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The 12 Psychological Tricks You Can Use to Improve Your Productivity

The 12 Psychological Tricks You Can Use to Improve Your Productivity

Do you want to increase your productivity in such a way that you get more done in less time and get more done with less work?

So often, when we think about productivity, we think about time management tricks, ways to work faster, and how to get motivated. It’s all about more, more, and more. Which works in the short run. Those temporal things help us work faster and get more done in the short run.

But in the long run, we can burn out. We do too much, too fast, and our bodies can’t keep up. Or our minds get overworked and that can take 6 months to 2 years or more to reverse.

So what if we were to use another route to get the same – or better – productivity, rather than using these tricks and faster, faster, faster techniques?

I believe the answer lies in our underlying core motivation, our internal desire and drive, and the real-world implementation of the most important things. And one way to achieve these internal states of mind that lead to real productivity without the drawbacks of working faster is to influence our own psychological state.

So today I’ll share with you 12 psychological tricks that can help you influence your own psychological state in such a way that you reframe your mindset to create a mental environment that safely results in increased productivity.

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1. Recognize that most of what you do doesn’t matter.

If you take a look at what you have done in the last 40 hours of work, you’ll likely see that about 30 of those hours were spent on things that were either unplanned, unnecessary, or even downright unproductive. And it’s not just the last 40 hours of your work-life, it’s a week-in week-out problem.

If you don’t believe that that is the case with you personally, take the time to do a 15-minute interval diary for the next 40 hours of work. Write down what you work on for each 15 minute period. Tally up all the periods at the end of the 40 hours. You will likely be amazed at the unproductive tasks in which you are engaging, even if you believe you are 80%+ productive right now.

You will likely see that becoming more productive might not be so much a matter of adding something to your day, but instead first eliminating everything that doesn’t belong in your day. Once that happens, and you have pared a 40 hour week down to 10 hours, then it makes it easy to add a little more in. For example, adding 10 hours of truly productive work to your schedule after paring your 40 hour week down to 10 hours, means you get two times as much done in half the time, with half the stress, and with a reduced risk of burnout and other negative effects of trying to do more and more and more.

2. Do what you know you need to do as soon as possible

We tend to spend much of our mental energy putting things off. But if instead you were to prioritize things that need to be done, and do them as quickly as possible, you may be amazed at what happens to your productivity. You see, when you are using negative energy on worrying about doing something you don’t want to do, that energy can’t be used on being creative or productive.

Now there is one caveat to this: these “need to do” things should be done AFTER your MIT – your most important task of the day. You see, your most important task, when done first, tends to definitely get done each day. The first thing you do tends to get done!

So your productivity schedule for the day is this:

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1) Most important task (MIT)

2) Most needed to be done task

3) Everything else, bounded by a limited time frame (for example, 2 hours per day on these “everything else” tasks)

3. Postpone your rewards

Give yourself a reward for doing something great, and give it immediately after the something great occurs. This programs your brain to believe that you will reward it for tasks well done, on time, and on priority. When you do this consistently, you’ll likely find that you are more motivated to do your MIT each day, and to do the most needed tasks. You may even find it’s easier to just not do the less important tasks – and they may just disappear!

4. Make sure that you have a clear conscience

If your mind is dragging with negative thoughts, worry about what you need to do, or even shame or guilt over things you are doing wrong, you simply can’t be as productive. So get rid of those negative thoughts, fix the things that lead to a negative conscience, and get your mind clear!

5. Congratulate yourself for what you accomplish.

Your mind will subconsciously work harder when it believes that it will be appreciated. But the only way to train your mind to believe it will be appreciated is to appreciate it. Do this once a day for 30 days and you may be amazed at how much clearer your thinking is, and if your thinking is clearer, your productivity should increase!

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6. Focus on what you can do

This is a huge key to productivity. Simply focus on what you are good at, and do the things you are good at. Prioritize them. You may find that the things you aren’t good at simply resolve themselves, or you may find that when you have done everything that you are good at, there is only a small part of the project left, and the motivation of being “nearly finished” will drive you to finish faster. When you focus instead on what you are not good at, if may be a small part of the project, but the act of focusing on it makes you feel like it’s a huge part of the task, and demotivates you to get the task done.

When you get the bulk of the task done before focusing on your weaknesses, it simply becomes easier and faster to complete it.

7. Concentrate on how to help those who will use your product or service

When you focus on how you are able to help others through what you are doing, it gives your mind a much-needed reason for finishing quickly. Our minds don’t like to work on things that have no purpose, and if what you are doing is helping someone else, then it gives your project purpose, which leads your mind to get the job done.

(Note how so much of what I am discussing is this idea of giving your mind the ideal environment to be productive, instead of focusing on productivity. When you give your mind the ideal environment to be productive, it will do it for you, instead of you having to focus so much on productivity itself to be productive.)

8. Strive for balance

This goes back to the idea of doing too much of the wrong things, and this limits your productivity. When you, instead, strive for balance in your day, doing more of the right things, and getting rid of the 30 hours a week of non-productive work, you become more productive with less effort.

9. Stay connected with people

Sometimes when you work totally alone, your productivity goes down, your creativity goes down, and your effectiveness goes down. As humans, we are social, and if we take that away, you may find you can’t focus as well. So you may need to increase your social time during work, and find that the rest of your time is more productive.

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The flip side of this is that if you are spending too much time with other people, your productivity may go down. So use good judgement. Look around and see what needs to change.

10. Change your environment

When you change your environment, you release your mind to be more creative, which often leads to increased productivity. Here’s why: when you change your environment, you release your brain to be more curious (looking around at things that are not the same as before) and when you release your mind to be creative about your surroundings, you release your mind to be more creative about what you are working on. And when you are more creative about what you are working on, you tend to get better results with less work – hence increased productivity!

11. Avoid perfection

Ever been 90% done with a project that has taken 10 hours already, and then it takes 20 more hours to do the last 10%? Is that last 10 % really worth it? Or could you sand the edges of the project, do some last minute dusting, and have a finished project in just one more hour instead of 20 more hours?

You have to use judgement. If you are a heart surgeon or you rebuild engines, you probably have to go 100%. But if you are writing an article, writing a book, teaching a class, or doing many, many other things, you may be 99% at 90% completed. So just do the last 1%, make 91% your very best, and leave perfection alone and you may find your productivity soars!

12. Keep track of your time

When you keep track of your time, you become intimately aware of the time you are losing through doing unnecessary things. One of the most effective ways to get more productive is to simply track your time. Know what you are doing each 15 minutes, and over time, that awareness will yield additional results.

Tie all this together

What is the #1 tip on this list that resonates with you? What could get you the most increase in results, the fastest? Do that tip first. Next week do the next one down in line. Incorporate 6 of these tips over the next 6 weeks, and you may see your productivity – meaning what you get done each day – double, without any increase in effort, and possibly even a reduction in effort!

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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

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