30 Simple Hacks to Increase Your Productivity
**CLOSE THE GAP BETWEEN 3 0*** Update graphic to correct number, try to edit down to 3,000 words.
Do you ever feel like you're overwhelmingly busy, but without much to show for it at the end of the day?
Like you're always in motion, yet somehow never getting anywhere?
Like the more that you fight to try and do everything (and do it well of course, like the overachiever that you are), the more distant you feel from actually achieving your goals?
I know I have!
And the secret, I've learned, is not necessarily to work harder (especially for many of us Type A personalities already putting in long hours). In fact a lot of the time, it may be a lack of rest that is the root of our productivity woes.
No - the secret of a more productive life is to work smarter. **Feels like there should be more of a transition here***
So here are my top tips for being your most productive self!
PART 1: CLARITY
Tip #1: Set your intention
It sounds simple, but so many of us show up to work or to the gym or to our favorite hipstery Brooklynesque café and think, "okay, I'm ready to be productive," but once there, we realize we don't really have a clear plan of where to start or what we actually intend to do.
Show up to your work session knowing exactly what you're there to achieve.
Your intention should be results-oriented. So, for example, if I've set aside 3 hours to work on my blog, my intention wouldn't be to simply "Work on blog" or even to "Write blog posts", but something more like "Write 2 blog posts and create 4 corresponding Pinterest graphics."
Give yourself something concrete to aim for.
Tip #2: every day, Ask yourself this key question...
"What’s the ONE THING I can do such that, by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"
This question, posed by Gary Keller in his book The ONE Thing, helps you to keep the big picture in mind, but take small, focused action here and now.
It acknowledges that not all possible uses of your time matter equally and therefore it's not about how many boxes you check off your to-do list, but rather doing those activities that return the most value for your time investment and move you consistently towards your ultimate goal.
How do you know which activities are most important? Keller suggests an approach he calls, "Goal Setting to the Now".
This is essentially where you start with the big picture, asking yourself "What is the ONE thing I can do someday that is in alignment with my purpose, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?". In other words, what is the major contribution you want to make to the world?
You then continue asking yourself this question, but changing the time frame - What is the ONE thing I can do in...
- the next 5 years
- the next 1 year
- the next month
- the next week
- right now
*Pssst... Gary has a workbook that walks you through this process available for free on his website here
We humans are terrible about procrastinating and not taking action when the reward for our efforts feels far off in the future, so bad that we may never even muster up the motivation to start.
The point of this exercise is to help you see the connection between how what you do today impacts what will be able to accomplish someday.
"Success is sequential, not simultaneous." You don't have to do it all. In fact, you can't. You just have to take the appropriate action at the appropriate time...
Tip #3: Once you've decided on your goals... WRITE them DOWN!
Yes, I know, you've heard this a million times before, but that's because it works! The research is plentiful. One study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University of California found that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals, simply by writing them down on a regular basis. I don't know about you, but when it comes to achieving my goals, I'm all for easy ways to tip the odds in my favor. Try it!
Tip #4: Find someone to keep you accountable
Combine tip #3 with this tip and you've improved your odds of actually accomplishing your goal enormously.
Dr. Matthews also found that individuals who wrote down their goals and sent progress reports to their friends were 76.7% more likely to achieve them. C-R-A-Z-Y!
Your accountability partner could be a friend, a mastermind group, someone who is also working on a similar challenge, a coach that you hire or a mentor, an online community - the options are really endless, but the point is to make sure that somebody out there is holding you accountable for doing what you say you are going to do. This added social pressure to perform lights a fire under us that gets shit done. Use it to your advantage!
Tip #5: Apply the Pareto Principle your To-Do List
At the most basic level, the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule and the Law of Vital Few) says that 20% of our efforts produce 80% of our results. We often treat all tasks as equal when the reality is, that's simply not true.
In order to determine where to focus your efforts, try this exercise suggested by Geoffrey James on Inc.com:
"When you make a to-do list, prioritize each item by the amount of effort required (1 to 10, with 1 being the least amount of effort) and the potential positive results (1 to 10, with 10 being the highest impact).
Now, divide the amount of effort by the potential results to get a "priority" ranking.
Do the items with the lowest resulting priority number first."
So for example, in a given day I might need to...
- Write a blog post (Effort: 8, Result: 4, Priority: 2)
- Optimize website content for SEO (Effort: 10, Result: 2, Priority: 5)
- Write and send out a promotional email for my course launch that is happening tomorrow (Effort: 5, Result: 10, Priority: 0.5 )
Based on these numbers, I would choose to prioritize writing and sending my promo e-mail followed by writing a blog post and then optimizing my website content for SEO.
The most important thing is that you make sure the 20% of tasks that are driving 80% of your results are your primary focus and get done. The other 80% of things you think you need to do should remain tabled until this happens, or if possible, eliminated altogether.
