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13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity

13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity

    Looking to increase your productivity? You’ve come to the right article. I don’t claim to be a productivity master (I always think there’s room for improvement), but I am very passionate about increasing productivity. I’m always looking for different ways to be more productive – stealing pockets of time where I can, deprioritizing the unimportant, getting system overhauls, etc. And I love it when I see my efforts pay off in the form of increased outputs at the end of the day.

    In this article, I have selected 13 of my best productivity strategies – tried, tested and validated. If you follow all of them to a tee, I can guarantee you that your productivity will double, triple whatever it is right now – or even more. I personally make it a point to follow these steps every day. During the days when I don’t do that, my productivity plummets. The days I do, my productivity soars. The correlation is obvious. I have also compiled a list of the best resources for some of the steps for your further reading.

    Here they are :D

    1. Set your productivity targets

    Probably half of the self-help articles out there keeps telling us to set goals and set targets. Do you know why? It’s because it really works. When you set goals, you focus your energy on the things you want to achieve. Things which you wouldn’t be achieving by default. That automatically makes you more productive.

    I do regular goal setting to maximize my output. For example, one of my goals for the upcoming month is to write 30 articles, which is an average of 1 article a day. These articles will include articles for my blog, The Personal Excellence Blog, and guest articles for other large sites, including LifeHack.Org. My average output in the past few months was only been an average of 1-2 articles per week, so I decided to set a 30 article goal to stretch me to write a lot more than I normally do. By virtue of just setting this goal and striving for it, I’m naturally increasing my output more than if I didn’t set it.

    Be clear on what exactly you want to achieve. What do you want to accomplish for the upcoming month? What is a goal that will make you feel absolutely exhilarated and surging with pride if you achieve it? Set that as your goal. From there, set your weekly goals. Finally, you can set your daily goals which become your day-to-day targets.

    Further reading:

    2. Maintain a work environment conducive to productivity

      Does your work environment encourage you to work? Or does it distract you more often than not? Your environment sets the stage for your work flow, so pick the right environment to work. What is the kind of environment that encourages you to work? This might require a bit of experimentation. After trying out different places, I find that I work best in quiet spots where there are minimal people around – such as my room, the library, cafes and in my neighborhood. So I only do my work at these areas.

      Those of you who are employed can’t exactly choose the environment to work in. If that’s the case, then modify your environment to make it conducive. Organize your work desk (next step). Decorate it with your favorite pictures and inspirational quotes. Put up a photo frame or two. Have your favorite mug there. Sometimes you may not enjoy all the work you have to do, but that doesn’t mean you have to make yourself miserable. If you feel like home, you will be more inspired to get things done.

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      Further Reading

      3. Have an organized workspace

      Having an organized work desk will undoubtedly help improve your productivity. If you have a messy workspace, you will feel disorganized and sluggish. You won’t even feel like doing anything since it’s so disorganized. Whereas if you have a nice, tidy and organized workspace, you’ll be inspired to get work done. You can find your things easily rather than waste precious minutes sieving through your pile of papers for something you saw just a while ago. If you are self-employed like I am, it’s especially important to be organized and on top of things.

      I have a small work desk in my room which I make a point to keep clean and tidy. My reports, folders and random papers are stashed into a magazine organizer (which I got from Ikea 3 years ago for a few bucks only – one of my best investments ever). Pens and stationery are placed in the stationery holders. I leave enough space for my laptop and a writing area on my right side. Throughout the work days my table will get cluttered naturally, so every few days I will do some cleaning and tidying to get things in order. Even my own laptop is considered a part of my work desk – and I use post-it notes and excel sheets to organize my task lists. All these create an inviting space for me to work at any time of the day.

      Further Reading:

      4. Put first things first

      Habit # 3 in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. First Things First refers to putting the important things first before anything else. And why does this matter? That’s because there are 24 hours a day.  There are about a million different things we can pick to do. Some will be important things that make a difference. The rest will be unimportant things that actually don’t make any difference at all. Out of this million things, we have to pick and choose, otherwise we’ll forever be drowning in work and never get anything done. Focus on the important and deprioritize the latter.

