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Are you prone to procrastination? Do you want to find out the most effective productivity tips from classics like The 5am Club and Eat That Frog?
From relentless digital distractions to the post-pandemic shift to remote work, it’s harder than ever to make the most of your time. That might be why some of the world’s most successful people—like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates—depend on productivity hacks to get everything done. fBut being productive is about much more than jam-packed schedules and crammed calendars—it’s also about looking after your physical and mental well-being and allowing yourself time to rest and reflect.
We have combed through best-selling productivity classics—including The 5am Club, Eat That Frog, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—to bring you the top productivity tips that will make your time go much further.
Change Your Life With These Productivity Tips
The most effective productivity tips are personal to you, which is why we’ve personalized our productivity tips depending on your individual goals and needs. Whether you’re looking to perfect your morning routine, avoid common productivity-killers, or write the best to-do list—we have you covered.
Optimize Your Daily Routine
One of the best ways you can become more productive is to optimize the things you do every single day. Almost everything you do can be improved using productivity tips and techniques—from starting your day right with an energizing morning routine to ending the day with a restorative shut-down ritual.
The productivity tips below will help you to optimize your daily routine for improved productivity:
1) Rise Early
Many of the world’s most successful people are early risers—Apple CEO Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45am, Elon Musk gets up at 7am, and Warren Buffet rises at 6:45am. And there are statistics to back this up, as 90% of executives are up before 6am, and 50% of self-made millionaires are awake three-hours before the beginning of their workday.
The benefits of rising early are also linked to increased mental well-being, reduced drowsiness, better concentration and a feeling of accomplishment before you even start your workday.
You might not naturally be an early bird, but if you stick to a routine, waking up early can become a habit.
Here are some productivity tips you can use to wake up earlier:
- Establish your intentions before going to sleep: Think positively about the next day before you go to sleep to improve mood and motivation.
- Move your alarm clock across the room: Move your alarm clock as far from your bed as possible, so you have to get up and move when it goes off. Movement requires energy, which helps you wake up.
- Brush your teeth: To keep moving, go to the bathroom sink and splash some water on your face and brush your teeth.
- Drink a full glass of water: After six to eight hours without water overnight, you’ll be dehydrated—dehydration causes fatigue.
- Get dressed in your workout clothes: Get dressed so you’re ready to leave your bedroom and start your morning routine.
- Set a timer for your bedroom lights. You may want to set your lights to come on as your alarm goes off. If you don’t use a timer, be sure to turn on your bedroom lights when you get up.
- Set a timer for a bedroom heater. Consider using a heater in your bedroom, timed to turn on about fifteen minutes before your wake up time. When your room is warm, you’ll be less tempted to stay in bed to avoid the cold.
- Join Robin Sharma’s 5am Club.
|In The 5am Club, Robin Sharma details his method for getting up at 5am each morning. Here is an overview: |
Step 1: Start with a trigger that jumpstarts your new behavior. To wake at 5 am, this trigger is your alarm clock.
Step 2: Begin the ritual of the behavior you want to make a habit. After the alarm goes off, jump out of bed immediately before your brain convinces you to go back to sleep.
Step 3: Reward yourself to reinforce your ritual. Each day you get out of bed at the sound of the alarm, give yourself a treat that creates joy. You will begin to associate the ritual with joy.
Repeat the process every day. Repetition is the key to new habits.
9) Build a morning routine you’re excited for: Ultimately, if you want to get out of bed with energy and enthusiasm, you should be excited about your morning routine. Our next productivity tip will help you establish the perfect morning routine for you.
Do whatever works for you. The key is to have a simple, step-by-step strategy to get you started every morning.
2) Create a Morning Routine That Works for You
As well as rising early, the most successful people usually have a routine they stick to each morning. The best morning routine is one that puts you in a positive mindset, and motivates you to tackle the day ahead. Use the productivity tips listed below to help you create a morning routine that works for you.
In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferris discusses the morning routines of best-selling authors, successful businessmen, and creatives that might give you some ideas:
- Tony Robbins uses his “priming” technique, which changes his body physiology and mental state. After a cold-water plunge, he follows with rapid breathing exercises or a short walk. After this, he will meditate about what he is grateful for. Then, he spends the last part of his morning meditation imagining the three things he’ll make happen that day. He visualizes the successful outcome and viscerally feels the emotions to motivate him. Watch this YouTube video for a detailed explanation of his priming routine.
