Did you know? Disengaged employees cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity1https://www.gallup.com/workplace/393497/world-trillion-workplace-problem.aspx#:~:text=Story%20Highlights&text=Employees%20who%20are%20not%20engaged,employees%20were%20engaged%20at%20work..
That’s a huge number! Moreover, only 21% of the world’s employees were engaged at work in 2021. Engagement impacts productivity, and productivity impacts what we can accomplish.
If you’re looking for ways to boost your productivity and engagement, you’ve come to the right place! Whether you work remotely, in a hybrid context, or onsite, there’s something here for everyone.
In this article, we’ll look at 21 science-backed tips, hacks, and strategies you can implement to build your productivity muscle and do more of what you love.
What is Productivity? (Definition)
Productivity involves the measurement of output against the measurement of input. This means that if you can increase your output relative to your input, you can boost your productivity.
To put the concept into practical terms, if you want to produce more products to sell, you’ll need to boost your productivity by considering the cost of supplies, the efficiency of tools, your level of skill, and the time it takes to create the product. When the output of products created and sold exceeds the input in creating and selling the product, you ultimately increase productivity.
Of course, there are many factors involved in improving your productivity, including motivation, engagement, self-care, and competency. There are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to get more out of your activity without burning out along the way! Let’s check them out.
How Do You Improve Productivity? 21 Tips, Hacks, & Strategies
Create better to-do lists with the Alphabet Method
Instead of figuring out what to do based on your available time, what if you shifted your mindset to what to do based on your skills? This is what we like to call the Alphabet Method, which can be used to help you focus more of your energy on working within your strengths.
In the Alphabet Method, this is how you rank your work:
- A work: Things you’re good at or get lost in time doing
- B work: Things you’re OK at but you’re not necessarily the best at
- C work: Things you do at an average level
- D work: Things you struggle to do or tend to put off
- F work: Things you’re bad at or often get wrong
To incorporate the Alphabet Method into your everyday life, use these steps:
- Step one: Write down all the tasks you do every week.
- Step two: Rank your tasks with alphabet letters—A through F.
- Step three: Learn how your team breaks down their tasks with the alphabet.
- Step four: Optimize your to-do list for more A-level work by adjusting or delegating lower-letter work among your team with those strengths or limiting your time doing it.
- Step five: Avoid doing F work by delegating or hiring it out to someone skilled in this area.
Ultimately, it’s a mindset shift. Instead of asking, “Do I have time for this work?” What if you asked, “Is this my A work?”
See how Vanessa Van Edwards puts the Alphabet Method into action!
Utilize the 5×5 Method with added intention
The 5×5 Method is the process of understanding your overall goals and breaking them down week-by-week and day-by-day. The 5×5 Method involves:
- Looking at your week and determining the top five goals you want to accomplish
- Identifying five tasks you must complete each day to meet those five goals
It’s all about narrowing your focus. However, when you add the element of your specific intention to your tasks, you gain even more benefits!
The simple act of writing down specific tasks with exactly where, when, and how you will go about them can boost your productivity significantly. This involves what researchers call implementation intention2https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0065260106380021, which is essentially your specific plan of action to reach your goal.
For example, let’s say you have a goal to write a book. To add intention to your goal, you can say, “I will write 500 words (behavior) every morning at 7 a.m. (when) from my home office (where) using Microsoft Word with all other notifications turned off (how).”
To adjust your tasks or to-do list items into specific intentions, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the specific behavior/task I will do toward my goal?
- When will I do my specific task or activity?
- Where will I do my specific task or activity?
- How will I do my specific task or activity?
Use positive process self-talk
More than just positive self-talk, positive process self-talk helps put specificity around what you want to accomplish. Much like implementation intention2https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0065260106380021, adding specificity can boost your motivation. For example, instead of simply saying, “I can do this!” you might say, “I can accomplish [goal] by doing [behavior] by [time]! Let’s go!”
Other ways to incorporate positive self-talk into your day include:
- Envisioning yourself accomplishing the task or achieving your goal. How does it feel? Your positive self-talk might sound like, “It feels great to see the impact that X had on X.”
- Using “if-then” language to inspire momentum. For example, you might say, “If I can finish this project by the end of the day, I can enjoy the long weekend without thinking about work.”
Bonus Tip: Create a vision board to help you envision your goals and boost motivation.
