In my first few jobs, I worried constantly about how to increase my productivity. In the end, I found that the key was stepping outside my comfort zone. After making real changes in my daily habits, I got more work done and felt better doing it.
I’ve listed some of the tips I’ve picked up over the years below. I’ve listed workplace strategies first, followed by more general lifestyle tips.
You probably already make to-do lists, but you might not be doing so efficiently. Include a time estimate next to each item on your list. This will help you get a feel for how much you can realistically accomplish in a day. Adjust your lists as you get a better handle on the pace of your work.
On a related note, make sure to set deadlines on long-term projects. Try to break the project down into steps, and set firm completion dates on each one. That way, you won’t have to rush things at the end.
Of course, setting deadlines only works if you actually stick to them. Consider using a free Calendar app like Google Calendar to organize your goals and avoid missing your deadlines.
Scheduled breaks can relieve boredom and stress. Get up from your desk every few hours and stretch for a couple of minutes. Take your eyes off the computer screen, breathe deep, and relax. Afterwards, you can return to work focused and refreshed.
On the other hand, spending too much time on break can disrupt the flow of your day. If you have trouble staying on task, try taking a shorter lunch than usual. That way, you won’t have time to get distracted thinking about things other than work.
Never underestimate the internet’s potential to waste your time. Between Youtube, Facebook, and the news, its easy to kill an entire day online. In general, limit your access to these time-wasting sites to your breaks. If you still find yourself wasting time, don’t be afraid to use apps like Cold Turkey to limit your own access to distracting sites.
A messy desk means taking longer to find things. Instead, use boxes, folders, and labelled drawers to create a tidy, intuitive work environment. Best of all, having a neat and tidy desk creates a professional appearance, and you may be trusted with more important responsibilities as a result.
This principle applies to your computer as well. If you spend more than a few seconds searching for an important file, it may be time for a desktop overhaul.
It’s good to respond to emails promptly, but checking your inbox constantly eats up time you could spend working. Try to set aside one or two specific blocks of time during your day for responding to emails. If you’re worried about missing urgent mail, consider setting up push notifications for your phone. That way, you can browse subject lines without going through the hassle of answering every message in your inbox.
It’s easier to remember a few large things than a lot of small tasks. Try to knock the easy things out first. That way, you won’t get distracted while working on big projects. Best of all, doing harder tasks last means you get to truly relax once you’re done.
If you normally sit at your desk while working, try standing. Not only will standing help you stay focused, it reduces tiredness. Best of all, spending less time in your chair is better for your back and overall health.
Similarly, standing meetings are becoming more popular in some industries. Talk to your boss about trying them. You might find that meetings proceed more quickly when everyone’s on their feet.
It’s good to make friends at work, but chatting is a serious time drain. It might seem rude, but keep your door closed when working on time sensitive projects. If you work in a cubicle, wearing headphones is a good way to avoid chatty coworkers without coming off as impolite.
Even if you aren’t often on your phone at work, it can be tempting to answer every message or email. Try putting your cell phone in a drawer with texts on silent. That way you’ll still be able to receive calls in case of an emergency, but won’t be tempted to reply to texts.
Before you go to a meeting, ask yourself if you really need to be there. If not, see if you can find someone to give you the gist of it later. If all else fails, you can always send an email to the meeting coordinator explaining why you couldn’t be there and asking for the minutes.
For those who have frequent meetings outside of work, consider video conferencing. The ability to transition directly from work to meeting and back will save you time, and avoid the stress of a commute.
Most people aren’t as good at multitasking as they think they are. Instead, trying to concentrate on multiple projects tends to take more time overall, and reduce the quality of the work. Even if you are a great multitasker, focusing on one task at a time can reduce stress.
Many people feel unproductive because they try to do too much by themselves. If you are in charge of other employees, make the most of that fact. Delegate small stuff to them, so that you can focus on truly important work. Even if you aren’t managing anybody, you can almost always get more done by asking your coworkers for help.
