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11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box is more than just a business cliché. It means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before. Ironically, its a cliché that means to think of clichéd situations in ways that aren’t clichéd.

We’re told to “think outside the box” all the time, but how exactly do we do that? How do we develop the ability to confront problems in ways other than the ways we normally confront problems? How do we cultivate the ability to look at things differently from the way we typically look at things?

Thinking outside the box starts well before we’re “boxed in” – that is, well before we confront a unique situation and start forcing it into a familiar “box” that we already know how to deal with. Or at least think we know how to deal with.

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Here are 11 ways to beef up your out-of-the-box thinking skills. Make an effort to push your thinking up to and beyond its limit every now and again – the talents you develop may come in handy the next time you face a situation that “everybody knows” how to solve.

1. Study another industry.

I’ve learned as much about teaching from learning about marketing as I have from studying pedagogy – maybe more. Go to the library and pick up a trade magazine in an industry other than your own, or grab a few books from the library, and learn about how things are done in other industries. You might find that many of the problems people in other industries face are similar to the problems in your own, but that they’ve developed really quite different ways of dealing with them. Or you might well find new linkages between your own industry and the new one, linkages that might well be the basis of innovative partnerships in the future.

2. Learn about another religion.

Religions are the way that humans organize and understand their relationships not only with the supernatural or divine but with each other. Learning about how such relations are structured can teach you a lot about how people relate to each other and the world around them. Starting to see the reason in another religion can also help you develop mental flexibility – when you really look at all the different ways people comprehend the same mysteries, and the fact that they generally manage to survive regardless of what they believe, you start to see the limitations of whatever dogma or doxy you follow, a revelation that will transfer quite a bit into the non-religious parts of your life.

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3. Take a class.

Learning a new topic will not only teach you a new set of facts and figures, it will teach you a new way of looking at and making sense of aspects of your everyday life or of the society or natural world you live in. This in turn will help expand both how you look at problems and the breadth of possible solutions you can come up with.

4. Read a novel in an unfamiliar genre.

Reading is one of the great mental stimulators in our society, but it’s easy to get into a rut. Try reading something you’d never have touched otherwise – if you read literary fiction, try a mystery or science fiction novel; if you read a lot of hard-boiled detective novels, try a romance; and so on. Pay attention not only to the story but to the particular problems the author has to deal with. For instance, how does the fantasy author bypass your normal skepticism about magic and pull you into their story? Try to connect those problems to problems you face in your own field. For example, how might your marketing team overcome your audiences normal reticence about a new “miracle” product?

5. Write a poem.

While most problem-solving leans heavily on our brain’s logical centers, poetry neatly bridges our more rational left-brain though processes and our more creative right-brain processes. Though it may feel foolish (and getting comfortable with feeling foolish might be another way to think outside the box), try writing a poem about the problem you’re working on. Your poem doesn’t necessarily have to propose a solution – the idea is to shift your thinking away from your brain’s logic centers and into a more creative part of the brain, where it can be mulled over in a non-rational way. Remember, nobody has to ever see your poem…

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6. Draw a picture.

Drawing a picture is even more right-brained, and can help break your logical left-brain’s hold on a problem the same way a poem can. Also, visualizing a problem engages other modes of thinking that we don’t normally use, bringing you another creative boost.

7. Turn it upside down.

Turning something upside-down, whether physically by flipping a piece of paper around or metaphorically by re-imagining it can help you see patterns that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent. The brain has a bunch of pattern-making habits that often obscure other, more subtle patterns at work; changing the orientation of things can hide the more obvious patterns and make other patterns emerge. For example, you might ask what a problem would look like if the least important outcome were the most important, and how you’d then try to solve it.

8. Work backwards.

Just like turning a thing upside down, working backwards breaks the brain’s normal conception of causality. This is the key to backwards planning, for example, where you start with a goal and think back through the steps needed to reach it until you get to where you are right now.

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9. Ask a child for advice.

I don’t buy into the notion that children are inherently ore creative before society “ruins” them, but I do know that children think and speak with a n ignorance of convention that is often helpful. Ask a child how they might tackle a problem, or if you don’t have a child around think about how you might reformulate a problem so that a child could understand it if one was available. Don’t run out and build a boat made out of cookies because a child told you to, though – the idea isn’t to do what the child says, necessarily, but to jog your own thinking into a more unconventional path.

10. Invite randomness.

If you’ve ever seen video of Jackson Pollock painting, you have seen a masterful painter consciously inviting randomness into his work. Pollock exercises a great deal of control over his brushes and paddles, in the service of capturing the stray drips and splashes of paint that make up his work. Embracing mistakes and incorporating them into your projects, developing strategies that allow for random input, working amid chaotic juxtapositions of sound and form – all of these can help to move beyond everyday patterns of thinking into the sublime.