- Best-selling author Tim Ferris has five morning rituals he completes each day: Making his bed, meditating, making his “titanium tea”, and writing in his five minute journal.
- LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman finds the morning is when his mind is the freshest, and he spends 60 minutes working on the problem he set for himself the day before.
- Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink wakes up by 4:45 am. While he was a warfighter, he felt this gave him a psychological advantage over his enemy—while his enemy was still sleeping, Jocko would be readying himself for their encounter.
|In The 5am Club, Robin Sharma argues that the time between 5 am and 6 am is called the “Victory Hour” because of how much you can accomplish within the first hour you’re awake. Here is his 20/20/20 formula and the productivity tips he uses to prepare himself for the day ahead:|
Exercise from 5 am to 5:20 am:
After you get out of bed, perform vigorous physical activity. Go for a run, do jumping jacks, or follow along to an exercise video. The activity is not as important as the level of activity. When you exercise to the point of sweating, you trigger beneficial chemical processes in your brain.
Reflect from 5:20 am to 5:40 am:
You stimulate your internal spirit when you sit quietly for periods of reflection. During this period, you might sit with your thoughts, journal, or meditate—better yet, do all three.
Grow from 5:40 am to 6 am:
Read books about icons in your industry, listen to podcasts that increase your knowledge and skills about your craft, watch videos about innovation, or consume self-help materials to deepen your personal awareness.
3) Make the Most of Your Commute
You likely work out of the house, which means you must commute every morning and evening five days a week. Whether that commute is 20 minutes or two hours, how you spend that time affects your productivity.
These productivity tips will help you make the most of your commute time, which would otherwise be wasted:
- Try not to listen to the news or radio if you’re driving into work. This could fill your mind with negativity before you even start your day.
- Similarly, if you use public transport, things like playing games or sleeping will drain your energy.
- Instead, try to educate yourself on your commute. Author of The 5am Club Robin Sharma suggests listening to audiobooks or meaningful podcasts that enrich your knowledge about life or your specific field.
- Listen to programs about new topics you may know little about. You never know where inspiration is going to strike, but if you don’t remain curious and put forth the effort to continue learning, you guarantee it never will.
- You could also think about your day ahead and what goals you’d like to achieve.
- If using public transport, you could also take the time to meditate, which will get you in a clear headspace ready for your workday.
4) Do the Most Difficult Thing First (Eat That Frog!)
If you’re able to do important things quickly, you can surpass someone with great plans who fails to follow through. Mark Twain had a metaphor for getting hard things done: if you have to eat a live frog, do it right away, so that everything after that is easier by comparison.
Your most important task—the one you’re most inclined to put off—is the frog.
Here are the key productivity tips you need to know about frog-eating or accomplishing challenging tasks:
- Completing your most important task contributes the most to your success.
- If you have two important tasks, or two frogs to eat, eat the worst one first—that is, start with the hardest task.
- Discipline yourself to start on the most important thing immediately and persevere to the end. Treat it as a personal challenge.
- If you have to do something hard, or eat a live frog, it doesn’t help to dwell on it; just do it. Studies have shown that the most successful people are action-oriented—they jump right into big jobs and persevere until they’re done. In contrast, in many companies, there’s way more talk than action, which is why these companies aren’t as successful as they could be.
5) Make Technology Work For You
Technology can often be a distraction, but you can actually use it to help manage your time. There are plenty of apps and features on your devices that can help you deal with distractions and improve organization.
The following productivity tips will help you make the most of technology, rather than letting it control you:
- Close all computer windows, websites, and programs you aren’t using for the task. Turn off phone alerts and notifications.
- Rather than making yourself available to everyone 24/7, you can adjust your phone settings to limit your calls and texts to emergencies or certain people only.
- Similarly, use your email program’s features to sort and prioritize emails.
- Use an online calendar to block out time for your important tasks the same way you would block appointments and meetings.
- You can also use digital productivity tools or software to help you manage tasks and delegate them.
