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7 Unexpected Ways To Maximize Your Productivity

7 Unexpected Ways To Maximize Your Productivity

You have a digital notebook and you use the best task management system. You know how to make a schedule. You’re awesome at tracking details. You respond to emails quickly. But you’re still looking for ways to amp it up, because you know you can do even better.

1. Sleep more, not less.

Too little sleep, poor sleep, interrupted sleep, and/or health problems which interfere with sleep all add up to one negative: fatigue. And fatigue has a big, bad effect on your productivity. One study, completed in 2010, estimated the annual cost of fatigue-related productivity loss at almost $2000 per employee. Chronic sleep deprivation has some pretty severe results, such as increased anxiety, poor memory, and, ultimately, impaired cognitive function.

In other words, without adequate sleep, your brain just won’t work as well. So even if you have a great plan, a well-ordered to-do list, and all the tools you need, without enough sleep, you are apt to be sluggish and unfocused. All the tricks in the book won’t help maximize productivity if your brain—the ultimate productivity machine—really needs a nap.

2. Do less, not more.

Productivity is not about doing more in less time. What good is doing more if what you’re doing is not the real work that is needed? In fact, trying to do more is often where we waste time. Science has proven that multitasking is not something the human brain is wired to do.

The more you pile on your plate (or calendar, or notebook, or to-do list, or task manager), the more time you have to spend deciding what you’ll do next. And making decisions not only eats up valuable time, it depletes your ever-important reserve of willpower.

One simple solution will solve both of these productivity killers: try to do less.

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Limit the number of open projects you are involved in at any one time. I realize that’s not always possible: sometimes your project list depends on your boss or your significant other more than it does on you.

If you find yourself overloaded, though, an appeal can work: “I’d love to tackle this project; would you be okay if I first complete XYZ project, so I’ll have the time and attention I need to devote to this new idea?”

Severely limit what you allow yourself to put on your daily and weekly to-do lists. At the beginning of the week, choose the top few things you want to accomplish. At the beginning of each day, decide on three tasks you will complete that will move you toward hitting this week’s desired accomplishments.

3. Become less available.

Being the one who is always dependable comes with a certain benefit: people look up to you. They respect you. They know you’ll get the job done.

It also comes with a certain problem: people will ask more of you if they know they can depend on you.

It’s good to help friends, and it’s something you should do. But it isn’t something you should do all the time. Choosing to be less immediately available sets up an automatic filter.

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Don’t be the person with his phone glued to his hand at all times. Don’t be the gal who answers every text, call, or email in five minutes or less. People can wait, and if it’s important that you be the one involved, they will wait for your response.

4. Limit meetings.

Meetings are notorious black holes, eating up productivity in return for, well, nothing. A vacuum. While you might find plenty of good advice for how to get more out of meetings—keep meetings short, keep them focused, meet objectives, and so on—here’s one simple but extremely effective approach: limit meetings altogether.

If you’re the boss, simply quit putting them on the schedule or making yourself available for every meeting request that comes across your desk (see #3, above, Become less available). If you don’t have that authority, start making appeals. Before you just give in and show up, chalking another afternoon lost to the voracious productivity-eating machine that is a meeting, get in touch with the organizer and ask these questions:

  • What’s on the agenda for this meeting?
  • What are your objectives for this meeting?
  • Why do you want me to be there?
  • What do you expect me to contribute?
  • Is there some way I can contribute without being present at the meeting?

If the meeting organizer is also your supervisor or coworker, appeal on the basis of lost productivity. Ask something like this: “Would you rather I make some insanely awesome progress on this project we’re doing, or go sit in this meeting for 2 hours and accomplish nothing?”

5. Measure your production.

We often don’t know how to measure productivity on the projects we are involved in. Maybe it’s an ongoing project, or something big and complex, or something creative and intangible. In any case, it can be hard to pin down what production looks like.

The problem is, however, that if you don’t really know what production looks like, you can’t tell if you’re being productive.

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Solve this problem of fuzzy productivity by hammering out a way to measure the production with each project you have going. This might be something like a timeline, with milestones for certain achievements in the project as you go: you measure your progress by seeing how closely you can stay aligned with the projected timeline.

Or it might be something like a quota, either daily or weekly, of the key tasks or deliverables that need to be done.

Or it might be something entirely different: words written, calls made, money pledged, emails answered, applications sent.

Figure out exactly what production means for each project, and then you can maximize that productivity. Keep track of your production every time you work on the project. Just the knowledge of exactly what you should be doing to be productive is helpful for focusing your brain.

Keeping track of how much you can achieve becomes a game you play with yourself, one that spurs you to perform better each time you do the work.

6. Forget big goals; focus on small gains.

Big goals are good, but tracking progress on big goals can be depressing. We need to see progress in order to be motivated to keep making progress. Otherwise, we get discouraged and start to question everything.

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Unfortunately, we often buy into the idea of having big goals without understanding how to approach them. Every big goal is achieved by a series of small, incremental gains. This is old news: eat the elephant one bite at a time, take that journey one step at a time. Even though we know and understand this concept, we don’t know how to apply it.

The key is to set a big goal, then forget about it for a while. Instead, figure out what small gains you need to make weekly, even daily, and focus on those. Ignore the big goal, for a while, and just focus on getting to those small gains. Every now and then, look up at the big goal again and see how far those small gains have carried you toward reaching it.

7. Build healthy habits.

Your brain is the essential ingredient in any effort at a productive life. And your brain is part of your body. If you don’t take care of your body, you aren’t taking good care of your brain.

Healthy habits include getting adequate and good sleep, exercising, and eating food that fuels you instead of weighing you down. They also include balancing your time between focused work and downtime, solitude and social activities, physical and mental effort.

Focus on building or reinforcing one healthy habit every week, and cycle through the habits you want to establish. The stronger these healthy habits are in your life, the more productive you will be by default.

Featured photo credit: Zach Dischner via flickr.com

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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