Internet is scattered with articles about productivity so why should this be the last and the only one you should read? Because I’m going to try include every piece of advice, tips and tricks in one article so you can bookmark it and never have to go search for it again.
A word of caution – Just because you’ll find every piece of advice in this article doesn’t mean you should implement all of them. Ideally you should start with one and work on perfecting it in the sprint of 2 weeks. Once you’ve established any given productivity hack into your habit, choose the next one from the list and start another sprint while keeping the first one intact.
Let’s jump right in…
Being busy does not mean being productive
I had to get this myth out of the way. Most people think they are being productive when actually they are just being busy. There is a reason why 40 hours week came into existence. Find out your optimum time of productivity and work accordingly. 5 productive hours are much better than 10 unproductive hours.
Multitasking does not make you productive either
A stanford study showed that people who multitask are worse than people who do a single task at once. Every time you think of jumping from one task to another, take a step back and ask yourself – is it urgent to take this up this right away? Most of the times it won’t be and you should try to focus on what you were doing.
Turn off all distractions
We like to stay connected all the time which makes it even more difficult to switch off distracting elements. But doing so would help you avoid multitasking and make you more attentive to details. Try to work in short sessions of 30-60 mins so you can still go back and check on your distracting elements after.
Know your tools inside out
If you work on a computer try using keyboard for most of the tasks. Every time you reach for your mouse, you’re losing a tiny bit of time. Compounded over time this could mean wasted hours. Similarly, find out how to use your other tools effectively.
Find your superman time
Every person has a different energy level throughout the day but usually we are more creative and energetic early in the day and our productivity reduces towards the evening. Using this powerful insight in building your daily schedule can help you be a lot more productive than you already are. Also, if you’re interested in finding your superman time, here is how you can find it.
Don’t try to be a perfectionist
If you’re working on a creative task, it is highly unlikely that you’ll nail it in the first attempt. It’s always better to throw in all your ideas and then work on refining them. If you’re trying to be a perfectionist, you’ll end up taking more time to complete the task.
You can beat procrastination
There is a structured way of beating procrastination by reorganizing your task list with more important tasks so you try to avoid them for a less important one which should actually be your priority at the moment.
Another way of beating procrastination is to get started. Most of the time we fail to even start working on a task. Get started and do it for 5 minutes and chances are you’ll continue working on it.
Work in the sprint of 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break. These short cycles of work and essential breaks would help you avoid stress. Make sure to use the 5 minute break to do something fun which is not related to work. Forget about work for those 5 minutes. You can also use an app like this to keep a track.
Think of automating the repetitive tasks. You will not only save time but you shall be able to focus on other important tasks. Not everything can be automated but aim to automate as much as possible. As a general rule of thumb make sure the time used in automating a task will save you at least 5x time in future. Also look at services like IFTTT for automation.
Don’t lose focus of the bigger picture and constantly ask yourself one of the following questions:
- Is this the best use of time to be productive?
- Is this the best way of doing the task?
- What am I working on right now? Will it make the biggest impact on my main goal?
You can put up a sticky note or even a wallpaper on your computer to constantly remind yourself.
Contrary to what people think, exercise energizes you rather than exhausting you out. Most of us procrastinate about it and the easiest way to do it is to put on some good music and start a 7 minute workout. The trick is to get started and it will be over before you know it.
Drink a lot of water
Hydrate yourself and drink a lot of water which not only helps your body but also gets you up from the chair for frequent bathroom breaks. A win-win in every way.
Learn to say No
We don’t usually say No to avoid conflict or to please someone which ends up getting you in over your head. Would you rather say No upfront or take too much work, not finish it on time and disappoint others? Don’t forget you’re human and there is always a polite way to say No.
Moreover, if you know about Pareto principle or the 80-20 rule, you should focus on the 20% stuff that would get you 80% results.
Turn your wasted hours to productive ones
For my first job I use to commute 3 hours in a crowded metro. Instead of wasting those hours I started loading my mobile phone with podcasts and listen to them during commute. You can use these wasted hours in multiple ways like taking work calls, talking to customers, planning your week, reading a book etc.
If nothing else take this time to call your family and friends you haven’t been in touch with lately.
Crush it with the 2 minute rule
The rule says if something can be finished in less than 2 minutes, you should do it now! Even though it makes total sense it can interfere with work as it gives rise to multitasking. Make sure to not do it when you’re on a focused Pomodoro session.
Nothing like a good night sleep
It can’t be emphasized enough how important it is to have a good sleep. A study by BBC says –
If you are getting less than seven hours’ sleep a night and can alter your sleep habits, even just a little bit, it could make you healthier.
Why you may ask? The study notes –
Deep sleep sounds restful, but during it our brains are actually working hard. One of the main things the brain is doing is moving memories from short-term storage into long-term storage, allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. If you don’t get adequate deep sleep then these memories will be lost.
Make realistic goals
It is easy to set high goals but often times when you don’t achieve them, you end up demotivated. It is crucial to assess and set realistic goals.
Go a step ahead and break those goals into smaller, easy to measure tasks so you’re not overwhelmed at once. It is easier to finish up 5 smaller tasks than a big one.
Collaborating with a partner is a great way to reduce the time required to finish a big, complex task and also helps in opening your mind to new ideas. This is specially true for software programmers. It also helps when you’re not sure how to approach the problem. A mentor could significantly reduce your planning time by guiding you in the right direction.
If you’re unable to find a partner you can have a conversation with yourself by writing everything down. Many people write a diary, some keep journals, you can choose a format that works for you and get your thoughts on paper. However, the trick is to be free flowing, you shouldn’t focus as much on writing correctly as you do on getting those thoughts on paper.
Track and optimize
Track everything in your life from your to-do list to your sleeping pattern, eating habits etc. Next step is to optimize them. There are plenty of tools available to get the job done:
- Time/task tracking – Time Doctor, Asana, Toggl
- Health – Fitbit, Up by Jawbone
- Email – Email Game (Only for Gmail and google apps)
Make commitments, publicly
Commit to something publicly so you’re obligated to follow through on the set deadline. Nobody likes to break promises or look stupid in front of their colleagues and this peer pressure usually motivates you to complete it on time.
Give yourself some alone time
Take 10-20 minutes at the end of the day to reflect back on what you’ve done and how you could have improved. Find just one takeaway and write it down. Writing down is the essential part so you’re consciously aware of what you could have improved on and at the end of the week go through the list to remind yourself how you’re going to do better in future.
Cut your meeting time in half
Meetings can waste a big chunk of your time without even you realizing it. Meetings disrupt your natural workflow, are sometimes vague and drifts away from the subject easily.
At Mailbird we hold only one team meeting every Monday for 30 minutes and we make sure that it never goes beyond the set time limit. This forces us to be productive and finish all the agenda items in time.
If you or your company holds a lot of meetings, try to cut down the meeting time by half and invite as few people as possible. Remember, the time of every additional person in the meeting is a wasted resource for the company.
Make tiny habits
As much as you want to do everything by yourself, it is hard and you’ll eventually burn out. Delegating tasks to others doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it shows you can get the job done faster. Even if the end result is not perfect, you can make changes which is better than doing it from scratch.
Setting the right priorities can make all the difference. Every day in the morning before looking at your emails or starting work, take 15 minutes to think about and decide what will be your top 3 priorities for the day. Every time you feel distracted, go back to the list and align yourself with the priorities. Everything should be done after completing your priorities.
Did I miss anything? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 🙂