      One question I use to filter out the unimportant tasks is “Will doing this make a difference in the next 6 months?” If the answer is no or a small yes, I put it aside. If it’s a big yes, then I give disproportionate focus to it. Of course, we can never give a 100% accurate assessment since we can’t see the future, but we have sufficient knowledge to give a good assessment. For example, my key goal for this year is to develop my blog, which is an essential part of my personal development business. When I apply that question to my list of blog tasks, I automatically focus on tasks like (1) guest posting which lets me reach out to significantly more readers and gains new long-term readers and subscribers to my blog (2) writing new, quality articles to my readers and (3) writing my book which will be a personal milestone and establish a new income stream at the same time. Other miscellaneous tasks like checking emails, sorting them, editing the site and reading facebook/twitter messages get deprioritized to later parts of the day.

      Further reading:

      5. Time box your tasks

      Time boxing refers to boxing your tasks within fixed time slots. For example, boxing task A from 9-10:30am, then task B from 10:30-1pm, then task C from 2-4pm. Time boxing is good because it prevents your task from dragging on and on. There’s a saying that your work will take however long that you want it to, and I find it’s very true. Ever have a project deadline where you need to burn the midnight oil to get the work done? Most of us usually feel that we wouldn’t need to rush like that if the deadline was later on. Fact is, it doesn’t matter when the deadline is. Even if it’s 1 week later, 2 weeks later or 1 month later, the same last minute rush will still take place before. We take that long to do the work because that’s the timeline we give ourselves.

      Hence, time box your tasks. If you set a specific time period and strictly adhere to it, you will find a way to get the work done. Of course, set a time that is challenging yet achievable. If a task requires 3 hours, don’t set 4 hours because you will use up all the 4 hours. Set 3 hours – preferably lesser so you can learn to optimize your output during the period (again, provided you enforce the time box strongly).

      Further reading:

      Of course, it may be hard for the neurotic perfectionists among us to limit the time spent, because that’ll result in a compromise in quality. That goes to our next principle, which is…

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      6. Use the 80/20 rule

        80/20 refers to the phenomenon where 80% of the outputs is brought about by 20% of efforts. The remaining 20% of the output can only be achieved by putting in 80% effort.

        So let’s say you have a report due, and to produce the absolute best report you are capable of, you need about 100 hours. 80/20 rule says that you can get 80% of the quality in by spending 20 hours (20% of 100 hours). On the other hand, the finishing touches to boost this report from a 80% to 100% quality requires you to spend 80 hours (80% of the time). From effectiveness standpoint, that doesn’t cut it at all. 80/20 rule tells us to just get the 80% quality in and chuck the remaining 20% since the time needed doesn’t justify the increment in value we get.

        Hence, by the 80/20 rule, we have to learn to let go of the nitty gritty. Forget the little details that no one but you notices. You can keep revising something to perfection, but that time is probably better spent working on a whole new task. The key is to focus your energy on producing the 80% of every thing you do – which is also the 80% that matters. Draw a mental cut off limit and let go of everything that lies outside of the limit.

        Further reading:

        7. Have a separate list for incoming tasks

          If you’re like me, you are going to get a whole streaming list of random, miscellaneous tasks to do throughout the whole work day. I used to give attention to these things when they come immediately. Say extra task # 1 comes in now, I’ll do it immediately since it takes just 5-10 minutes. This is the same for extra task # 2, #3…. all the way to #15. After a while, I realized these things take a lot of my time and I don’t even get any meaningful result out of them.  Not only that, I never get to finish my real work for the day because I’m so busy with the random stuff. I may think I’m being very productive when I finish them, but truth is it’s just fake productivity.

          So nowadays, I just use a separate list for these urgent tasks. I dump all the incoming tasks into the list and focus on my daily goals list. Then at the end of the day, I allocate a time slot to clear these tasks. I batch the similar urgent tasks, then clear them at one go. Turns out I’m always able to get them cleared less than an hour, compared to the few hours I’d have taken if I attended to them in the day.

          8. Upgrade your skills

          Our limitations in output come from limitations in our own skill level. Upgrade your skills and you will increase your output. It’s like updating our computer software with newer versions so we can create more. Our skillsets are our tools that help us create. We need better tools to create better materials.

          For example, now that I want to write an average of a new article a day, I need to learn to maintain/increase the same quality of writing as before, while writing in lesser time. In preparation of that, I’m reading more A-List personal development blogs (to be more in-tuned with A-list writings) and writing blogs like Copyblogger and Write To Done to pick up writing techniques/skills. These will undoubtedly help me to write faster.

