Yes, I’m talking to you.
You are reading this page for a reason. That is, you want to come up with a new routine to optimize your time.
In short, you want to be more productive.
Maybe you are looking for ways to be productive at work. Or you’re searching for techniques about how to be more productive in life.
But before I tell you how you can be productive, let’s start by asking why is productivity important?
According to Investopedia, productivity in the workplace is essential because high productivity translates to higher profits.
Productivity is the most fundamental and crucial determinant of a standard of living. Increased productivity allows people to get what they want faster, or to get more of what they want in the same amount of time.
When it comes to your productivity, it means achieving your goals at the soonest time possible. It involves three steps, namely:
1. Think about what you want done (goals).
2. Figure out what you are capable of doing to achieve your goals.
3. Completing the necessary steps to achieve your goals.
Now I’m sure you’ve already done steps 1 and 2. You already have your goals in mind, and you know what you need to do to achieve it.
The problem lies when it takes you too long to complete the tasks needed. Instead of being productive, you do the opposite – procrastinate.
Remember you can’t change overnight, but you can start emulating the steps listed below to become better.
Here are 18 techniques about how to become a more productive person:
1. You need to focus on the process instead of your goal
Contrary to what you’ve heard since you’re young, let me tell you this. Do not focus on your goals alone.
Doing so will make it more challenging to accomplish your target. Instead, focus on a repeatable process to make it more achievable.
The reason behind this is that we only have limited control to reach our goals. We can’t control the future, other people’s actions, accidents that will happen, the economy or the environment, to name a few.
On the other hand, you can easily control the “process.” So when you focus and stay consistent with it, you eliminate the unachievable.
For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, focus on the process of eating a healthier diet.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad Poor Dad said:
The process is testing you as well as teaching you. If you pass the test and learn the lessons, you get to go on to your next process. If you fail a test and quit rather than retake the test, the process spits you out.
2. Remember compound interest
Compound interest is a financial term that refers to the interest earned on money that was previously earned as interest. Simply speaking, it’s interest on interest.
It is a cycle of increasing interest, and your gains keep growing on top. That is why Albert Einstein referred to it as the eighth wonder of the world:
Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it. He who doesn’t pays it. – Albert Einstein
But we can also apply compound interest in our daily lives, not just in finance.
You see, when you focus on the process and persistently work on it every day, your work compounds over time. Now, that’s what we call exponential growth.
Warren Buffet couldn’t be more accurate when he said:
Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. – Warren Buffett
For example, if you focus on the process of writing at least a thousand words per day and apply the theory of compound interest, you will be creating a book in no time, or your website will have hundreds of posts before the year ends.
I would say that is pretty efficient.
3. Be output-oriented
Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. – Paul J. Meyer
Being output-oriented means having a sense of direction with our efforts. You will follow the process even if no one is watching because it is essential for you to do things right.
When we say “output”, it is the “finished product” of the system. For example, when you write for 8 hours a day but without objective, there is no output. It’s just practice.
There should be a finished product such as publishing one post on your website per week or writing an e-book within 30 days. Writing every day or week is a system; the articles or books you create are the output.
But don’t get confused – output is different from our goals. The difference is that we control all factors when it comes to achieving production. On the other hand, our goals sometimes are unachievable.
For example, your goal is to get promoted. The thing is, you don’t control your boss or the office drama that sometimes gets in the way.
However, you can show them you are reliable and produce excellent work that they can’t ignore what you’ve been doing. That is controlling all the variables.
When you know the difference between outputs and goals, you will have a realistic overview and attainable objectives.
4. Practice the Pareto principle
The Pareto Principle used to refer to the observation that 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to only 20% of the population.
More generally, it is the simple law that most things in life are not distributed evenly.
The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule states that:
80% of the output or results will come from 20% of the input or action.
What does it mean? It means the little things are the ones that account for the majority of the results.
When you focus on the 20%, it will help you improve your time management, productivity, and overall client satisfaction.
For example, focus on the tasks or time that bring the most output instead of thinly spreading out your time and efforts.
5. Do the most important work in the morning
According to a research paper analyzing how the time of day affects productivity, it found that productivity is mostly higher in the morning than in the afternoon.
“This paper shows that productivity is higher in the morning than the afternoon and that this variation in productivity can be exploited to increase efficiency.”
It means that our working memory, alertness, and concentration gradually improve a couple of hours after waking up so we should reserve these times for the most important tasks.
(To learn more about the perfect morning, check out these 7 things every happy person should do before 8 am here).
6. Use the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique focuses on working in blocks of time, typically 25 minutes long (called Pomodoro sessions), followed by a 5-minute break.
But make sure that you do at least 3–4 blocks when your brain is at its peak productivity period (see #3).
Once you have mastered 25 minutes of full focus, you can go on and do “double-pomodoros”, which basically means working for 50 minutes straight and then taking a ten-minute break.
Practicing Pomodoro technique helps reduce anxiety and procrastination as well as improving your output at the same time. TomatoTimer is a free Pomodoro tool you can use online.
7. Remove all distractions
Being distracted is what makes you unproductive. It’s time to remove all distractions if you want to be more productive in life.
Start by listing down all the distractions – it can be physical (phone, clutter, TV), intangible (movies, social media, games), and people who keep interrupting you.
When you successfully identify the distractions, you will know what to remove to make progress in meaningful work. Remember, you have to eliminate the distractions before you can optimize your time.
Take it from Sunday Adelaja, author of How To Become Great Through Time Conversion. She said:
If you understand that a wasted time is a wasted life, you will start running away from television, you will begin to run away from movies, you will run away from games like criminal case and candy crush.
8. Look at the data at hand
What’s great with data is that you can use it anywhere – at work, at home, or in school. It involves testing and when you find out the results, it will show you what needs to be adjusted to acquire productive results.
