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33 Rules to Boost Your Productivity

33 Rules to Boost Your Productivity

Breaking the deadlock of indecision and taking action, any action for that matter, as long as it won’t lead you to another deadlock, is OK. Besides, when talking about improving productivity, you will surely boost yours once you imbibe all the rules presented in this article. As we all know, boosting productivity is one aspect of life we can’t overdo.

That’s why the suggestion — keep on improving yourself because this will help you become more productive, is one of the best precepts of work.

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Now, regarding the rules, one rule which helps me all the time is…Nuke it! The most efficient and effective way to get over a task is to delete it.  If it is not needed, take it off your list. Simple.

Another one of my favorites is — Relaxify.  This means minimizing stress by decluttering your workspace. This is one of the most basic rules; however, once you can master it, you will get ahead in your work. A clutter-free work station helps you to intensify your focus which ultimately improves your productivity.

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33 Rules to Boost Your Productivity

Heuristics are rules intended to help you solve problems.  When a problem is large or complex, and the optimal solution is unclear, applying a heuristic allows you to begin making progress towards a solution even though you can’t visualize the entire path from your starting point.

Suppose your goal is to climb to the peak of a mountain, but there’s no trail to follow.  An example of a heuristic would be:  Head directly towards the peak until you reach an obstacle you can’t cross.  Whenever you reach such an obstacle, follow it around to the right until you’re able to head towards the peak once again.  This isn’t the most intelligent or comprehensive heuristic, but in many cases it will work just fine, and you’ll eventually reach the peak.

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Heuristics don’t guarantee you’ll find the optimal solution, nor do they generally guarantee a solution at all.  But they do a good enough job of solving certain types of problems to be useful.  Their strength is that they break the deadlock of indecision and get you into action. As you take action you begin to explore the solution space, which deepens your understanding of the problem.

As you gain knowledge about the problem, you can make course corrections along the way, gradually improving your chances of finding a solution.  If you try to solve a problem you don’t initially know how to solve, you’ll often figure out a solution as you go, one you never could have imagined until you started moving.  This is especially true with creative work such as software development.  Often you don’t even know exactly what you’re trying to build until you start building it.

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Heuristics have many practical applications, and one of my favorite areas of application is personal productivity.  Productivity heuristics are behavioral rules (some general, some situation-specific) that can help us get things done more efficiently.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Nuke it!  The most efficient way to get through a task is to delete it.  If it doesn’t need to be done, get it off your to do list.
  2. Daily goals.  Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions.  Set targets for each day in advance.  Decide what you’ll do; then do it.
  3. Worst first.  To defeat procrastination learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning instead of delaying it until later in the day.  This small victory will set the tone for a very productive day.
  4. Peak times.  Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times.  Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
  5. No-comm zones.  Allocate uninterruptible blocks of time for solo work where you must concentrate.  Schedule light, interruptible tasks for your open-comm periods and more challenging projects for your no-comm periods.
  6. Mini-milestones.  When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working.  For example, when working on a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 1000 words.  Hit your target no matter what.
  7. Timeboxing.  Give yourself a fixed time period, like 30 minutes, to make a dent in a task.  Don’t worry about how far you get.  Just put in the time.
  8. Batching.  Batch similar tasks like phone calls or errands into a single chunk, and knock them off in a single session.
  9. Early bird.  Get up early in the morning, like at 5am, and go straight to work on your most important task.  You can often get more done before 8am than most people do in a day.
  10. Cone of silence.  Take a laptop with no network or WiFi access, and go to a place where you can work flat out without distractions, such as a library, park, coffee house, or your own backyard.  Leave your comm gadgets behind.
  11. Tempo.  Deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual.  Speak faster.  Walk faster.  Type faster.  Read faster.  Go home sooner.
  12. Relaxify.  Reduce stress by cultivating a relaxing, clutter-free workspace.
  13. Agendas.  Provide clear written agendas to meeting participants in advance.  This greatly improves meeting focus and efficiency.  You can use it for phone calls too.
  14. Pareto.  The Pareto principle is the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort.  Focus your energy on that critical 20%, and don’t overengineer the non-critical 80%.
  15. Ready-fire-aim.  Bust procrastination by taking action immediately after setting a goal, even if the action isn’t perfectly planned.  You can always adjust course along the way.
  16. Minuteman.  Once you have the information you need to make a decision, start a timer and give yourself just 60 seconds to make the actual decision.  Take a whole minute to vacillate and second-guess yourself all you want, but come out the other end with a clear choice.  Once your decision is made, take some kind of action to set it in motion.
  17. Deadline.  Set a deadline for task completion, and use it as a focal point to stay on track.
  18. Promise.  Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable.
  19. Punctuality.  Whatever it takes, show up on time.  Arrive early.
  20. Gap reading.  Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, or while the coffee is brewing.  If you’re a male, you can even read an article while shaving (preferably with an electric razor).  That’s 365 articles a year.
  21. Resonance.  Visualize your goal as already accomplished.  Put yourself into a state of actually being there.  Make it real in your mind, and you’ll soon see it in your reality.
  22. Glittering prizes.  Give yourself frequent rewards for achievement.  See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day at an amusement park.
  23. Quad 2.  Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent.  Allocate blocks of time to work on the critical Quadrant 2 tasks, those which are important but rarely urgent, such as physical exercise, writing a book, and finding a relationship partner.
  24. Continuum.  At the end of your workday, identify the first task you’ll work on the next day, and set out the materials in advance.  The next day begin working on that task immediately.
  25. Slice and dice.  Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks.  Focus on completing just one of those tasks.
  26. Single-handling.  Once you begin a task, stick with it until it’s 100% complete.  Don’t switch tasks in the middle.  When distractions come up, jot them down to be dealt with later.
  27. Randomize.  Pick a totally random piece of a larger project, and complete it.  Pay one random bill.  Make one phone call.  Write page 42 of your book.
  28. Insanely bad.  Defeat perfectionism by completing your task in an intentionally terrible fashion, knowing you need never share the results with anyone.  Write a blog post about the taste of salt, design a hideously dysfunctional web site, or create a business plan that guarantees a first-year bankruptcy.  With a truly horrendous first draft, there’s nowhere to go but up.
  29. 30 days.  Identify a new habit you’d like to form, and commit to sticking with it for just 30 days.  A temporary commitment is much easier to keep than a permanent one.
  30. Delegate.  Convince someone else to do it for you.
  31. Cross-pollination.  Sign up for martial arts, start a blog, or join an improv group.  You’ll often encounter ideas in one field that can boost your performance in another.
  32. Intuition.  Go with your gut instinct.  It’s probably right.
  33. Optimization.  Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step.  Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency.  Then implement and test your improved processes.  Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope.

33 Rules to Boost Your Productivity Steve Pavlina

More by this author

Anthony Dejolde

TV/Radio personality who educates his audience on entrepreneurship, productivity, and leadership.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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