Being more productive is much easier said than done. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your productivity, some practical, more theoretical in the way to operate day to day.
To be more productive, you have to be good at avoiding menial tasks and great at doing important things. Determining which activities fit in which group is about 90% of the work. Think of it like adding context to each situation. Say you haven’t worked out today and really should, your one foot out the door, and see a package slip, it’s 4pm and the post office closes at 5pm. You don’t have time to do both so what’s more urgent to deal with here? A very simplistic example, think about what your mind would gravitate towards automatically and perhaps why you might prioritise one over the other. That decision making process can be applied across any personal or work task.
Here’s my breakdown of everything you need to know about how to work efficiently so that you can lead a more productive life with this productivity guide. Grab a cup of coffee and a notepad, here’s how to upgrade your life and become a productive person!
Productivity: What Is It?
Before getting into being more productive, we must understanding productivity and what it means to be productive. Productivity is the reference for one’s efficiency in executing tasks. Most people associate productivity with the number of tasks performed. Imagine, sending out 1000 emails in one day that yielded a new opportunity, or sending out 3 gaining the same, if not a better result. Just because you approach the tasks more effectively.
Productivity is the ability to be consistent in getting the most important tasks done first. No matter what one might be working on, there are very few truly important tasks. The great work, the things that actually move the needle.
Hence, being more productive is learning to maintain a consistent and flowing executive capacity over a few things, and not being very fast with everything on your list.
Productivity also entails so many other things which are dutifully outside of the spectrum of work. Productivity is often built outside of the process of execution, prior and after.
Your Future Matters, Don’t Neglect It
How many years have already lived out on this planet? Think about this, you’ve got years ahead as well. You’re going to spend the next 5, 10 years doing tasks, things, eating, drinking, and sleeping. In most cases, whatever you’re doing is in response to the urgency of a task, instead of its importance.
The need to earn income trumps the desire to build a project that you’re proud of. In many other cases, the urge to learn how to build muscle within a month trumps becoming the person who works out regularly. Furthermore, the urgency of being noticed trumps the ability to be satisfied with yourself at the moment.
The urgency of a task trumps the importance of it for most people. A life where the next thing that adds to your list is JUST as important and urgent as everything else.
A classic quote for this is everything’s a priority, then nothing is a priority.
And sometimes there are times when we must place the important tasks on pause, simply so we have the energy to address the craziness of our lives. Family emergencies, sickness, and hangovers..
Being responsible is a necessary part of life. However, how long will one keep delaying what they value for the sake of handling those urgent tasks before them? How long will one put off what they are capable of doing instead of maintaining the activities they are already doing?
Think about this. If it was you, how long would you wait? A year? 10 years? Your entire life, perhaps?
Most people live their lives based on urgency and not the basis of self-driven importance. It’s very easy to lose years of your life chasing those urges and never have the time to do what we know we should or must (for our own sake and the rest of the world).
If you want to lead a life with importance, you must have clarity on the path ahead. When you finally come to decide what is important to you and that you will be going for it no matter what, that’s when you avoid the life others want you to live.
For instance, if you know that your important goal is to read this article, this goal will give you a sense of purpose and direction. When you have a free moment, you read a little more. Whenever you get new thoughts, you related them to the completion of this goal in the first place.
Your life must be arranged around the completion of an important task. Everybody has urgent tasks. Phone calls to make, emails to send, friends to help, projects to complete. However, only having a specific goal and clear purpose will let you get on the right track to what is important for you.
Without direction, whenever you’re done with your emergencies, you’re left with doing nothing. Goals prevent you from being driven by the urgency of unimportant and time-consuming activities.
Specificity in goals is unlike desire. And that’s an important difference. Wanting to get fit is the desire, completing a full bodyweight workout is the goal.
Wanting to start an online business is the desire, selling your service 5 times is the goal. Wanting to read a book is the desire, reading through the first chapters is the goal.
