Being productive means producing desired experiences or results.
- David Allen, Getting Things Done (GTD) system
There isn’t one secret to becoming more productive. there are hundreds.
But first, the most important productivity tip: We are more likely to achieve our goals when we realize that there may be more setbacks along out way, and that 'it will take more than just hard work to be successful'. People fail all the time, but they get up and move on. Our life story is not a very 'plotty' movie story. We make do with what we have. Ultimately, everyone is 'winging it', they say. So, take it easy, will you?
1. The Three Most Effective Tips: Eating well (less sugar, less carbohydrates, more fish and Omega-3 fatty acids , more vegetables and fruits etc) - Getting enough sleep - Exercising (A New Zealand study found that a daily 20-minute run helped lab rats complete problem-solving tasks more quickly and efficiently than the rats who didn't move around much. Exercising reduces anxiety, elevates your mood, and improves your overall cognitive functioning).
2. Productivity starts with prioritizing. One of the best ways to accomplish more is to identify and then work on the highest-leverage tasks in each area of your life, because these are the activities that give you the greatest return for your time, energy, and attention. Focus on accomplishing stuff, not just doing one thing after another. Productivity is not about putting in long hours. For what?
3. When we are doing meaningful work, we aren't always exhausted. Mason Currey wrote about work routines of artists and authors in his 2013 book Daily Rituals, and found that almost nobody reported spending more than four or five hours a day on their primary creative tasks. Indeed, meaningful work doesn’t always lead to exhaustion at all
4. Everyone has her/his own set of productivity techniques that work. Some like Kanban, others use Pomodoro, or some of us just create a simple to-do list with only a few items and try and get through it one by one. Productivity techniques aren't universal (except eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising) Some get more done when they wake up early, others have different working hours that suit best to them.
5. If you will have good habits, you will be productive automatically - '40-45% of our daily activities are automatic habits.' (Charles Duhigg, 'The Power of Habit') - building habits need willpower and time.
6. Working too hard or too much destroys your productivity. You burn out easily and it becomes harder and harder to get back to track. The willpower takes a hit. You lose precious time and energy trying to get back in tune. Find a way to switch off - movies, meditation, moonlight walking or whatever that works for you
7. When you always know why you’re doing something, you’re going to be a lot more motivated and productive.
8. To be productive, you need to manage three things successfully: How to better manage your time - How to better manage your energy (and your mood) - How to better manage your attention.
9. You don't need to get up early to get stuff done. A study in 2011 found that the key to being productive and creative (which the study breaks into two different types of activity) is to work the hours that are best for you
10. When you face a creative or productive block, which you can't just push away, becoming more tired as you try to solve it, leave it, do something else. Take a break. Get away from the problem and get some perspective.
11. To deal with information overload/internet (which some say is making us lazy, forgetful etc), the solution is not to disconnect but to try to get the context on the situation. One thing that works for this writer is to get all sorts of data on a topic from the internet, often repetitive stuff, and then look at all of it and get an idea of similarities, differences, patterns etc., and also rethink why one did the search. You have to be 'meta' with your internet activity – i.e., being able to stay back at will.
12. A Stanford university study of Chinese employees found that working from or from coffee houses with just the right amount of hum is more productive than being made to work in arbitrarily set up noisy, discordant open plan offices.
13. Don't mind the inbox too much. You don't need to read all items in your inbox (aiming for Inbox 0). You don't need to come in every morning and go through each email. Just a glance will do. Just once or twice a day, and then when you need a contextual message, just search. Lifehacker suggests we just reduce our email volume by unsubscribing from crap, automate and filter everything possible, manually organize little things that need a personal touch, and archive/delete everything else. Leave the rest to search.'
14. Track everything. Someone said that 'Tracking is motivation made observable'. Taking in too much sugar? Track every time you drink or eat something sweet. Over time, you will be very aware of the all the lazy calories going in and making you less able to move freely, for example.
15. List your 'success reasons'. When you finish a tough task or a project, don't relax just yet. Create a list of things that worked for you, and things you did right (and some things that could have been better, and so on).
16. How to focus: Research suggests the more time we spend focusing, the better at it we will get. Other suggestions backed by research include clearing our head (writing down what bothers at any given time), finding a distraction-free place to work, turning off things that disrupt (e.g. phone calls), and that old reliable, sleep more.
17. Boredom can be good. Some believe boredom gives us a blank slate to work with, inspiring our creativity and start to plan to get some things done.
