Advertising
Advertising

5 Tips that Doubled My Productivity Last Year

5 Tips that Doubled My Productivity Last Year

Goals give you direction, make your calendar look less intimidating, and tell you when to celebrate your achievements, but no matter how many goals you have and how good you are at achieving them, productivity can be a major issue. That’s why, in 2012, one of my major goals was to improve productivity across the board. I experimented, changed sleep habits, shifted when I focused on certain tasks, and tested a dozen different theories to see what worked and what didn’t, and while the vast majority of my “genius” ideas turned out to have very little (or negative) impact on my productivity, a few things worked quite well.

Here are five of the things that worked best and how they can be quickly and effectively used to boost your own productivity:

Working Fewer Hours

When things get really busy and it seems like you’ll never, ever get caught up, the knee jerk reaction of most is to work more, not less. On a strictly logical basis, it makes sense: when you work more, you get more done, right? As I found last year, this may not be the case—I’ve always noted that on days when I have a LOT of time to get things done, I tend to get less done overall, and In 2012 two things happened to confirm this.

First, I started taking half-days twice a week to spend time with my son. On those two days I would work from 7am until 1pm; about 3 hours less than my normal schedule. It was immensely stressful at first, but with time I noticed that I was actually getting just as much, if not more, done on those days than I did on the days I worked until 4pm.

Advertising

Second, I installed RescueTime. Recommended by Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Work Week, Rescue Time installs in the background of your Mac or PC and tracks how much time you spend on certain tasks. You can use it to block certain tasks or provide advanced analytics if you pay for it, but I use the free version just so I can get a weekly email telling me how productive I was in any given week. Every Sunday an email shows up that includes the number of hours worked and the percentage of productivity I reached that week.

The first week, I worked 45 hours and was 73% productive, which Rescue Time told me was better than about 75% of the people using the site. I made it my goal to get that number up to at least 80% though and the only way I could do it was by working fewer hours. As I started to work less—at first to do the Dad thing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and later to ensure I had weekends for yard work and family time—I noticed that my productivity increased greatly. It reminded me of Parkinson’s Law; If you give yourself a set amount of time to complete a task, you will fill that time to completion, so when I gave myself 45 hours to get a week’s worth of work done, it took me 45 hours. When I only gave myself 35 hours, I still got everything done, plus I had a lot more time to myself, which in turn reduced stress and made me even more productive.

Unplugging Once a Week

Around the same time that I realized I was wasting close to 12 hours a week at my desk reading email and watching YouTube videos, I started to wonder if I was spending too much time in front of a screen. On Saturdays and Sundays I would quite literally groan whenever I needed to log on and send an email; my brain and body were worn out with screen fatigue. As such, I decided to turn everything off for one day (on a voluntary basis—I was still available if there was a work emergency) and spend time working outside, running errands with my family, or playing board games with friends.

Not only did this help me get over the anxiety of screen fatigue on the weekend, it made me much more productive when I logged on Monday mornings. I didn’t dread the thought of turning my computer on; I embraced it.

Advertising

Automating as Much as Possible

Everyone has a handful of tasks they spend entirely too much time working on; the little stuff that eats time out of your day with very little or zero benefit. Whether it’s a maintenance task like updating your financial spreadsheets or a communications task like sending emails, you’re losing anywhere from 5-10 hours a week doing stuff that is either A) boring or B) low return. I always knew this, and while I hated it, I couldn’t do much about it. Automation took to much time, or money, neither of which I had.

In 2012 I made the investment and started automating key tasks. Things like:

  • Email – Instead of having it open all day dinging at me, I closed my mail app and only checked it twice a day. I leave Skype on in the interim and everyone knows that if it’s important they should just call or Skype me.
  • Accounting – I set up a new Freshbooks account, installed the mobile app on my iPhone and started sending invoices and updating expenses while on the go. Combined with Quickbooks for general accounting, it now only takes 20 minutes a week to update all my financials instead of the hour or two I was spending every Friday before.
  • To-Do Lists – For the heavy-hitting GTD apps, you’ll need to spend some money. There are some great freebies like Wunderlist, but most of the bigger, multi-platform, cloud-syncing tools cost money. That said, they are well worth the investment; I estimate I’ve saved dozens if not hundreds of hours the last 18 months with Omnifocus on my phone and computer.
  • Outsourcing – When I outsourced before, it was an ordeal: Either I spent all day answering emails and phone calls, or I received a finished product that was nowhere near what I had asked for. I invested some time in creating training materials for contractors, such as videos, style guides, and templates that ensured outsourcing was MUCH easier to get done right.

Automation, when implemented properly, can provide an immediate boost to productivity and finally help you reclaim some of the mental energy you’ve been spending on routine tasks.

Recording and Revising Key Work Habits

One of my favorite books of 2012 was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, Duhigg talks about everything from how habits work to the amazing things people have been able to accomplish by changing small keystone habits.

