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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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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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