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5 Science-Backed Ways To Effectively Boost Your Productivity

5 Science-Backed Ways To Effectively Boost Your Productivity
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You consider yourself to be a relatively busy person. You have a lot to get done in a short amount of time, leaving little room for distractions or breaks. Lately, though, you’ve noticed a sharp decline in the amount of tasks you’ve been able to get done on a daily basis. Your workload hasn’t increased. You’re not taking that many breaks. So what’s the problem?

Learning the science behind productivity, and what you can do to increase the amount of tasks you can complete every day, is your key to success. Here are five ways science says you can boost your productivity, starting today.

1. Make a list of mindless activities

Have you ever been in the middle of something and distracted yourself by thinking about another thing you need to do when you get home? Not only is that distracting, it can also be stressful. When that happens, make a list of all the mindless chores you need to get done later, but plan other activities along with them, like listening to an audio book or watching a TV show.

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In the right context, according to science, multitasking works. Mindless activities like laundry, washing dishes, and cleaning take time. If you pair them with listening to recorded lectures or podcasts or watching the news though, you can get your chores done and learn something new at the same time.

2. Complete a string of smaller tasks first thing in the morning

Distractions do a really good job of stopping our productivity train in its tracks, and one way to eliminate this hindrance from the equation is to push yourself into a flow state, which happens when we immerse ourselves so deeply into a set of tasks that everything else around us almost ceases to exist.

To launch yourself into a flow state, list out a few smaller things you want to get done and get going right away. Not only will you feel more productive while successfully completing multiple tasks in one sitting, but you’ll also free up more time later in the day for larger projects and breaks, too.

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3. Write down daily S.M.AR.T. goals

Yesterday you planned on clearing all the emails in your inbox. Not too difficult of a task, right? What you didn’t take into account before you started, though, was how many emails you had waiting or how long it would take. There were just too many, and instead of breaking it up, you just never got started.

Setting goals for yourself on a daily basis will help you fight through distractions and roadblocks to productivity. Making them specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-based will help you define exactly what you need to do and what you can expect to have achieved once you’ve done it.

4. Sit down and just start

One of the biggest roadblocks to productivity is procrastination, and procrastination often happens unintentionally. We’ll start reading that article in five minutes, and five minutes quickly turns into ten. We’ll answer that email after lunch, but after lunch, something else always gets in the way.

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To beat this productivity blocker, just start. Don’t even give yourself enough time to change your mind. Click over to that tab and start reading. Hit the reply button and start typing. Once you begin, you might be surprised at how quickly and effectively you can complete that task, and you might even be more motivated to jump right into the next one.

5. Schedule out time to relax

Look at your schedule for the upcoming week. Have you blocked out any time to relax? While this might seem counterproductive, working relaxation into your schedule will, in the long run, leave you more room to get things done.

Trying to push through all your work at once will leave you feeling burned out and unmotivated, so break up your work load with 10 to 15-minute rest periods in-between. During those periods, complete a few of those mindless tasks we mentioned earlier. The key is to let your mind wander and recharge.

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By doing multiple things at once (within reason), settling yourself into the occasional flow state, setting goals and just getting to it—with the occasional break in-between—will boost your productivity and keep you on task even when you have to step back and let your brain breathe for a few minutes.

Featured photo credit: Hillary via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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