• Eve Arnold

21 Tips to Improve Productivity

How to improve productivity with 21 important tips.

Every day the clock starts. You wake up and it’s: Ready. Set. Go.You’re on, you’re doing it — this is you doing life.

With that in mind, it seems quite likely that we would want to optimise time, to make sure we are squeezing the very most out of the time we have. That’s where productivity comes in and this article is all about improving productivity.

How to use our time effectively to produce as much (to whatever standard we determine) as we can?

1. Set Up Your Environment for Success to Improve Productivity

One way to improve productivity is making sure your environment is set up for success. When you sit down to start your productivity day you’ll inevitably look around your environment. If your desk is untidy or there is a cup laying around, you’ll inescapably want to do anything but work, so you’ll start tidying. You need to make sure your environment sets you up for success. That might include tidying your desk before work starts and getting yourself a coffee before doing anything else.

Make sure the space is free from clutter and doesn’t contain any distractions — a good example of a bad distraction is your phone. If it’s faced up for you to see you might feel inclined to start scrolling. Flip it over or better yet put it someplace you can’t get it.

This obviously depends on the type of work you want to engage with, if that work includes your phone, you can’t do that. However, most deep work doesn’t include your phone and you can always stick it on loud so you can hear it ring.

Make sure your environment reflects the work you want to do.

2. That Goes for Your Digital Space Too

Sometimes you might limit what you think your environment is to the physical stuff, desk, chair, computer. But you need to expand your thinking into the digital space too. Having endless tabs open and desktop that’s a complete mess does nothing for your procrastination tendencies.

  1. A messy desktop means you might want to tidy it

  2. Lots of tabs open means you might be prone to look through them

Get rid of them all and start clean and fresh. Only have the tabs open you need and nothing more. And definitely do not have an email open. That constant reminder that people are trying to get hold of you is not helpful. You need clarity and time to think, the ‘ding’ of the email will pull you out of your current train of thought and into something resulting in reduced productivity.

Set your digital space up to improve your productivity by closing down tabs you don’t need.

3. Write a to-do list (a Sensible One)

A to-do list is important because it gives you a clear idea of what you need to achieve today. What it isn’t meant for is to list all the things you want to complete this year. You need to focus on today — what can you reasonably get done in 5–6 hours total working time?

With that in mind, try and limit your tasks to 3 ‘big’ things you want to get done today. That might be 3 completely different things or 3 related things. It doesn’t matter just try and stick to 3.

To-do List

  1. Research for article on The Effort Paradox

  2. Write an introduction to an article on work

  3. Redesign the front page of the website

Anything more than that feels too much for the day. You’ve (hopefully) got a lot of days ahead of you, you don’t need to front-load everything. Take your time with a to-do list, don’t race through it, make sure what you are doing is of good quality and that you are producing things you are proud of.

It’s better to do a few things well than a lot of things poorly. To improve your productivity make sure you to-do list isn’t too long.

4. Add Micro Tasks Around the To-do List

Micro tasks are tiny tasks. Things like washing the pots, hoovering the bedroom, cleaning the bathroom act as a way of changing the scenery. They provide a quick burst of achievement and give you the motivation to crack on with the day. Because they are so small they don’t take much time at all but they make you feel like you’re achieving quite a lot. That’s because when you come to recall your day, you’ll say something like:

“Today I’ve written an intro, researched the Effort Paradox article, redesigned the front page of the website and I’ve managed to wash the pots, do the washing and hoover the bedroom”

In reality, the pots take 5 minutes to wash, the washing takes 2 minutes to put in and the hoovering takes 6 minutes. Total time of 13 minutes, yet you’ll put it in the same sentence as redesigning the front page of your website.

It’s another item to say you’ve done, which us humans seem to like.

5. Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is quite an intriguing technique. Essentially you ‘do’ for 25 minutes and then have a break for 5 minutes. This cycles around 3 times and then you have a break for 25 minutes.

The idea is you take one task and focus solely on it for 25 minutes. You’d be surprised how much you can get done totally uninterrupted for 25 minutes. By committing to not move for 25 minutes means you are focused and engaged in what you are doing, better yet, it’s only 25 minutes, you can do anything for 25 minutes.

Because it’s such a small amount of time it doesn’t feel daunting.

So often we procrastinate because we look at the day as this huge block of 8 hours to tackle and it feels overwhelming. By committing to just 25 minutes, it feels manageable. And because it feels manageable you are more likely to commit to it. And once you commit to one 25 minute block and realise how much you can get done you’ll be motivated to tackle the next one.

Action drives motivation, not the other way around.

6. Split Big Tasks Into Smaller Ones to Improve Productivity

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Breaking big tasks into smaller manageable tasks e.g. cleaning the house broken down into 8 smaller tasks. Source www.millennialcareerhealth.com

Another tip to improve productivity is to split tasks. On the note of splitting time into manageable chunks, you should do the same with whatever you are trying to tackle. Creating a business isn’t a to-do list item for example. Neither is writing a book. Both those things are made up of lots of little tasks that make up the result.