- Social media can be a big distraction or time waster, but some people use it to generate encouragement and positive feedback. They share their goals and updates on their progress with friends or like-minded people, who help them stay motivated and less likely to procrastinate.
- Make use of online timers, like this popular online pomodoro timer.
- Use browser extensions to block distracting websites, like social media sites.
6) Reap the Benefits of Happiness
Given the mental and physical benefits of happiness, it should be no surprise that research shows that positivity increases productivity at work. Happy employees are more focused and innovative, suffer from less stress, and call out for fewer sick days.
One study followed 275 employees over 18 months and found that those who were happiest at the beginning received better pay and evaluations by the end of the period, even when controlling for other factors. In another study, researchers found that happier undergraduates earned higher incomes 19 years later than their unhappy classmates, regardless of initial wealth levels.
- Habits like meditation, exercising, making time for socializing, and doing something kind for someone have been shown to increase your happiness levels.
- You can alter your perspective of tedious, daily tasks to increase your engagement and motivation. If you’re dreading a meeting that you perceive as a waste of time, find something you can gain from the experience.
- When you consider spending time with family or doing a crossword puzzle as valuable opportunities to unwind and recharge, you will more readily reap the rewards of those breaks.
7) Prioritize Down Time to Prevent Burnout
Although productivity tips are often focused on organization, planning, goal-setting, and schedules, looking after yourself is also important. Making time for rest, reflection, and socialization helps you to avoid burnout and therefore improves your productivity.
When you have a daunting, stressful project on your plate, you may be inclined to hunker down and isolate yourself from seemingly superfluous social interactions—eating lunch at your desk, working nights and weekends, and canceling social time with friends and family. However, this approach actually hurts your productivity, instead of helping it, because people need social connection for their productivity and personal well-being.
The productivity tips below are all about making time for rest and relaxation in your busy schedule:
- Resist societal pressure to be doing something all the time. you need to have the courage to reject societal expectations and develop a new, healthier attitude towards work. Read our summary of The Gifts of Imperfection to find out how to do this.
- Actively schedule time for rest, hobbies, fun, and socializing. Make sure you see them as valuable commitments, as you would an important work meeting.
- Make time for self-care, like meditation or taking the time for a relaxing bath.
- Work out what really matters to you—this might be family, friends, or personal ambitions. Then, make this a priority in your schedule.
- Some other examples of healthy habits include taking technological vacations two days a week, spending time in nature, and doing things that make you happy, like cooking or dancing. When you return to your creative space, you’ll be relaxed, focused, and ready to produce.
8) Ritualize Your Workday Shutdown
In Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests creating a shutdown ritual to get your mind off work. He says this ritual should help you check your work for anything you forgot and plan your next day’s work. Newport stresses that an important benefit of the end-of-day ritual is that it helps reassure you that things will be fine when you shut down.
(Shortform note: This ritual also sets clear boundaries between work and not-work, which is especially important as more knowledge workers begin to work from home.)
Here are some productivity tips you can use to create your own shutdown ritual:
- Check your emails for any last urgent items.
- Update your to-do list of unresolved items.
- Check that each unresolved item has a completion date.
- Look through your calendar to make sure there aren’t important deadlines you forgot.
- Make a to-do list of tasks for the next day.
- Say, “All done,” or a similar phrase to explicitly mark the end of work.
- You may want to add reflective time into your workday shutdown—research shows that employees who spend 15 minutes at the end of their workday reflecting on what they learned during the day perform about 23% better in their work than those who don’t take time for reflection.)
9) Begin the Night Before
We know that having a morning routine is important, but a good morning starts with a good evening.
You won’t be able to successfully exploit the benefits of your morning routine if you’re exhausted. How you end the night before is just as important as how you start each day. You must get enough quality sleep to support your mental capacity and overall health.
The benefits of sleep are endless. When you’re asleep, the brain cleanses itself with cerebral spinal fluid. Think of it like washing your car. Your neurons are scrubbed clean so they are shiny and new and ready for the hard work ahead when you wake up. Human growth hormone is also released when you sleep, which regulates emotions, improves cognition, and increases energy.