A Three Step to Being More Productive
First and foremost, everybody is more effective at their tasks during certain times of the day. You need to assess the type of energy that you have throughout the day.
What kind of person are you in the morning and what activities can you tend to? What about the afternoon and evening? You must decide which tasks match the specific level of energy, and what time of the day they must be left for.
For myself and after a lot of trial and effort, I find I have a lot of motivation on the weekends mornings. So I put a lot of those big meaty tasks that I want to be uninterrupted then.
I wake up at 6am on Saturday and get my list done by 9am, and still have a full day ahead of me. During the week I’ll have an early 7.30am start if I feel like it, but most of the time I’m rolling out of bed at 8.30am.
You’ll see a lot of YouTube videos on morning routines saying get up a 4am, gym, skincare, emails, build a sandcastle, cure world hunger, work done, by 9am%u201D. Sure, that might work for them, unlikely it’ll work for you if you’re not built for it or don’t have a YouTube audience to flex on how productive you are.
Accept where your drive is most active and harness that for more practically placed effort. Some things are to be done right on the spot, other things require some brewing over them.
Step 1: Prepare In Advance
Abraham Lincoln once said: Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first 4 sharpening my ax.%u201D. Whether he did say this or not doesn’t matter, but the concept behind this quote is very important.
If you only choose to do a single thing per day, spend some quality time the day before creating a to-do list for the day ahead. When done right, you will outline the entire task and develop a short-list for the items that make up the larger goal.
It only takes a couple of minutes and it can save you lots of time the next day. Keeping yourself accountable will ensure that you don’t slip up when the time to shine arrives.
Step 2: Eliminate Distractions
The simplicity of this step is hindered by the attempt to make it complicated. Nobody wants to get rid of distractions, and even if they do, they can’t.
It takes time to get over the primal urges to distract ourselves. There comes a point when you realize that it can wait. Nobody is going to send you a length email that might decide your fate, leave your inbox alone for the first few hours of the day, set yourself a time to attack it later when your focus will be more present.
Use this free time in the morning to do what you think is important, don’t respond to what you think is urgent. If you’re one to get distracted by your phone, leave it on a desk somewhere. Put it out of sight.
Eliminate the urge to check social media, respond to messages, so on and so forth. By doing so, you will boost your productivity in many ways. By eliminating the possibility of slipping into an unproductive consumption state, you open the path to a task getting your undivided attention.
Context switching – as in jumping in between tasks, emails, lists, and conversations can kill your productivity. Our workdays are becoming more fragmented. That Slack notification during meetings can be way too tempting to open. Gerald Weinberg, psychologist, switching between tasks can lose up to 20-80% of your overall productivity.
Step 3: Have A Routine
Having a routine, specifically in the morning is a great way to get your day going in the right direction. Everybody has their own routine, whether it’s habitual or pre-determined.
Even if you don’t have a routine, you will find that if you examine each morning, you’re most likely doing the same things most of the time. So the real change comes from optimizing your existing routine.
Remove the unnecessary, add in the necessary. You can start with drinking water to kickstart your digestion and bodily functions. You can start with meditation to flow into the rest of the day.
Having some sort of routine that fits your lifestyle will help you enter into whatever mode you like, whether it’s for work, exercise or relaxation. Having a pre-work routine will help you combat the lack of motivation and assist you in getting things done.
Most people want to know about the routine of successful people. There’s merit to this, however, you don’t want to copy someone else routine entirely. They are not you, and you are not then.
Think, devise and develop a routine that fits your needs.
Productivity Strategies & Methodologies
Now let’s get into the actual methodology to improving this with productivity hacks:
Prioritize the Most Important Tasks
This is not theoretical in any way. Any to-do list will have tasks that are more important than others. If you’re the type of person to simply check things off, you’re probably getting the unimportant and unimportant stuff done together.
Having other tasks in the way of the important ones can result in procrastination. It’s quite easy to spend an entire day completing the tasks on your list without addressing the larger important goals.
Instead of doing this, spend some time in the morning deciding what is your most important task for the day. It should be something that you must finish before the day ends, no matter what.
