If you’re like me, you have a a pretty long list of things to do that seems to keep growing. Until someone finds a way to freeze time or add more hours to the day, we need to make the most of every minute to get it all done.
The bad news is that most of us get in our own way when it comes to productivity. We get distracted. We procrastinate. We work inefficiently. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
The good news is that there are ways we can make ourselves more productive. Here are ten of them:
- Eliminate distractions. In our modern world, so many distractions can take us away from the task at hand, it’s a wonder we get anything done at all. Think about how often you check your e-mail. If your computer or phone alerts you every time you get a new message, do you stop what you’re doing to read it? The same goes for text messages. What about social media? Do you find yourself constantly checking Facebook throughout the day? Even if you spend only a couple of minutes, the interruption in your workflow can result in hours of lost productivity. When working on tasks, make it a point to ignore these distractions. E-mails and texts can wait. There will be plenty of time for social media later. If the pull is too great to resist, some apps will even temporarily block you from these distractions.
- Create barriers for bad habits. Speaking of not being able to resist temptation, here’s a trick that may help. Make it easier to resist bad habits. For instance, if you know that you get distracted by putting the TV on, put the remote in a different room. Or if you’re trying to write something and know you’ll stop to waste time on the Internet, disconnect from the network. The more effort you have to devote to your productivity-sucking habits, the easier it will be to ignore them and focus on what you really need to accomplish.
- Create a schedule for breaks. As important as it is to shut out distractions, you know that you can’t ignore them forever. You’ll eventually have to check and respond to e-mails. There are benefits to keeping up on your favorite blogs. The trick is to do it productively. One way to do this is to schedule these noncritical tasks at specific times of day. Try to limit these periods to less than an hour a day and try to schedule them in the afternoon. That way, you have motivation to get through the tasks you’d likely procrastinate on.
- Log your time. Tracking your time can seem like a pain, especially when you don’t charge an hourly rate. But it can be surprisingly effective at making you more productive. First of all, seeing how you spend your time each day shows how you’re squandering time. Once you know, you can figure out the best ways to address the problem. In addition, keeping a record creates a sense of accountability, even if you are the only one to see it. Nobody wants to see evidence of wasted time.
- Break projects down into mini-tasks. Big projects are daunting, and can often lead to procrastination. Instead of just starting, we stress about everything we need to do and how we can get it all done. So don’t worry about the project. Focus instead on the individual task, and the project will take care of itself. For instance, when I have to write an e-book or some other longer piece of content, I break it down into several steps, such as creating an outline, conducting research, writing headlines, and writing individual chapters. By focusing on these tasks one at a time, the project becomes less intimidating, and I can manage my time better.
- Exercise in the morning. A study conducted at the University of Bristol in England found that exercise increases worker productivity and time management by an average of 15 percent. Why is that? Exercise isn’t just good for the body. It also increases blood flow to your brain, which can improve your awareness and memory and give you more energy.
- Drink water. Even slight dehydration saps energy and shrinks the brain. By the time you realize that you are thirsty, you may already be slightly dehydrated. That’s why drinking water throughout the day is vital to staying productive.
- Eat right. According to the World Health Organization, adequate nutrition can boost productivity by 20 percent. So what do you need for adequate nutrition? Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein, and low-fat dairy provide your body and mind with essential nutrients you need to perform your daily tasks. Brain foods such as wild salmon, blueberries, nuts, and avocados can improve your concentration, alertness, and problem-solving skills.
- Stop trying to be perfect. Taking pride in your work and striving to do the best you can are great traits. But they have their limits. Perfectionists are not particularly productive people because they get so hung up on details that nothing ever gets completed. Instead of trying to be perfect, try to be good enough to maintain your quality standards. Weigh the effort required against the return it will produce to find your sweet spot.
- Learn to say no. We all want to be helpful to people. When we have the time to do so, being helpful can strengthen relationships. But we don’t always have the time. In these cases, it’s OK to say no. Most people will understand as long as you explain why. It doesn’t look like the things we need to accomplish or the electronic distractions that keep us from accomplishing them efficiently are going to decrease any time soon. The better we learn to improve our productivity, the more we’ll be able to accomplish now and in the future.