Being productive means getting work done and checking off as many items on your to-do list as possible, from writing a business proposal to creating a website. However, in reality, there are many small distractions throughout the day that can leave you feeling unprepared for the tasks at hand — no matter how hard you try to get them done.
While there are different ways to help overcome those challenging moments, we’ve outlined 19 of our favorite techniques on how to increase productivity and maximize your workday. Below you’ll find an array of methods which are also adaptable to fit your work style, getting you refocused, reenergized and shifted into high gear.
Three principles of productivity
Before getting started, you might find it helpful to know that most time management and productivity approaches can be categorized under the three basic principles of prioritizing, making SMART goals and admitting mistakes. These concepts can apply to any of our following tips.
Some tasks have greater priority over others due to their time sensitive nature, urgency and importance. With this in mind, you’ll want to focus on getting those things done first: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities,” said U.S. businessman and motivational speaker Stephen R. Covey.
Make SMART Goals
When you’re faced with a big project, it helps to break things into smaller increments, thereby making it more manageable. You should always work toward creating SMART goals — “specific,” “measurable,” “attainable,” “relevant,” and “time-bound.” For example, if your dream is to start an online store, start by setting a measurable goal such as, “I will launch my ecommerce website in a month.”
Having a viable deadline can help you avoid procrastination and even stress. When you know what and where the end product should be, you’ll have an easier time figuring out the steps you need to make it happen, ultimately setting yourself up for success.
Admit your mistakes
Sometimes you need to step back, touch base with yourself and evaluate your overall progress. This is the moment to create a safe space where you can forgive yourself for any setbacks, admit mistakes, and move on. With this clear perspective, you’ll also be better equipped to deal with “paralysis of analysis,” or the inability to make a decision due to overthinking a problem, which if left to fester kills productivity.
How to increase productivity
1. Set a timer
10. Read smart
11. Take breaks
14. Find a mentor
16. Delegate smartly
01. Set a timer
To understand where you’re spending more time (than you may like) on various tasks, you can set a timer and begin tracking how many hours it takes you to get through each item on your list. For instance, if you’re a freelance writer, where time is money, it’s useful to know whether working on a fully researched article proposal could actually be more time-consuming than writing the piece. Distinct tasks require different times.
As you measure the period for completing each job, you’ll also find it helpful to keep tabs on other minor distractions that frequently pop up and add up, including social media, emails, phone calls and browsing the internet. This way, you can design a schedule that strips your work down to the essentials, thus avoiding an excess of extracurricular activities which could be dealt with off the clock.
02. Commit to one task at a time
Stop multitasking. While we tend to think that the ability to juggle different priorities makes us more productive, studies show that the opposite is true. One critical finding to emerge from productivity research is that “we inflate our perceived ability to multitask,” thus the practice of multitasking is “almost always a misnomer.” Instead, commit to one task at a time before moving on to the next one.
03. Exercise more
Time and again, research proves that a “sit less, move more” approach will only increase productivity in the workplace, not inhibit it, because physical activity is energizing. Having a regular exercise routine can also boost your overall mood, fight off stress, and make you happier.
There are easy ways to incorporate movement in your day and help you stay motivated, including taking short walks in between tasks, doing simple stretches when you’re short on time or mini exercises at your desk.
04. Get plenty of sleep
Lack of sleep decreases your brain’s ability to make connections that “set the stage for the emergence of insight,” researchers found, as reported by Psychology Today. Sleep deprivation also leads to loss of logical reasoning and working memory. Simply put, you need sleep to succeed at work.
A healthy adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, so stick to these guidelines to avoid mental fatigue and give your brain the time it needs to recharge.
05. Follow the ‘2-minute rule’
For the procrastinators, there’s a strategy that can help you break down big projects into smaller steps and stay on course. It’s known as the 2-minute rule, which states that if you think of a task that can be done in 2 minutes or less, go ahead and do it.
With this life hack, you’ll find that almost every habit can be downsized into a two-minute version. For example “Create a work presentation” becomes “Opening my computer” and “Running a 5-mile race” becomes “Putting out my workout clothes for the next morning.” Essentially, you’ll feel that bigger tasks become more manageable and less challenging, leading you down a productive path.
06. Take care of yourself
Nearly midway through this list, you should pause for a moment and remember to love thyself. Making yourself a priority and cultivating a self-care routine that supports your mental, physical and emotional health will not only help you be happier wherever you are, but also inspire you to pursue a better work life balance.
We’ve covered a few ways to practice self-care, including getting enough sleep, minimizing distractions, and regular exercise. You don’t necessarily have to make extra time to incorporate self-care into a hectic schedule. To start, you can meditate for 5-minutes at your desk, go for a short walk during lunchtime, listen in on a favorite podcast, or call a friend on the way to the office. Just do something that will leave you feeling refreshed.
07. Listen to music to be productive
First, stick to familiar tunes that won’t distract you from work. Think of a playlist with a calming effect to relax you. Second, use uplifting music that will boost physical performance and alertness. By listening to your favorite type of music, you’ll be better equipped to tackle repetitive tasks, fight boredom and stay happy.
08. Use time-management tools
While there are a number of time management apps built to increase productivity, here’s a rundown of a few tools to help you reach your goals:
CRM system: Ascend is an all-in-one business tool that enables you to connect with your customers, promote your brand and automate the majority of your sales and marketing tasks.
