In my work as a productivity coach, I supported hundreds of people to improve their daily workflow and get more done in less time. Whenever I talk about productivity, I have one goal: I want my clients to have more time for their passions, loved ones, and themselves.
I coached dozens of people, hosted numerous workshops, and created five different online programs that help students and young professionals master various aspects of productivity.
And what‘s surprising is that I didn’t have a single coaching client or workshop attendee who didn’t read at least three books on productivity before paying me to help them.
It took me quite a while to understand why these people were paying for my services even though they already knew what they had to do.
The answer is that most people are overwhelmed by the massive information overflow they're exposed to.
There are hundreds of strategies you can apply to be more productive. But if you try a new one every week, you’ll end up being even more overwhelmed and confused.
Being productive is no coincidence, but it’s also not magic. It’s the sheer result of creating your own set of rules and sticking to them — even during stressful times.
And while you can choose from a wide variety of productivity strategies, there are certain basics you first need to get right. If you don’t follow these rules, you’ll fail to increase your productive output, no matter how hard you try.
Make use of your Biological Prime Time (BPT)
Productive people know when they perform at their best. They know when their peak times are and schedule their work accordingly.
If you ever felt as if you’re competing against yourself when trying to get work done, it’s because you tried to fight your biological prime time.
Instead of fighting against their bodies, highly productive people go with the flow. They allow themselves to rest when needed and deliver their best work during their most productive times.
Getting your most demanding tasks done during your most productive hours will tremendously facilitate your life and help you live a more aligned life.
During your biological prime time, you have the highest amount of energy, motivation, and focus. This doesn’t only enable you to create your best work, but it also helps you to do it as efficiently as possible.
How to do it:
To use your BPT to your advantage, you first need to identify it and schedule your days accordingly. Each human is different and you’ll need to spend some time to define your exact BPT.
The easiest way to identify your personal BPT is to track your energy levels for a certain period. By doing so, you’ll recognize the ups and downs throughout your day and can later use this knowledge to your advantage.
You can track your energy levels with a simple Excel sheet but also do it on a sheet of paper. The simplest way to identify your BPT is to set an hourly alarm and write down how energized you feel on a scale from one (low) to ten (high). If you do that for about ten days, you’ll get a good overview of your biological prime time and understand when you feel most energized.
Once you have enough data and insights, you can use your BPT to schedule your days. By doing so, you can work on your most important and challenging times when you feel most energized.
Use “Mind Like Water”
In June 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting David Allen, one of the most prominent productivity coaches at a conference in Graz, Austria.
During his keynote, Allen described a state called mind like water.
According to Allen, water appropriately engages with its environment. It’s not confused and it doesn’t over- or underreact.
Unfortunately, that’s contrary to what most people do every single day.
Most people worry about the second meeting before the first one is over and take their work home. This overthinking holds us back from being in a mind like water state and harms our productivity.
And most of the time, this kind of confusion happens because we don’t have enough clarity and structure. It’s hard to feel calm and relaxed when you don’t have much control over your to do’s and the things that are going on in your life.
How to do it:
To be in a mind like water state, you need to build systems you can rely on.
You need task and project management tools that help you organize and monitor your ideas, to-dos, and projects. Ideally, these tools are digital so that you can take them wherever you go and can create back-ups to ensure your data doesn’t get lost.
These tools help me stay organized and effective. I can be 100% sure that I’ll never forget an idea or miss a deadline because my tools are more reliable than my brain. This helps me to be in a mind like water state and work efficiently.
Train your ability to focus
Your focus muscle directly influences your ability to be productive and effective.
If you can’t focus on one task for at least 30 minutes without disruptions, you’ll lose lots of time being reactive instead of productive.
This doesn’t only cost you many hours per week, but it also drains your energy.
For years, I tried to answer any message or email that popped up, no matter what I was doing. I stopped doing the work and reacted to each disruption as if my life depended on it.
By making that mistake for many years, I learned that productivity isn’t defined by the number of hours you spend working but by your ability to focus on one task after the other.
How to do it:
If you want to be highly productive, you need to protect your focus and brainpower as if your life depends on it.
Being reactive is the surest way to end up being unproductive and not knowing where your time went.
