Everyone wants to get more done at work. And at the same time you probably want to spend more time at home with family or doing favorite hobbies. This seems like an impossible task. After all there are only a set amount of hours in each day and days in each week in which to accomplish these tasks. That’s why ideas to increase productivity are so popular at the moment.
Productivity is a way to measure the effectiveness of a person, system or business. Basically, it measures how much effort, resource and time goes into a task compared to the outcome. In human terms, it means that you need to look at the results of a project to see if they match the effort you put in. This is key if you’re trying to increase the amount of work you get done without increasing your hours at the office. It can also be used to evaluate your relationships, to determine if you’re putting in enough work to get the results you want. You can even use it to to re-evaluate a bad relationship.
Learning how to evaluate your productivity and make changes is an important element of self-development. You’ll never get anywhere if you just keep working harder but have very little to show for your efforts. Conversely, evaluating your own productivity can help you see areas where you’ve let things slide. Because these are probably the parts of your life that have suffered in response. Basically, if you want to achieve your goals and have a life at the same time, you need to increase your productivity. And this shouldn’t mean spending more time at work.
What is your productivity like? Have you noticed any part of your life where you put in the effort but seem to get very little done? Would you like to change that?
The Science of Productivity
Because of the popularity of productivity strategies, there’s a lot of research about this issue. Most of it focuses on barriers to productivity, but some concentrates on effective strategies for increasing productivity. Some of the most important ideas in this area of research include the following:
Productivity is more important than more time
Science shows that no matter what tasks you’re doing, the amount of time they take will expand to fill the amount of time you have. This is called Parkinson’s Law. This laws states that no matter what type of task you’re doing, it will take exactly the time you allot to it. So if you set a relaxed deadline for yourself, you’ll find yourself playing around, procrastinating and working slower than usual. The key is to set deadlines that are reasonable but don’t leave your brain time to play around too much and get into trouble.
The importance of sleep
Do not even think about sleeping less if you want to be really productive. There are a few people in self-development circles who advocate sleeping four hours a night, replacing long sleep periods with naps and lots of other strange and potentially dangerous practices. Do not try any of these without doctor supervision and expert advice.
Sleep is one of the most vital tools for your productivity and your overall health, and it’s also one of the easiest ones to use as well. When you’re sleep deprived you’re more likely to get into an accident and suffer from mood swings. It also decreases your ability to think critically and problem solve, decreases memory and retention and negatively affects your ability to focus. And as an added bonus, prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to a number of serious and life threatening health problems as well. So make sure you get your eight hours.
The importance of breaks
If you want to be more productive, you need to know when you’re most productive. Everyone knows about the sleep wake cycle, but did you know that you go through smaller cycles through the day that determine your wakefulness, your productivity and even your creativity? Learning more about your personal Ultradian Cycle can help you work out when to schedule the hardest tasks and when you should just have a snack and gather what’s left of your energy.
The Benefits of Working on your Productivity
Adopting and working on strategies that will help you to get more work done in the same amount of time will have a number of obvious benefits. And as an added bonus, these strategies can be used in any aspect of your life, so the benefits aren’t just confined to your career success. Some of the most important benefits include:
Get more done
Obviously the biggest benefit of improving your productivity is that you will get more done in the same amount of time. This will allow you to finish projects on time if not ahead of time and hopefully reduce the number of nights you have to work late as well.
There’s nothing more annoying than feeling as if you’ve been working hard all day but haven’t really accomplished anything. Improving your productivity will help you to eliminate that feeling and finish each day feeling as if you’ve been efficient and really had a successful day.
Manage your time better
A big part of productivity is learning better time management skills. If you want to increase the amount of work you finish, you need to understand what you’re doing with your time. This means eliminating distractions that get in the way of the work you’re supposed to do.
More time for what you love
No matter how much you love your work, you probably don’t want to work all the time. There’s so much more to life than career success, and if you can increase your productivity when you are working, it will allow you to enjoy those other aspects.