11. Take a shower.

There’s some kind of weird psychic link between showering and creativity. Who knows why? Maybe it’s because your mind is on other things, maybe it’s because you’re naked, maybe it’s the warm water relaxing you – it’s a mystery. But a lot of people swear by it. So maybe when the status quo response to some circumstance just isn’t working, try taking a shower and see if something remarkable doesn’t occur to you!

Do you have strategies for thinking differently? Share your tips with us in the comments.

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Last Updated on November 2, 2020

50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

If you feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do, maybe it’s time to check-in with your time management skills.

No one is born to be very good at time management, so that’s okay if you think you’re bad in it. But everyone can learn to boost their productivity and achieve more!

Here are 50 ways to increase productivity and add hours to your day.

1. Set a Timer

Estimate the time you need to tackle different tasks and set a timer for each of your tasks. How you go about this is up to you as there are many different ways. There is the Pomodoro technique where you focus on a task for 25 minutes followed by a five minute break afterwards.

In the event that you have a task that will take much longer than that, you can consider one of the many timer-based apps. One that comes to mind is Clockify. It’s used for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike, however it’s a good way to be setting yourself a timer. It provides reports and you can serve as a project manager of sorts too. Best of all, it’s free.

Download Clockify here.

    2. Eliminate All Distractions

    Distractions include the phone, email notifications and having multiple web browsers open on the desktop. Just as it’s important to be organized offline, it’s key to have things organized online as well. One consideration is trying out Freedom an app that allows you to block certain sites during periods of time. Try it out on your phone here.

    You can also learn more on how to get rid of all distractions in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    3. Listen to Music That Boosts Productivity

    Distractions should be avoided, but sometimes a bit of music in the background can help you focus.

    Of course, it doesn’t need to be heavy rock music, but a bit of Beethoven may do you some good.

    Here’s a complete guide to help you pick the right music for better productivity: How To Maximize Your Productivity With Music: A Complete Guide

    4. Find Meaning in What You Do (And Love What You Do)

    Enjoying what you do is the ultimate way to increase your productivity.

    If you aren’t sure what you love doing yet, don’t worry. Leo Babauta has some unique ways to help you: How to Find Your Passion

    5. Prioritize your tasks ahead of time.

    By listing your tasks in order of importance, you can make sure that you finish all of your most important tasks during the day.

    Learn a unique technique to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster.

    6. Batch Similar Tasks into a Single Batch.

    Tasks like blog writing, phone calls, email and errands can be grouped into a single batch. You will save time by completing similar tasks in one session. One way to help you with organizing all of those things is through the app Todoist. It’s an easy and simple way for you to plan out your day, set reminders, and group all of your most important tasks in a convenient spot.

    Download Todoist here.

      7. Complete Your Most Dreaded Tasks First Thing in the Morning.

      Whichever activity you are dreading the most is probably the one you need to complete first thing in the morning.

      Many people tend to check emails in the morning because after checking a list of emails, they feel fulfilled. But that’s just an illusion of having achieved more.

      Doing simple tasks like checking emails first in the morning is bad for you. Instead, do the difficult tasks because you have more energy in the morning to tackle them!

      8. Reward Yourself for Finishing a Big Task

      To stay motivated for whatever you do, reward yourself every now and then.

      Keep track of your small wins and milestones and celebrate them. So whenever you struggle about your progress, you see how far you’ve come!

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      Find out more about this 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself.

      9. Don’t Multitask

      Research has shown that multitasking is not productive. If you think you can multitask, think again.

      For optimum productivity, focus on one thing at a time.

      10. Step Away from the Computer

      The Internet has become one of the number one distraction. To increase your productivity, try to do as much of your work offline as possible.

      I do this a lot when I try to brainstom new ideas and have found it to be very beneficial to simply unplug.

      11. Use Focus Tools

      Make good use of apps and technology to help you remove distractions.

      Here’re 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools to help you stay focused. This way, you’re not distracted by the web, e-mail, or IM.

      12. Just Start

      Often times, starting is the hardest part. People tend to wait for the perfect time with perfect condition to start. But there’s no perfect condition.

      Once you get going, you will quickly get into a rhythm that could last for hours.

      13. Find out Your Productive Hours

      Everyone has a certain time of the day in which they are more productive than others. For me, it’s the morning.

      Find out when your prime time is for productivity and optimize your work schedule accordingly.

