If you can learn how to increase productivity, you can produce more. Producing more can mean rising higher, faster on the corporate ladder, doing more with less, and even earning more and working less. Even if you’re just tired of never crossing stuff off your to-do list, becoming more productive pays. Here are ten tips for learning how to increase productivity so you can get on a with living the life you want to live.
1. Track Everything
Let’s be crystal clear right away: you won’t get more productive until you know what success is, but you can’t know what success is--or how far you are from it--until you know where you are. That’s why tracking how you spend your time is vital. Americans are horrible about overestimating how much time they spend working and underestimating how much time they spend doing things like watching television. Spend at least three times--and if possible, thirty days--tracking what you’re doing every half hour. If you’re watching television and answering emails, record what you’re doing. If you’re commuting and playing Candy Crush, log it. Log your real wake up times--not just the time you want to wake up.
Most people realize two things right away:
- We spend a ton of time multitasking
- We spend a ton of time on things like hitting snooze, watching YouTube videos late into the night, and catching up on BuzzFeed while we’re “answering emails.”
2. Get Clear on What Success Means
Success can mean a lot of different things for a lot of people--a bigger house, more accolades at work, a corporate suite job, or lavish vacations, just to name a few ideas. You will find yourself inherently difficult to motivate towards greater productivity, however, if you’re not clear on your why.
Even if you just want to do better in your job, being clear on how your boss--and the company at large--defines success for your role is vital. After all, if productivity is about producing more widgets, you better make sure you’re producing the right widget.
3. Create Lead Goals to Get You Where You Want to Go
Once you’ve gotten clear about where you’re going, you can set goals to get yourself there. Chris McChesney defines the difference between lead goals and lag goals. A lag goal is something like “become CEO of a small business” or “buy a summer home in the Hamptons.” They tell you if you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve--they define success for you. Lead goals are the steps you take to reach your goals. If you’re a writer, for example, a lead goal might be writing 2,000 words each day. By itself, it won’t get you anywhere, but if you write 2,000 words every day for a month, you’ll have a rough draft for your next book.
4. Remove Distractions
Here are some common distractions:
- Text messages
- Instant messages
- Messages through an app like Trello or Slack
- Games on your phone
- The telephone
- Websites like Huffington Post or BuzzFeed
5. Resist the Tyranny of the Urgent
You should also note that Facebook and email aren’t your only distractions--it’s inevitable that as soon as you sit down to work, you’ll get a call from somebody about something “urgent” that needs to be done right away. If you’re not careful, the tyranny of the urgent and unimportant will tear you away from doing the work that brings you closer to success. To help you, try using Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important matrix to rate tasks based on their urgency and importance. Here’s what you should focus on:
- Things that are urgent and important should be the first things you work on
- Things are important but not urgent are the next most important things to work on
- Things that are urgent but not important should come last
6. Sleep More
One of our favorite tips for learning how to increase productivity is one of the most counterintuitive--sleep more. We believe that an extra hour of working is more productive than an extra hour of sleeping, but the opposite is often true. For starters, a lack of sleep has direct correlations to depression, anxiety, poor mental health, and poor physical health. It can also lead to mistakes on the job, which can sabotage your productivity. Sleep-deprived people have the reflexes and response rates of somebody who is drunk!
Sleep also plays a vital role in helping your body convert short-term memories into long-term memories and is important in helping you refocus after distractions. Finally, getting enough sleep at night prevents burnouts on the job: studies show that people who sleep less than six hours each night are more likely to experience burnout.
7. Get Moving
First, the bad news: as you age, your brain starts to shrink, and you’re less able to make new learning connections. In other words, your productivity drops the older you get. The good news? You can counteract this shrinking by exercising! Recent studies have found that exercising can increase your brain size. It can also help you reduce stress, improve your risks of all kinds of nasty diseases, increase your mental health-- and it just feels good. One of our best tips for using movement to increase your productivity is to find an exercise you like. You might hate running, but you love strength training, or you might hate lifting weights, but you love the comradery of spin classes.
Whatever the case, the regular movement will help you be more productive, so get moving!
8. Change How You Do Meetings
9. Use the Pomodoro Method
10. Turn Off When You’re Not at Work
Everything you’ve learned about productivity so far in this article has prepared you for this final tip: stop working when your work day is over. Once you’ve completed your Pomodoros and you’ve avoided distractions and had all your meetings for the day standing up, it’s important to stop working when work is over.
One of the amazing things we know about the brain is that your unconscious will still be working on the day’s problems even when you’re not. Consciously turning your brain to other activities during scheduled downtime will help you be more productive when it’s time to work.