Feel in control
Feeling out of control is a major fear for most people. Particularly in a work context, a lot of people feel as if they have very little control over what they do or what happens to them. They feel as if their boss holds their job in their hands, has the ability to determine deadlines that have nothing to do with reality, and can set impossible expectations at any turn. But learning to increase your productivity can lessen those fears. It can give you the skills and tools you need to rise to the occasion and meet any work challenge your boss can come up with. And having that confidence in your own abilities can return to you some of your sense of control over your life and your career.
Misconceptions about Productivity
Any skill or tip that helps you get more done is part of productivity. However, there are a number of ideas and strategies that are often touted as essential to productivity, but in the long run just make your life harder. And they don’t actually help you complete more work either, though at first sight they might seem like they do. These bad ideas include:
Increasing your productivity doesn’t mean you should multitask. This is an outdated idea that claims you’ll get more done if you do several things at a time. In reality, this splits your focus and will result in you taking even longer to do the tasks. And you’ll probably do them really badly at the same time. The human brain just isn’t set up to focus on more than one task at a time, so don’t even think about trying to improve your ability to multitask.
Skipping vacations and breaks
America is one of the worst countries in the world for holidays. Most Americans only get 2 weeks of holidays a year. Compared to countries like Australia (6 weeks), the UK (5-6 weeks) and European countries such as France (5-9 weeks), this is a sobering reality. Worse still, lots of workers in the US don’t actually take their vacations. They’re often too afraid that they’ll lose their jobs if they take a vacation or that the work will pile up in their absence. This means that a lot of workers are not taking the time they need to reset and renew themselves away from the pressures of work and deadlines. And this is bad for their health and for their overall life satisfaction.
Saying yes to everything
One of the most important lessons you can learn that will improve your productivity is how to say no. This means being able to quickly evaluate if you can handle a task and its potential benefits compared to how long it will take. If you have the time and the brain space for more tasks, that’s fine. But too many people these days are afraid to say no because they want to please the people around them and fear what the consequences of their refusal will be. This doesn’t lead to increased productivity. Instead, it usually results in you being overwhelmed, overloaded and extremely resentful of everyone who added to your responsibilities. That’s why learning to be productive is often about learning to communicate your needs more effectively.
Letting work eat your life
No matter what kind of work you do, whether you work for someone or if you’re out on your own, work can intrude on every other part of your life. If you’ve ever found yourself answering work emails at 8 o’clock at night on the way to see a movie than you’ve experienced this effect. Increasing your productivity DOES NOT mean letting work intrude on the other parts of your life. Instead, it should help you to finish your work before you leave the office. And when it comes to your personal life, it will push you to get more from your home time and time off as well.
How to Increase your Productivity
So, now that you want to improve your productivity, it’s time to start actually doing it. The following ideas will help you understand how much work you’re actually doing and how to be even more efficient with the time you have:
Track your time
Tracking your time is incredibly important. You need to know what your day looks like before you can change it. Don’t be tempted to just estimate either. You’d be surprised by how smart your brain is at tricking you into thinking you’re doing more or less than you actually are.
Set deadlines for any work you do, even work that isn’t related to your actual job. If you start a project at home and don’t set a deadline, chances are that you won’t finish it at all. The amount of work you have to do on it will expand indefinitely.
Don’t be tempted to work throughout the day without having a break. For starters, this is bad for your health. Research shows that sitting for long periods actually increases your risk of having a heart attack and markedly increases your risk of an early death. But it’s also bad for your productivity and creativity. So try to get up and move around on a regular basis. Some sources claim that 90 minutes of uninterrupted work is the longest you should go before you get up and move a little. So try for that long and see how it goes.
Eat the frog
This is an easy and memorable way of saying that you should always do the least attractive task first. When you make your task list in the morning, there’s probably one task that you want to put off. This is probably a task that’s been on your list for a week but each day you avoid it and push it back to the next day. Do it first. And get into the habit of always doing these tasks first. That way, even if you don’t really get anything else done, you’ll be happy that you at least completed that one, horrible task and don’t have to think about it again.
Get in the habit of saying no. You’ll be surprised by how easy it can be with practice. Just make sure that you aren’t constantly say no while expecting your friends and family to say yes to every request that you make. In all relationships there should be a reciprocal give and take.