With a new understanding of the importance of your life, you can create a more intricate and meaningful list of things to do.
The Great Work, Not Surface Work
We understand that some tasks are exceedingly difficult. But they are not impossible. To resolve this, great work is the only tool you can use to address the complexity of the task.
If you haven’t prioritized your tasks, there are some activities you could do with your eyes closed. On the other hand, some tasks are quite difficult. These tasks cannot be multitasked into completion.
You need to devote yourself and your mental efforts fully. Tasks that require you can contextualise as great work. The skill of intense focus is insurmountably uncommon, and if you can master it, you’re at a great advantage.
Some examples of this for me are
Strategizing business direction for StudioHawk
Sales – a lot of the time is spent in conversation, conversation takes and pure focus
Committing time to writing these blogs
The pay-off of the great work, it isn’t immediate, it may take months, years even to come to fruition.
So to achieve completing the great work, you must schedule it, remove all distractions, understand your habits in work and get comfortable chopping away for hours. That side hustle you want to set up, you gotta commit that time, there’s no quick ways of getting them started. Without scheduling, you might never get around to this type of work at all. And by understanding your habits, you can assess when you work best on these kinds of tasks.
Story: A visiting prince came into Michelangelo’s studio and found the master staring at a single 18 foot block of marble. Then he knew that the rumors were true – that Michelangelo had come in everyday for the last four months, stared at the marble, and gone home for his supper.
So the prince asked the obvious – what are you doing? And Michelangelo turned around and looked at him, and whispered, “sto lavorando” (I’m working). Three years later that block of marble was the statue of David – that’s the great work. The work that truly matters.
Great work is not always enjoyable, so you need to be able to persevere – it quite literally may be starting at a block of marble trying to understand it and create something beautiful.
Compile A Distraction List
With thousands of things to do, social media, and text messages, distractions are too easy to come by when you’re trying to work. Whether you’re dealing with the essentials or getting into great work, distractions will hinder your focus.
One of the greatest ways to reduce distractions in your life is to compile a distraction list. Keep this list close to you, whenever a distraction appears, write it down on your list and keep working.
This technique is only useful because we understand that some distractions genuinely require our attention. If you’re doing some serious work and you come to realize that you have to pay off your credit card, you might want to do that on the spot.
But with a distraction list, you can write it down and keep working, knowing that you will not forget about it in the future. These distractions deserve your attention, but not at that moment.
Once you get a break, you can enjoy these distractions. Don’t let them integrate into your flow and disrupt your focus.
Eisenhower Matrix for the Long-Term
One of the weaknesses of productivity is short-term. There is nothing as useless as doing things great which you should not be wasting your time on at all.
During your workday, it’s quite easy to get lost in the important things of the day. Using the Matrix by Dwight Eisenhower which helps you determine what you should and shouldn’t work on is a great way to tackle this problem.
To create this matrix, draw a 2 by 2 square. On a single axis, sketch out important and not important. On the other axis, urgent and not urgent.
By organization your task list on their urgency and importance, you can determine the tasks that are not worth your time. Do you find yourself wasting your day on completing tasks that are not important but urgent? Try to eliminate, delegate or automate them.
However, the best way to approach these tasks is to simply ignore them. The Eisenhower Matrix will make it easy for you to recognize what truly matters.
The 80/20 Rule
Another great for being more productive is the 80/20 rule. The method discovered by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, shows that 80% of all results come from 20% of all efforts.
Thus, to be more productive, you must assess and identify the most important 20% of your work. You must cut down 80% of your schedule to find time for the more important things that will actually deliver the necessary outcomes.
Don’t be afraid to get rid of tasks you think are important, focus on the factually important tasks.
Large Tasks Can Be Small Tasks
Why do people procrastinate? Well, there is a myriad of potential reasons behind this. However, the most common is that their task list is too obnoxious.
If you have tasks that are large in scope and not specific, completing them might be very difficult. You will look at the task and not even know where to start.