18. Distraction can also be good. If taken positively, distraction brings us a 'wider scope', making us look at more alternatives and arrive at different conclusions for a problem. This is the subconscious mind at work.
19. Procrastination can also be good, sometimes. Especially in moments requiring us to make decisions. Frank Partnoy, author of 'Wait: The Art and Science of Delay' says 'don’t just do something, stand there', meaning we know we are taking time to think the thing through. This is Active procrastination, aka good procrastination. Good or strategic procrastination also means that ' to focus on urgent or meaningful activities, let some other things slide.' Passive procrastination, the act of just lying and doing nothing, is the one that troubles people.
20. Stop minimizing open windows on your computer, it only creates more clutter. Just close them all and get to work. Do not have more than 2 windows open at time - one for writing etc (any office application), and one window for searching (sometimes, even this window is not need. Trust me, this writer knows it works). On the same note, work on just one monitor. No study has proven that multiple monitors make you productive - except studies sponsored by monitor sellers themselves.
21. Be succinct: Come to the point quickly. Explain the benefits, but quickly. Start with writing no more than 5-sentence emails on an average.
22. 'Eliminate, automate, delegate': Eliminate the unnecessary stuff. Automate the regular tasks (macros, etc). Delegate smaller stuff that others can do it as effectively.
23. Have keyboard shortcuts for everything: Just Google search for 'Word keyword shortcuts', 'text editor keyboard shortcut', or 'application x keyboard shortcuts'.
24. Use meditative 'Pause Training' to find out why you are resisting doing the hard stuff. Leo Babauta says to 'pause' and breathe, turning your attention to the resistance towards a hard task, and recognizing the feeling - fear, uncertainty, self-doubt, tiredness etc - now that you know the feeling, what do you feel about it? is it really that repulsive?
25. Being busy is not the same as being productive: Productive people prioritize. On the other hand, 'busy people' try to multitask, have long to-do lists of all sorts of things, and they just can't say 'no' to news tasks or distractions. As a result they leave many important tasks underdone or undone.
26. How to delegate tasks successfully, the quick list: Stop paying attention to tasks that aren't important at all. When you delegate, be very clear with instructions – detail what you expect, what a successful task completion looks like, and only give out work if the person can actually handle it.
27. How to be punctual: Follow the daily calendar, or the alarm, whatever works for you. Make some buffer time for delays etc, so start early than early. And do that task which is causing you to stall, after you have made the appointment.
28. How to save time successfully: Do similar tasks at one go. Some time is wasted when you try from a task requiring one mindset to another task requiring another. For example, do all the emailing in one slot. use keyboard shortcuts to speed up tasks. Chunk up big tasks into bite-size mini-tasks, easier to finish one after another.
29. How to have a product 40-hour workweek (so that you have a balance of hard work and lean time): The key is have a perspective. Take some time at end of every work day to reflect how it went, what went right that day and what no so much and how things could have been better, and so on. On an average, a professional spends 50% of the working time doing actual work for which one is hired. 20% time in a week should ideally be taken up for skill building, networking etc (building for the future). The remaining time is for general availability, being ready to take on anything that comes a way.
30. Time management isn't only about scheduling/To-Do lists. You should also pay attention to the ebb and flow of your mental energy. Some tasks drain us mentally more than others.
31. Smaller meals consumed more often, a regular intake of water, and no more than your normal dose of caffeine can help you operate at your best.
32. How to sleep better: Not getting enough sleep hampers our concentration, may cause anxiety, irritability, and affect our ability to remember. People who go to sleep the right time, get ample sleep (at least 7-8 hours every day), and they don't need an alarm clock to help them wake up. They try to maintain the circadian flow of their body by going to sleep at the same time every day. They don't take alcohol or coffee before going to bed. They also sleep comfortably (clean bed, quiet, space, whatever works for you) and they get medical help for sleep-related problems such as sleep apnea (a kind of snoring). if they are lucky enough (and the company permissive enough), they put their heads on table and take a quick nap during the workday. It refreshes the brain.
33. How to use daily rituals to be more productive: Morning/Start-of-day rituals such as having coffee/tea alone, reading the papers and meditating helps us feel grounded, ready to handle whatever comes that day. The closing/end-of-day ritual of using 10 minutes to reflect on the working that passed, things that went well, things that could have and so on. Then there are rituals before important events - 'power pose' practice before an interview, 5 minutes deep breathing in your room before a presentation, jumping etc to get the blood flowing before a face-to-face, etc.
