Ten proven strategies for boosting your productivity
The year has just started, and yet, here you are…starting to slack off again. There, there. Don’t beat yourself up. You can still turn things around.
If you’re struggling to get productive, then maybe it’s time to use science-backed hacks to make your life easier. In this article, there are 10 proven strategies for boosting your productivity.
1) Don’t wake up too early or too late
There’s a myth about how being a morning person or waking up early makes you more productive. But this is not quite true.
In fact, according to this study on how people perform on workdays, it can even make people less productive.
The long and short of it is that morning people perform best when they wake up early, while evening people perform best when they wake up late.
The problem is this thing called “presenteeism”, which is basically when you’re present at work, but not actually doing much. This is actually worse for productivity than “absenteeism”, which is when you simply don’t show up to work, according to that same study.
Forcing evening people to wake up early pushes them into presenteeism simply because their minds aren’t into it yet. It’s just way too early for them.
So try to figure out if you’re a morning person or an evening person, identify when you’re best capable of doing work, and set that time aside for work.
2) Avoid multitasking where you can
There’s no such thing as multitasking. What people call multitasking is actually just switching tasks very quickly.
And the problem is that task switching isn’t exactly free—you use up precious brainpower every time you jump from one task to another.
Even worse is that every time you jump tasks, you risk losing track of important details and skipping a few steps entirely by accident.
Multitasking works… on computers, because computers can multitask. But humans are not computers and our attention spans are incredibly limited.
It’s simply far neater and more efficient to focus on one single task until it’s done before jumping to another.
3) Plan your days in advance
It’s always a good idea to have a to-do list.
It will make you think of the things that you have to do, which could be more important than the list itself. The act of thinking of your day ahead will affect your subconscious, and it will guide you on an actual day.
The act of planning, itself, is priceless. And the more thorough your planning, the better.
So set general goals you’ll want to achieve for the week and set up your schedule for the following day before you go to bed.
But keep in mind that what you want isn’t to have very, very rigid, very very detailed plans. Something is bound to go wrong. And if you’re not able to follow them, you’ll be disappointed in yourself. You don’t want this to happen often or else you’ll burn out.
So plan your day in advance but don’t hate yourself if you’re not able to achieve all of them.
4) Make sure you’re eating well
Your diet affects your productivity. This is one of those things that should be common sense but is often neglected even by those who should know better.
It’s not enough that you always eat a full meal because a full stomach isn’t worth much if you’re eating junk that your body can barely make use of.
A diet that’s nothing but buttered toast, for example, isn’t going to give you the energy to do much of anything.
So do the basics. Eat a well-balanced meal, don’t overeat at lunch, and munch on almonds, bananas, dark chocolates, and other productivity snacks.
Doing all of these might just help your body and mind function faster.
5) Simplify your tasks
Sometimes the thing that keeps us from actually getting anything done is simply the fact that we’re overwhelmed and intimidated by whatever it is we have to do. And that’s perfectly normal.
It’s just part of human nature for us to get paralyzed when faced with something that seems way too hard to achieve. The secret is to break that intimidating task into smaller pieces.
Let’s say that you have to write a study for work, and you’re stuck because you don’t know where to start and are afraid about whether your paper will be good enough for your boss.
You can start by setting milestones. So in this case, it could be research, drafting, and peer review, and editing. And for each milestone, you can give yourself smaller steps that you can follow to achieve the said milestone.
Work on these smaller steps one by one, and eventually, you’ll see your paper take form before you know it.
6) Get rid of distractions
This is, admittedly, a pretty hard piece of advice to follow. We live in a world where just about everything is designed to steal our attention.
It’s easy enough to look up from your work desk to look at someone scrolling through YouTube on a TV on the other side of the room and think “oh, I’ll watch until the end of this vid.”
But that doesn’t matter because when that video ends, you find yourself wanting to watch more. And before you know it, you’ve burnt a whole hour away watching someone else watch movies.
So when you’re at work, do your best to resist anything that might distract you.
Here are some things you can do: log out of your social media, turn off notifications, and make sure your music isn’t stealing your attention.
Taking steps like these will make you much more productive, and it’s not like you can’t indulge in these distractions when you’re resting.
7) Make sure you’re rested
We, humans, are not machines, and there’s only so much tedium we can handle at once.
This is one of the most important things you can do to stay productive. Plenty of studies have been made linking poor sleep to poor productivity and even if you haven’t read that study you might already know this to be common sense.
After all, you might have experienced brain fog yourself whenever you skimped on sleep for the sake of putting a little more work into your projects.
But rest is more than just sleep. It also includes stepping away from work to unwind and letting your mind wander wherever it fancies for a while.
And if you’re an overthinker or someone who easily gets tunnel-visioned, then those short breaks will help you work through your thoughts and start looking from a broader perspective.
8) Review your goals regularly
It’s important to check your goals every now and then—preferably, weekly.
There are many reasons for this—there might be something you’ve overlooked, for example, or maybe you might have lost the context behind why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.
And on top of that, checking your goals and seeing how much you’ve already achieved can really lift your spirits.
On the other hand, neglecting to review your goals can make you do the same thing twice… and well, you have to admit that it’s disheartening to know that you’ve put in so much effort only for it to be in vain.
It would be even better if you make use of scheduling apps to keep track of your goals and deadlines so that you’ll get reminders of what you have already done and what you still have to do.
There are plenty of them on the app store, and chances are that your phone probably already has a scheduling app of some sort by default… so make use of them!
9) Get your body moving
It might seem hard to fit into your schedule, especially if you’re a busy office worker, but trust me, it’s only hard at the beginning.
You can take it up to the academics over at the National Library of Medicine at least.
According to a paper published there, exercise benefits one’s memory, one’s ability to concentrate and learn, boosts creativity and lowers stress levels.
That’s a lot of benefits, and all you need to do is to get your body moving every now and then.
Even if you don’t have the time to hit the gym, you can do plenty of exercises right at your own home, from jogging in place and lifting weights to doing yoga.
10) Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Okay, so let’s be real. There’s only so much that one person can do on their own and sometimes the best option is to ask another person to help you out.
We’re only human, and we have our limitations. Perhaps someone might be bad at math, while someone else is excellent at it but horrible at forecasting and drafting.
So there are plenty of times when the best option is to ask someone else for their help… even if that help is just a second set of eyes on your work or a quick word of advice.
And this is especially important if you’re someone in a managerial position or you’re a parent. You’d need to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes they can offer vital insight.
And if you’re a parent, you have to let go of control. That means you have to delegate tasks to your partner or to a family member even if things might not go as “perfectly” as you imagined them.
When it comes down to it, the secret to being productive lies in a few key ideas—self-care, self-discipline, and self-awareness.
And you need all three of these if you are to actually succeed in your efforts to become a more productive person.
But if you are to start with any single one of these, I would strongly suggest self-discipline, because good self-discipline will make it easier for you to achieve the other two.
So go get disciplined… but don’t forget to be kind to yourself in the process. Self-discipline and self-compassion should go hand in hand.