a schedule, you can easily rearrange your program when something unexpected arises. In fact, maintaining a well-ordered routine can help prevent you from getting overwhelmed when your plans change. You might say that creating a schedule makes you more spontaneous in the long run.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of sticking to your schedule, you can begin to rearrange and optimize it. Some tips for effective scheduling include:
- Planning your schedule ahead of time
- Identifying the tasks that you need to complete, want to complete and would like to complete
- Identifying and scheduling in ongoing or routine tasks (like driving the kids to school or being at work)
- Evaluating how much free time you have outside of your regular activities
- Scheduling high-priority activities
- Scheduling breaks
As you read the rest of this article, keep in mind how you can incorporate the productivity improvement techniques that you learn into your daily schedule.
Develop a Morning Ritual
You might have been surprised when you read that one of the keys to effective scheduling is making time for breaks. Most people don’t take enough time for themselves. When you don’t give yourself downtime, you end up taking it anyway. However, by the time you give yourself that free time, you’re exhausted because you’ve been going, going, going.
Set the tone for your day by establishing a morning ritual. Many of the world’s most successful people tout their morning ritual for giving them the clarity and productivity that have helped them achieve their goals.
A morning ritual helps you get that vital time for yourself first thing in the morning. The perfect morning ritual calms your nervous system and quells anxiety. Instead of starting your day angry, frustrated, worried or anxious, you’ll begin with a clean slate and a breath of fresh air.
Most people don’t realize that they can condition themselves to start the day with a productive attitude. Your morning ritual should help you instill the emotions that you want to feel that day.
Your morning ritual should not involve major decision-making processes or anything that feels like hard work. This is your time to reflect, get grounded and nourish yourself.
Some examples for a morning ritual that can fuel your productivity for the rest of the day include:
- Drinking tea and listening to music
- Taking a bath
You don’t need a lot of time to perform your morning ritual. If you’re a busy parent, for example, you may not have any time to yourself as soon as you get up. You might consider setting your alarm clock 10 minutes earlier. Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, says that rising early has been instrumental in his success.
When you rise early, you can make sure that you do something that you want to do before you turn to your obligations. You might take a walk on the beach, work on a painting or play an instrument as the sun comes up. When you’ve already done something that’s intrinsically fulfilling, you won’t be as worn out when it comes time to work or do your chores.
Find a way to create a morning ritual that works for you. Perhaps you can put on soothing music and meditate in bed for five minutes as soon as you wake up or listen to a podcast on your way to work.
Also, consider what you need to set in motion in order to be productive for the rest of the day. For example, do you need to grind your coffee the night before so that all you need to do is turn on the coffee maker before you step into the shower? Do you need to launder and set out your gym clothes so that you can work out during your lunch break at work? Start your morning ritual the night before by prepping these items so you have less to worry about in the morning.
When you finish up your morning ritual, don’t tumble right into your long to-do list. Ramp up your productivity by writing down two things:
- How do I want to feel today?
- What’s the first thing I want to check off my to-do list?
Setting an intention for your attitude will help you prioritize your tasks. Jotting down the first thing that you want to get done gives you a head start on your productivity. This can be something related to work, or it can be something totally random. It can be something difficult or completely simple.
As soon as you get going on your daily schedule, make sure that you complete that first item so that you can check it off. Doing this also tells your subconscious mind that you’re the kind of person who follows through on what they do. You’ll be more likely to complete everything else on your to-do list when you believe in yourself.
Tackle the Hardest Thing First
Even though we just said that you could choose something easy or hard to cross off of your to-do list first, you might want to prioritize a challenging project or task for the early part of the day. Maybe this isn’t the item that you list during your morning routine but the first thing that you do when you get to work.
Making an effort to dig into a difficult project will help you focus before your day becomes even more distracting. Many people have more mental energy in the morning than they do at the end of the day. Working on a tough task when you’re clear-headed can help you get it done faster.