Here are some suggestions and productivity tips for an optimal evening routine from The 5am Club:
- You should be in bed and ready to sleep shortly after 10 pm to be able to wake up recharged at 5 am.
- From 7 pm to 8 pm, eat your last meal of the day and turn off all devices. Studies show that the blue light from technological devices reduces the production of melatonin, nature’s sleeping pill, in the body. Without melatonin, the body is not signaled to sleep, and the sleep you eventually get will be restless.
- From 8 pm to 9 pm, use the quiet environment to engage meaningfully with family, read, meditate, or take a bath. Your goal is to help your body unwind and relax to prepare for sleep.
- From 9 pm to 10 pm, prepare your exercise clothes for the morning, make time for gratitude practice, and get ready for bed.
In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss also looks at the evening routines of successful people throughout history. Here are some examples:
- You could follow the advice of Thomas Edison, who said “never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” Accordingly, Reid Hoffman gives his mind an overnight task, like a product design conundrum or a business strategy problem. He lets his subconscious mind get to work.
- You could also end the work day with high-quality work—don’t develop a bad habit of producing poor work at the end of the day. Ernest Hemingway ended his writing sessions mid-flow and mid-sentence so he could start with momentum the next day.
- Like his start-of-day journal, Tim Ferriss has an end-of-day journal, where he answers two questions:
- What are 3 amazing things that happened today?
- How could I have made today better?
Organize and Plan
Effective organization and planning will save you a lot of time and will prevent you from missing anything important. Our productivity tips below include how to write the best to-do lists, how to set effective goals (that you will actually stick to!), and how to use the Getting Things Done system to organize your tasks.
10) Write the Best To-Do List
Although planning your day increases your productivity and effectiveness, surprisingly few people do it, perhaps because it seems difficult. But in reality, planning is simple: On a sheet of paper, list everything you have to do.
Always keep a list. Whenever something comes up, add it to the list. When you work from a list, you can increase your productivity by 25%—two hours a day.
Here are our best productivity tips for writing effective to-do lists:
- Each night, make a list for the next day. Include leftovers—unfinished or undone tasks from the day before—and new tasks for the day.
- Create multiple lists, as effective planning requires different timeframes—daily, weekly, monthly—plus a master list and separate project lists. Your master list contains everything you want to do at some point, and these tasks can be put on your monthly, weekly, and daily lists over time.
11) Batch Admin Tasks
Sometimes we waste a lot of time on routine tasks, like answering emails, making phone calls, and other administrative tasks. Not only do these tasks take time to set up, but switching from task to task constantly can take you out of your flow.
In High Output Management, Andrew Grove puts forward his best productivity tips, inspired by manufacturing principles in factories. He argues that we can save time by batching similar tasks together. That way, you save time on setting up and also complete the tasks quicker due to momentum.
For example, it requires some time to get into the right mindset to read reports. Therefore, once you’re in the mindset, read all the reports at once. Better yet, do these tasks at a time when you’re tired or feeling unproductive.
In The 12 Week Year Charli Engelhorn suggests you should schedule a “buffer block” into your work week. This is the time to work on the miscellaneous activities that disrupt your workflow. When you group these activities into one chunk of time, you reduce the frustration of constant interruptions and the time wasted when you perform these tasks at random moments.
12) Set Effective Goals
Setting effective goals is another principle you need to implement if you want to increase your productivity. You need to have a clear idea of what you’re working towards. You also need to make sure that you’re aiming for the right results.
There are two types of goals that you can use to enhance your productivity: stretch goals and SMART goals.
Stretch goals are far-reaching objectives that, at first glance, may not even seem possible. They’re ambitious and audacious, and often require a lot of forethought and effort to achieve.
In contrast, SMART goals are targeted and focused objectives that often represent the smaller steps you’ll need to take to meet your stretch goals. SMART goals must be specific; measurable; achievable; realistic; and timely.
For stretch and SMART goals to be effective, they must be used together. For instance, you may choose to set an ambitious stretch goal and then break it down into actionable steps using SMART goals.
If a stretch goal is used alone, it can become too overwhelming for you to work towards. If SMART goals are used alone, you may fall into the trap of “cognitive closure”—a mental process that makes you focus more on the satisfying feeling of completing your goals, and less on the actual productivity or usefulness of those goals.
