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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 28, 2020

            The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

            The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

            At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

            Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

            One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

            When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

            So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

            Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

            This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

            Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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            When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

            Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

            One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

            Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

            An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

            When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

            Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

            Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

            We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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            By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

            Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

            While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

            I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

            You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

            Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

            When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

            Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

            Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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            Con #2: Less Human Interaction

            One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

            Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

            Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

            This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

            While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

            Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

            Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

            This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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            For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

            Con #4: Unique Distractions

            Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

            For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

            To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

            Final Thoughts

            Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

            We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

            More About Working From Home

            Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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