      14. Keep a Notebook and Pen on Hand at All Times

      This way, you can write down your thoughts, to-dos and ideas at any time. The key is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Your subconscious mind won’t be reminding you about it every other second. Another consideration is getting the app Evernote. Not only does this save you on ink and paper, Evernote is a convenient place for you to jot down notes and thoughts and then share them with the team. In certain circumstances, this can prove useful if you’re the type of person that has a lot of ideas that you want to share.

      Download Evernote here.

        15. Write a Blog to Chronicle Your Own Personal Development and Achievements

        The blog keeps you accountable and always working towards self improvement and personal growth.

        When you write down all the small achievements you’ve been having, you’re also more motivated to move forward.

        And you know what, this is how I started Lifehack too! What also helped me in starting Lifehack is WordPress, which allows people to set up a website for free. WordPress has simplified a lot of the process of building a site to the point that virtually anyone can build a website now.

        Try WordPress out here.

        16. Write out a To-Do-List Each Day

        I like to plan my day the night before. This way, I can get started on my most important tasks as soon as I wake up.

        Make sure you don’t make any of these common to-do-list mistakes!

        17. Write Your Most Important Tasks and To-Dos on a Calendar.

        The key to good time management is knowing where to be and what to be doing there at any given time. Effective calendar management goes hand in hand with good task list management.

        Learn here How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space.

        18. Reflect on Your Productivity Constantly

        As you go throughout your day, repeatedly ask yourself:

        “Am I currently making the best possible use of my time?”

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        This one simple question can be an excellent boost to your productivity.

        19. Get up Early Before Anyone Else

        I know it could be difficult for some to wake up early in the morning but nothing beats a quiet house!

        Here’s How to Start Your Day at 5:00 AM and some Simple Things Early Risers Do to make waking up early easier.

        20. Get Plenty of Sleep

        When you work online, sleep can become a long lost memory. However, it’s important to get plenty of sleep so that your working hours can be as productive as possible.

        Try out this night routine which I highly recommend for productivity: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

        21. Exercise

        Research has shown that midday exercise boosts productivity and morale in the workplace.

        Take a short walk at lunch or do some simple stretches during your break to maximize your productivity.

        Here I have some exercises recommendations for you:

        22. Outsource as Much as Possible

        If you want to achieve more in less time, learn to delegate or outsource work. Here are just a few of the companies that will help you outsource your everyday tasks:

        Also, read this guide to learn how to delegate effectively: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

        23. Set Some Exciting Goals

        Without worthy goals, you will never be motivated to get things done.

        Set goals that are challenging and achievable. The best goal setting framework is a SMART goal. That said, there are other tools that can help you out as well.

        For example, Strides is an app that takes the SMART goal framework and amplifies it through reports, charts, and other helpful information to help you achieve your goals faster and regularly.

        You can download Strides here.

          24. Tell Other People About Your Goals

          When you tell others about your goals, you will instantly be held accountable.

          25. Listen to Podcasts

          Listen to educational podcasts or audio books while you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, or cooking dinner.

          Audio learning has the power to add hours to your day. Not to mention, your cranium is sure to thank you for it.

          Some recommendations for you: 11 Podcasts To Inspire Yourself

          26. Read David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done

          This is one of the most important productivity books you will ever read. Read it, apply the tips in your daily lives and get more things done.

          Here’re more great books about productivity too: 35 Books on Productivity and Organizational Skills for an Effective Life

          27. Learn to Speed Read

          When you can read faster, you will read and learn more! Check out these 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed.

          You can also make use of the app OutRead to help speed up your reading speed!

          28. Learn to Skip When You Read

          When you’re reading a book, just read the parts that you need and skip the rest. But you have to read with a purpose.

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          Learn how to make it work here: How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

          29. Focus on Result-Oriented Activities

          Pareto’s law (also known as the 80 20 rule) states that 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. This means that 20% of our actions result in 80% of the results.

          We must find the 20% that is creating the 80% of our desired outcomes and focus solely on those activities.

          30. Take a Break

          You can’t always be working at optimum productivity. Instead, you should shoot for working in short bursts at your most productive times.

          31. Start a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

          What is polyphasic sleep?

          Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern specification intended to compress sleep time to 2-5 hours daily.[1] This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short (around 20-45 minute) naps throughout the day. This allows for more waking hours with relatively high alertness.

          While you can learn more about it here, you’re recommended to take some naps during the day to recharge your energy too.

          32. Learn to Say “No”.

          We can’t do everything and therefore we must learn when to say no in order to save our sanity.

          Learn the Gentle Art of Saying No from Leo Babauta.

          33. Go on an Information Diet

          Most of the world lives on information overload. We must eliminate mindless Internet surfing.