Genuinely productive people eliminate distractions and create an environment that allows them to work with high focus. Additionally, they make use of so-called flow states, which are defined as the following:
“A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”
If you’re in a flow state, you’re much more effective than during a regular work session when you’re disturbed by colleagues or notifications.
You need to dig deep into the WHY
The most productive people are those who know why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Being productive means being efficient and effective. It means that you need less time to get more done. And that’s impossible if you don’t know why you’re doing something.
There’s nothing more rewarding and empowering than having a clear goal or vision in front of you.
Being highly productive means giving your best so that you can later rest and enjoy your free time. But you won’t give your best if you don’t have a good reason to do so.
How to do it:
Your why doesn’t need to be world-shaking, but it needs to excite you.
Your why can be as simple as the desire to be financially free or pay off your debt. What’s most important is that you’re conscious of it.
Once you have a clear mission, you won’t waste your precious time anymore.
Having a clear purpose will give you clarity for your next steps.
Without a mission, you’ll often find yourself struggling and not knowing what to focus on. A clear purpose, however, makes it easier to figure out what the next right step is and how to get there.
The most effective way to find your why is journaling. Whenever I feel lost or coach a client who doesn’t know what to do and how to continue in life, I prepare some journaling prompts.
By writing down your thoughts, you make space in your mind and allow yourself to process your hidden feelings and desires.
Too often, we try to suppress your deepest desires and wishes. By writing them down, we not only allow them to be present but also embrace them.
I’ve been journaling every morning for more than two years and while I didn’t expect this routine to change my life, that’s exactly what it did: Journaling allowed me to find out more about myself and have a clear vision of my future.
You need to be able to say HELL YEAH or no
Highly productive people are effective because they can set clear priorities. They focus on one thing after the other and say no to offers and opportunities that don’t bring them closer to their goals.
The surest way of not achieving your goals is having too many of them. Instead of saying yes to everything that comes your way, only accept projects and offers that make you say hell yeah.
Everything else is not worth your time and energy.
Every project and task on your to-do list should contribute to creating the life of your dreams. If that’s not the case, it probably costs you too much. Your ability to set priorities is directly proportional to your level of productivity.
Quite often, the shiny object syndrome can be a pain in the ass and cost you more time and energy than you might realize.
How to do it:
Whenever I feel stuck and can’t prioritize my to-do’s, I use the Eisenhower Matrix to rank my tasks. The matrix helps me get a visual overview of what I need to do next and helps me decide on the projects I need to eliminate.
I have a printout of the matrix in my journal and whenever I need to use it, I write my tasks on small post-it notes and place those notes onto the matrix. Within a few minutes, I gain clarity about my next steps.
Create the best possible foundation
Highly effective people know exactly what they want. That’s why they can set goals that excite them to keep going.
While some people tend to perform better if they have huge goals, others prefer setting realistic targets. My boyfriend, for instance, favors setting huge goals and just missing them. For me, it’s much more important to set challenging yet realistic goals and achieve those.
The truth is that there’s no right or wrong. But you need to figure out what works best for you.
If you get discouraged by not achieving your goals, you need to be more realistic than optimistic. And if you start becoming lazy when working towards small goals, you need to find new ways to challenge yourself.
Overthinking hardly leads to clarity, taking action, however, does. If you set a goal and try to accomplish it, you’ll soon realize if that goal is truly important to you or not.
How to do it:
Your goals are the foundation for performance. Without a target, you’ll end up being confused and ineffective.
Imagine getting into a taxi and not having a final destination in mind; the taxi driver won’t be able to help you get anywhere. That’s pretty much how a life without goals is.
That being said, your goals don’t need to be definite. On the contrary: Your target may change. And that’s good.
Changing your opinion and adopting your goals is not a shame; it’s what makes life so exciting and worthy to live. As you grow, you’ll probably change your mind or direction and that’s perfectly fine.
Yet, it is crucial to have some sort of direction, even if you might not be 100 percent sure if you’ll stick with that path.
If you want to improve your performance, make sure to start with small, manageable changes.
Making sudden, radical changes at once barely leads to lasting transformation. Instead, tackle one habit after the other and make sure that those habits become a part of your identity.