The following productivity tips might help you to set effective stretch and SMART goals:
- Make sure you have a stretch goal (or long-term goal) that motivates and inspires you. This kind of goal should be something that you care about a lot.
- Take it step by step: Make a big job doable by breaking into smaller steps and focusing on one step at a time. Imagine your large task is a salami that you’ve cut into thin slices, and you only need to eat one small slice at a time.
- If you struggle with this, try just one small action. No one ever has too little time or energy for one tiny action. Having one successful small action builds momentum to adopting your habit. For example, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg committed himself to one push-up before bed to get in shape. Not only was this achievable, but it also made it easier for him to do more than one once he had started.
- Do something every day to advance your goal: Put it on your schedule. For example, make a certain number of cold calls or exercise for 45 minutes. Don’t miss a day. Keep pressing forward.
- Set a deadline for achieving it: Set an overall deadline plus sub-deadlines for steps toward your goal. A goal needs definite deadlines with specific responsibilities to be completed—otherwise, you’ll procrastinate and get little done.
13) Use an Organized System
In Getting Things Done, David Allen introduces many incredibly helpful productivity tips, including the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. This is designed to help you do the things you have to do with less time, energy, and effort so you can do more of the things you want to do.
Through the GTD system, you’ll capture every task and reminder on lists, in files, and on your calendar. You’ll be aware and in control of your entire workload so you can be fully present in each moment without the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else.
Here’s a step-by-step overview of the Getting Things Done system. For an in-depth guide, here’s our comprehensive summary of Getting Things Done:
The five steps of the GTD system are:
- Capture all the problems and ideas that are taking your attention.
- Clarify what each one means and what you need to do about it.
- Organize the decisions and actions you’ve clarified.
- Reflect on everything in front of you to choose what to tackle next.
- Engage with the task (get it done).
Prioritize Your Tasks
Prioritizing what you choose to focus on can have a huge positive impact on your productivity. Rather than spreading yourself too thinly, you should focus on the tasks that will yield the best results. Here’s some productivity tips to help you do that:
14) Prioritize High-Impact Tasks (The 80/20 Rule)
The 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto Principle, states that a minority of effort (20%) produces the majority (80%) of the results.
If a minority of your effort leads to the majority of results, then focusing on the few, highest-impact things is the key to creating extraordinary results. This means everything isn’t equally important; some things matter much more than others.
You can see this principle in almost everything:
- A few ideas account for most of your results.
- A few clients bring the most value to your business.
- A small number of employees contributes the most to your business’s success.
- A few investments produce the bulk of your returns.
You can apply the 80/20 rule to different areas of your life, including your to-do lists and schedules. Focus your effort on the most important tasks for the best results.
15) Narrow Your Focus Further
In The One Thing, real estate entrepreneur Gary Keller argues that the key to extraordinary success is focusing daily on the “One Thing” that will make the biggest difference in achieving your goal. Essentially, he takes the 80/20 rule and gives it an even narrower focus.
You start by thinking big—imagining extraordinary results—then narrowing your focus until you’re thinking small—that is, focusing on the most important thing you can do at the moment to help get you where you ultimately want to go. Focus on it exclusively, and when you complete it, move on to the next One Thing on your way to your goal.
You can apply it to every area of your life—spiritual, health, personal, relationships, job, and finances—to ensure that you’re doing what matters most. Customize the focusing question by inserting your area of focus; you can also include a time frame (this year/month). For instance— for my health, what’s the One Thing I can do to ensure I exercise (today, this week, this year) such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
There are three components to implementing your One Thing and achieving exceptional results: purpose, priority, and productivity. Find an in-depth look at these concepts and more productivity tips in our in-depth summary of The One Thing.
16) Sort Your Tasks Into Quadrants
An alternative productivity tip for prioritizing tasks is the Eisenhower Matrix.
This matrix categorizes tasks based on their urgency and importance (meaning that they contribute to your goals, values, and personal mission statement). The matrix has four task categories:
- Urgent and Important—The crises and problems in this category eat up your time and distract you from preventing future crises, creating a vicious cycle.