2 minute rule
The 2 minute rule is a nice little cheat you can use to complete easy tasks. Set a rule that you have to complete tasks immediately if they will take less than 2 minutes. No complaining, arguing with yourself, or spending more time thinking about the task than it would actually take to complete. Just do it and move on.
Do one thing and do it well
Don’t even think about multitasking unless you’re doing tasks that are mechanical and don’t require any thought or creativity. Otherwise, focus on one task, do it well, and then move onto the next.
Look for time gaps
Once you start tracking your time, you’ll be surprised by how many time gaps there are in your day. You might have a 20 minute bus ride, a gap between appointments or a slow period in the afternoon. Start using these times more efficiently. You could do some extra work, catch up on paperwork, or put your headphones on and learn something from a podcast. Just remember that your productivity aims don’t always have to revolve around work, you should be aiming for a more holistic productivity.
Exercising regularly will improve your overall productivity in a number of ways. It will increase blood flow to the brain, which improves cognitive skills and your mood and increases your overall energy levels. All of these benefits will work together to make you more productive in every aspect of your life.
When you’re working on increasing your productivity you need to make sure you plan your time. This obviously means having work to do, but it also means putting a plan into place for dealing with anything that distracts you or diverts you from your work. Planning for failure in this way will help you create an automatic response to diversions that will increase your chances of actually succeeding.
Turn off your phone
It might not seem like it takes much time to answer a message or acknowledge someone’s social media post but you pay a price for this distraction. Checking your phone regularly splits your focus and decreases the amount of brain power you have to think about your tasks. So when you’re working, put the phone on silent and only check at the end of a work period.
What isn’t tracked doesn’t get done. A good way of tracking your progress towards your goals or your work on work projects is to make a chart that tracks your progress. Put it somewhere very visible and mark off every time you hit a deadline or get further along with the work. Having the visual reminder of your progress, or lack thereof, can be really motivating and it can also remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing when you get distracted.
How to Use Technology
Technology can be very helpful when it comes to improving your productivity. Apps in particular are extremely popular among people who are concerned about their productivity, and for good reason. They can save time, keep all the important data in one place, and basically improve your productivity in every aspect of your life. Not bad for something that goes everywhere with you on your phone and is often free. When you’re looking for apps to improve your productivity, this is what you should look for:
Time tracking apps
These are probably the most essential productivity tool you can use. Some of these apps will track your time over weeks or days and use those numbers to evaluate your work efforts. Trying to bring your work numbers up to where you want them to be can be very motivating if you’re the least bit competitive. There are a few different time tracking apps, so try a few of them until you find one that works.
There are a number of apps that will give you access to all kinds of new information. If you want to improve your productivity in terms of your personal education, these apps can be very helpful. If you use them, you’ll be able to learn something whenever you have a few spare moments no matter where you are.
Sometimes you get ideas when you’re in the strangest places. Standing in line at the shops, walking down the street, or just filling your car with fuel. These are all common places to have a sudden brainwave. And if you don’t have somewhere to write these ideas down, they’ll often be lost forever. That’s why note taking apps are so essential for your productivity.
To do apps
This is an obvious one. Hardly anyone writes their task lists on paper anymore. Finding an app that allows you to carry your list around on your phone can save you time. It also means that you’ll be much less likely to lose the list and have to start from scratch again.
There are a lot of interesting apps out there. And some of them will allow you to record your goals and track the work you do towards your goals. Watching your progress in this way can be extremely helpful for your motivation. I will also remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re bored. You can even find some apps that will suggest goals depending on your interests if you’re struggling to find something to focus on.
Improving your productivity is like any other self-development effort, it’s highly individual. How you use these ideas and how they affect your life will depend on your lifestyle, on your goals, and on what you want from life.
Strategies that improve your productivity can be useful in any aspect of your life. You can use them to be more efficient at work and to plan weekends that are full of great activities. You can even use them to re-organize your evenings so that you include more activities that will enhance your life in some way. It’s all up to you. The only thing that’s certain is that you’ll enjoy great rewards from improving your productivity. And you won’t have to use up more of your precious time while you’re doing it.
What are the best tools and strategies that you use for productivity? Share them with us in the comments below.