Tip #6: Define a clear metric for success and track it
Vague goals don't get accomplished. For each goal that you undertake, you need to define success in a specific, measurable way. For example, you may decide that you want to "get in better shape", but what does that actually mean? How do you know if you've actually achieved your goal?
So you might get more specific and say, "okay, I want to lose 20 pounds in the next 3 months," which gives you something concrete to aim for, but there's still a problem here...
In Cal Newport's book Deep Work (***link***), he discusses the difference between lag measures and lead measures.
Lag measures describe the thing that you ultimately want to change or improve (i.e. your weight). The problem with these, Newport says, is that "when you receive them, the behavior that drove them is already in the past."
Instead you should focus on a lead measure which is the new behavior that will ultimately drive success in the lag measure as well. The important thing is the behavior you identify with the lead measure is directly under your control.
So in this instance, you might make your success metric the number of days per week you make it to the gym. That is something YOU control, and the more you focus on increasing this number, the more likely you are to lose those 20 pounds as well.
Also, it's important to track your progress in a tangible way. According to research from the American Psychological Association, the more frequently you check in on your progress toward your goal, the more likely you are to succeed. Additionally, being able to visually see your progress helps you celebrate the small wins and can provide that extra burst of motivation and focus you need to keep going day after day.
Tip #7: Awareness is key: Conduct a time audit
It's hard to improve your productivity when you don't even have a real grasp on how you're currently using your time.
Research suggests that young adults use their smartphone roughly twice as much as they think they do, averaging five hours per day.
Similar studies have shown that we have a tendency to underestimate how much time we spend watching tv and surfing the web.
Before you can reclaim control of your time, you have to get real with yourself about where it's all going now. I recommend downloading the Google Chrome extension RescueTime to see where your time online is truly going and the app Moment to track how much screen time you are logging on your smartphone.
Another tip is to focus on identifying your distraction triggers. Whenever you find yourself off track, write down what it was that first led you down the rabbit hole of distraction so that you adjust your habits and environment accordingly and prevent it from happening as often in the future.
*Psst.. I made a free Distraction Trigger worksheet for you, available to download here.
Tip #8: Create your "Not To-Do" List
Perhaps just as important as the things we do do (lol) when we sit down to work are the things that we don't.
Take some time to create a list of things that you won't do when you sit down to get to work. This could include things like not checking email before 10AM, not using social media until your most important task is done, or not taking calls from unrecognized phone numbers.
Tip # 9: Embrace the power of saying "No"
Sometimes the issue is not that you need to work more effectively - it's that you're simply trying to do too much.
Before making a new commitment, take a moment to ask yourself:
- Will this task help bring me closer to my ultimate goal?
- What am I saying no to by saying "yes" to this request?
- Am I compelled to say yes to this because it is something I truly want to do or see value in, or am I just afraid to hurt someone's feelings?
This is something I used to MAJORLY struggle with (and sometimes still do), but a few words of wisdom I've come across help me whenever I find myself in a situation where I need to make a choice.
- When faced with a new request, I use Brené Brown's mantra "Choose discomfort over resentment." As someone who HATES confrontation, I used to say "yes" to things just because I couldn't stand the discomfort in the moment of saying no.
Take it from me, this is never a good idea. It's always easier to say no upfront than to be stuck with the burden and festering resentment that will inevitably come afterwards.
As Tim Ferriss says, "A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have."
- If it's not a hell yeah, then it's a no. This idea, popularized by Derek Sivers in his book Anything You Want, helps you remember that you can do anything but not everything.
If you fill your plate with several merely good activities, then you won't have the bandwidth to say "HELL YEAH" when a truly great one comes along.
So you get it, you need to start saying "No" more often, but how? Don't worry amigos, as someone who has been tormented by this question in the past, I decided to write up a whole blog post on tips for saying no gracefully.
Tip # __ Approach your work like a series of sprints, not a marathon.
The most productive people are not the ones who put in the most hours. Doing in 8 hours what can be done in 4 with more efficient systems is not productive at all, yet it’s how most of us spend our 9-to-5 work days. The secret to being more productive is not trying to cultivate the discipline to work diligently for hours at a time nonstop. In fact, our bodies weren’t wired for this at all and attempting to force this to happen is futile and a waste of your precious time.
Instead it’s much better to organize your day as if it were a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session at the gym where you give short bursts of all out effort followed by a period of rest and recovery.
THIS is how you get shit done my friends.
Try working in 90 minute blocks with breaks of 20-30 minutes in between. I personally divide the majority of my creative work into 3 90 minute “sprints” which has VASTLY increased my productivity from the days where I often worked from 6 or 7am until 6 or 7pm. (For more on how I organize my days for success, see this article)
Also, the key is to make sure that your breaks are energizing and renewing, not even more draining than your work. This means, movement (I like to take 15-20 minutes for yoga), maybe a healthy snack to restore energy levels, a conversation with a colleague or a call home to check in on the family, NOT leaving your computer screen to instead stare at your phone screen and browse social media or read the news.