- Not Urgent, but Important—This is where you should spend most of your time, because it includes activities that could easily be put off, but that bring great benefits in the long term (like exercising).
- Urgent, but not Important—These activities are typically things that other people want you to do but that aren’t important to you.
- Neither Urgent nor Important—These leisure and entertainment activities contribute nothing to your life, and effective people tend to avoid them.
17) The ABCDE Method for Prioritization
You’ll get more and more important things done faster if you effectively plan and set priorities.
Next on our list of productivity tips is the ABCDE method from Eat That Frog, which is a tool for prioritizing. Here’s how it works. On paper, list everything you have to do for the next day. Next, rank each item by marking it with an A, B, C, D, or E, as follows:
- A—must do: These are tasks that are very important. They are tasks that you must do—not doing them will have serious negative consequences. For instance, an “A” task might be something your boss directed you to do,
- B—should do: These are tasks that you should do, such as returning a non-critical call or email. These tasks have much less dire consequences than “A” tasks—for instance, someone may be unhappy if you don’t do it.
- C—would be nice to do: These are tasks that would be nice to do, but it doesn’t matter whether you do them or not. Examples include having lunch with a coworker or phoning a friend. These tasks don’t affect your work.
- D—delegate: These are tasks you can delegate. You should delegate everything possible so you can create time to do your extremely consequential “A” tasks.
- E—eliminate: These are tasks you can eliminate. They include things that were important at one time but are no longer relevant, or unnecessary things that have become habits. Any time spent on one of these tasks is time diverted from an “A” task.
18) Learn How to Say No
One of the most crucial skills for being productive is saying no. If you can’t say no to the nonessential, you won’t have the time and energy to pursue the truly important things.
It’s human nature to want to be helpful when someone asks you for something. Saying no in order to focus on your own goals can seem selfish. But you can do it in a respectful and even helpful way. Bear the following in mind:
- Rejecting someone’s request isn’t the same as rejecting them. Separate the two in your mind.
- Accept that you might be temporarily unpopular. However, the anger is usually short term. In the long term, the other person may respect you more for demonstrating that your time is valuable.
- Most people would rather have a definitive no than a noncommittal response, such as, “I’ll try to be there,” when you know you won’t. Being frank is more respectful.
These productivity tips will help you to say no, even if you find it difficult:
- Make the rejection gentle: Say “No, but…” For instance, “I’d love to but I have other plans; let’s try it next month.”
- Use email auto-responses: Many people are accustomed to receiving email auto-responses when others are on vacation or holidays. You can use them more broadly. Indicate that you’re tied up with a project and temporarily unavailable.
- Suggest someone else: If you know of someone else who might want to help, convey your regrets while suggesting another name.
- Suggest another approach or resource that doesn’t require your help—for instance, directing the person to instructions, FAQs, or helpdesk.
Effective preparation and prioritization are meaningless if you don’t follow through. Learning how to be productive is just one part of the puzzle. To quote author Derek Sivers, “If information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
To execute your goal, ambitions, and ideas, you need to simply sit down and do the work. But this is harder said than done, so the following productivity tips might help.
19) Motivate Yourself
Often, a lack of motivation causes poor productivity, making you more likely to procrastinate and less likely to complete your work to a high standard. If you’re motivated, you’ll naturally be more focused on the task at hand.
These productivity tips will help you feel motivated to complete your tasks:
- One way to motivate yourself is to choose to be an optimist. Respond positively to whatever happens and don’t let typical daily frustrations get you down. Be your own cheerleader and coach: use your inner voice to encourage and urge you to excel.
- Another way to stay motivated is to challenge yourself. To reach your potential, push yourself to identify and tackle your most important tasks,
- You can use the technique of visualization to speed up your progress toward increasing your productivity. In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferris discusses how many successful people visualize their long-term goals to increase their motivation.
- Intrinsic motivation is always better than extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a desire to do something for internal satisfaction, not for external rewards. The key to motivating yourself in this way is to have autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Read more about this in our in-depth summary of Drive by Daniel H. Pink.
- To increase motivation, you can make choices that help you to feel in control. Even making a small choice about the task in front of you, such as deciding to respond to a particular email first, can help you to feel in control of a situation.