Break down big projects into 20-minute chunks
Research shows3http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666310004630 that our brains can become overwhelmed by daunting tasks and goals, often leading to procrastination. To reduce the daunting nature and complexity of big projects, break them up into smaller, achievable tasks. To do this, take these steps:
- Envision your completed project. Write down what success looks like, what problem you want to solve, and the purpose your project ultimately serves.
- Work backward from your vision and categorize your envisioned success into separate buckets. This might include tools needed, internal and external support, budget, etc.
- Under each category, write down every task that will take up to 20 minutes to complete to reach the category goal.
- Review your task lists and determine and prioritize them based on urgency and importance.
- Plot your tasks on a calendar within your deadline period. Adjust as needed to account for delays or changes along the way.
Bonus Tip: One way to overcome obstacles is to do the same exercise, except envisioning the worst possible scenario happening by your deadline. Imagine the day, and imagine thinking back on your tasks. Ask questions like, “Who did I miscommunicate with? What was missing from the budget? What tools did I need?” In this way, you can plan ahead and feel prepared and proactive.
Time block your calendar
Time-blocking consists of treating your time like a budget and blocking periods of time throughout your entire day for your activities and priorities. Much like budgeting your money and naming every dollar, timeblocking allows you to give intention to every hour of your day, even if that hour is to rest. It’s a great way to understand your true capacity, as well as what you may need to say no to.
There are several free and paid apps you can use to time-block, including Google Calendar or even a physical daily planner. To start time-blocking, take these steps:
- List all your priorities and goals related to various areas of your life, including personal, work, family, friends, spiritual, and passion.
- List all activities and tasks needed to accomplish those goals and priorities (don’t forget to include rest and fun!).
- Rank your list by importance (note that importance may change weekly).
- Estimate how much time you need or want to dedicate to each weekly task or activity. For example, you might want to dedicate 30 minutes daily to working out.
- Set a priority “appointment block” for one to two hours every day of the week when you feel most focused or energized.
- Name your priority appointment blocks with the activities or tasks on top of your list.
- Fill in the rest of your week during all your waking hours with the rest of your activities. Be sure to include commutes, eating, and breaks, not just all your work stuff! Your time blocks can range from 15 minutes to 1 hour—but aim to keep these blocks focused on one or two specific activities at a time.
By the time you finish time-blocking your calendar, it should be full of all the things you’ve budgeted time for. By blocking your time, you should feel a sense of freedom to focus on what’s most important.
Productivity hacks like time-blocking are a great way to improve your performance. Check out this resource for more tips on improving your performance!
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Avoid task switching and context switching (aka multitasking)
Did you know? Multitasking, or what may be better referred to as task switching or context switching, can reduce your productivity by 40%4https://www.apa.org/topics/research/multitasking! It turns out what was thought to be a productivity hack is actually not helping you move things forward faster, especially when you’re trying to do focused work.
This isn’t to say that some relatively “mindless” activities can’t be done in tandem with others, like listening to a podcast while driving to work, for example. But if you’re trying to get focused work done and move things forward, it’s best to avoid multitasking.
Blocking your calendar is just one great way to avoid task switching, but there are other tricks you can try as well. Here are a few others:
- Keep your phone in the other room during focused work or turn off notifications. By reducing the number of times you check your phone while trying to focus, you can save hours lost in distraction!
- Set a specific block of time to respond to emails and shut down your email app or notifications when your time is not dedicated to email.
- Set up two users on your computer—one for work and one for play. This way, you allow yourself only to access your work apps during work and your fun apps during play.
- Set parental controls on yourself. Are there apps or websites you’re tempted to go to throughout your workday when you’re distracted? Use parental controls to keep you focused and off social media or certain shopping sites you like to browse.
- Utilize a timer for focused work sprints. Need to knock out an email to an important client you’ve been putting off? Set a time for a 20-minute sprint focused solely on one specific goal. This is essentially the Pomodoro method in action. Having the external pressure of the timer may be motivating!
Create a distraction-free environment
Increasing your efficiency includes more than setting up hacks to avoid task-switching and multitasking. It also includes creating and working in an environment where you can do your best work.
It’s helpful to set up your desktop, home screen, and desk, making the functions, apps, and tools you use often more accessible. You never want to walk into a room and wonder why or how you got there. The same thing goes for your apps and files. For example, if QuickBooks is your go-to program every day, ensure it’s not buried under multiple clicks and folders, wasting your valuable time. Or, if you refer to a physical planner regularly, keep it close by.
