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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

Productivity Can Be Improved By These 10 Actionable Steps

Productivity Can Be Improved By These 10 Actionable Steps

If there is any challenge that is common to everyone apart from staying happy, it’s improving personal productivity.

Nothing stimulates joy like getting things done and doing the right things. You become happier when you are focused and productive.

So what is productivity and how do we improve it?

What is Personal Productivity?

Personal productivity means different things to different individuals. Some might define personal productivity as accomplishing your milestones without failing, or setting goals and completing them.

So what, then, is personal productivity?

Personal productivity can be thought of as completing a set of tasks that moves you forward in the direction of your life purpose without causing you to sacrifice other life aspects.

Personal productivity can be improved by identifying your key objectives and what actionable steps you need to take to fulfill them.

In all of this, it’s important to remember that personal productivity is different than workplace productivity. Here’s why.

Personal Productivity Vs. Workplace Productivity

Workplace productivity deals with your level of efficiency in accomplishing corporate goals and providing goods or top-notch solutions for customers. For instance, productivity in the workplace could incorporate the speed at which you respond to a query as a customer service assistant or design a website for a web development agency.

The 4 Components of Productivity

Penny Zenker, a notable Productivity Coach, propounded four essential components of productivity: purpose, language, focus, and physiology. Let’s break these down.

Purpose

According to Penny,

“When you are on a course or purpose that goes beyond what’s in it for you or what you need to do, you gain a higher sense of being more productive and a feeling that you are working on something significant.”[1]

One way to find your sense of purpose is by answering your “Whys.”

Language

Language is another crucial component. It’s how you express yourself in describing the world around you.

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Any time you utilize negative words during self-talk, you are conditioning yourself to produce negative situations.

Productivity can be improved by paying attention to the language you use. That way, you can change your words consciously and then talk yourself into becoming more productive.

Therefore, try to change your language to improve your output!

Focus

You only have 24 hours each day. How do you guide your energy within this limited time-frame? The answer lies in being focused.

Focus is the art of directing your energy towards your objectives. It is eliminating every form of distraction and achieving your set goals.

Physiology

You need a great body to be productive. That’s why your physiology influences your level of productivity.

For instance, what you eat affects what you can do. If you continuously neglect the habit of eating healthy, you will continually undermine your performance and efficiency.

So what’s the way forward?

Take good care of your body!

Productivity can be improved by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and spending time with nature.

How to Evaluate Productivity

Evaluating your productivity is an important step as it helps you keep track of what you’re doing right and wrong on your journey to completing your goals. Try these five proven steps to keep you on track.

1. Review Your Completed To-Do Lists

One of the strategic means of assessing your productivity is by examining your completed to-do lists. You can accurately look at your activities in the past two to three weeks. Find out what you have accomplished. Estimate how many tasks, how long each task took you, and find the ones you failed to complete.

Were you distracted? Busy? Or lacking sufficient time? The essence of this assessment is to enable you find a solution that can assist you in completing your objectives on time.

2. Track Your Time

Tracking your time is highly crucial to determining your productivity level. You only have 24 hours, just like any other person. How you spend each second is what differentiates you from the rest of the world.

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While some are experts at managing their time productively, others retire at night without any significant thing they have accomplished all day.

You just can’t live your life like that.

Track your time to derive an accurate evaluation of your accomplishments and performance in your workplace.

3. Practice Accountability

While you can collaborate with an accountability partner to monitor your progress, Jones Loflin, a keynote speaker and a prolific author, also recommends that you ask yourself some reflective questions daily[2]:

  • Was I productive today or reactive?
  • Have I accomplished any of my short-term goals?
  • What took my time today?
  • Who is excited that I was part of their day?
  • What did I accomplish today that will relieve me of stress tomorrow?
  • What did I fail to do that can make my tomorrow worse off?

While you don’t have to ask all these questions each day, you can ask them at intervals throughout the week.

You can also practice journaling or blog about your experience.

4. Allocate a Time-frame for Your Goals

Establishing a timeline is one of the requirements for creating SMART goals. You can determine if you have accomplished your objectives when you have a time period as a point of reference. You provide yourself a timeline to implement your tasks when you assign deadlines for all your milestones.

That way, you can detect when you are not meeting your deadlines and quickly get back on track.

