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Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind

Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind

Do you know anybody who’s not busy?

Most of us wake up each morning facing crammed calendars and mile-long to-do lists. As a lawyer/wife/mom/writer, I know I certainly do.

Out of nerdy fascination and sheer survival instinct, I’ve made a lifelong study of productivity and time management. Here are the top ten tips that help me get done the things that I must or want to do without losing my mind:

1. Write it down

Every task, every commitment should be written down. This frees your mind from the energy- and attention-sucking job of trying to remember.

In his seminal book on productivity, Getting Things Done, David Allen points out how uncompleted commitments take up psychic energy, each one making you just the tiniest bit more tired, more distracted, and therefore less productive.

He emphasizes that the first step to managing your life and time is getting every commitment, large and small, out of your head and into a trusted system.

I use OmniFocus to capture these commitments, but you can start with a simple pen and paper.

2. Get a head start

The best way to hit the ground running is to start the night before.

Before leaving your workspace, or before going to bed, take ten minutes to look over the next day’s commitments.

What appointments can’t be missed? What do you need to have with you for those appointments? (Make sure you’ve gathered those materials and have them ready to go.) What three to five tasks must get done?

Decide what you’ll do first. Look at that to-do list and decide whether any tasks on it can be delegated to someone else (see number 9 below) or, even better, crossed off the list altogether (see number 10 below).

The busier your day, the more important it is to do this quick survey the day or evening before. It means you waste no time in the morning deciding where to start, or gathering materials (and maybe discovering a crucial item isn’t available when you need it).

3. Do your most dreaded task first

Every one of us has one or more tasks on our to-do list that we dread doing.

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Maybe it’s that unpleasant phone call you don’t want to make. Or that blog post you’ve been putting off writing because you don’t know how to start. Or that project that just overwhelms you because it’s so massive.

Whatever it is, it hangs over your head, distracting you with guilt because it keeps getting pushed to the next day and the next. It’s time to end that cycle.

Do it first thing. Writer Michael Hyatt talks about slaying your dragons before breakfast—there’s nothing more motivating for the rest of your day than crossing that monster off your list first thing in the morning.

But many people instead of doing the tough tasks first, they do the easy ones. But if you really want to be productive, there’re some tasks you shouldn’t do first in the morning:

To Be More Productive, Never Do This To Start Your Morning

So make that call. Pull out a piece of paper and brainstorm ideas for that blog post.

Do something about that overwhelming task—maybe you can’t finish it in one day, but you can at least get started. Whatever it is, just do it.

Then let the satisfaction of crossing it off your list carry you into the rest of your busy day.

4. Turn off distractions

One of the major productivity killers is the distraction of constant interruptions: emails, phone calls, people appearing at your door…

The technology that can (and should) make our lives easier and better also can make it virtually impossible to maintain the kind of focused attention that’s necessary to work efficiently and effectively.

But here’s the thing: you can control that technology.

When you’ve got an important task that requires attention and focus, create the space to give it your best.

Whether it’s a meeting with a client or colleague, or an important letter that needs to get written, or a piece of art you want to create, schedule a block of time to focus on that commitment, and then turn off all distractions.

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Shut down your phone (or at least turn off the ringer). Silence your email alerts. Disconnect the internet (or at least Facebook and Twitter). Close your office door.

Just for that hour (or thirty minutes, or half day), turn off all outside communications and give yourself the necessary luxury of undisturbed time to really focus on the matter at hand.

Learn more about How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done.

5. Take breaks

There’s a limit to how long anybody can devote deep focus to a task.

No matter how busy you are, after a certain amount of time the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and fatigue—physical and/or mental—starts to impair your effectiveness.

Schedule breaks periodically even during the busiest days. Take ten minutes to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, walk around the block.

You’ll return to your work refreshed, both mentally and physically, and ready to be even more productive.

If you’re not convinced yet, read this article about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

6. Batch process

If the demands of your day include routine tasks, try to group similar tasks and schedule certain times during the day to knock them out.

Answering emails? Returning phone calls? Entering expenses into a spreadsheet? Instead of interrupting your other tasks to do these things piecemeal, batch them.

Set two or three or five times a day to check and respond to emails. Return phone calls at 11:45 am and 4:45 pm (or, if you want to avoid getting sucked into long phone conversations, return them at 12:15 pm while folks are at lunch and 5:15 pm after they’ve left for the day, and just leave a message!).

By batching similar tasks, you save the time lost to ramping up multiple times a day and reap the benefits of momentum.

7. Eat a healthy breakfast

Do I need to explain this? There are countless studies confirming the importance of breakfast for maintaining our health.

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Healthy people are more productive. No matter how busy you are, eat a decent breakfast. It’ll fuel you for a terrific start to your day.

For more breakfast ideas, check out this:

31 Healthy Breakfast Recipes That Will Super Boost Your Energy

8. Get some exercise

Not to be too repetitive, but healthy people are more productive.

Exercise makes you healthier, so be sure to get some exercise every day.

You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to get the benefit of this; take a walk around the block, or do some isometrics at your desk.

Try these 29 Exercises You Can Do At (Or Near) Your Desk or 15 Simple And Quick Office Stretches To Boost Work Efficiency.

Just do something to get your heart pumping and your blood racing. It will enhance your general well being as well as your ability to think more clearly.

9. Delegate

I’ll confess: I stink at this. I hate to ask for help, and often it seems more trouble to explain a task to someone else than to just do it myself.

But not everything that needs to be done in your life must be done by you.

Evaluate that to-do list carefully. What tasks could someone else do, thereby freeing you up to focus on the things only you can do?

Look around you: who is available to do some of those tasks? A secretary? A colleague? A family member? A paid helper?

An important key to productivity is doing only those things that only you can do, and giving somebody else the opportunity to contribute by doing those other tasks.

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Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to delegate work effectively, take a look at his guide:

How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

10. Say No

How many commitments have you made that don’t really need to be kept at all?

Have you taken on tasks that don’t actually matter to you or anybody else?

Is your calendar cluttered with meetings that don’t accomplish anything for organizations that you no longer care about?

Has your day been hijacked by somebody else’s priorities?

If your calendar is jammed, if your to-do list is miles long, take ten minutes or so to look at each item with a careful eye. Can any of those appointments or tasks simply be crossed off to create some reasonable margin in your life?

When someone calls or appears at your door with a request for your participation in some activity, take a breath and consider whether it fits into your own priorities (which priorities, of course, might legitimately include keeping your boss or spouse happy).

If the answer is no, then just say no. Practice it ahead of time: “Thank you for inviting me, but no.” “Thank you for asking, but no.” “Thank you for thinking of me, but no.”

As a wise person has said, “no” is a complete sentence. No explanation is necessary. Just no.

You may want to learn from Leo Babauta The Gentle Art of Saying No so you can set better boundaries for yourself.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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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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