Advertising

After reading the book, I became significantly more aware of the things I would do every day that took a bite out of my productive hours, such as when I was most likely to read movie reviews or surf Facebook, why I would go downstairs two or three extra times in the afternoon, and the many things that would hold me up in the morning and cause me to start work late. While I haven’t fixed everything, simply being aware of those small issues was a huge first step.

It begins with observation: spend two or three weeks just making notes of what you do. Keep a journal on your computer or buy a notebook and jot down quick notes. Nothing is too small. Write down when you eat, when you take breaks, when you look at websites you shouldn’t, etc. (RescueTime can help here too). After a couple weeks, you’ll have a much keener idea of what things are getting in the way of your productivity. Then, look at those habits and identify the cue, the routine and the reward. The cue is the trigger: the act, thought, or moment that makes you want to follow that habit.

In my case, I noticed that whenever I finished a work task I would immediately surf a website that had nothing to do with work—a sort of mental cleanse. The cue was finishing work, the routine was visiting IGN and the reward was that I didn’t have to think about work for 5 (going on 15) minutes. To change this habit, I started getting up and doing some stretches whenever I finished a task. The cue was the same—I wanted to do something different after writing 5 articles—but the routine changed, and not only did it improve productivity, it got me out of that chair.

Look for similar moments in your day and ways you can change those habits to boost productivity.

Advertising

Setting Aside Review/Thinking Time Once a Month

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Every day, for at least a few minutes, I would get distracted by some “big picture” task. Finances, scheduling, email, clients—whatever it was, I would stop writing and start taking notes and thinking about my next steps. I like to be organized—very organized—but as a freelancer, organization only gets you so far. You also have to be flexible, so those planning exercises would pop up every day of the week. I was probably spending 1-2 hours a day looking at my calendar and to do lists; not actually doing anything, but certainly thinking about it a lot.

I decided to set aside two hours every Friday and one day every month on which I would think about those bigger, overarching goals, and the rest of the time, I just worked. Whether I had a clue about what I was doing or not, I just worked. Not only did this cut down on the amount of time spent tweaking my schedule, it improved productivity by cutting out distractions and forcing me to just get things done.

Productivity Is Getting Out of Your Own Way

It’s not easy to be productive all the time. There are moments when you just want to be lazy and do nothing for a few minutes, and that’s perfectly normal. The most productive people are the ones who have a system in place that allows for those lazy moments and jumpstarts them back into high gear the moment they are ready.

As I get more done in less time, automate time consuming tasks, and change my habits more in 2013, I expect to become not only more productive, but happier in what I do. While not every tip in this post is right for everyone, I guarantee that implementing even just a couple will help you get more done.

What strategies have you used in your life to get more done? How do you boost productivity without setting unrealistic expectations? Sound off in the comments below.

More by this author

7 Daily Habits to Be More Productive Working at Home 7 Daily Habits To Be More Productive Working At Home 9 Energy Hacks to Stay Motivated When You’re Exhausted 7 Ways To Entertain A Toddler When It’s Raining 11 Items Successful People Have at Home Productivity Hacks of 8 Famous Thinkers and Leaders

Trending in Productivity

1 How to Wake Up Early: 6 Things Early Risers Do 2 Do What You Love and Love What You Do to Achieve More 3 How to Set Professional Development Goals for Success 4 10 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Feel Worthless 5 How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 22, 2020

How to Wake Up Early: 6 Things Early Risers Do

How to Wake Up Early: 6 Things Early Risers Do

You have probably heard the success stories about people who wake up early. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Oprah Winfrey, and Olympic medalist Caroline Burckle all talk about the positive impact of waking up early on their lives.

Even though many assign a portion of their success to waking up early, many find it difficult to make the switch. While most people know what needs to happen to change their life, they find then difficult to implement consistently. To understand how to wake up early, you need to tap into the wisdom of those already doing it.

Here are the 6 things early risers do:

1. Stop Procrastinating

The first thing you need to do when you want to learn how to wake up early is to go to sleep earlier. Stop procrastinating. You will find it much easier to wake up when you are getting the proper amount of sleep. Set a bedtime that allows you to get 8-hours of sleep and hold yourself accountable.

The problem most of you will have at first is how tired you will feel. If you are someone who goes to sleep after midnight, waking up by 6 a.m. will not be easy. The reason you need to push through that initial difficulty is that you are going to be very tired at the end of the day. Realistically, you probably would fall asleep at your desk or doze off on your lunch break. Either way, waking up early no matter how you feel will motivate you to go sleep at the proper time that night.

Think of it as someone who procrastinated until the night before their project was due. Having done this myself, you do what you need to do to complete the project, whether that means working all night or cutting some corners because you don’t have time to triple-check your work.

