Being productive is all about finding your flow, but there are days when it doesn’t seem like anything truly flows at all. Believe it or not, you have more control over your day than you might think. Here, you’ll learn six very simple tips and techniques to improve your productivity at work, at home, and at play.
#1 – Do the Hard Stuff First
When you’re faced with a list of tasks, it’s usually simple to divide them into three groups: the easy tasks, the not-so-easy tasks, and the difficult tasks. Most people would start their days by doing the easier things first; this gives them an initial sense of accomplishment and makes them feel productive. However, this can lead to a major problem later in the day when all you have left to do is the difficult tasks. You’ll feel yourself dreading the rest of the day, and you’re not likely to be very productive at all.
Instead, if you can do this in reverse, things will turn around and you will improve productivity significantly. Start out by tackling the difficult tasks on your list first. If you need to take a break, or if it starts to seem like you’re not getting anything at all done, then stop that task and focus on one of the easier ones that you can knock out quickly. Marking one item off your list might just give you the lift you need to finish the difficult task and move on. What’s more, when you’ve accomplished the hard stuff, the rest of your day will flow smoothly, and you’ll even find yourself looking forward to it.
#2 – Don’t Multitask
When you filled out your resume or CV, chances are good you listed “multitasking” as one of your strengths. While this might seem like a fantastic strength, the truth is that multitasking isn’t always in your best interest and it doesn’t improve productivity at all. Trying to work on many things at the same time interrupts your workflow, and a 2014 article published in Psychology Today proved it. The time it takes to shift from one task to another seriously hampers productivity, and the truth is that your mind can’t focus on more than one or two things at the same time.
A test performed at the University of Michigan used an MRI scanner to take pictures of volunteers’ brains as they worked on what seemed to be simple tasks. They were shown two digits, and if those digits were the same color, the volunteers were instructed to say the name of the digit that was numerically larger. However, if the digits were different colors, then the volunteers were instructed to say the name of the digit that was physically larger, or printed in a larger font. Volunteers’ brains struggled to come up with the correct answer, and when they were asked to do the test again in timed mode, most all of them failed miserably. This study shows that even simple multitasking can cause a complete mental shutdown.
#3 – Organize Your Stuff
Whether you use a variety of tools at work to get things done or you need supplies at home to engage in your favorite hobby, organization is vital. Being unable to find the right tool or supply to get things done is frustrating, and the act of getting up from your work to go hunt down a missing object interrupts your workflow. Spend one afternoon organizing things, whether that means placing tools and craft supplies in drawers or simply reorganizing folders on your computer. Then, when you need them again, you won’t spend any time looking and your productivity will increase substantially.
Once you’ve organized things the first time, take 10 to 15 minutes each day to sort through things and put them back where they belong. Look through drawers and folders quickly to ensure nothing is out of place. After all, organization doesn’t help much unless you work to keep things that way, and all it takes is a few minutes out of every day to put things away properly so you can improve productivity the following day.
#4 – Take Regular Breaks
An in-depth article published in Scientific American looked at several unique studies in which people either focused on their work for hours on end or took frequent breaks throughout the day. The findings were quite surprising, too. The studies found that those who took breaks more frequently actually got more done throughout the day than those who spend several hours in a row working. Why? The people who didn’t take breaks found themselves mentally stressed and physically drained, so they weren’t performing at peak. Those who did take breaks were better able to focus during the periods they worked or studied.
#5 – Schedule a Day for Yourself
Whether you’re studying for a huge exam, working on an important project, or even trying to complete something you’re making as a hobby, it’s important that you follow a schedule. Every so often, though, you need to get away from the schedule so you don’t feel like you’re stuck in a rut. Taking a full 24 hours once every few weeks can improve productivity by allowing you a creative outlet and a day to do anything you like. For example, you might choose to skip your usual hobby or studying and instead take a nature walk.
One company, called the Atlassian Company, gave its employees a “ShipIt Day” in which they had 24 hours to go work on any project they wanted without fear of repercussion. They found that this 24-hour period motivated their employees by allowing them to explore their creative passions, and when they returned to work the following day, they were happier and more accomplished than before. It’s now a company policy and one that has shown measurably improved productivity.
#6 – Do Things Now
Have you ever been working on a project and had something simple pop into your mind that you needed to do? When this happens, how do you handle it? Do you click over to your to-do list or agenda and type that item in, or do you fish for a sticky note so you can jot down a reminder? If so, you might want to think again. Sometimes, giving pause to one task and quickly completing another is the best way to improve productivity – which is perhaps slightly contrary to the above point. Sometimes it’s best to finish something simple as soon as you think of it than put it off on your to-do list. Not only does it help ensure it gets done, but it also gives you an immediate sense of accomplishment.
While you might think that things like multitasking and working hard for several hours between breaks are beneficial, numerous studies and surveys have proven otherwise. These six tips may seem silly, and some may even seem completely backwards, but the truth is they’ll improve productivity significantly and you’ll find yourself accomplishing more in your everyday life.