By breaking down the large tasks into smaller ones, you know exactly what to do. If you have a task labeled as “write a book about finance“, it’s no wonder you’re putting it off. There’s nowhere to start.
I create these into projects- these projects then feed into goals.
A project is breaking down this task into subtasks – Instead of jotting down write a book about finance, your task list can look like this:
Read top 3 books on finance
Organize ideas into an acceptable outline
Write down specific sentences for each section of this chapter
Take the existing bullet points and expand them into full paragraphs
The large task has become a project, and these tasks on completion will complete your project. Of course, it does make your task list longer, but it also ensures you get things done quicker. One task you’ll complete tomorrow, the next in a few weeks, and so on until all those are done. You no longer have to wonder where to start. Each item is specific, and all you have to do is complete each in order. At some point, the result will be the author of your first book.
Breaks Are Essential
Nobody can focus for 10 hours straight, not even the high-performers. It’s not possible, no matter how many productivity habits you have, trust me I’ve tried. A distraction-free flowing focus cannot be maintained for that long.
Hence, breaks are critically important and they do make people more productive. Even breaks of several minutes can help you charge up your batteries and acquire new ideas.
You must be diligent about your breaks. When you take them, they must be deliberated and structured. It’s easy to take a break for the sake of taking a break.
However, if you don’t have that break scheduled, it’s quite likely you will get distracted. Using the Pomodoro technique can help you work in intervals of 30 minutes with 5-minute breaks between each work period.
You dedicate yourself to intense work for a certain amount of time, and then intentionally take a break for a less significant chunk of time. Scheduling a break will help you remain productive throughout the day.
Fewer Decisions, More Energy
Remember Barack Obama? Well, he was asked about his clothing style. He responded that he only wears blue or gray suits.
The reason behind this is that he wanted to bring down his decision-making. He does not want to decide on what to wear or what to eat, there are too many other decisions he has to make anyhow.
As you get busier, your career advances, your business grows, your time will be taken up with making more and more decisions.
Some decisions are critical. The majority of others are not. If you want to be productive, consider removing everyday decisions or delegating them. Ramit Sethi has a decision-making rule for book buying, which applies to many other aspects of life.
In essence, if you are considering buying a book, buy it on the spot. Don’t waste time thinking about it. Each book will have at least a single idea that will be worth the price.
If you can’t choose between two books, get them both. There’s really no reason to waste your energy on unimportant decisions. Learn to make fewer decisions!
Email is known to be a productivity killer. Most people spend their entire great work period with their email open, looking over waiting for emails, or responding to notifications on the spot.
I’m so guilty of this, and I’ll admit being open to these distractions can be a vice.
There’s great value in removing distractions as mentioned earlier. Optimize your inbox, don’t check it all the time. Do it at certain intervals if you need to.
Inbox Zero is a fantastic approach for this, I could talk about it for days. It’s a simple mindset change that yields getting more time back and less time getting bogged down with emails.
Another great way to improve productivity with emails is to learn how to communicate better. Have you ever tried to arrange a meeting but ended up sending 10 back and forth emails to determine the location and time?
What if you were able to decrease the number of emails it takes to arrange a meeting? What if you were able to make an email so price that you can avoid the back and forth altogether?
Productive people decrease their use of email by making the context more valuable and clear to the other person. It might require you to spend some more time writing the email, but you will save time in the long run.
I would like to meet with you to discuss our project. When are you available?
This email might get the point across, but you will need to spend time responding to questions and emails to arrange the meeting in the first place.
Also, your meeting will be wasted because you’re going to waste time covering the agenda for the discussion. The other person will also have no time to prepare answers for the topics.
What about an email like this:
I would like to meet with you to discuss our project. I want to talk about the proposal I sent through and future partnerships.
I’m free on Wednesday at 3 pm, also on Friday at 12 pm. Let me know if these times work for you.
The email is a little longer to write for sure. But it’s going to result in a better outcome in the end. It will take about 1 more email or even 0 to get the meeting arranged.