Some additional distraction-cutting ideas include:
- Playing deep-focus music or calming sounds. If you search “Focus Music” online, there are many YouTube channels and apps that offer hours-long focus music and sounds to help you focus. Some include sounds of the forest or ocean5https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1353829213000816, while others offer soft classical music. (Warning: Music and calming sounds don’t help everyone focus. For some, it can be a distraction, while for others, it can aid in memory and cognition6https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2007/07/music-moves-brain-to-pay-attention-stanford-study-finds.html.)
- Removing clutter from your workspace (both on your desk and on your desktop)
- Working in a space that drives focus. For extroverts who work best in the murmur of noise, this may be a local coffee shop. For introverts, this may be in a quiet room in your home.
Optimize your work files for maximum efficiency
According to a survey of office workers7https://www.elastic.co/pdf/unified-search-for-finding-workplace-content, 57% say finding files is one of their top three problems! So, one of the best places to maximize efficiency and productivity is to organize your physical and digital files to make things easily accessible whenever needed. It’s all about being kind to your future self!
To organize your physical paper files, take these steps:
- Create a designated spot for your inbox. This is where you’ll receive and sort papers.
- Review your inbox daily to determine what needs attention, and rank them by urgency—do this week, this month, or TBD. Then throw away what’s not important.
- Archive any papers that are important but don’t necessarily require action.
- Create three action folders for things you must do this week, this month, or TBD. (It may also be helpful to write these action items down on a digital or physical to-do list in addition to having them filed.)
- Review your action items daily and shift items as needed. Once you’ve completed an action, move it into an archive folder or discard it.
To organize your digital files, take these steps:
- Delete what you no longer need or archive files you need but don’t need to access regularly.
- Decide how you want to name your parent files and subfiles. This could include helpful information like departments, projects, clients, dates, etc. For example, your parent file name might be the name of a department, which can include subfiles for each client.
- Decide on a consistent file naming convention. Remember, you want to make it easy on your future self to find items later. For example, you might name your files like this: Client_Project_MM-YY_V1.
- Choose a consistent naming convention you can remember for various iterations of your items. For example, you might use V1 for “version 1” or “Draft” to identify the stage it’s in and later add “FINAL” when the version is complete.
Special note for teams: If you work on a team, you’ll need a system that will work for everyone. So be sure to work with others to create a system that makes sense. There are many ways you can organize your files. What’s important is that you find something that works best for you!
Design your office to spark motivation
Whether you work from home, in a corporate office, executive c-suite, cubicle, or open space, a well-designed workspace sets the stage for doing your best work. It’s not just about appearances, either. It’s about improving functionality and productivity too.
When you consider the various factors that go into a good office design, your creativity goes up along with your job satisfaction. Elements you want to consider in your office design include:
- Colors: The psychology of color indicates that colors influence your mood. For example, blue can help you feel calm and secure.
- Nature: Exposure to nature and plants increases productivity by 15%.
- Organization: Being organized reduces stress, depression, and procrastination.
- Comfort: Motivation and morale go up when you feel comfortable.
Check out our article on office design ideas and tips that can help your office glow!
Take a strategic pause in white space
Juliet Funt, who has dedicated her work to empowering leaders to utilize the power of white space, defines white space as a strategic pause between activities. It comes down to being thoughtful about your work rather than running on the hamster wheel of unproductive busyness, which often leads to burnout.
What makes white space different from meditation and mindfulness is that no rules are involved. The benefits include the ability to regain control and reclaim your creativity with space to think.
In her work, Juliet identifies two types of white space:
- Recuperative white space: Taking a mental break.
- Constructive white space: Thinking about strategy, ideas, etc.
To incorporate white space in your day, add intentional pauses for 30 seconds to 10 minutes between activities. Let your mind settle. You might close your eyes, take a deep breath, or walk around the block. Then you might ask yourself questions like, “How am I really? What is the best outcome of X?” Or you may simply follow a thread of thought to reflect on your last or upcoming task. Whatever it is, take these pauses throughout your day to keep your mind fresh and alert.
Build a routine around your energy
According to research, the hormones we need to feel productive are released based on circadian rhythms—the natural cycles our bodies go through to carry out daily functions. This means we’re likely most alert during the first few hours of waking up.