Tip #10 write down distracting thoughts
Why is it that when we finally sit down to work, we suddenly remember all of the things we forgot to do or get hit with tons of awesome ideas?
This used to happen to me ALL OF THE TIME and I'd find myself thinking "wellll I'll just take 5 minutes to google this really quick" or "better just pay that bill now while I'm thinking about it so I don't forget". But this is a MAJOR PRODUCTIVITY KILLER.
The issue is, simply ignoring these thoughts and ideas can be just as detrimental to your productivity as giving in to them. A phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect demonstrates that we're able to recall interrupted tasks 90% better than those we complete. This suggests that the simple desire to complete a task can cause it to continue to take up valuable mental real estate until we complete it.
To solve this, I always start my work sessions with a blank sheet of paper on my desk that I call my "Brain Dump." Whenever a distracting thought or idea I don't want to forget crosses my mind, I write it down to come back to later. This keeps me from getting distracted in the moment, but also clears it from my mind because I know I'll be able to come back to it at a more appropriate time.
Tip #11: Keep Your Phone Out of Sight, Out of Mind
A study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found that your cognitive capacity is significantly reduced whenever your smart phone is in reach - even if it's off. Even if you don't consciously register the distraction, the more noticeable your cell phone is, the less available cognitive resources you have available to focus.
If possible, try keeping your phone in a different room than your office or work area. Depending on your work environment, sometimes that isn't a realistic option, and though less effective than keeping it another room, I personally keep my phone hidden away in a desk drawer the majority of the day. It's done wonders for my productivity!
Tip #12 - Don't Read or Watch the News in the Morning (or at all)
First of all, your brain has a limited ability to absorb and process information throughout the day, don't waste precious resources on what is mostly odd, unuseful information before your most important tasks are done.
Two, news content is literally designed to be addictive. News organizations only profit as much as they can keep your attention. Sensational headlines and stories to keep you hooked. You often end up spending way more time watching/reading than you originally intended and looking at things that mean nothing (is what Kim K. wore to the beach really more important than your life goals?)
Three, the majority of the news is overwhelmingly NEGATIVE. Studies have shown that the less negative TV we watch, specifically violent media, the happier we are. If you're going to perform at your best, you absolutely have to prioritize your mental state. Don't sabotage yourself.
Now does this mean you have to waltz through life unconcerned and uninformed? Not necessarily. The point is to consume your news intentionally and from high quality sources.
In the past I've read email newsletters like the Skimm and the Quartz Daily Brief to get a bite-sized overview of what's happening in the world, but now I pretty much avoid it altogether and I have to say, I'm quite happy with that decision!
**Delete the News Apps on your phone***
Tip #13 - Don't check your email until your most important task is complete
Ahh, email, the reigning evil super villain of productivity killing. Your email is essentially a stream of reactivity and other people's priorities. Before you get sucked into the black hole that is your inbox and make your day about everyone else and what they need, focus first on what is most important to you and advancing you towards your goals.
Checking your e-mail before your most important work and then resolving not to answer anyone until you complete your MIT is perhaps even worse than not checking it at all (see Zeigernik effect above), so until you're top priority task is complete - your email, it doesn't exist.
Tip #14 - Ban all Notifications
The entire point of a notification is to hijack your attention, so as a human attempting to be productive, why would you willingly opt in to that?
Turn off all notifications on your phone and computer - whether it's email, social media, random apps, all of it needs to go. As for texts and calls, I keep my phone on silent so I'm not distracted by them in the moment.
If there are certain calls or messages you can't miss, I still recommend keeping your phone on silent and scheduling regular breaks into your day to check and see if anything important has come in.
Tip # 15 Schedule your social media time, don’t use it as an open-ended filler activity.
A lot of us mindlessly default to scrolling our instagram feeds or seeing what’s going down on Facebook whenever we have a free moment or just feel like we need a quick break. This is one of the fastest ways to derail your focus and concentration. Instead of randomly turning to social media whenever an opportunity arises, consciously make it a part of your schedule (i.e. 1 hour from 7-8PM) and stick to it.
Social media platforms are literally built to be addictive, so remove the temptation by implementing rules instead of relying on fragile willpower.
Tip #16 - Make sure your workspace is clean and uncluttered.
Research shows that clutter reduces your brain’s ability to concentrate and process information by overloading your senses, depleting your mental energy, impairing your ability to think creatively and leaving you feeling anxious, fatigued and overwhelmed.