Not to mention, both of you will enter the catch up with clear objectives at hand. To make this even easier, use a template email that you can fill in the blanks. Whatever you’re writing your emails for, be precise as you can. It will take a little more effort, but in the end, you will cut down on extra time-waste and become more efficient in everyday life.
Automate Repetitive Tasks
If you find that you address the same tasks on a repetitive basis, you must find ways to get these things done faster and better. The solution to this can be pure automation of business processes or as simple as few macro shortcuts.
If you’ve ever worked with a really efficient person they’ll start doing a mundane task and within seconds start thinking of a quicker way of doing it.
Look for shortcuts without deprecating the value of your work whenever you can. You can try putting together operating processes for the most common tasks so that you can easily get through them.
You can also learn some shortcuts for applications that you use often. For example, you can learn how to quickly create headings and stylize your writing in your favorite writing app.
Next, you can delegate tasks to others when appropriate. Ensure you keep communication consistent and don’t get out of tune on the entire process.
Want to be more productive with technology? Improve your typing speed. The difference in writing speed is tremendous. Use a typing game to get your writing skills up.
Do you input information manually into your excel sheets? Consider using Zapier to automate these activities. Repetitive tasks are the greatest candidate for automation.
Removing these tasks from the manual effort will save you lots of energy and time. Just because it can be done by you, doesn’t mean that it should be.
Learn From Mistakes As Much As You From Success
One of the great obstacles that productive people come across is ensuring that efficient quick work is also great to work. When you’re doing things quickly, you are much more likely to make mistakes. Productive people tackle this risk by improving their process whenever they can.
When we launch something in our business we never try to overthink it, we formulate a good enough process that we’re comfortable with then roll it out. Put it out to the universe and see what happens. Turbulence might hit, mistakes will be made, gaps will be highlighted – but we could have spent months trying to perfect a process and never getting anywhere.
Thus, good work comes intuitively. Learning from mistakes is valuable and most people understand this. When something doesn’t go right, assessing the mistakes and learning to prevent them in the future is essential.
However, learning from success is also terribly important. Why does something go right? When you s%uCCEEd, it might be tempting to celebrate, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But success deserves critique and scrutiny as much as mistakes do. Productive people optimize their success by understanding how to make sure it happens again.
What was done right and why? What should you learn from this experience? How can you use these lessons again and what elements of the success were not efficient?
Asking yourself questions along the lines of those above will help you achieve repetitive success. It also assists you in understanding your work more genuinely and authentically.
Plan for the Worst
Things go wrong, it happens to everybody. You have great plans for this day, it’s going to be your best day yet. However, something goes wrong and you have to put it off.
Maybe your toilet gets flooded and you need to call a plumber. Maybe there’s an unexpected meeting that you have to go to. Things don’t always turn out the way we expect them to.
Productive people understand that when planning everybody underestimates how long it will take to complete a task. The main reason behind this is that we never take into account the responsibilities, distractions, and tasks that are not part of our schedule.
Have you tried to schedule an appointment and figured that next week would be better? But then the next week comes up and it’s just as busy, if not more?
Productive people are great at knowing that the next week is only less busy because you haven’t scheduled for it yet. By planning for contingencies and interruptions, you will be able to adapt quickly to any situation and have time to resolve your important tasks after you’re done fixing the problems.
Keep your expectations low as anything can happen, you might have one day in a week where you absolutely nailed it productivity wise, the other 6 were a complete mess yet you scraped through using your new productivity skills. That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up, maintain the effort.
Work First, Inspiration Will Come
Most people that start learning about being more reproductive talk about the need for motivation and inspiration. However, truly productive people first focus on starting, no matter how they feel.
The 5 Minute Rule is great for this. You’ve got something you’re having trouble motivating yourself for, start up by just doing 5 minutes. If after five minutes it’s so horrible that you have to stop, you are free to do so. Most of the time, people continue, the juices start flowing and you end up completing your work.