So whatever you have to do today, break it up in manageable chunks that you can tick off a to-do list. If you make them too big all you end up with a lack of motivation and an unticked to-do list.

Small and manageable is better than large and untacklable.

7. When You Get Bored, Change Your Scenery (it improves productivity)

Sitting a desk all day every day is no good for anyone. You need time focused on your tasks of course but what you need to do as well is to get up and move. They’ll come to a point, perhaps an hour or 2 into whatever you’re doing where you feel your motivation dropping. The quality of work you produce will fall off a cliff too, that’s because you need a change of scenery.

When you feel that sense of fledging productivity, you might as well get up and move, you won’t anything productive once you’ve hit that point.

Changing scenery includes getting up and walking around, fussing the dog, chatting to your other half.

It’s anything that gets you out of your chair doing something different.

8. Incorporate Exercise into Your Day

You might not think exercise could improve productivity but bare with me. Along with changing scenery comes exercise. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is good for a few reasons. The biggest reason is it makes you feel good. Whilst the prospect of exercise is usually fairly negative, who really wants to psych themselves up to go for a run?

The doing of said exercise is quite fulfilling.

The reason to incorporate it into your daily routine from a productivity standpoint is to get you in a different headspace. Whilst your busy psyching yourself up for a run or doing the run and thinking the whole way through “I’m so unfit” you are definitely not thinking about that article you’re in the middle of writing.

It gives your mind a change of scenery which is ultimately good for productivity because when you come to sit back in the chair, you’ll have a different outlook.

9. Incorporate Fun to Improve Productivity

We get bored and we get bored easily. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting at your desk pretending to work but really thinking of every excuse not to. You might be sitting at your desk but what you’re really thinking about is dinner or breakfast or anything remotely food-related.

Incorporating fun allows you to explore that bit of novelty you are missing from all the seriousness of doing work. We crave novelty, so find a game or something fun to do for 5–10 minutes to take your mind off work. You can do this between Pomodoros.

You’ll come back feeling refreshed and have your fun craving satisfied. Another way to improve productivity is to incorporate fun into your day.

10. Adapt Your Schedule to Your Energy Levels

We fall into the trap of thinking that everyone needs the same routine to be productive. As if it’s a one-stop-shop for fixing productivity problems. It’s not. You might be a morning person but equally, you might be an evening person or even a lunchtime person.

Whichever you are, adapt your schedule to that. I would advise trying to do the hardest tasks at the peak of your energy levels when you feel most alive and most able to tackle the day.

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Table 1.0 — A break down of time vs. energy level (1–10) in order to identify where to have deep work sessions vs. low-intensity work. Source: www.millennialcareerhealth.com

Save the easy tasks like emailing, scheduling, booking meetings for when you feel less energetic and you just something mundane to be getting on with.

If you don’t know when you are most energetic, track it. Quite literally write all the waking hours across the top of your page and score your energy out often as you go through the day. Do it on the hour every hour.

Once you’ve got that — adapt your schedule to it.

Adapting your schedule to your energy levels will mean that your productivity should improve.

11. Make it a Game to Improve Productivity

If you’ve got something to do that you don’t necessarily find the most thrilling thing in the world, one thing you can do is make it into a game. By that, I mean to set yourself milestones or targets to get complete.

That could be things like:

  1. Seeing if you can complete your research for an article in 10 minutes

  2. Time hour long it takes you to sort out your inbox and try and beat that time next time

Us humans love games, we’ve played them for centuries. Give yourself mini-targets to hit throughout your day to keep you stimulated and focused.

12. Embed Some Sort of Reward to Improve Productivity

A little bit like promising a kid a sweet if they will be good. There will be elements of your day that you look forward to more than others — lunch is a good example. You might (if you’re like me) look forward to lunch quite considerably, especially around 11 am.

If you know what parts of your day you like the best, you can use them as a reward system. So you can tell yourself if you get ‘x’ amount done by 11 am you can have lunch early or you’ll cook yourself a lunch you don’t usually have.

Use whatever you love about your day as a reward.

13. Include the 2 Day Rule Improves Productivity

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Example of what a calendar might look like after using the 2-day rule for 21 days. Source: www.millennialcareerhealth.com

This rule is specific to creating and maintaining habits. For some of us (I’m not sure who), building habits is incredibly easy. You wake up one day and decide that you want to run 10k every day and it takes nothing else to get you in that routine. From that day forward you are running 10k consistently.

For others of us (myself included), you aren’t so gifted with self-discipline. You struggle. You spend time trying to work out the best ways to convince yourself to stick with things. You keep trying to tell yourself that this is worth it, even if it feels like it’s going nowhere. This rule is for you.

