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5 Simple, Yet Little-Known Ways to Improve Your Productivity

5 Simple, Yet Little-Known Ways to Improve Your Productivity

You already know that you should wake up early to become more productive, and perhaps you have also heard that you shouldn’t check your email first thing in the morning. While this advice is good and well-documented, there is also another kind of productivity advice that is as effective as well. Even if the tips are less-known and somewhat counter-intuitive, you just have to give them a try and see how they work for you.

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    1. Work when there is a distraction around

    Your environment doesn’t have to be 100% quiet if you want to get work done. Let’s say that you are working from home and you have kids. Let’s also assume that you don’t have a dedicated workspace in your home to do your work. Naturally, you could decide to do work during the quiet hours (before the rest of the family wakes up), but not all of the tasks have to be done then.

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    The fact is that there are certain tasks which allow more distraction than others, and when you know this, you can plan your days more efficiently. In fact, you could dedicate those quiet hours to working on something valuable while the rest of the time (when your family is awake) you can finish less valuable tasks. For instance, I can check most of my social media accounts, do some simple blog-related maintenance tasks or check my e-mail (most of the time) even if my son is pulling my sleeve or if the TV is on in the background. When I know that certain tasks do not require my full concentration, it’s easier to plan my days with that knowledge in mind.

    2. Drink coffee before taking a nap

    Want to boost your afternoon productivity? Then take a caffeine nap! According to a study by Jim Maas, PhD, professor of psychology at Cornell University, combining coffee and napping time can have a big improvement in one’s personal productivity. Coffee enters your bloodstream approximately 20 minutes after you have consumed it. The minute figure is exactly the same as the length of your nap, so these two play well together. In order to implement this technique, do this:

    1. Drink a cup of coffee
    2. Take a 20-minute nap right afterward
    3. Wake-up refreshed

    If you are not a coffee drinker, that’s fine too: even with a 20-minute nap alone, you can feel super-fresh and productive as well.

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    3. Work in a train

    It’s so funny to think that the places that seem like the last ones in which to get anything done are the best for productivity. I’m talking about trains, and when I travel alone, I look forward to getting work done there. The effect is almost like working in a coffee shop, where people come and go and there is some distraction around all of the time. This kind of ambience is the same on trains, but the distraction doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I have done a lot of work during my trips when I’m moving from one place to another. To maximize your train working experience, prepare yourself in the following way:

    • Have your material ready (for e.g. I have outlined all my blog posts before I start writing them)
    • The material can be used offline if necessary (download the documents and other files to your local computer in advance)
    • Have a mobile Internet access with you
    • Headphones (for listening to podcasts and educational material, or even listening to music when working)
    • An e-book reader (if for some reason your laptop batteries die down, you can use your time productively)

    Finally, decide in advance what you want to do. For instance, I have been writing e-books, blog posts or going through some educational materials while I travel. When you plan your train time, you can get started with your tasks right away and no time is spent on figuring out what to do when you should be already working.

    4. Close the curtains

    It may sound funny that closing the curtains can improve your productivity but it’s actually true. For instance, I might do some work at the dining table where there is a window to the left of me. Since I can see the nearby parking space through the window (and the people and moving cars as well), the movement might catch my attention, so the simplest way to prevent the distraction is to close the curtains. That way I’m not able to sense the movement and I can put all of my attention to my work. If you have similar kinds of experiences, do this simple thing to fix the situation.

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    5. Multitasking

    Would you believe me if I said that multitasking can make you more productive? Well, that’s what I’m telling you and I’ll let you know how. In normal circumstances you should focus on one thing at a time: for instance, if you are creating something (like writing a blog post), you should focus on the writing part and nothing else. But what about those boring tasks that you have to do—no matter what? Let’s imagine that you have to do manual data input work and there is no way around that. To make things a little bit easier, you could do something that is referred as “mindful multitasking,” which is a term I have learned from a great book by Lucy Jo Palladino (“Find Your Focus Zone”) and the basic idea is to use multitasking to get the boring thing done.

    In our example, when you are doing a data entry task, you could check your Facebook page or your e-mail every once in a while to make you more alert. When you do this, you are more energized to take care of the boring tasks. The mindful part comes from understanding that you are indeed multitasking. You also realize that this is decreasing your performance, but at the same time, you are willing to accept the costs, since it helps you to get the tedious work done.

    Conclusion

    It’s interesting to learn more about the unconventional ways to improve personal productivity. I know that there are other tips like this, but now it’s your turn: list your own unconventional productivity tips on the comments area. We all would love to learn more!

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    More by this author

    Timo Kiander

    Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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    Last Updated on January 6, 2021

    14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

    14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

    Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

    In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

    For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

    For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

    Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

    Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

    Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

    How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

    Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

    1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

    Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

    For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

    2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

    Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

    Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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    Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

    3. Create a System

    Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

    This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

    You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

    Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

    Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

    4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

    We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

    If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

    Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

    Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

    5. Use a Ratings Scale

    Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

    Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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    It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

    6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

    This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

    You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

    You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

    7. Offer Feedback Forms

    Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

    First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

    Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

    You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    8. Track Cost Effectiveness

    This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

    Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

    Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

    9. Use Self-Evaluations

    Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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    Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

    10. Monitor Time Management

    This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

    Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

      The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

      While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

      11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

      We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

      Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

      For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

      Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

      Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

      From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

      12. Utilize Peer Feedback

      This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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      Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

      Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

      It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

      13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

      When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

      Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

      Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

      14. Use an External Evaluator

      Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

      They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

      While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

      Final Thoughts

      These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

      The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

      The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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      Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

      Reference

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