- The second action you can take to generate motivation is finding meaning in your choices. Reminding yourself of the meaning behind your choices—why you’re doing what you’re doing—can give you the boost you need to get started.
20) Have Everything You Need Right in Front of You
To make it easier to get focused and keep going on an important task, make sure you have everything you’ll need in front of you before you begin, so you’re not distracted by looking for things later. There are probably countless projects that never get done because people fail to prepare for the job in advance.
It’s like preparing to cook something—you assemble the ingredients and utensils on your counter before you start so you don’t have to look for something in the middle of following the recipe. Once you start your work task, you need to be able to keep going with interruption.
Clear your desk by setting aside unrelated work so you have only one task in front of you. Assemble all the documents and materials you’ll need and keep them within easy reach. Ensure that your work area is comfortable and as distraction-free as possible. The cleaner and more organized it is, the easier it will be to get started and work efficiently.
Once everything is ready, start immediately. Develop the confidence to begin by behaving confidently. Sit up straight and lean forward away from the back of the chair with your feet flat on the floor. Tell yourself, “Let’s get to work,” and jump in.
21) Get in the Zone
In Deep Work, Cal Newport describes focus as being like a mental muscle: Through deliberate training, you can strengthen your focus and expand your mental capacity.
“Deep work” is defined as focused, uninterrupted, undistracted work on a task that pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit. In contrast, “shallow work” describes tasks that aren’t as cognitively demanding—like answering emails and attending unproductive meetings. These tasks don’t create much value and anyone can do them.
Newport explains that the fulfillment that comes from doing deep work aligns closely with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas on “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist and author of Flow, found that when people concentrate on a worthwhile task that pushes them to their cognitive limit, they experience a state of flow, or a sense of contentment and purpose.
Here’s how you can easily enter a “deep work” state, or “flow” state:
- Plan out time for deep work. Approach deep work with structure, habit, and discipline.
- Train your focus. Over time, you can train your brain to focus for longer and longer stretches.
- Learn to say no to shallow work. You’ll face invitations to partake in various forms of shallow work, such as meetings, committees, and travel—but Newport says you should say no to them.
- Set clear goals for your tasks.
- Make sure it’s not too difficult and that you have the skills to complete the tasks. At the same time, make sure it’s not too easy or boring.
- Find an activity where you feel absorbed in the task and it feels almost effortless. This will likely be something you are naturally drawn to or enjoy doing.
22) Optimize Your Time
When you’re focusing, these productivity tips from The 4 Disciplines of Execution will help you to organize your time effectively:
- Focus on what’s important. When choosing what to work on, figure out what things have the largest impact. Then, instead of trying to say no to trivial distractions, simply say yes to the most important task or goal. This process helps crowd out shallow tasks that don’t support your goals.
- Use the right metrics. The most useful metrics in deep work are leading metrics, or metrics you can use in real-time to tweak what your result will be. For example, Newport suggests leading metrics like the number of pages you’ve written or the number of new ideas you’ve generated. These give real-time feedback that helps you see how effective you are at deep work. In contrast, a lagging metric would be how many papers you’ve published at the end of 2021—at that point, you can’t go back and change your behavior in order to publish more papers in the year.
- Keep your metrics visible. Making your leading metrics visible will motivate you to keep up the habit and allow for more frequent celebration of successes. Newport suggests keeping a physical display in the workspace that shows your leading metric, like a small whiteboard where you mark off hours spent in deep work.
- Create accountability where possible. Periodically analyzing your deep work will keep you honest about how well you lived up to your goals. Set up a weekly review to see what you’ve achieved in the past week and make a plan for the coming week. If you’ve had a negative week, make changes to your schedule to cut out factors that led to it.
23) Use the Time Blocking Method
Using a planner can help you create uninterrupted time each day to complete your most important tasks. Block out time—preferably in 60- to 90- minute stretches—for these tasks, treat it like an appointment, and keep it.
Your blocked-off time doesn’t have to happen at the office. Some people find it’s productive to get up early and work for several hours at home, where there are fewer interruptions, before going to the office. If you travel for business purposes, you can use time at the airport and in the air to work with few interruptions.
Mapping out your time in a planner helps you build your work time around getting your most important tasks done without interruption.
