Productivity has become something of a buzzword recently. In a world of busy people, everyone wants to achieve more to become more successful, whatever that means to them. However, being productive is not the same as being busy. Being productive means producing more in less time according to your goals; it means spending time intentionally working towards your own personal aims.
For example, if your goal is to be successful in your job, productivity might mean getting more work done in less time, completing projects and achieving targets set by your company. However, if your goal is to build a great relationship with your children, productivity might mean spending more time playing with them and teaching them. The career person may seem “more busy” than the family person, but that does not mean they are necessarily more productive.
Therefore, before thinking about how you can increase productivity, it is important to decide what is important to you and setting goals. It’s not as simple as choosing your career or your family – most people will have several, varied goals, encompassing career, family, hobbies and personal development, and productivity is so important in ensuring that you are making progress towards all of your goals.
I’ve compiled a list of 8 ways to increase your productivity and become successful in making progress towards your goals. Each idea can be adapted to your own lifestyle to maximise its effectiveness, and you may find some ideas more useful than others.
Have you ever gone to the supermarket, come home and realised you didn’t get the main thing you went out for in the first place? Or started a project only to finish the first small task and sit there wondering what to do next?
Planning ahead can save you so much time throughout your day; it gives you focus and purpose so that you can use your time effectively to complete tasks. Taking just 10 minutes out of your morning (or the night before) to plan your day can help you achieve more of your daily goals. You can also try planning ahead with projects or assignments to help you structure your time and minimise how long you spend looking for things or figuring out the next step.
Spend time intentionally
This one is crucial in increasing your productivity. So many of us (myself included!) find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through facebook or instagram and before you know it, you’ve wasted an hour. Or we decide it’s really important for us to thoroughly clean the bathroom to avoid starting that task! Planning how you are going to spend your time can help to avoid these problems.
If you plan in a study break, decide beforehand exactly how you are going to use your break – maybe you’ll go for a short walk, maybe you’ll ring your dad, but consciously decide what to do in that time to avoid wasting it. And it’s okay if you decide that actually you do want to spend some time watching TV or looking at facebook, but allocate time in your day to do that and intentionally choose to do those activities, rather than fall into them because you’re procrastinating doing something else.
I know this one seems obvious, but it is often a massive problem when it comes to productivity. When you’re focused on a task and your phone buzzes, or someone starts talking to you or you see that packet of cookies on your desk, it’s so easy to stop what you’re doing. You’ll tell yourself you will only stop for 5 minutes and take an impromtu break, but when you return to the task at hand, it can take up to 30 minutes to re-focus your brain, meaning your “5 minute” break, cost you a whole half an hour of work!
When sitting down to do something, turn your phone off – you can either just set it out of reach on silent or there are so many apps now that will turn off certain notifications for you! Try to isolate yourself somewhere you won’t be disturbed or, if you’re working in a group, try to keep the other group members on task by not indulging in non-productive conversation. Make sure you have eaten enough and have water nearby, and keep your working area free from any items that might distract your attention.
Prioritise your tasks
It can sometimes be overwhelming to look at your to-do list when it has so many things you need to do. This is when prioritising is so important to help you decide which tasks to do first. The system I use for prioritising uses a graph that looks at the urgency and the importance of a task. I number my to-do list and place each item on the graph. Then, I can see which tasks to do first, which are in the top right hand corner of the graph as they are highly important and urgent. For example, an essay for my degree due tomorrow would be at the very top right hand corner of the graph, while getting a present for my brother’s birthday which is 3 months away is much less urgent. This is great for sifting through lots of tasks at once.
Sometimes, when the tasks are all related, you can look for your biggest domino. By this, I mean try to find a task, that once it is completed, will automatically complete other tasks on the list, or make them much easier to do. For example, if you are organising an event, choosing the theme or the tone of the event makes it much easier to select a venue, guests and decorations – you can’t complete those tasks until you have a theme.
Consider long term goals
Another great tip for prioritising tasks and giving yourself motivation to complete them is to think about your long term goals. Which of your tasks is going to make progress towards achieving your goals? If your goal is to graduate with a first class degree, starting that essay is probably very important. If your goal is to get that job, you might want to prioritise finishing your CV.
Procrastination is giving into the temptation of instant gratification: you can be instantly happier if you watch this cat video instead of working, you can be instantly less stressed if you scroll through instagram looking at pictures of beaches instead of working on a project. Productivity and the motivation to work need to be fuelled by delayed gratification – the knowledge that working now will pay off later. Try to give yourself reminders of this as your working: maybe put a fake picture of you graduating above your desk, or set your phone to remind you of whatever reward you are working towards.
Again, this one may seem obvious, but keeping your working space, documents and computer files organised can save you so much time as you know where everything is. The longer you have to spent looking for something, the more time you are wasting and the more likely you are to find something else to be distracted by. Take time every week to make sure your desk is clear and you know where to find everything you might need, that your documents are filed correctly in a logical system, and your computer files are stored with sensible names and in labelled folders.
Start a waiting-for list
Since you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re already into to-do lists, but a task being unfinished isn’t always your fault. Often, we’re waiting for someone else to do something, or a parcel to arrive, or a request to be approved before we can continue with it. Writing a waiting for list makes sure you know the status of all your tasks and avoids letting things slip through the cracks. You’re always on top of the jobs to complete and you know immediately when you can continue with a task.
Focus on one task
Multi-tasking seems like an easy way to get loads of jobs done at once, when actually, the opposite is true: it has been scientifically proven that multi-tasking lowers productivity, while focusing on one task at a time yields greater results. When you set yourself 3 tasks to do at once, you’re really just setting yourself 3 distractions. Our brains are much more efficient when they can focus on one task at a time and complete it to a high standard.
If you find it difficult to focus on one task, take 5 minutes to write down all the other things you’re thinking about to get them out of your head. Then carry on with your task and address the other ideas later. Alternatively, you can try the pomodoro technique. This involves setting a timer for a short period of time, ususally 20-30 minutes, and working solidly for that time, focused on one task. After this time, you can take a 5-10 minute break and set your timer again for another 20-30 minutes. A lot of people claim this technique prevents their brain from tiring out and helps them to stay focused and complete tasks faster.
I want to reiterate: being productive does not mean being busy! Being more productive simply means producing more in less time – what you are producing more of depends on your personal goals: you could spend all day playing with your children and that could be incredibly productive time for you if your goal is to bond with your children and create a happy family environment; you could spend all day reading and treating yourself and that would be productive time if your goal is self-care. Always try to be productive towards whatever your personal goals are.
Let me know in the comments if you try any of these techniques to increase your productivity and let me know what else helps you stay productive!