34. Use 'Speed Elimination': Set a timer for 15-20, and quickly eliminate what you don't need (personal stuff, stuff lying around in your work area) quickly. Clear your space, clear your mind, quickly - that is the big idea here.
35. Set Effective Deadlines: Learn from past experience (if this is your first time doing this sort of work/project, ask around) and know the average time frames for each task, sub-task and so on. Basically, act like the project manager of you, inc.
36. To-do lists are evil, instead schedule everything: Plan your day backwards, and make a schedule of tasks to finish before your estimated end of day (EOD). You will do only a few tasks, but you will do these every well. That is the whole idea behind effective scheduling. Work at it backwards. This is what Cal Newport (author of 'So Good They Can't Ignore You') suggests.
37. How to continue working through the night (All-Nighter): Take a nap first (so you will be fresh in evening). Take proteins (e.g. eggs) instead of dulling/lazy carbohydrates (unless it sis a banana). Intake coffee with care (have some water instead). Stretch out, run and jump a little, and get the blood pumping better again. And, please don't do these all-nighters all too often.
38. How people are motivated at work: Don't think about the rewards (promotion, awards, praise) beforehand. It demotivates people in the long run. Be busy with the work itself (the work is its own reward). Work that allows people to have a say in how it is done (autonomy), motivates people to do it. Work that will teach people new skills motivates them to do it (mastery). Work that convinces people they are doing something meaningful, makes people do the work well. People will also continue working as long as they feel/know they are making progress. They will also be motivated to work when they work at getting small wins, doing one small task successfully at a time.
39. Use checklists, workflows, processes or playbooks for everything: These are useful when you are doing some tasks repeatedly in same manner, every time. A pilot has a checklist, for example. Uber rolled out in 70 cities across the world using a carefully developed Playbook.
40. Have Plan Bs: Be prepared for common workplace disasters. For example, to deal with cases of a system crash, have a system of daily backups, and make it mandatory for everyone. Basically have a backup resource for most of the important tasks in the business.
41. Organize files in your computer systematically: Name folders after project names. Some use date information for folders (E.g. Jan2016 work). Most importantly, always have relevant names for the file you are working on.
42. Dealing with your boss (who wants you to get the job done, no matter what): You have to learn to say 'no' with tact. Say something like, 'I would be happy to do that as well. However to do that I will have to de-prioritize the other tasks you gave me. Which task should I focus on?'. Or (this is a bit risky), 'I am sorry I won't able to take this opportunity, as I will not be able to give my best to the task you already assigned to me.' The idea is to keep focus on your trying to be of value for the business, and getting respect for that.
43. How to stop procrastinating: First build better habits ('40% of the things you do every day are habitual.' - Charles Duhigg). Build a habit that you don't dread every day (e.g. waking at 5) but a habit that becomes your 'personal starting ritual', such as reading newspapers and a bath. Net, build one/two 'keystone habits' (words of Charles Duhigg) , which change how you see yourself, such as exercising. ('look I am slimmer now!'). Reward yourself whenever you build a good habit, and try to have good, supporting people for company along your journey of changing yourself.
44. How to deal with mental fatigue at work: When work becomes an unending series of tasks, leaving no room to take a break and get some air (and perspective). Experts say to avoid mental fatigue, we do the most important thing first, bunch tasks according to their type (e.g. writing), dealing with email just once during workday (you can always search for something relevant anytime in the folders etc), and at the end of day, take some time out finally to reflect on the day as well as to plan for the next day.
45. The key to prioritization: 'Focus on what’s Important, not urgent.' Start with TMT (Three Most Important) things each day. Things which are most important are the ones with most ROI (Return on investment) for your goals.
46. How to wake up early: People who have done it say that we should start small. For example, getting up just one minute earlier each day (setting the alarm thus), and over a period of time, we may find ourselves waking at a desired time. Another trick people have used is to have the alarm clock out of reach everyday, so when it rings... Some force themselves to be morning persons by taking a responsibility that must be done early in the morning (readying kid for school, dropping kid at school early office meeting, etc.). Or, you can have something excited planned for every morning, something you love (we are not talking about watching Game of thrones) doing.
Thank you for reading.
If you found this guide useful, please share this with your friends and family.
There are 200+ guides to succeeding in business, career and personal life in The Success Manual. Get the pdf ebook for $12 only.