When it comes to personal growth and self-improvement, each person is different. Yet, the following tips helped almost all my coaching clients and workshop attendees to uplevel their productivity, even though they came from various backgrounds.
“The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today.”
— Nolan Bushnell
1. Eliminate All Distractions
I seriously can’t stress this one enough: Distractions are the ultimate productivity killers.
Push notifications that pop-up, coworkers bumping into your room, unexpected phone calls…all of these cost us so much more time and energy than we immediately realize.
The problem is not the time you spent checking your notification, but way beyond. These unexpected interruptions disturb your focus and concentration, which comes at a much higher cost in the long run.
According to a study from 2015, distractions during worktime don’t only harm our attentiveness, but they also increase the possibility of mistakes by almost 30 %.
Here’s how you can eliminate unexpected distractions:
- Disable all notifications on your desktop and smartphone. You don’t need to be aware of every message immediately. In most cases, checking your emails and messages a few times per day is more than enough.
- Use the Pomodoro Technique: Work for at least 20 minutes without any distractions. Then, do a short break, stand up, move your body, or grab a cup of coffee before working for 20 minutes again. After four 20-minute sessions, take a more extended break of 30 minutes. Once you try it out, you will be amazed by how much we can get done in just such a short time if we ultimately focus on a single task instead of getting distracted every few minutes.
- Use the early morning for critical work. Hardly anybody or anything will distract you at 6 A.M. If you manage to get up early in the morning, you can get a shitload of tasks done in a very concentrated way. Many people even report mornings are their most productive time of the day.
- Use the evenings. If getting up early is no option, crushing your to-do’s late at night might be another way of doing focused work. Also at that time, hardly anyone will distract you, and you can entirely focus on your productive outcome.
- Declutter your workspace. Too often, we get distracted by the little things at our work desk. Our workspace has a tremendous effect on our wellbeing and productivity. Once a task gets though, or our concentration weakens, the risk of getting distracted by anything on our desk increases. Thus, ensure to have a clean and clutter-free space that allows you to focus on your work entirely and has high energy.
2. Use the 5-Second Rule
The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins is one of my favorite books around productivity and getting things done.
Even though I enjoyed reading the book, the essence of the 5-Second Rule can be summarized briefly:
The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will stop you. 5–4–3–2–1-GO!
— Mel Robbins
But how can we apply this Rule to increase our daily productivity?
The 5-Second Rules help to eliminate procrastination. Whenever you don’t want to do something out of comfort, the Rule helps you to take action.
In many situations, we don’t work productively because we get distracted and procrastinate by filling our time with unnecessary stuff instead of getting the essential tasks done.
Using the 5-Second Rule can help you to focus and work off your to-do list whenever you don’t feel like doing it.
Every time you find yourself looking for excuses on why not to do something, remind yourself of the 5-Second Rule. Count backward, 5–4–3–2–1, and get to work.
3. Plan your day the evening before
Whenever I don’t know how to start my (work) day, I end up being unproductive and ineffective. It’s not that I am lazy, but I don’t know where to start and what task to tackle first.
If I need to spend valuable energy on organizing my tasks and appointments first thing in the morning, I lack this energy throughout the rest of my day.
For many of my clients and me, planning our days ahead on the evening works wonders. By doing so, you ensure you don’t get caught up in details and can immediately work on the most important tasks once you wake up.
If you don’t have a proper daily planning method yet, I can strongly advise the Ivy Lee Method.
I’ve already seen (and tried) tons of productivity tools and hacks, yet, the Ivy Lee method is undoubtedly what I found most effective and easy so far.
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”
— Tim Ferriss
4. Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is one of the most common reasons for a lack of productivity and the increasing inability to concentrate for a long time.
Nowadays, so many people get caught up in a hustle mentality, believing they’d get more done if they decrease the number of hours spent in bed.
Yet, the reality is the absolute contrary:
“One of the biggest reasons that people don’t get enough sleep is because they feel they have too much to do or because they are stressed about what they need to work on. So we’re not getting enough work done because we’re sleep-deprived and we’re not sleeping because we’re not getting enough work done.”
— Dr. Matthew Carter, PhD, Sleep Specialist
While we are sleeping, hundreds of processes are being conducted in our bodies. A lack of sleep will sooner or later backfire, physically as well as mentally.
Here are easy ways to improve the quality of your sleep and wake up well-rested and full of energy:
- Aim for at least six to eight hours of quality sleep per night
- If you still feel tired after six to eight hours, consider tracking your sleep to figure out if you have too little deep sleep phases. If that’s the case, a full analysis conducted by a doctor might be the quickest way to solve the issue.
