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Get Productive! 15 Ideas that Really Work!

Get Productive! 15 Ideas that Really Work!

Can I tell you a little secret?

Working smart isn’t about doing more in less time. It’s about doing less in more time.

Confused?

Let me explain: Being truly productive — maybe “effective” is a better word — is not about rushing mindlessly through your to do list. It’s about first being prudent with task selection and then doing the tasks that make the biggest difference.

The Most Important Thing

If there’s one thing I’d want you to take away from this post, then it’s this: Use the Eisenhower matrix to identify what tasks are important and what tasks are urgent and then act on them in this order:

  • Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important tasks – these are critical to your day and must be dealt with immediately. Think dealing with a heart attack or child in hospital.
  • Quadrant 2 – Not Urgent and Important tasks – You want to spend most of your time in this quadrant. Think regular exercise or good parenting. If you exercise regularly you’re less likely to end up with a heart attack.
  • Quadrant 3 – Urgent but not Important tasks – Unfortunately we waste a lot of time in this quadrant. Think ‘urgent’ emails or constantly responding to SMS messages. These appear urgent but are just interruptions and hijack your day.
  • Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important – These are downtime and recreational activities. You need to decompress but try and schedule these towards the end of the day.

Once you’ve decided on which tasks fall into which quadrant you can use one of the productivity tricks below to work through your targeted to do list.

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1. The Pomodoro technique.

Essentially this is breaking your tasks down into 25 minute increments and attacking your work with intense focus for those time slices. After each 25 minute slice you take a 3-5 minute break. And every four pomodoro’s you take a 15-3- minute break. That’s it. The idea here is that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

2. The Getting Things Done (GTD) approach.

This approach categorises tasks in two ways. By projects (which we’re all familiar with) and by contexts which is a set of conditions necessary to execute on the tasks. Imagine this: You need to make an appointment to see the doctor, call the plumber to fix the bathroom and call back your accountant. These tasks would probably fall into the health, home maintenance and finance projects respectively. But they would all be executed from one context – your phone. One of the benefits of the GTD method is that it allows you to club tasks by context and keep several projects moving forward using the ‘context handle’.

3. Process your email in batches.

Email is one of those quadrant 4 tasks that can really hijack your day. Don’t check your email too often. That’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to productivity. Train your stakeholders to expect replies from you at 10am, 12pm and 3pm (using an out off office message and/or a message in your email signature) and then stick to these times. You’ll be amazed at how many ‘urgent’ tasks ‘resolve themselves’!

4. Reserve your creative work for the morning.

If your day involves work that’s creative or requires critical thinking, schedule this for your mornings. For most people mornings are their ‘prime time’. This is when you’re likely to get the best breakthroughs and maximum output on creative pursuits. Save the admin tasks for later in the day.

5. Plan your day the night before using time boxing.

Planning your tasks the night before gives you emotional distance from the overwhelm that inevitably creeps into your busy work day. Plan your tasks on your calendar using time boxing and stick to the plan. Only make exceptions for emergencies!

6. Learn the art of saying “no”.

Know what makes Apple so successful? They know how to say ‘no’. They say no to hundreds of possible design features that they could cram into their devices and distill it down to the bare essentials. They are masters of elimination. The end result? Simplicity in form and functionality. This is the approach you need to take to your to do list. Distill it down to the bare essentials and then go to town on those tasks first.

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7. Use a timer (I like Vitamin R for the Mac).

Here’s another very powerful secret. Time yourself while you’re working. Set yourself aggressive time lines too. Think it’ll take you an hour to write that article. Try and do it in 45 mins. You’ll find that it’ll sharpen your focus if nothing else.

8. Consume audio content while running or exercising.

Use audiobooks whenever possible. Check out the Amazon matchmaker offering which allows you to swap between reading the ebook and and listening to audiobook version while still keeping your bookmarks intact. It’s an awesome product and often offers the complimentary audiobooks to go with your existing ebook at prices as low as $1.99.

9. Develop rhythms of focus and rest.

In keeping with the Pomodoro technique make sure you figure out a rhythm of focus and rest. I tend to keep the longer work sessions and shorter rest sessions towards the beginning of the day. As the day wears on I tend to shorten the work sessions and take longer breaks. Work out the rhythm that’s right for you and then go for it.

10. Do a productivity audit on yourself.

Having experimented with excel, handwritten notes, and a few other methodologies, I’ve found the best way to track your time is to get rescuetime.com setup on your computer. It automatically tracks your activities while you’re online. And if you decide to upgrade to the professional version (currently around $10 a month) you can even track your activities offline.

You only need to track your activities for a month to do a productivity audit on yourself. That’s enough to get an understanding of how you’re spending your time and compare it to how you think you’re spending your time.

Trust me you’ll be surprised.

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11. Don’t multitask, Uni task.

Let’s bust one of the biggest prevailing myths around productivity. Multitasking does not work. Several studies have demonstrated the myth of multitasking.

Mult-tasking causes more distractions, dulls your focus and increases stress levels. Its costs far outweigh its benefits.

12. Use your mornings as a springboard for success.

Know the secret of the highest achievers? They use their mornings to get a jump on their day. By the time they’ve reached their afternoon they’ve completed their most important tasks. They even get a workout done, read or listen to inspiring material (often while working out) before they start their day. This increases their energy levels and sets them up for success.

The first few hours of the day sets the tone. What do you do to get yourself into gear when you wake up?

13. Identify your prime time and eliminate distractions during those hours.

Get very clear over all the times when you’re most productive. Most people hit their stride at about 10 am. When’s your prime time?

Also, eliminate distractions to take full advantage of your prime-time hours. For example, if you find that your prime time is at 10 am then make sure you don’t change your email and avoid meetings around that time.

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Block out that time in your calendar and use it to become laser focused.

14. Develop rituals that you associate with high performance.

Have you seen Rafael Nadal arrange his drink bottles obsessively in between sets at wimbledon? That’s an example of a high performance ritual.

Rituals are great because that don’t involve a lot of thinking, and automatically get you into the design for high-performance work. I find this is one of the best ways to achieve ‘flow’.

15. Stop procrastination dead in its tracks once and for all!

One of the biggest drains on your productivity is procrastination. Procrastination affects your productivity in two ways. Firstly, you lose time when you are procrastinating. Secondly, and more importantly, delaying tasks often comes with a cost. For example, if you don’t exercise regularly you’re more likely to end up with a heart disease or stroke. Or if you let important tasks  build up you’re going to spend a lot more time putting out fires that you would never have had in the first place if you had completed the tasks ahead of time.

Want to overcome procrastination? Use this mindfulness approach to become aware of your patterns around procrastination so you can overcome them.

What You Achieve is More Important that How Much You Achieve

At the end of the day it’s not how many tasks you get through but how many strategically important moves you’ve made in your day. It’s about identifying the most important items on your to do list and then applying these tools to get them done first. Applying excellent productivity tools blindly to your to do list is like using a blunt instrument to cut through steel. You’re wasting your time.

How do you prioritise your tasks and what’s your favorite productivity hack?

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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