Plus, you’re more likely to procrastinate when you put something off until later. Get it done early, and you’ll begin the day feeling accomplished. This sense of triumph may motivate you to stay productive throughout the day.
Exercise is a great way to boost productivity throughout the day. Moving your body at a moderate level gets your circulation flowing and releases brain chemicals that improve your mood, enhance concentration and improve your attention.
If your mind is all over the place, bring it into focus by going for a five-minute walk. You may return to the task at hand with more energy.
You might also consider using a standing desk. A 2016 study conducted by Texas A&M University found that people who stood at their desks were almost 50 percent more productive than those who sat all day.
Critics of the study argue that it wasn’t conducted properly and the 50 percent boost in productivity is inflated. Other researchers have found mixed results when it comes to whether standing at a desk makes you more productive.
Even if you don’t get dramatic enhancements in productivity from standing, experts agree that doing so is good for your health. You burn about 30 percent more calories when you stand compared to sitting. You also reduce fatigue and improve your circulation. These health benefits could indirectly impact your productivity.
Whether you choose to sit or stand while you work, make sure that you take regular movement breaks. Stretching and changing your posture can refresh you so that you return to your task with enhanced vigor.
Cancel Your Meetings
Research shows that meetings are unproductive. The majority of people say that meetings prevent people from doing deeper thinking or tackling solo projects that they could otherwise handle efficiently.
When you hold a meeting, you have to take time to transition from what you’re doing to the focus of the gathering. You have to wait for people who may show up late. You may have to chit-chat with individuals after the meeting.
Before you waste your time holding a meeting, consider whether you really need to get your brains together to achieve your goals. Would you be better off brainstorming on your own and bringing the details together via text or email? If so, you can save yourself quite a bit of time and be much more productive.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method that helps you focus on one thing at a time and work at it diligently until it gets done. There are two tricks to using this method:
- Timing yourself
- Giving yourself breaks
The traditional Pomodoro Technique requires you to follow the steps below:
- Decide on a task that you want to complete
- Keep a paper and pen handy to keep track of your time
- Set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on the task until the timer rings
- Make a check mark on the paper, indicating that you’ve completed one Pomodoro
- Take a 5-minute break to do something enjoyable and unrelated to the task at hand
- Spend another 25 minutes on the task, using the timer.
- Make another check mark on the paper and take another 5-minute break
- Continue this process until you have four check marks on the paper
- Take a 25-30 minute break at that time
You can adapt this to work for you in a variety of ways. Choose a different time frame if it appeals to you. For example, if you have several shorter tasks to get done, try doing them for 10 minutes instead of 25.
The shorter time frame may encourage you to work faster. You can also use a short time frame to motivate yourself to work on a tough project. Once you work for 10 minutes, you may get the momentum to keep going.
The Pomodoro format is powerful. When you set a timer, you subconsciously know that it’s ticking away in the background, and you’re less likely to get distracted.
If you’ve tracked your time, as we suggested in the first part of this article, you should know exactly how long most routine tasks will take you. Therefore, you can use the Pomodoro Technique to ensure that you spend the appropriate amount of time on an activity. For example, if you know that you can write 500 words in 30 minutes, you can gauge whether you’re working up to speed.
Some people have trouble transitioning in and out of tasks in a 25-minute time frame, though. If you feel like you have trouble getting into the groove, tweak the time ratios to work for you. Some productivity research indicates that the ideal length of time to get things done efficiently is 52 minutes of work with a 17-minute break in between.
Experiment to learn what works best for you. Again, if you’ve done the time tracking, you can use your breaks to complete some of your tasks, like exercising and making dinner. For example, if you know that it takes you an hour to cook dinner, you can try timing a working task for 90 minutes before taking an hour-long break to put food on the table.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. Do what works for you.
Put Away Your Phone
When you’re attached to your phone, you tend to feel out of control. You may become irritated every time it buzzes, or become frustrated when texts come in that you have to return while you’re trying to focus on another task. Keep the phone out of sight unless you’re actively using it.