What does this mean for you? What kind of activities are you doing when your brain is most alert? Are you focused on your top priorities, or are you wasting your energy on low-priority tasks? Consider changing your schedule or routine based on the times of the day you feel most energized!
Pro Tip: Consider scheduling brainstorming or big decisions in the morning. Why? There’s an interesting phenomenon called the “morning morality effect,8https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24166855/” where people tend to have more moral awareness and self-control in the morning. That said, perhaps we should make more ethical and strategic judgments in the morning while our moral awareness is at its highest!
Take care of yourself
Whatever your profession, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll have a hard time being productive. If your blood sugar is low, for example, you might be more irritable and feel frustrated when you don’t have the motivation to get your to-do list.
If you’re feeling unproductive, it may not have anything to do with your skills or strengths. It might be because you feel tired, hungry, unsafe, disconnected, or sad.
Action Step: Ask yourself what you need now and take care of it. When you feel drained, pay attention to your body, emotions, and thoughts. How do you figure out what you need?
Start with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs and go through a checklist.
- Physiological: Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Cold?
- Safety/Security: Are you secure?
- Belonging/Love: Are you lonely? Disconnected?
- Esteem: Are you taking steps toward your goals?
- Self-actualization: Are you fulfilled?
Attention: In some cases, your lack of productivity and motivation may stem from a much deeper issue like depression or anxiety. If you are struggling with any of these issues and are unsure where to turn, check out Mental Health America’s helpful list of therapists.
Stay inspired with your why
Inspiration is a great way to stay motivated and productive. By remembering why you do what you do, you can discover the intrinsic motivation that keeps you going. One of our favorite thinkers on this topic is the bestselling author and speaker Simon Sinek.
In this video, he describes a simple way you can discover your why, which includes asking a friend you love, “Why are we friends?” Through a little digging, Simon suggests that you’ll likely soon discover your why—the thing that makes you who you are and the thing that you give to the world. Check it out!
Say no or delegate
One underrated strategy to become more productive is learning to say no. Those who enjoy the energy of being busy and pleasing others find saying no more difficult than others, but what they may not realize is that it is hampering their ability to be more productive, which may feel counterintuitive.
Here’s what happens when you say yes too much10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763375/:
- You overcommit to things you may not be able to accomplish.
- You fall prey to task-switching and multi-tasking because you’re trying to do too many things simultaneously.
- You miss out on focused opportunities better suited to your skills.
- People eventually stop asking you for support because you appear too busy for them or have rushed through projects for them in the past.
Saying no or delegating work can help you focus on working within your strengths and ultimately be more productive. Here are some ways to determine whether saying no is the right choice10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763375/.
- Consider whether the task or project aligns with your goals or strengths.
- Consider whether it is a project you would enjoy learning from.
- Consider whether the long-term benefits align with your future goals.
- Consider the timing of the project and if it might take away from something with a higher priority. Maybe this project could be done later?
- Consider the impact the project or the relationship might have on your career.
Pro Tip: If you work for someone else, have open and honest conversations about this! Ultimately, when you’re both aligned on the strengths and skills you bring to the table and the team, you can boost productivity on your team as a whole.
Gain focus with the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, suggests that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Ultimately, this means leveraging your focus on activities that produce the most significant outcome. No one can do it all, so this is a helpful way to zero in and make progress.
“If everything is important, then nothing is.”—Patrick Lencioni
To incorporate the 80/20 rule into your life, try some of these ideas:
- Reduce feelings of overwhelm by cutting down or reducing your goals by 80% to focus on the most achievable outcomes. For example, if you want to remodel your house, focus on one bathroom first.
- Use the most productive time in your day to focus on the top 20% of your priorities. For example, if you’re a morning person, execute your top priorities in the morning.
- Spend at least 20% of your time planning your project and 80% in execution. This helps you clarify what you’re trying to achieve, build traction, and focus on what’s important.
Take advantage of technology for efficiency and automation
There are hundreds of apps and technology tools designed to add efficiency and automation to your day to improve productivity. It’s difficult to name them all, but here are a few areas to consider automating and some leader-favorite tools you can try!