When you have trouble with motivation, it’s often because you are daunted by the scope of the project. The scope can be intimidating, making it hard for you to face the tasks at hand.
Don’t worry about the motivation or inspiration. Start your work in the most minimal-effort way that you can. Even if you need to with something like sitting at your work table, that’s your first step.
Action leads to motivation, motivation leads to inspiration, inspiration leads to more action. Productive people don’t wait to get motivated, they work and everything else follows.
With distractions in every corner of our homes and on every street outside, it’s quite easy to get into the habit of multitasking. Don’t do this.
People are not good at multitasking. When you’re multitasking, you’re not really doing several things together. You’re just switching between them really fast, and not giving your attention to any of them fully.
Each time you switch activities, you have to replace your attention as we’ve noted before. Because it can take several minutes to get back on track, the cost of switching between tasks will make work inefficient.
Is multitasking ok in some circumstances? Sure. If you’re doing house chores and listing to a podcast, you can probably manage.
The reason behind this is because both tasks require different energetic and mental resources. But if you’re writing a book and listening to a podcast, both of the tasks require the same resources. Because of this, your work quality will suffer.
Not to mention, it tires you out much quicker, which means you get even less efficient as time goes by. So how does one stop the habit of multitasking?
The easiest way to do this is to remove the distracting tasks, especially those that don’t require your attention at all. Put your phone away, close your email, mute your notifications. In most cases, waiting an hour to respond to an email will not be to your detriment.
Know Your Limits, Recharge When Needed.
Prioritization, productivity tools, email templates are all great ways to improve your productivity. However, they will not save you if you are not taking care of your mental and physical faculties.
Everybody focuses on time management as the basis for productivity. In fact, most habits on the list are here to help you manage time better. However, energy management is something severely more important.
Productive people are also great at relaxing and recharging. This means optimizing your sleep, eating good food, and exercising. If you cannot focus or your thoughts are not fluid, assess your habits. Some people need more sleep, some people need less. Sleep affects productivity quite directly.
Eat well, sleep well, exercise well. Get some sunlight, take some walks. A 30 minute walk can be the best thing for my productivity at times. Take care of yourself in every way possible as this is the only means to naturally improve your productivity in the long term.
Reading. Nuff Said.
Many productive people like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk attribute success to reading. They’re success lies a lot within making the right decisions at the right time. But It’s hard to make decisions without time.
If you spend 30 minutes a day in silence reading that next great book on your list, you are bound to pick up information that will help you make those split-second decisions, reflect on what’s important, and induce new healthy habits.
You’ve got access to insights from the greatest minds out there – there’s a book out there that can give you the answers.
The word yes is very tempting. Opportunities and projects always show up on our plates. It’s easy to get excited by potential outcomes and end up with many responsibilities.
Being able to say no is hard. This means you must be able to consciously set aside tasks so that you can address the priorities. Very productive people are the best at not doing things.
Having fewer things to do means you have the time and energy to use them on important tasks. People often think that they will be productive by filling their day with low-value work, but this kind of work depletes creativity and energy.
Something that is not a good use of your time, will be a better use for another as they’ll be able to learn more from it. A fantastic opportunity to pass that item along to another, be there to advise and let them take it on to learn something new.
The most effective people figure out what they do will be very valuable and they put substantial effort into doing these things as best that they can. This means they must put some good tasks on hold to focus on the great tasks pertinent to their goals.
Now that you understand the premises ways to increase productivity, you are that much closer to becoming so. In any case, there’s no rush unless you make it so.
Productivity is a process of trial and error. A journey of success and failure. An experience of turmoil and pleasure.
I’ve changed up my style multiple times, strategies have stuck, others have fallen off.
Don’t hesitate to try new things, remove old ones and ask for help. When you become open to the world, it becomes open to you. Become vulnerable, proactive, and curious about how to be more productive.
If you’re interested in expanding on your understanding of productivity, confidence, and success, keep following the blog for more content!