          Stop reading three different newspapers a day and checking your RSS feeds multiple times a day. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done.

          The key is to limit yourself only to information that you can immediately take action on. Here’re some simple tips you can try: 10 Simple Productivity Tricks To Manage Overloaded Information

          34. Organize Your Office

          The piles of paper around your desk can be a huge barrier on your productivity. Optimize your time by organizing your office, setting up a system and dumping the junk.

          Check out these 21 Tips to Organize Your Office and Get More Done.

          35. Find a Mentor

          By modeling after those who have already achieved success, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.

          A good mentor is hard to find, so here’s a guide to help you: What to Look for in a Mentor

          36. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

          With technology’s help, you can double your work efficiency. Even better, you learn all the shortcuts when using technology, for example keyboard shortcuts.

          When you use keyboard shortcut, you gain 64 hours every year!

          Not sure what shortcuts to lear? Check out these 22 Tricks That Can Make Anyone A Keyboard Ninja.

          Besides learning the shortcuts, you can also create keyboard shortcuts with AutoHotKey.

          37. Improve Your Typing Speed to Save Time

          Do you know you can save 21 days per year just by typing fast?

          You don’t really need to take some serious courses to type faster, try these typing games online:

          38. Work from Home and Avoid the Daily Commute

          If your job is a flexible one, consider working from home. This saves you the commute time and you’ll find yourself more energetic throughout the day as you have saved the long ride.

          Take a look at these tips to help you stay productive while working from home:

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          How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

          39. Get Rid of Time Wasters

          Common time wasters include Instant Messenger, video games, Flickr, checking your stats 10 times a day, television and extraneous Internet surfing.

          Don’t rely on your willpower, make use of some of these useful tools to help you stay focus: 10 Online Apps for Better Focus

          40. Plan Your Meals in Advance

          Plan out all of your meals a week ahead and make your grocery list accordingly. This allows you to focus on the necessary – saving you time and money. You can also save yourself even more time through a wide variety of apps. One app that I find helpful is Mealime. It’s an app that provides you with a wide selection of recipes and also a convenient spot for your grocery list as well.

          Considering the fact that over 4 million users have this app, it goes to show that there is a good selection of meal plans that you can follow and that the app is friendly to use.

          Pick up Mealime here.

            41. Cook Your Meals in Bulk

            When you cook your meals in bulk, you will have plenty of leftovers. This can avoid having to cook everyday.

            Find out more about how to make cooking in bulk works: Once a Month Cooking: Productivity Hack or Overrated Time Suck?

            42. Protect Yourself from Unnecessary Phone Time with Caller ID

            The minutes you spend on picking up unnecessary phone calls are time wasted. You can prevent that from happening.

            Check out this detailed guide how you can deal with those unnecessary phone calls: How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day – Cellphone Calls

            43. Take Shorter Showers

            This one may sound silly but it’s actually something I struggle with. I spend up to 30 minutes in the shower. Think of the time I could save simply by speeding up a bit.

            44. Save the Trips to Bank by Taking Direct Deposit

            Many employers now offer direct deposit. If yours does, then be sure and take advantage of it and save yourself from a number of trips to the bank.

            45. Auto Pay Your Bills

            How many times have you been worried about whether you missed the bills deadline?

            Auto paying your bills will save you time and eliminate late fees and increased interest rates.

            46. Shop Online

            Whenever possible, avoid going to the store. When you shop online, you can be more focus about what you’re getting.

            47. Speed up your Internet with a broadband connection.

            Many people are aware of the slow speed of internet but aren’t doing anything about it. In fact, this is the number one Internet time-saver!

            If you must use dial-up, then you can use accelerators like Propel and SlipStream to double or even triple your speed.

            48. Keep up the Speed of Your Computer

            If you’re a Windows user, use Windows hibernation feature to avoid the slowdown of exiting and restarting Windows.

            Or maybe, consider switching to Mac as there’re plenty of Advantages You Probably Don’t Know About Switching To Mac From PC.

            49. Turn off the TV.

            The average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Over a 65-year life, that’s 9 years glued to the tube.

            For better health and productivity, turn off the TV. Here’re 11 more reasons to tell you to stop watching TV so often.

            Turn off the TV and you are sure to get more out of life.

            50. Use a Tivo or DVR.

            This can help you cut an hour-long television show down to just 40 minutes. You can save time while not missing the fun.

            So, here’s the ultimate list of techniques you should learn to boost productivity. Pick the techniques that work for you and make them your daily habits. As time goes, you’ll find yourself being a lot more productive.

            More Time Management Tips

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

            Reference

            [1] Medical News Today: What is biphasic and polyphasic sleep?

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