There are a huge number of online tools for increasing productivity. Scheduling apps like Google Tasks can save you time, while communication apps like Slack or Basecamp can take the place of meetings and help you track workplace productivity.
Are you making the most out of your time in the car? A long commute is the perfect time to dictate and make verbal notes. Even if your job doesn’t involve dictation, smartphones make it easier than ever to listen to podcasts while you drive.
Your body needs Vitamin D to keep its energy levels up. If it’s at all possible, try to spend part of your day outside in the sun. For example, take your lunch outside instead of the office kitchen. This is especially true if you find yourself reading often, as natural light is much easier on the eyes than a glowing computer screen.
If you keep finding yourself being distracted at work, see if you can work from home one day out of the week. The quiet and comfort of a personal office can help reduce your stress, especially if you suffer from social anxiety. Plus, you might be surprised at how much more work you get done when you can set your own pace.
It’s easy for people with flexible schedules to become overly focused on working a certain number of hours every week. However, this can lead to bad habits, like focusing on minor or optional tasks to waste time. Instead of hours, focus on achieving certain goals, and being productive overall.
It’s surprisingly easy to be tired without noticing it. If you find yourself taking too long to do simple tasks, getting a good night’s sleep might help. Even an extra half-hour of rest can make a huge difference.
Including high-energy foods like fruit or nuts in your breakfast can give you a big boost for your workday. On the other hand, try to avoid too much dairy and bread. Those foods are hard to digest, and can leave you feeling sluggish.
It’s pretty common to rely on caffeine as a way to retain energy throughout the day. However, this could actually be hurting your productivity by disrupting your sleep cycle and causing a crash. Limiting your intake of caffeine can promote better sleep habits and help you feel more energized over all.
A short jog or visit to the gym is a great way to start your morning. Not only will it wake you up, but because early morning exercise kickstarts the metabolism, it can improve your energy throughout the day. Plus, working out early in the day is way more enjoyable than forcing yourself to exercise after a long day in the office.
Weather, traffic, and kids can send any morning routine spiraling into chaos. Getting ready at night can give you extra flex time to deal with morning issues. Planning your wardrobe and meal prep are particularly good uses of time after work. Plus, there’s nothing quite like waking up to a ready-made breakfast prepared the night before.
Most people spend way more time managing their finances than they actually need to. Almost every bank can set your bills to auto-pay, and will let you deposit checks from home using your phone camera. You can even set push notifications to alert you when your balance is low, so that you don’t have to keep an eye on your bank account at all times.
It might sound old-fashioned, but keeping a journal or blog can greatly improve your productivity. Even if you only spend five minutes a day on it, journaling provides a time to reflect and consider your decisions. This can lead to you making better choices in the future, saving you time down the line.
Shopping for mundane necessities can be a huge hassle. Fortunately, you can order almost anything online. You can even set up a recurring order every month, so that you never run out of paper towels again.
Don’t be afraid to share your anxieties and concerns with friends and family, even if they seem unimportant. The simple act of telling someone what’s stressing you out can go a long way towards relieving that stress. Best of all, they might have a solution you haven’t thought of yet, saving you the time and effort of figuring it out yourself.
If you have a good idea, write it down. All too often, people make realizations about their work lives at home, then forget when they go back to work, or vice versa. Instead, scribble down your ideas in your journal, and review them the next morning.
That being said, be careful not to let thinking about work take over your personal life. Work-life balance is key to mental clarity and quality of life. It’s probably best to keep the journal on your nightstand. If you find yourself taking it everywhere, it might be time to relax and focus on your home life.
Ultimately, the best way to be more productive is to motivate yourself. Set rewards for finishing major goals. You’ll be surprised at how much harder you work when you have something to look forward to.
When it comes to increasing your productivity, what you do at home is just as important as what you do at work. Balancing the two is often a matter of treating both as means to personal satisfaction. Personal habits, diet, and lifestyle all play a vital role in both getting your work done, and ensuring your happiness.
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LAWYER & ONLINE ENTREPRENEUR
After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.