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Being more productive is essential to improve your life. It enables you to produce more value out of your life so that you can give more and in turn receive more. It makes your life more fulfilling.
Of course, it’s not easy to be more productive, but the effort is well worth it. Here I’d like to share with you some practical tips to increase your productivity. In total, there are 36 tips I’m about to share which are grouped into six categories: Motivate Yourself, Prepare Yourself, Equip Yourself, Manage Your Energy, Manage Your Workflow, and Optimize Your Working Session. Check them all and find the ones that work for you.
- Find your mission
Increasing productivity will be much easier if you have a mission you believe in. The cause will energize and empower you to go through all obstacles. If you do what matters you, your excitement will show up in your work.
- Replace negative self-talk with positive one
Your attitude toward your task is determined by how you talk to yourself regarding the task. Change your mindset and learn to love what you do. Whenever you recognize negative self-talk in your mind replace it with a positive one.
- Have fun
Having fun is an indispensable part of being productive because it renews your energy and motivation. It increases the quality of your work time which allows you to accomplish more.
- Change your work environment
Changing your work environment can refresh your mind. You may arrange things differently or change your computer’s desktop theme and wallpaper.
- Find your strengths
You will accomplish more if you are doing something you are talented in. Find your personal strengths and focus your effort there instead of fixing your weaknesses.
- Find your role models
It’s difficult to be productive if you don’t have concrete examples of how being productive is like. So find your role models and try to emulate them.
- Find partners
You can accomplish more if you have the right partners. To find partners, don’t just find people who are like you. Find people who can complement you.
- Prevent problems through planning
Before you do something, take time to think in longer term and anticipate problems that may occur. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it in such a way that you become afraid to act, but proper planning never harms.
- Be informed
You will be more productive if you are well-informed about what you do. Find as many information as possible regarding the task you do. Is there any best practice you can follow? Is there any pitfall you can avoid?
- Keep your mind clear of stuff
You should not use your mind to memorize ideas or things to do. Get them out of your mind by writing them in an external system. Your trusted system is the place where you can safely put the stuff until the time to deal with it comes.
- Calm your mind
Keeping your mind clear of stuff is essential, but there could still be noise in your mind. The noise could be guilt, fear, or distracting thoughts. Get rid of them by calming your mind.
- Build your personal knowledge base
Make it a habit to take notes of whatever things you learn and make sure you can easily search them later. When you encounter similar situations in the future, you can refer to your notes to speed up the process. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
- Master Google-fu
There’s no doubt you will encounter problems. For most problems, Google can provide the solutions – if you know how to find them. So invest time to increase your Googling skill. You can start with learning Google’s search features.
- Master your tools
When you work, your time should be spent on accomplishing tasks, not on figuring out how to use tools. So learn and master your tools beforehand.
Manage Your Energy
Exercising keeps your energy level high throughout the day. It allows you to work on your tasks with concentration and excitement.
- Find your peak time
Your body has energy cycle and there are times when you can be more productive. For many people, it means you should rise early and start working early. Many performers say that early morning is their most productive time. Some other people, though, say that their most productive time is late evening. That’s fine too. Just find your peak time.
Manage Your Workflow
- Determine never to be idle
Idling means you are not doing what you are supposed to do. For example, you are idling when you plan to write but you browse the Internet instead. On the other hand, taking rest on purpose is not idling since you plan it. Aim to eliminate your idle time.
- Focus on actionable ideas
In this information age, many ideas could come your way everyday through newspapers, web sites, and other means. You could end up spending a lot of resources (time, energy) on them and get very few done. You should filter those ideas by asking: is it actionable? Can it be applied to improve your life? Focus your resources on the actionable ideas and ignore most of the rest.
An essential step to be productive is to eliminate unnecessary things. When you have a task in front of you ask yourself: do I need to do this? If the answer is no then don’t hesitate to eliminate it.
If you think you need to do something but you can’t find the time to do it, you should delegate the task to someone else. Delegation is a secret to increased productivity since you now use other people’s resources. For example, you can hire a virtual assistant to do your tasks.
- Batch similar tasks
You should batch similar tasks and do them at once to save your resources. Why? Because context switching is costly. Shopping, for instance, can be batched. Rather than go shop whenever you need something, you can save your time and money if you batch them all and just go shop once a week.
- Apply 80/20 principle
Don’t give all your tasks the same resources. Apply 80/20 principle by choosing a few that will give you the most value and devote most of your resources there.
- Set a deadline
Give yourself a deadline to complete a task and stick with it. Otherwise, the time it takes to complete the task will prolong indefinitely.
- Befriend “good enough”
Sometimes perfectionism gets in the way of productivity. We want to make something as perfect as possible that we never get anything done. But diminishing returns applies to whatever you do. Beyond certain point, your extra effort will give you less and less extra value. This is the point of “good enough”. Recognize this point of “good enough” and stop there.
- Measure how you do things
How do you know that you are productive if you don’t measure things? You may think that you are productive while in fact you aren’t. So find the right metrics for your work, measure them, and get objective feedback of your performance.
- Optimize your routines
For tasks you do frequently, invest the time to figure out how to optimize them. Are there steps you can eliminate? Are there steps you can do less frequently (perhaps just weekly instead of daily)? Is there a way to do it faster? Most people just do their routines as is, but investing time to optimize them can make big difference.
- Automate your routines
Whenever possible, find ways to automate your routines so that you can just set them once and forget them. For example, you can schedule your antivirus software to do automatic scan or your backup software to do automatic backup. This way you free up your resources to do other things.
Optimize Your Working Session
- Do ultradian sprint
For high-intensity tasks, focus on just one task at a time and make it intense. Such high-intensity session is called ultradian sprint and – as its name implies – it should be a sprint and not just a run. In a sprint where 0.1 second matters, distractions and interruptions are not tolerable.
- Set a minimum time to start on a task and don’t stop before time is up
The Now Habit suggests 30 minutes, but you can start with smaller amount of time if you want to. The important thing is not to stop before the time is up. Every time you want to stop, just decide to take one more step forward. There are many timer applications you can use to help you (I use CoolTimer).
- Think like a lazy person
Sometimes we look at something in a complicated way while there are simpler ways to do it. Think like a lazy person. Find the simplest, most direct route to accomplish a task.
- Break a task into small steps and do them one at a time
When I have a task, I like to break it into small steps and list them. Then I just do the steps from the top one at a time. It’s often surprising to see what can be accomplished this way.
- Reward yourself often
You will be more motivated to work when you have something pleasant waiting for you. So list the things you like and choose one of them as your reward after a work session. For example, if you love ice cream you can reward yourself with one cup of ice cream after you complete a 30-minute work session.
- Do unpleasant tasks first
When you do unpleasant tasks first, the following tasks will be more pleasant. That way, the next tasks will feel like a reward that motivates you to go even further.
- Get the first draft out as soon as possible
When you create something, try to get the first draft or prototype out as soon as possible without worrying about its correctness or quality. You should let your creativity flows freely and worry about organizing later.
- Befriend checklists
If you do something often, you should list the necessary steps in a checklist. Checklists help you ensure that you won’t miss any step. I, for instance, use checklists for my morning routine and weekly review.
- Backup your work
There’s nothing more frustrating than losing your work because of unexpected computer failure. Doing backup takes little time, but the benefits are enormous. It’s like insurance for your work.
Do you have other tips to increase productivity? I would love to hear them.
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This article is part of June 2008 theme: Productivity