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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 September 18, 2019

            How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

            How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

            Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

            I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

            One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

            Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

            The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

            And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

            What to Write Down

            Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

            Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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            Dates of Events

            Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

            For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

            Names of People

            Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

            Theories or Frameworks

            Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

            Definitions

            Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

            Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

            Arguments and Debates

            Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

            This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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            Images

            Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

            Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

            Other Stuff

            Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

            I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

            Your Own Questions

            Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

            3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

            You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

            1. Outlining

            Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

            Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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            For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

            2. Mind-Mapping

            For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

            Here’s the idea:

            In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

            The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

            If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

            You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

            3. The Cornell System

            The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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            About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

            You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

            In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

            You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

            The Bottom Line

            I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

            I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

            More About Note-Taking

            Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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