5. Complete a Weekly Review

The best time to audit your accomplishment is the weekend and not the end of the year. Create time each week to evaluate your objectives and track your outcomes. Find out which stage you are in, and determine how you can tweak your schedules and routines to better achieve your aims.

How to Improve Productivity

Tracking productivity is important, but it’s all for naught if you’re unable to improve your productivity in the face of difficulties. Productivity can be improved by incorporating these simple things into your life.

1. Exercise

Do this first thing when you wake up. According to research, exercise, especially team exercise, can enhance your mood for up to 12 hours after a workout.[3]

Therefore, if you care to have a productive day, invest your first 20 minutes in physical exercises.

Nothing energizes you like physical exercises, and productivity can be improved by a boost in your energy level.

2. Prioritize the Most Critical Tasks

Everyone has specific activities that count the most. An important step is to identify three things that add value to your life’s purpose.

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What three things produce the most income?

What three things generate the highest impact?

Delete the “additional stuff” as much as you can. This action will enable you to enjoy the importance of focusing on your most important activities.

3. Allocate Less Time for Major Projects

Time is like a new mansion. You fill a new house with furniture and fittings, just as you load each block of your time with activities.

So here’s a practical approach you can apply.

Reduce the amount of time you assign for a critical task.

That will help you to focus and stay productive. It will also optimize your energy level and help you get things done faster.

4. Chunk Your House Chores

Now that you are working from home, housekeeping activities can become your greatest distractions.

You don’t have to worry about that.

Instead of performing those tasks at any time of the day, sort them out in an organized block. Then, schedule the blocks and take them out when you are tired or need a mental break.

5. Learn to Say No

That does not mean you are not polite. It’s important to protect your time by saying no as often as you say yes.

Time is a great asset; you cannot waste it trying to please everyone.

6. Schedule Free Time

Don’t let your free time just happen. It should not also be a product of “if you have a chance.”

Plan it!

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Set out fun things to do during those free periods. It could be watching a new movie or playing an exciting game. Let it be something that you love so you can anticipate it.

Productivity can be improved by an increased level of happiness, which we can improve during those crucial moments of free time.

7. Take a Productivity Nap

A quick nap has the ability to boost your creativity, retention, and focus.[4]

Midday siestas can supercharge your productivity, so don’t overwork yourself; take a nap!

8. Use Your Mind to Think, Not to Recollect

Never clutter your mind with mental lists of things you need to remember.

Instead, write those things down and focus your mind on how to do them better. Avoid wasting your mental energy on remembering important ideas, and let papers take care of that.

9. Turn off Notifications

Turn off email dings, phone buzzes, and pop-ups. Every notification distracts you from the most important task, so eliminating them is an important step if you want to focus your energy.

Go notification-free, and once or twice each out, check for a few minutes if you’ve missed an urgent call or a message.

Most of the time, you will discover you haven’t missed anything and that the time you gained was better spent being productive.

10. Create Room for Reflection

Block about 20 to 30 minutes of your working time for reflection.

Close the door and reflect. You can also take a walk during this period. Exercising this way can aid your thinking as it encourages focused energy and relaxation.[5]

Bonus Point: Use the 2-Minute Rule

In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen recommends:

“When an activity requires less than two minutes, do not schedule it, do not set it aside for a later time, do not set a reminder — just do them instantly.”

Bottom Line

Productivity can be improved by the ten actionable steps mentioned above. Don’t forget to do the most important things first, allocate limited time for them, and focus like a laser to achieve your milestones.

Don’t forget the two-minute rule! If you can get it done quickly, get it done now.

More Productivity Tips

Featured photo credit: Carl Heyerdahl via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

“As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

What Is Block Scheduling?

Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

“Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

What is time blocking?

    1. Assess Your Calendar

    Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

    Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

    2. Look for Patterns

    After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

    • Administrative
    • Meetings
    • Creative work
    • Email
    • Personal time.

    You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

    3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

    Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

    • 8-9am: Respond to emails
    • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
    • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
    • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

    However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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    Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

    Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

    Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

    4. Create Day Themes

    If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

    If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

    Benefits of Block Scheduling

    Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

    Battle Procrastination

    If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

    For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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    Create Realistic Time Estimates

    Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

    Develop More Focus and Attention

    When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

    Final Thoughts

    Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

    In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

    If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

    Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

    More Tips on Time Management

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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