- Virtual Assistance: Upwork, Fiverr, Belay, Time, etc
- Project Management: ClickUp, Asana, Trello
- To-do lists: Todoist, Google Tasks, TickTick
- Calendars: Google Calendar, Outlook, Fantastical, Apple Calendar
- CRM/Databases: HubSpot, Zoho, Salesforce
- Email: ActiveCampaign, Mailchimp
- Communication: Slack, Zoom, Teams, Calendly
- Payroll: Gusto, Paychex, Quickbooks Payroll
- Design: Canva, Adobe Express
- Self-employment: Bonsai, HoneyBook, FreshBooks
- AI: ChatGPT, Jasper, Pictory, Grammarly
Learn keyboard shortcuts
Keyboard shortcuts, once you learn them, can save you a lot of time in the long run. There are tons of shortcuts you can use, including various app shortcuts. Here are just a few of the most helpful to get you started if you’re new to them!
- Copy: Ctrl/Command + C
- Paste: Ctrl/Command + V
- Cut: Ctrl/Command + X
- Find: Ctrl/Command + F
- Open New: Ctrl/Command + N
- Save: Ctrl/Command + S
- Print: Ctrl/Command + P
- Undo: Ctrl/Command + Z
Pro Tip: Along with shortcuts, take the dirty work out of typing the same, repetitive things over and over with a tool like textexpander. Simply put, you can type in a shortcut like “meet1” and the tool will write out a template like: “Nice meeting you at the networking event! It was an honor, and I’m glad to have connected with you. Just in case you missed it, here’s my LinkedIn profile: [link]. Let’s chat soon!” Use this for emails, outreach emails, and meetings.
Utilize the power of naps
Fatigue and exhaustion are productivity killers2https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0065260106380021. Trying to accomplish your goals while you’re tired will likely take you longer and may even put you and others at risk. Getting plenty of sleep throughout the week and taking the occasional nap may be just what you need for a productivity boost.
Here are the different nap types you can try, along with their benefits:
- 10- to 20-minute nap: gives you a power boost
- 30-minute nap: eliminates grogginess
- 60-minute nap: helps you process ideas and improve memory
- 90-minute nap: helps you go through a REM cycle to recover from lack of sleep
Create a recharge break list
To-do lists are great, but let’s not forget about the power of taking a break to reset and recharge! How about a recharge break list?! By adding an element of fun (dopamine) or exercise (endorphins), you can boost your productivity when you get back to your to-do list.
Here are some ideas you can add to your recharge break list:
- Go for a walk while listening to your favorite music or podcast
- Get some exercise with a quick run, yoga, or jumping jacks
- Have a laughter lunch and watch some funny videos on YouTube
- Grab a colleague or a friend and play a fun game
- Color or doodle to get your creative juices flowing
- Read a book that brings you joy or energy
Learn how to be a speed reader
Speed reading is a time-saving hack worth learning to build more efficiency into your day. In our article on speed reading, Vanessa Van Edwards highlights four key strategies she personally uses to read faster and retain more.
- Scan for keywords: Don’t sound out each letter. Scan content to notice what sticks out.
- Skip ahead: Read a paragraph’s first and last sentences to grasp the content faster.
- Make it relatable: To remember what you read, relate it to something you already know.
- Take notes: Remember what you read by noting keywords and topics and summarizing the information so you can commit it to memory.
Try the best-kept secret to productivity: chewing gum!
In our science lab, we checked out the science of chewing gum and found a few interesting facts about it that can aid in boosting your productivity. Who knew?!
- Chewing gum improves your cognitive abilities11https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21645566 by stimulating the brain, allowing you to think through complex problems.
- Chewing gum helps keep your body alert12https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22061430 and, coincidentally, less sleepy and less stressed.
- Chewing gum can also make you more charismatic! In this fun experiment by the chewing gum company Beldent, twins were rated on their perception of each twin’s popularity. Guess who was rated more positively by a rate of 73%?! The twin chewing gum!
Productivity Key Takeaways
In summary, take note of these key strategies to become more productive:
- Spend time focusing on goals and tasks that play to your strengths.
- Add focus to your tasks with a specific intention.
- Use time blocking and project chunking to maximize your time.
- Avoid task switching and limit your distractions.
- Optimize your work files for maximum efficiency.
- Design your office to spark motivation.
- Stay inspired and rested with breaks, self-care, and reminders about your why.
- Create boundaries to clarify things you should say no to or delegate.
- Take advantage of technology for efficiency and automation.
If you work from home, check out our article How to Work from Home Successfully in 7 Steps for even more ideas!
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