Asana: Lets you optimize your schedule through its organization, tracking and managing features. To help you meet deadlines, Asana shows an overview of your timeline and reports on your progress toward completing each task.
Monday.com: This project management software comes with collaboration features, timeline views and time tracking of workloads.
09. Find your most productive hours
Are you an early bird, afternoon person, or night owl? Identifying when you’re actually the most productive can help you create the best schedule for getting things done.
Once you crack this question, you can begin optimizing your internal clock and shifting important tasks at the appropriate time of the day. Finding the ideal work hours is especially unique for knowledge workers who, on average, are only productive for about 3 hours a day. So make that time count.
10. Read smart
The ability to read smart is a critical skill for those who need to get through large amounts of text on the job. It’s also knowing how to increase comprehension while focusing on what really matters.
Speed reading involves learning how to scan for relevant words, or keywords, on the page and maintaining concentration to quickly understand new ideas contained in the text. This will save you time, sharpen memory and enhance problem-solving skills, as well as instill self-confidence in the workplace.
11. Take breaks
Just by giving yourself a short time away from the computer screen or desk, you can hit the refresh button on your day and increase productivity.
Taking breaks, even 15-minute microbreaks, helps improve concentration and maintain a constant level of focus on the job. In contrast, working on a task without breaks can lead to a steady decline in productivity and performance.
12. Learn to say ‘no’
It may sound counterproductive, but learning how to say “no” will actually increase productivity and improve your life as a result. Firstly, by refusing extra work, you’ll gain free time to focus on other items on your to-do list. Secondly, in some cases, you’ll be reclaiming your mental wellbeing.
“When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself,” said James Althucher, author of The Power of No. Saying “no” could lead to positive outcomes for yourself, and that saying “yes” could actually leave you with a feeling of resentment.
13. Organize your workspace
A tidy and well-organized workspace has many benefits, such as helping you feel in control and focused. It also positions you for success because you save time knowing where everything is. You can begin organizing your desk with these simple hacks:
Use a color system to label items and store them in the right place;
Buy storage boxes and containers to file papers and stuff;
Limit personal items that can take up surface space on your desk and distract you.
Don't forget your motivational quotes, surrounding yourself with positive messaging, helps.
14. Find a mentor
Mentoring engages workers by making them feel their own value within a company. It signals that an employee is worth investing in and creates more productive individuals as a result.
If you’re onboarding at a new workplace, consider reaching out to a potential mentor who is familiar with the company culture and can help you focus on improving necessary skills for the job. Through a mentorship, you can increase your knowledge about the industry and, in turn, improve productivity when performing day-to-day tasks.
15. Eliminate distractions
During high pressure moments in the workplace, you instinctively know to turn off your cell phone or notifications to get the job done. That said, even on light office days, you want to be turning in your best work. You can increase productivity by eliminating distractions around you, thereby building a functional and reliable work area. Start by investing in high speed internet and quality software that won’t hamper your attempts to be efficient.
If you’re working from home, take back control of your personal time by creating a schedule that shows you exactly where you need to focus your attention by setting daily goals that you can stick to. You’ll also want to establish some ground rules with housemates or family members, letting them know when you’re working so as not to disturb you.
16. Delegate smartly
Careful delegation helps to identify and capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of others. For example, as a business owner you might not be comfortable or want to deal with bookkeeping and accounting. If it’s not your forte, you can easily outsource different types of work to a professional.
As someone in a leadership role, you've got to know how to delegate effectively to get more done with less time, increase productivity and grow your business. Learn your team’s talents and passions before assigning them to tasks. And be flexible about making necessary changes in those assignments.
17. Edit your to-do list
Not all lists are created equal, but you definitely need one that fits your work style. After you’ve outlined a to-do list, go back and edit it. You might have to reprioritize items based on their urgency and timeliness, or choose to cut out less important tasks altogether.
Essentially, your checklist should consist of digestible items that keep you on track for the day. Leave long-term goals for a vision board, and make everything on your daily list tangible and trackable.
18. Know your learning style
You’ve got to utilize your unique learning style to increase productivity. Here are three basic learning styles:
Kinesthetic learner: Is someone who needs to be actively engaged in their learning. For example, you can go for a walk while taking a work call, write down notes in a meeting while others are talking or use a fidget tool to stay focused during long presentations.
Auditory learner: Is someone who learns by listening. For instance, you can talk to yourself while you work, or brainstorm aloud with others. Use recordings of text over reading and close your eyes when you’re on the phone, so you pay attention to the words.
Visual learner: Is someone who learns by reading or seeing. For example, you can print out documents to follow along and take notes on the margins. Stick to video chats or emailing, and keep an organized desk, so you won’t be visually disturbed by clutter.
19. Cut down on meetings
A study of 3 million people in 16 global cities confirms that employees are participating in more meetings than ever. This growing trend leads to longer workdays and hinders productivity because too many meetings, often being scheduled back-to-back, become disruptive. As a result, you end up pulled away from performing high-level tasks which require your undivided attention.
Next time you’re invited to a meeting, ask yourself the following questions: “Will I or the participants benefit from my attendance?” “What do I want to get out of this meeting?” or “What’s my role here?” to better understand whether you need to be there or can skip it.