The two-day rule //: For any given habit or routine you are allowed to miss one day but you can’t miss two. So let’s say that you’re planning to do a 10k every day and Monday rocks around and you just can’t be bothered — that’s allowed. However, when Tuesday comes, you have to go out and run. You don’t have the two-day rule to lean into — you better get your butt out the door.

The two-day rule gives us some room to manoeuvre. It’s for the days that seem absolutely impossible. It gives you the ability to feel on track even though you’ve stepped off the proverbial treadmill.

14. In Terms of Rules — Try the 1-minute Rule (Improve Productivity)

You, if you are anything like me, are good at thinking through a million different scenarios and not really coming to much of a conclusion. You are good at spending time thinking about things and not doing them. This is where the 1-minute rule comes in.

The One-Minute Rule:// If something takes a minute to do, do it there and then. Your tendency to overthink might be a good thing in certain situations but not so good in others. Those situations that it’s not so good for include anything that takes less than a minute to do. If it takes less than a minute, then by the time you’ve contemplated doing it, you may as well have done it. Those things include things like:

  1. Taking your cup to the sink

  2. Wiping down your desk

  3. Texting someone back

They take so little time you may as well just do them as soon as you think of them.

If it takes less than a minute, do it there and then, it will help improve productivity.

15. Look at the Immediate Milestones Not the Entire Day

When you try and process a whole day in its entirety it can be quite daunting. You’re suddenly overwhelmed with the number of things you have to do all by the time you sit down tonight.

You can feel completely overwhelmed.

Instead of looking at the whole day, split your days into hours and what you need to get done in those hours. Don’t worry about getting 5 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm. Worry about getting through the next hour and completing the things you want to do.

By looking at the now rather than the later, you should find yourself more focused.

16. Block Things That You Know Distract You

There will be things that you know are prone to distract you. Whether it be a phone pinging every 5 minutes, emails popping up, having the window open so you can hear what’s going on outside. You will know about the things that pull on your attention.

Be kind to yourself and remove them.

As with building habits, we know that we have to set ourselves up for success and that includes eliminating distractions, so whatever that might be, get rid of them.

Getting rid of the distractions will improve productivity.

17. Set the Expectation With People to Improve Productivity

If you are trying to start a side business or work outside of your normal working hours and you live with other people, it’s good to let them know. They will know you are trying to crack on with important stuff and you will be engaged with that for the next few hours. They then won’t expect you to help them with whatever they are doing or expect you to socialise with them.

This can be a hard balance to strike but it’s important. If you are working on something in the evening it’s best to be clear and concise.

“I’m going to go and write for a few hours, let’s sit down for a film at 9pm”

It’s important to not let your work totally take over your life but at the same time you need to be putting the time in to make a good go of it, there is a certain amount of effort it requires.

Be concise and clear in what you’re doing, communicate it well.

18. Treat it Like a Non-Negotiable

Sometimes you need to have a look at yourself and remind yourself of what you are asking the world for. If you want a job that you enjoy, that earns you enough to live the life you want and you want to be able to do all that from the comfort of your own home, well then you are asking for quite a lot.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ask for a lot — ask for as much as you want. But you have to be aware that whatever you ask for comes at a price.

If you are asking to have what only 10% of people have, you need to act like the 10% of people do — not 90%. That means putting the time and effort in, doing things when you don’t want to, trying hard, being humble.

Making your goals non-negotiable is one way to improve your productivity.

19. Don’t Waste Time Inbetween Decisions

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Decisions and the time they require. Source www.millennialcareerhealth.com

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done” Bruce Lee

We are naturally quite indecisive creatures. Eric Rassin published a paper in 2007 that described indecisiveness as a widespread phenomenon. Indecisiveness is described as taking a prolonged time to make decisions, regretting decisions, delaying decisive making, changing one’s mind frequently.

Sound familiar?

Does waste your time contemplating the little things. If you want to get a coffee go get one, if you want a snack — go and get one. Don’t waste time and energy on the small decisions.

To improve productivity identify the decisions you don’t need to spend any time on and don’t.

20. Don’t Be Scared of Failing

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose” Bill Gates

The fear of failure stops us so often. You worry about what other people will think if you don’t quite pull off your goals. Don’t worry — they’re not even thinking about you anyway.

Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from playing the game. Failure is a great teacher and gives you a sense of humility that you later might need. Try hard, fail hard and continue.

You don’t need to fear failure, the only failure is not trying your very best.

21. Be Aware of Your Own Mortality

“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There’s no reason not to follow your heart” Steve Jobs

We have nothing to lose. In the end, we lose it all anyway. Remembering where you are aspiring to go and that there is no way you’re getting out of this alive is a good way to bring you back down to Earth.

Why wouldn’t you want to pursue your goals when your choices are pursued them or not. You’ll be the one regretting it if you don’t. It’s ultimately up to you, your goals will be most important to you and only you. This is all on you, if you want to do it, commit to doing it and don’t let anyone stand in your way.

If you don’t, well, you’ll be writing the same goals next January. If you want to improve productivity hopefully these tips have helped.

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