This is especially important in the morning. If you start your day feeling in control, you’re more likely to retain that attitude as time goes on.
Another way to be more in control of your smartphone usage is to turn off notifications on all of your apps. If you’re not going to respond right now anyway, does it matter if you get the notification? You’re going to check the important apps, such as your texts, emails, and social media messages, at some point regardless. Decide when you’ll do it, and schedule it into your routine.
You can also start limiting your phone usage to boost productivity in other areas. When you’ve done the time-tracking exercise for a week, you’ll have an idea of how long you spend looking at your phone, on average.
Challenge yourself to bring that number down. You probably won’t miss your phone, especially when you realize how much extra time it affords you.
We know that most people believe that their phones help them be more productive. But in the grand scheme of things, you’re not really going to be better off if you Google the answer to that burning question right now, are you?
Are you worried that you’ll miss urgent calls from your kids’ school or your family if you put your phone away? Keep it on Do Not Disturb, and add the important phone numbers to your favorites so that they come through. Most people don’t make phone calls unless it’s an emergency.
You may think that productivity is all about getting things done. But it also has a lot to do with the way that you feel. If you’re fatigued, sluggish and mopey, you’re probably not going to be as productive as you would if you were happy, excited and refreshed.
Therefore, make sure that you take time to enjoy the little things. Even though flowers won’t do your laundry and wash your dishes, stopping to smell them can rejuvenate you so that you have the drive to get those tasks done.
Even just smiling more throughout the day can perk up your mood and make you more productive. There are many health benefits associated with smiling, including:
- Reduced heart rate
- Less stress
- Better mood
- Increased attention
- Decreased pain
You might as well whistle while you work. You may accomplish more.
Write Down Your Goals
Many people have an idea of what they want to achieve—today, this week, this month, this year or in this lifetime—but they never write down their goals. If you’re not already setting and writing down your goals, start doing so. It will improve your productivity.
Start small, and begin today. Ask yourself, “What is my goal for the day?” Your answer could take any form, such as:
- Finish a book that you’re reading
- Call your mom
- Be more patient with your kids by avoiding yelling and spending 20 minutes of uninterrupted time with each of them
- Eat healthfully
- Do one thing that you’re afraid of
- Do one thing that you’ve been putting off
- Accomplish three things on your to-do list
Once you decide on your goal, think about what you need to do to make it even more specific. For example, if you want to finish the book that you’re reading, check how many chapters are left, and determine if it’s doable.
When do you have time to read today? You might realize that you can read during lunch and for two hours in the evening instead of watching TV. Perhaps you don’t have to finish the book—you might not be able to control whether you reach the end. When you write down the goal, phrase it in a way that you can control, such as, “Read during lunch and for two hours in the evening instead of turning on the TV.”
It seems so simple, but many people make the mistake of setting goals that are not specific, realistic or within their control. If you keep setting unattainable goals, you may get discouraged and abandon the process altogether. Instead, you may end up lying on the couch and watching TV before going to bed feeling totally unproductive.
As you get better at setting goals, you can incorporate them into every area of your life. You can set goals in different categories, such as:
- Personal growth
You can also set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals that build on one another to help you stay productive throughout the year. When these goals are written down, they’ll help you plan your schedule, write your to-do lists and stay focused on all of the things that you want to do. That attention will drive your motivation and, in turn, your productivity.
Do you work better under pressure? Don’t wait for someone else to give you a deadline. If you’ve been applying the steps that we’ve set forth so far in this article, you’ll be primed to set your own cutoff times.
Whether you’re writing a term paper or meal planning for the week, decide when you want to complete the task. Then, you can write down the deadline and schedule it in your planner. If you’re not sure how long the task will take, that’s ok. Time it, and then record the duration for next time.
Most productivity improvement techniques come down to time-management issues. Whenever you’re feeling completely unproductive, jolt yourself into productivity by trying the 10-minute rule. Do whatever you’ve been putting off for just 10 minutes. Hopefully, it will kick-start you into living a productive lifestyle.