Now that we’ve determined our own individual measures of productivity, it’s time to figure out how to be more productive and, ultimately, happier and more successful. (That’s really what this is all about, isn’t it?) Note that much of what we say here will also mesh well with other discussions we’ve had in this webbook, most notably those discussions on how to eliminate procrastination and how to overcome laziness. Thus, you may want to consult those chapters too if you haven’t already!
Once that’s done, we can then implement these following tips, techniques, tricks, and strategies for our own productivity improvement. Don’t try to implement them all at once. Instead, it’ll be better to hit one at a time – really make sure it sticks and becomes a new habit. Once that’s done, move on to the next tip. If you implement most of these tips on this page, you’ll be come a factory, a machine!
One thing before we dive into these general tips: there will be some aspects of your activity that you will be doing that can be improved to help you increase productivity. However, those improvements will be limited to that particular activity and your particular habits; thus, you’ll have to discover and experiment for yourself on how to find these little tricks, as there’s no way I can give you every single possible way to improve productivity in all possible activities in existence!
How to Be Productive While Staying Sane and Healthy
- The first step is preparation. If you don’t have a plan for the day, week, or even year, you will not know where you’re going. This of course builds into the first step of this process – finding out what productivity means for you – but it’s also important for measuring and monitoring your progress to your goals. Make sure you have goals, and make sure you break down these goals into manageable, digestible parts. Then you will be able to figure out where you are, where you are going, and presumably how long (and how much effort) it takes to get you through each step.
- As stated above, think creatively about the work you are doing, and try to come up with ways to ‘work smarter’ instead of simply harder. I can’t give you much more specific advice than this, because who knows what you, specifically you, are trying to do, but you can get some of your best productivity improvements if you focus on the activity itself and the places where you can clean up your efficiency.
- Learn your rhythms, i.e. the times of the day (or night) where you have the most energy. For some people, this is the morning – they are early birds. Others get huge bursts of energy at night – a.k.a. night owls. Whatever your habits, figure them out and leverage them as much as possible. Funnel your most important work into the times of the day when you can get the most done with the smallest energy expenditure and draining of your willpower.
- Use sticky notes or other tools to help remind you of your goals and to keep you focused on improving productivity each and every day. Sometimes even the best intentioned of us can let life get in the way, allowing us to fall into the ‘haze’ and forget the goals that we really care about. Thus, use little reminders to help catch a wandering mind.
- Don’t get complacent – always look for ways to improve. The method of constant improvements holds that you continually look for even the smallest improvements in your process and your productivity. Even though each change may be small, their cumulative effect will be large.
- Realize that you cannot be a perfectionist, nor can you finish each and every task that you have before you to a level that may ‘satisfy’ you completely. Thus, instead focus on priorities – get the most important things done first, not necessarily the most urgent, and make sure you’re making steady progress towards your end goal.
- Don’t get stuck in ruts – make sure you adapt as your internal and external situation changes. For instance, if your work environment or colleagues change, allow your productivity and your habits to change (positively) with those tremors. Don’t do the same things just because you’ve always done them, even if they were once productive, because they may not be productive in new circumstances like they used to be in the old context.
- Avoid the nasty productivity sucks – for most workers, the main problem is the computer, and in particular the internet. Blogs, Facebook, Youtube, games, general time-wasting sites – the amount of stuff out there that can distract you is near infinite. This is perhaps the most important tip for office workers and, especially, people who work at home who want to be more productive. Thus, you’ll want to avoid web surfing aimlessly during the periods when you should be working. If you can’t control your own habits, you can use little programs and apps that will ‘lock’ the internet, or just certain sites, during particular periods of time. This will force you to avoid those time wasters and focus on working instead.
- E-mail is a particular time waster, as are phone calls and text messages. Cut off the Blackberry if you can, as every distraction will cut heavily into your productivity. Every time you have to get yourself refocused on your task, it will take precious minutes and energy to get recentered on your task. Try to get and stay in ‘flow’ as much as possible.
- Kill multitasking too. Unfortunately, we all suck at multitasking, even if we may swear that we’re really good at it. Thus, focus on one thing at a time, do it to completion (or at least to a checkpoint or milestone), and move on to the next activity on your to do list.
- You may have personal productivity sinks that affect you in the same way as the Internet, such as TV, magazines, reading, video games, daydreaming, or chatting with friends and colleagues. Identify your weaknesses and ruthlessly eliminate them if possible.
- If you want to improve your productivity, you may have to take some constructive criticism to heart. In fact, you should seek it out, because the fact is that it’s very hard for you, from your own, personal perspective, to be a 100% unbiased critic of your own habits and actions. Thus, find someone you can trust who will be able to give you advice on what an outside observer thinks would improve your productivity. Obviously, trust your own instincts and don’t change easily according to the whims of someone else, but seriously take their critiques to heart.
- Crush bad habits you have. What negative habits and actions hold you back? They don’t just have to be physical – sometimes mental habits, like negative self talk, can severely damage our ability to be productive. In fact, if you want to know how to be more productive, more often than not the answer will lie within you and your mind.
- Make sure you are healthy – eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Not having enough energy, physically, can put a sever damper on your ability to produce and consume energy.
- Take breaks, get your rest, and recuperate and rejuvenate! Going 100% all day, every day will only lead you to burn out. In fact, even when you are rolling along, you may not be operating at your most efficient. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking regular periods of doing nothing but resting can help you be more productive when you return to work and, therefore, more productive overall. In general, short for work periods of 45 minutes to an hour and a half for an optimal work to rest ratio.
- Do your most hated tasks first. Conquering these in the first part of the day (also known as ‘eating your frog’) will get the biggest task off your plate and give you the momentum to absolutely plow through the rest of your tasks.
- If you have a commute, or other periods of dead time, try to couple them with more productive activities. Of course, don’t compromise your safety, but try to recover as much time throughout the day that you can.
- Get help when you need it. Don’t try to do everything yourself – sometimes getting an outside perspective and assistance can be the difference between low and high productivity.
- Delegate tasks that you can let others do, especially if they can do it more efficiently. In fact, sometimes the best thing you can do is totally drop tasks completely – if they are unimportant and not urgent, why are you doing them?
- Pace yourself – don’t burn yourself out in a rush of activity. You’ll want to maintain your energy and consistency throughout the day, week, and even year – so make sure to take your rests, but not too much rest that you totally atrophy.
- What if you’re trying to improve the productivity of not just you but also others, such as people in your team or your employees? The principles of employee productivity are much the same as listed above. Treat them with kindness and understanding, but at the same time hold them to rigorous and fair standards. Apply these tips in your own life first and then find out how best to communicate them to others so that they will understand their power and utility.
As a final note, there are many productivity tools out there that can help you get and stay productive. A word of warning, though: sometimes these productivity helpers can actually make things worse, as they themselves can suck up your energy and attention. Make sure that productivity software and other tools stay just that – tools – and that they don’t become the center of the show.
One great tool you can use to increase your productivity is The Action Machine. I’ve recommended this tool in other parts of this book, but that’s just because I believe in it so much. It combines many of the virtues that we discussed above – planning tasks, setting milestones, and focusing on one task for a solid, uninterrupted chunk of time.
There are some other productivity training products out there that can help you learn some other techniques, skills, and methods to hone your personal productivity. The best ones of these products may even be specific to your field or goals – the more specific to what you’re trying to do, the better of course!