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5 Productivity Tools To Work Smarter, Not Harder

5 Productivity Tools To Work Smarter, Not Harder
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Modern day life constantly demands our time, attention, and energy. We put pressure on ourselves to juggle more tasks as we increase our workloads to get more things done quicker. Instead of accomplishing enough to be satisfied, we are often left feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, disconnected, and unfulfilled.

This frantic lifestyle not only diminishes the quality of our results, it’s also impossible to maintain. Something has got to give eventually and if it’s not your relationships and happiness, it will become your health. Just like a car needs regular maintenance to perform well and batteries need to be recharged, our bodies need nurturing, rest, and rejuvenation.

Although working burnout style is an easy habit to slip into when you have a lot of tasks to accomplish, research shows that workers get no more done when they work 50-hour work-weeks than when they work 40-hour work-weeks. So, what does that say for working 70 plus hours a week? These extra unproductive hours are usually spent engaged in disruptive activities such as answering emails, phone calls, and unnecessary meetings, or recovering from stress, lack of sleep, and sugar or caffeine lows.

The best way to balance out our demanding lifestyle and become more productive at what we do, including work, is to manage our energy. Do more activities that recharge you and give you energy, so you can can be more successful in what you choose to focus your energy on.

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While building up an executive marketing and design career over the past 14 years, I have successfully been able to accomplish all my work tasks within a 40-hour work week. This left me time for rest, travel, hobbies, building relationships, and being a competitive athlete. I did this by managing my energy outside of the office, so when I was at work I had the energy to be more productive and successful.

Here are five energy management tools and activities you can do to create more clarity, productivity, and success in your life.

1. Start your day right.

How you start your day has a big influence on how productive you are for the rest of the day, and I’m not referring to how much coffee you drink. Setting a relaxed mindset and making sure your body and brain receive adequate nutrition is vital for productivity. If you wake up with worry, fear, or any other troubling emotions, do what you can to get back into a calm state. Remember you choose how you feel; no one else can dictate that. Express your thoughts in a notebook, meditate, or exercise to get the tense energy out.

Next, feed your body and brain healthy food. Aim for natural non-processed food that isn’t going to give you a sugar crash later on or encourage junk food cravings. Feed your body and mind what it needs to create success.

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2. Visualize success.

Visualizing success paves the pathway to tangibly achieve success. Just like athletes visualize their race over and over in their heads, visualizing your day going well energetically and mentally sets you in alignment with your goals.

Each morning, create a plan of how you want your day to go by visualizing all your goals. Visualize the main tasks, meetings, or conversations of that day going well. Play out the events in your head one at a time using only positive thoughts and emotions.

At a neurological level, our brain doesn’t know the difference between what actually happens and what we visualize. The brain reacts very similarly to both real and imagined experiences. That’s why chronic worriers feel the stress in their body like the potential disaster has already happened. Visualizing success can decrease fear and worry, as your brain has already experienced a positive outcome.

3. Set a strict finish time.

Before starting work, set a hard deadline of when you will finish. Knowing you only have a certain amount of time to complete your tasks often leads to more focus and less temptation for distraction. That’s why cramming students can get more study done close to the exam time since they have no choice but to solidly focus.

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If you are a serial workaholic and can’t see yourself finishing when you plan to, then make solid commitments after work. Reserve a dinner table, book a yoga or exercise class, buy tickets to an event, or park your car somewhere you have to move at your finishing time. In other words do whatever it takes to get 1-3 tasks done for that day within the allotted time. It’s amazing how much your productivity increases when you have focus and are not multitasking/time-wasting.

4. Meditate or exercise during your lunch break.

Taking a mental and physical break from work allows you to relax, recharge, and return with more focus. Throughout my professional career, I have been very consistent in taking at least a 1-hour lunch break to do exercise, yoga, or meditation. No matter how busy I am that day, I know taking a break will provide me with more energy and focus to be more productive when I return. In fact, during heavy workloads and intense deadlines my exercise/meditation break is one of the main tools to reduce my stress and recharge me to continue to focus.

Choose a cardiovascular activity such as a 45 minute spin class, weights workout, or running, to increase the adrenaline in your body and provide more creative energy for when you return. If you don’t have a gym near your workplace or a shower in the building for exercising outside, try meditation. Get some fresh air and sit in a park to do your meditation, listen to a guided meditation, or practice mindfulness while walking.

5. Set boundaries.

Having the strength to say “no” and setting your boundaries keeps your energy in tact and increases productivity. Get clear on what you need in order to do a good job then say no to people, meetings, extra work, disruptive activities, and tasks that don’t serve your highest good and ultimately the company’s success.

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Assess and pick only tasks and activities that you need to complete to move forward. If someone wants to have a 2-hour meeting and ramble on, make it clear you only have 20 or 30 minutes, then get out of there. If someone wants to disrupt you with emails and phone calls when you are trying to focus, tell them you have a deadline and you will get back to them another time. If other people want you work long hours and burnout with them, go to the gym or do yoga then return the next day much more refreshed and sharp.

Conclusion

To eliminate time-wasting and burnout habits you need to take a stand and try a different approach. Even if you stand out from the crowd, the results will speak for themselves, both professionally and personally. To be more successful and productive than the crowd, you need to break free from the crowd.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Kelly Weiss

Purpose-driven business + lifestyle coach

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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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