In fact, after examining the relationship between 32 families and the objects in their homes, UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) concluded that clutter has a strong effect on mood and self-esteem, particularly for women, whose amount of stress experienced at home was directly proportional to the amount of stuff that they and their family had accumulated.
Take a little extra time to keep it tidy and make your workspace work for you, not against you.
Tip #17 - Keep Water Nearby
Your brain is 85% water and even mild dehydration - before it even registers as thirst - can result in things like difficulty concentrating, fuzzy short term memory, brain fog, fatigue, emotional instability, and headaches. Yikes! The easiest solution? Keep a water bottle (hydroflask) with you at all times to sip on throughout the day.
Tip #18 - Focus Less on Managing Your Time and More on Managing Your Energy
Most of us use our highest energy time - early morning - for answering email and other shallow tasks, and then try to get to our most important, cognitively demanding work later in the afternoon when our energy is lagging and we feel depleted. You see the problem here?
Do your most important work first thing in the morning, when your energy is at its peak.
Also recognize the value of rest in recharging your energy. Make sure that you're scheduling short breaks in your workday for recovery.
Tip #19 - Eliminate as many decisions as possible
Decision fatigue is the deterioration of our ability to make good decisions after a long session of decision making.
In other words, the more decisions you need to make, the worse you’re going to be at weighing all the options and making a well-informed choice.
In order to avoid this, try to eliminate as many decisions from your day as possible, by planning ahead.
For example, you can:
- Plan and prepare your meals ahead of time
- Time-block your days
- Develop a set of "go-to" outfits so you don't have to think about what to wear.
- Program your workouts for the week in advance.
- Schedule when you are going to check and respond to email
Tip # __ - Quit multitasking
“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” - Steve Uzzell
In case you haven’t heard - multitasking doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, in most cases it doesn’t exist - at least not in the way that we think it does. Yes, people can actually do two or more things at once, such as walk and talk, but what we can’t do is focus on two things at once. While you think you are multitasking, what you are actually doing is task-switching, and experts estimate that this can cause a 40% loss in productivity.
Our brains have a finite amount of attention (and consequently productivity). Constantly switching back and forth between several tasks wastes this precious limited resource because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears. Plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport explains that when you switch tasks, your attention doesn’t immediately follow. A residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the previous task, even if you fully complete it, thwarting your ability to fully focus on the task at hand.
How do you minimize the effects of attention residue? Batching. Grouping similar tasks together such as emails, returning phone calls, or scheduling social media posts so you reduce the amount of productivity wasted between switching from one type of task to another. Less switches, less attention residue.
Tip #20 - Create positive rituals and routines
The brain responds well to cues, so one of the best way to create “discipline” in your life, is to simply do the most important things in your life at the same time each day. I.e. working out, work sessions, when you STOP working, waking up and going to sleep.
It becomes automatic, instead of something that you have to waste brain power thinking about.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you to maintain consistent times for the daily tasks of your life, the next best option is to make sure that you have actually delegated a time and place for that thing to occur each day (study on follow through without time and place - power of full engagement?)
Tip #21 Recognize your success at work, has just as much (or more) to do with your behavior outside of the office as it does inside the office.
A productive life is all about balancing your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy.
If any one of those areas suffers, it’s sure to impact the others, so it’s important to make self-care and maintaining harmony between the four energies a priority in our lives.
Some of the big ways we can/should do this:
Make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. I used to be SO BAD about this - literally only slept 3-4 hours per night for a while and it took a TERRIBLE toll on my body. For some not getting enough sleep is like a badge of honor, a testament to what a hard-working individual they are, but ask yourself if its really worth it to squeeze in that extra few hours of work late at night (which already have diminishing returns) if it means that you’ve sabotaged your performance the entire next day?
Fuel your body appropriately. PHYSICAL energy is the source that mental energy feeds off of. You can be the smartest, most capable person in the world, but without the proper fuel, you’re useless. So instead of cutting corners and eating junk when times get tough, double down on your efforts to make healthy choices (the easiest way to do this is to meal prep so that you aren’t stuck having to make food decisions in high stress situations).
Look after your relationships. Many of us put work first at the expense of those most important to us (I’ve definitely been guilty of this one), but strong, loving relationships are one of the biggest sources of emotional energy renewal, as well as a top predictor of happiness and longevity. Bear in mind it’s not the quantity of people in your life, it’s the quality.
Don’t neglect your spiritual needs. You don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. Taking time to reconnect with your values and purpose each day is essential to living a fulfilling life. It’s what gives us meaning! **Viktor Frankl** This can take many forms - meditation, prayer, simply reflecting on your values, visualization, etc. (Look in Power of Full for better methodologies)
So there you have it! Those are my top 2_ tips for being a more productive human.
Now I want to hear from you... What are your top tips for increasing productivity? What things do you find get in the way of your productivity? Let me know in the comments below.