          What key skills do you use in your work? How can you upgrade them to become more productive?

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          9. Know your motivation triggers

          You know how there are times when we are really inspired to work, where other times we’ll feel like a total sloth? It’s normal. The sloth-like times come when we lose touch with our inner muse. If you are aware of your motivational triggers, you can connect with them and jumpstart your productivity.

          For example, I’m usually inspired to work on my blog, and I find I’m even more inspired knowing I have a target to achieve (such as achieving X subscribers by the month), or when there’s (friendly) competition (benchmarking my traffic against larger personal development blogs), or when there’s a cause bigger than me (recognizing that there are many people out there who stand to gain from my articles). When I sieve out these triggers and integrate them with my daily life – such as subscribing to the feed of those A-list blogs, having open communication channels with my readers (comments area, facebook, twitter, email) and talking to fellow bloggers, my momentum increases dramatically. It becomes an upward spiral that reinforces itself.

          How about you? What are your motivational triggers? When were the times when you felt inspired? How can you integrate these triggers into your daily life to reinforce your motivation? Doing this will definitely boost up your productivity.

          10. Utilize time pockets

          The time pockets refers to the little pockets of time you have in between one event to the next. Time pockets usually appear during waiting / traveling times, such as waiting for buses / trains, commuting, waiting for appointments to start, etc. Have some ready activities to be done during the time pockets. You will be amazed at how much can be done in just a short amount of time. Some activities I do include listening to self help podcasts and typing my articles on my laptop. Usually I make sure I get a seat on the bus by taking the earlier buses. In a 40-minute journey, I can get about 20% of my articles typed in a 40 minute bus journey, or about 400~500 words. That’s a good amount of work done compared to if I just slept on the trip.

          Further reading:

          11. Hold yourself accountable to your targets

          Progress tracking is essential to know how you are doing. We can be frantically working to up our productivity but if we know there’s no accountability, at some point we’re going to slow down. I have a weekly review with myself every Saturday morning, where I review my progress in my goals the week before. If I met my goals, I give myself a big hug and pat on the back. If I didn’t, I understand what went wrong. Then from there, I plan out my action plan for the next week to achieve next week’s goals. These weekly goals ladder up to the monthly goals at the end of the month, where I do a monthly review.

          Further reading:

          12. Wake up early

            This may be specific to individuals, but I’ll just share this as it’s true for me. Waking up early really does make me work faster and better. Personally I don’t think there’s any scientific rationale behind waking up early and being more productive. I think it’s more of a psychological feel-good factor – Since you are up before 99.99% of the world, you want to maintain the lead, so that spurs you on to work fast. When you work fast, you finish more things, and that motivates you to maintain the lead and do even more stuff.

            Another reason why waking up early helps is because the quietness in the morning is a conducive environment to get more done. I love being up early (5am) and hearing absolutely nothing in my neighborhood. The birds have not even broken into song yet, cars are not on the road and my family isn’t up either. Perfect time to get things done.

            Further Reading:

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            13. Remember To Rest

            We are not machines or robots. We can’t sustain the same output endlessly without rest. When the time comes, we need to rest/sleep to recover our energy, so we can continue on the next day. Remember, it’s about quality of work produced, not quantity of hours spent. I find that when I choose to continue on when I’m tired, I’m still able to produce stuff, but at a dismal pace. When I get my rest though, I can get a lot more done, even though the total number of hours spent is actually lesser.

            Further Reading:

            Let me know how these 13 strategies work for you. If you have other productivity principles, I’ll love to hear them too. I’ll be happy to discuss them in the comments area.

            Images: rberteig, aheram, danseprofane

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            More by this author

            Celestine Chua

            Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

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            Last Updated on January 21, 2020

            Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

            Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

            Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

            This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

            The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

            The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

            Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

            Curiosity

            Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

            People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

            Patience

            Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

            When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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            Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

            A Feeling for Connectedness

            This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

            A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

            The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

            How to Self-Taught Effectively

            With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

            1. Research

            Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

            Learning the Basics

            Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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            Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

            What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

            Hitting the Books

            Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

            Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

            Long-Term Reference

            While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

            My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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            2. Practice

            Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

            A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

            Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

            Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

            3. Network

            One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

            These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

            Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

            Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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            4. Schedule

            For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

            Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

            Final Thoughts

            In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

            If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

            At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

            More About Self-Learning

            Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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