- Eliminate screens at least one hour before going to bed. If that’s not possible, at least use blue light blocking apps or glasses. The blue light emitted by our devices disrupts our circadian rhythms and the regulation of our sleep hormone, melatonin. Eliminating these blue lights helps to sleep in quicker and get a better rest at night.
- Create an evening routine that prepares you for a good night’s sleep. Before going to bed, only execute light activities like stretching, yoga, journaling, meditation, or reading. By doing so, you prepare your body for the night.
- Entirely darken your bedroom or use a sleeping mask. Just like the blue light, also a bright room inhibits the proper production of the sleeping hormone.
- Sleep in a noise-free environment. If that’s not possible, grab a pair of earplugs.
5. Listen to Productivity Boosting Sounds
For some people, listening to music is inevitable to work productively.
If you are not one of them yet, you try it out and see if listening to music or specific beats can help you to concentrate better and get more work done.
Listening to music or enjoyable sounds doesn’t only boost your mood but also makes repetitive tasks more enjoyable. Plus, it can help you get into a flow state easier and quicker.
What’s interesting is that different sounds or types of music work differently for anyone. While listening to classical music might be productivity-boosting for me, it can be totally annoying for you. You need to try a few different types until you find what works best for you.
Here are the most common sounds and types of music to increase your productivity:
- Classical music: Especially compositions of people like Bach or Vivaldi are known to enhance mood and concentration during work. Two of the most famous pieces to try are Vivaldi’s quick-tempo Four Seasons or Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
- Sounds of nature: This is my favorite when I need to do focused, intense work. You can find tons of nature sound videos on YouTube, but there are also specific apps to simulate nature sounds such as flowing water, a rainfall, rustling leaves, or birdcalls. I usually use A Soft Murmur.
- Instead of music, you can also try binaural beats. Plenty of promising studies point to the positive effects of listening to binaural beats while doing concentrated work.
The last two points of the list are a bit different than what you’ve read so far, yet, in my experience, these are the foundation for working productively and living a happy life.
6. Do Something You Love
This one might sound a bit vague, yet, it’s the harsh truth. Working productively and producing great results is tough if you don’t like what you do all day long.
If you find yourself feeling stuck and not enjoying your work at all, take some time to reflect on whether what you are doing is your passion or not.
Every job comes with difficulties, yet, if we do something we love, it’s easier to get through the bad times.
Ikigai is a Japanese concept and incredibly effective method for discovering your reason for being, whenever you feel stuck.
At the core, it helps you discover how to combine your strengths and interests with what the world needs and is willing to pay for.
Finding my personal Ikigai was the biggest game-changer in my life.
7. Set Exciting Goals
Finding out what to work on is the first step, yet, once you’ve discovered your Ikigai, you also need some impressive goals. Otherwise, you might soon get bored, and your productivity might decline.
Even if we do meaningful work, having a clear vision and exciting goals is a great driver of motivation and success.
Having an ideal picture of our future in mind is an enormous motivation to get shit done and work effectively, even if we don’t feel like it.
Whenever I feel stuck, the first thing I do is doing a visualization exercise. How do I want my life to look like in 5, 10, or 15 years? Which resources do I need to create the life of my dreams? Once I know the answers to these questions, I find it much easier to set specific goals and get the work done.
Summary & Quick Guide:
A lack of productivity can have many reasons. What’s crucial is not to accuse yourself because of an unproductive workday. We are all humans, and we can’t be highly productive every day.
Yet, if you find yourself being ineffective for too long, you might want to make a few little adjustments to increase your productive output.
- Eliminate all distractions: Get rid of anything that might destroy your concentration: notifications, clutter on your workspace, annoying coworkers…
- Use the 5-Second Rule: Whenever you feel like procrastinating, make use of the Rule: Count backward starting from five, and once you hit zero, take action.
- Plan your day the evening before: Make sure to prepare everything for a productive day before going to bed in the evening before. If you don’t have a proper task-management system yet, try the Ivy Lee Method.
- Get plenty of sleep: Never sacrifice your sleep for more work hours. Sleep deprivation is one of the most common reasons for decreasing productivity. Instead, make sure to get 6 to 8 hours of rest.
- Listen to productivity-boosting-sounds: If you find it hard to concentrate, try listening to sounds, songs, or even binaural beats.
- Do something you love: Being effective and productive is tough if you don’t like what you do. Thus, regularly ask yourself if you are pursuing the right job.
- Set exciting goals: Sometimes, small goals can lead to laziness and a lack of excitement. Having a strong vision and a great picture of the future, however, are great motivators to give your best every day.