Let's face it, productivity is something that we struggle to achieve on a daily basis and there is no better feeling than finishing your day with a drink in your hand and watching TV after a good productive day where you feel like you deserve that drink.
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Productivity doesn't mean you working every waking minute or compromising your sleep but the key to productivity is to get better at doing things in a smarter way.
It's not the hours you put in your work that counts, it's the work you put in the hours - Sam Ewing
If you are looking to improve your productivity, you can do so by following the below tried and tested changes to your daily routine:
1) Plan Each Day the Night Before
Uncertainty is never a good thing. Waking up knowing what you plan to accomplish on a particular day is the foundation of a solid productive day. Have a running notebook or a sticky note to jot down what you plan to accomplish on the following day. You can also use any of the to-do apps available in the market. I like Microsoft's To-Do app as it is very convenient and has a great user interface but I still prefer the feeling of writing my tasks on paper and then striking them off once I complete them, so more often than not, I use the post-it notes.
When planning your to-do list, make sure to not overwhelm yourself on any particular day. We have a tendency to feel overly optimistic about our capabilities to do things in the near future. If you over-commit on a consistent basis and end up not reaching your daily goals, it will demotivate you to continue. Writing a daily to-do list for a few days will give you an idea about the expected amount of work you can get done in a day without feeling burnt out.
2) Take Regular Breaks
This may sound counterintuitive but it is a scientifically proven fact that taking regular breaks can help you improve your focus and concentration. Techniques like the popular Pomodoro techniques for time management can help you improve your productivity by breaking down your work into smaller and more manageable chunks of 25 minutes work and 5 minutes break. There are several phone apps and websites that can help you use these techniques and incorporate them into your daily routine.
Taking regular breaks also keeps you from being lethargic and allows you to take time to stretch and move around which is important especially if you are in a desk job sitting in front of a computer all day.
3) Start Early
This is probably one that the night-owls may not agree with but I have seen that starting your day early has a big impact on productivity. If you wake up early and get a good start to your day, it could really boost your mood which in turn can boost your productivity levels for the rest of the day.
Early morning is the time when you don't have a lot of distractions, there is nothing on the TV, no one texting you, and a quiet environment that is conducive to focusing and getting things done. My personal experience suggests that your concentration quality is a lot better in the morning compared to any other time of the day. Also, by the time other people wake up, you would have gotten a lot of stuff done for the day which is a great feeling at the beginning of the day.
4) Get Rid of Distractions
We are living in an age where there are more distractions than ever. You must have encountered someone who just can't keep their phone down. Every notification on their phones needs their attention right away otherwise the world is going to end. According to a research study by Asurion, Americans check their phone once every 10 minutes which is a 20% increase in the last two years. This very habit of getting distracted very easily is what is sending our productivity levels down the drain.
One thing that has really worked for me is blocking time where I am free from these distractions. At work, for example, I block my calendar and put myself on "Do not disturb" so no one can ping me or book me for a meeting and I can just sit down and get my work done.
You can try to put your phone on airplane mode or far away from your reach so that you can focus on the work rather than being distracted by every notification from those unnecessary and useless apps on your phone. If you still don't trust yourself with your phone, there are small boxes that can be locked for a set amount of time with your phone inside, to force you away from phone distractions.
5) Follow 2 Minutes Rule
This one comes from the entrepreneur Steve Olenski who recommends completing any task that may take a couple of minutes right away. The basic concept to this is that doing these 2-minute tasks like sending a quick follow-up email or something can be done right away whereas coming back to them later in the day can be more time-consuming.
Another way to do this is to club all your 2-5 minutes tasks together and set half an hour aside to complete these tasks.
6) Eat the Ugly Frog First
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first - Mark Twain
When it comes to productivity, the above saying is conducive to doing the most crucial or the task that puts you off first. Here is why this is important. Imagine you have a task that would take a couple of hours of your time and you are not looking forward to it. Let's say the task is to write your school paper. If you sit down in the morning and put in a good solid 2 hours, even though you don't like it, you would have checked off one of the most important tasks on your list very early in the day. However, if you keep postponing it for other tasks you will find an excuse to postpone it to the next day or write a paper that is of a lower quality than the one you could have written in the morning.
Even though our usual instinct is to put off things that we don't enjoy until the last moment but starting your day with these tasks is the key to accomplishing the rest of our daily tasks easily.
Being productive is not a natural talent but an acquired skill that can be learned by anyone. I have laid out above some of the things that helped me improve my productivity and I am sure with a little persistence it can help you too.
Let me know what you think and what other techniques have helped you improve your professional and personal productivity.