Advertising

After you turn in your project, you feel both exhaustion and jubilation. After you make it through the workday and crash at home, you promise yourself you’ll never wait until the last minute again. This same feeling will happen when you force yourself to wake up early no matter what time you went to sleep. You are going to promise yourself you will go to bed at the right time.

Most people don’t go to bed when they should because they know they will ultimately make it up in the morning.

2. Pace Yourself

If you want to start waking up a couple of hours earlier each day, you may not be able to make that change all at once. It stands to reason the more drastic the shift, the more difficult it will be.

So, instead of trying to adjust your sleep pattern by several hours, start in 15-minute or 30-minute intervals.[1] If you wake up 30 minutes earlier each week, you will be a morning person by the end of the month. This may feel like you are drawing out your goal but in reality, you are accomplishing it much quicker than most. Most people who are naturally night owls find it difficult to completely change their sleep habits overnight.

Think of it as someone who is trying to quit drinking coffee. Outside of the fact you may enjoy the taste of coffee, your body is used to operating with a certain amount of caffeine and sugar. Some will be able to quit overnight and their body will adjust accordingly. And if you are one of those people, then do what works for you.

However, if you were to take an incremental approach, then you may first start drinking your coffee black. Then, you could switch to decaf before slowly lowering the amount of coffee you drink each day. As you can see, this approach will help minimize the feeling of withdrawal while getting the results you want.

Advertising

3. Watch Your Lighting

Light reduces your body’s production of the sleep-inducing melatonin hormone. In practical terms, your body naturally wants to be awake when the sun is up and go to sleep when the sun is down. This is called your circadian rhythm.

In the technology-driven world we currently live in, you likely look at a screen or two before bed. Studies show television and phone screens trick your body into thinking the sun is up. As a result, your body starts producing less melatonin. To help you fall asleep, you should stop looking at screens at least an hour before bed.

This can also mean that if you want to wake up before the sun, looking at your screen when you wake up can help you to stay awake.

Peter Balyta, the President of Education Technology for Texas Instruments says he wakes up at 5:20 a.m. and scans his emails before starting his day. This is also true for M.I.T. president L. Rafael Rief. He wakes up around 5 or 5:30 a.m. and checks his phone for anything urgent.[2]

4. Make It Worth Your Time

Have you ever woken up early but went back to sleep because you didn’t have a reason to stay up? To put it another way, have you ever fallen asleep because you didn’t have anything better to do?

If you want to be excited about going to sleep and waking up early, then you need to give yourself a reason to be excited. You can accomplish this by listing the three things you want to accomplish the next morning. Notice I said “want” and not “need” to accomplish. You don’t want to be dragging yourself into the next morning kicking and screaming.

Advertising

Your list should not only include what you want to accomplish but also why you want to accomplish it. If you want to take it a step further, list the consequences of not waking up early.

People who have figured out how to wake up early are shown to be more successful, persistent, and proactive in their life. They tend to be happier and handle stress better. It is also shown that people who wake up early procrastinate less.[3] If you find any of these benefits something you want to add in your life, then waking up early is shown to help.

5. Avoid Binging

There is a difference between sleeping and getting a good night’s sleep. Sure, you can drink alcohol and fall asleep, but you will not be getting quality rest. You will wake up feeling as though you slept for only a couple hours.

It is best to stop drinking at least 4 hours before bedtime. Binge drinking is known to impact your sleep-inducing melatonin hormone levels for up to a week. The same holds true with eating a large meal right before bed. It is not that your body can’t process food and sleep at the same time. The main concern has more to do with the possibility of indigestion or heartburn than anything else.

If you find yourself dealing with either of these symptoms, then you may want to stop eating at least two hours before bed.

6. Get the Blood Flowing

Those who have mastered the technique of how to wake up early tend to start each morning with movement.

Advertising

Your first movement is to get out of bed. To help you get out of bed, have your alarm far enough away that you need to get up and turn it off. Before you allow yourself to contemplate going back to sleep, take a moment, and do 10 push-ups or 10 jumping jacks. Think of each exercise as you taking one step further from being able to go back to sleep.

Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments wakes up at 4 a.m. each morning. She starts each day by exercising. Her exercises include running, weight lifting, swimming, and cycling.

You decide for yourself how you want to get your blood flowing. Whether you want to go on a walk, workout at the gym, or do something at home, make sure you are scheduling time to exercise.

Final Thoughts

The key to understanding how to wake up early is to recognize that it is heavily driven by the actions you take the night before. You will wake up early if you go to bed at a good time and get the proper amount of sleep.

By taking the time to prepare yourself both mentally and physically each night, you can ensure you are positioned for success the next morning. Once you have taken the proper actions the night before, make sure you use that momentum to start your day, on time.

The goal is to make the actions you want to take as easy as possible. The key to changing your life is to discover a way to have the wind at your back, going in the direction you want.

More Tips on How to Wake up Early

Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next