24) Use the Pomodoro Technique
This popular time management method alternates between 25 minute periods of productivity, and 5 minute breaks. Here’s how to use it:
- Step 1: Choose your task.
- Step 2: Set your Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
- Step 3: Work on the task and keep your focus.
- Step 4: Take a break for five minutes.
- Step 5: Repeat the process.
- Step 6: Once you’ve completed this four times, take a longer break.
Use this online Pomodoro timer to track your time!
25) Overcome Perfectionism
Perfectionism is harmful because it’s founded on completely unrealistic expectations: You’re never going to be perfect (or even appear to be perfect). In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown gives her best productivity tips, and shows you how to overcome perfectionism.
According to Brown, perfectionism is the enemy of productivity. Importantly, perfectionism can make you put off doing the work until you’re in the “right” state of mind.
So, how can we fight perfectionism? According to Brown, showing yourself compassion can help you to embrace your imperfections, rather than punish yourself for them or hide them. One way to show self-compassion is to engage in positive self-talk—talk that’s encouraging and kind about yourself and your flaws, rather than critical and judgmental.
So perhaps one of the best productivity tips you can learn is to put less pressure on yourself.
26) Avoid Distractions
You have to stay focused in order to get anything important done well. But there are two big threats to your concentration: interruptions—especially emails, texts, and notifications—and attempts to multitask. As you go about your day you’ll inevitably encounter many distractions.
Research indicates that the habit of responding to emails, texts, and calls results in a shorter attention span and lack of focus which make it difficult or impossible to complete the kinds of tasks vital to your success.
When you get email alerts, message alerts, and social media notifications, they can give you a “buzz” or shot of dopamine, which spurs you to respond. It’s like reacting to the sound of a slot machine alerting you to a win. When you start your day by responding to notifications and alerts, it triggers a dopamine burst and sets the tone for the rest of your day—you continue to have difficulty focusing.
To minimize distractions and interruption, use the following productivity tips:
- Don’t check your email the moment you wake up—this starts your day with a dopamine rush that you’ll keep trying to repeat.
- If you have to check your email, make it quick and return to your work right away.
- Turn off the sound on your computer and your devices to avoid dopamine triggers and distractions, like the sound of receiving a text message.
- Limit your email checking to twice a day, closing out of it when you’re done each time.
- In meetings, keep devices turned off.
- Use the time management methods above to keep your focus time free from distractions.
- Keep your phone in another room.
- Stop trying to multitask. After being interrupted at a task, it takes 17 minutes to totally refocus on the task and continue working. Instead, you should focus on one thing at a time for optimal productivity.
- Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet. Avoid it completely outside these times. In Deep Work, Cal Newport gives some tips on how to make the most of this practice.
27) Create a Designated Workspace
In Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests creating a “deep work” space, where you go only to do focused work (like a conference room, the library, or an office in your home). Compartmentalizing your location this way will cement the habit of deep work more strongly.
Similarly, author of The 5am Club Robin Sharma suggests creating a “force field of solitude” for your work.
To accomplish this force field of protection, create a space of mastery and leave all technological devices on the outside when you step into it. This should be a private space where you feel happy and comfortable and can focus on the important work ahead. Schedule your time in this special place so you can intentionally transform into your highest creative self when you enter. You can create this space for both professional pursuits and personal sanity by avoiding people who do not support your endeavors or tax you with negativity.
Some ways to create this space include removing entertainment devices from your house or a specific room, avoiding the news, avoiding crowds and loud places, ending toxic relationships, and shutting down communication notifications.
28) Follow the 2-Minute Rule
This simple but effective productivity tip from Getting Things Done states that if something takes less than two minutes, you should do it now.
The key is to not waste any mental energy or time on tasks that could be completed quickly—for example, emails, quick phone calls, or other small administrative tasks. You shouldn’t be wasting any time writing these tasks on your to-do lists.
To put this into practice, start to consider how long each task should take. Then, if you find one that’s under two minutes, do it there and then.
Hopefully, reading this list of productivity tips will help you to make the most of your time. From optimizing the seemingly insignificant things you do every day to learning how to prioritize and prepare and how to follow through, you now have everything you need to be more productive.
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