For example, let’s look at #5. I stated that the brain is mostly at its peak productivity period during the morning.
But that doesn’t work with everyone. Some are night owls and some are afternoon wolves. This is why you need to test when you are most productive.
You can do it using the scientific method, an analytical system used by scientists to draw conclusions objectively. Here’s how:
Objective: To find my peak productivity time
Hypothesis: My peak-productivity time is from 9 AM to 11 AM. (Take note that your hypothesis must be tested and it can either be true or false, based on the data)
Experiment: To find your peak time, enter data into a spreadsheet on how you feel your energy level every hour of the day. Rate it from 1 to 10, with 10 as the highest and 1 as the lowest. Run the experiment for at least 2 weeks and gather data.
Conclusion: Analyze data on your spreadsheet and compute the results. In the end, you will realize the hours of the day that you are most productive
Just like in software development, testing is important because it improves our productivity, performance, and efficiency.
9. Delegate and automate the non-essentials
Don’t be too much of a control freak. It’s time to delegate the tasks that you’re not good at and focus on what you do best. Doing so will improve your productivity.
Think about it. Why would you do a task that will take you more than 5 hours to do when you can find someone who can do it better in a fraction of time or cost?
For example, if designing is not your strong point and you need to have the cover of your book done ASAP, just find one who can do it. But make sure you get the right person for the job.
Then you can focus your energy on finishing the book instead (or other important tasks you have).
10. Take a break
Not all days are great. Some are bad and some are horrible.
But don’t give up – just take a break. Take some time to rest and go back to the task when you’re energized and focused.
In 2013, the New York Times wrote:
A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health
So take a break and enjoy the struggle because it is what brings you forward.
(If you’re looking for specific actions you can take to stay in the moment and live a happier life, check out our best-selling eBook on how to use Buddhist teachings for a mindful and happy life here.)
According to neuroscience research, clutter is demotivating. It states:
Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system
In layman’s words, clutter makes you lose focus and limits your brain’s ability to process information.
Clutter is like having a screaming toddler beside you while you work. You can’t focus because your mind gets distracted by it. Plus, you will be worn down from exerting too much effort to concentrate.
So the next time your desk is cluttered, it’s time to throw stuff away. This research shows that decluttering will help you become less irritable, more productive, distracted less often, and able to process information better.
12. Find time to do aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercise is good for you – not just in losing weight and staying healthy but also in keeping you more productive, focused, and alert.
According to a study, aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. What is interesting is that resistance training, balance, and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.
In fact, neurologist Dr. Scott McGinnia backed the study when she said:
Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.
So squeeze in at least 150 minutes per week and you’re good to go. Activities you can do include walking, swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, dancing, or even doing household activities that makes you break out in a light sweat.
13. Take a step back and reflect
When you get overwhelmed of too much work to be done, take a step back. Reflect and analyze to see what’s working, what’s not going so well, what needs to be prioritized and what needs to be changed.
Contrary to what you might think, the time you use in reviewing your efforts is not wasted. Instead, it helps you become productive when you learn to value feedback.
14. Do not multitask
Do you think multitasking can make you more productive? Well, think again.
According to a neuroscience behavior professor Daniel Levitin:
That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.
Multitasking takes up brain energy. So instead of skimming over the surface of things, try to focus on one task and finish it before you proceed to another. You’ll be more focused and clear.
Take a break every couple of hours and your brain will thank you.
15. Ask for help
Maybe it’s your pride or curiosity that makes you want to do it yourself and not ask for help. But the thing is, it’s taking up too much of your time.
Ask for help on things you feel like you should be able to do but are not able to do is ok.
Do not end up being frustrated if you cannot format an Excel sheet or create the perfect Powerpoint presentation. You can ask for help instead.
And did you know that people who seek advice are viewed by their colleagues as being smarter and more productive at work? That is according to research from Harvard Business School.
Not to mention, this could save you tons of time and negative emotions in the long run.
16. Get sunlight.
If you want to increase productivity, this study states that you should expose yourself more to sunlight. Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University wrote:
The study found that optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity. As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, it is clear that placing them in office spaces with optimal natural light should be one of their first considerations.
The same study found that more natural light translates to more alert and productive employees.
Not only that, the increase of daylight resulted in an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision symptoms -all of which are detrimental to productivity.
17. Look at cute images
Yes, you read it right and I am not making this up.
It turns out, there is power in kawaii. This is a Japanese study where researchers found that viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus.
Kawaii or Japanese word meaning “cute” can produce positive feelings. And the result?
Results show that participants performed tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing cute images. This is interpreted as the result of a narrowed attentional focus induced by the cuteness-triggered positive emotion that is associated with approach motivation and the tendency toward systematic processing.
18. Reminder: value your time
Productivity comes from our drive to maximize and value our time. But sometimes, we need a reminder to let go of some things because it doesn’t make us productive anymore.
For example, do not buy your groceries at the time the store is busiest because it will take up too much of your time. Doing things at off-peak hours will help you save your time and focus your attention on things that need to be prioritized.
Call to action:
In every “how to be productive” question, the answer is different. What works for me may not work for you.
But one thing is for sure, we want to fight off distractions and procrastination.
Just like all great things, becoming more productive takes a lot of small steps – it does not happen overnight. Sometimes, we even go back to our unproductive self and start again.
However, it doesn’t matter how many times you fail in cultivating your productive work habits. What matters is you continue to work on it and the improvements in your work ethic.
And hopefully, the tips above will help you start the journey to become the most productive person you know.
Do you want to live a mindful life?
The simple fact is that learning about Buddhism and other eastern philosophies can empower genuine lasting change in our lives.
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