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I think nowadays we are all struggling with doing all the things we’re supposed to do in one day. It almost seems impossible, doesn’t it? We all want to be more productive. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to work more efficiently. This allows us to spend less time on the things we need to do, which gives us more downtime! I really think we shouldn’t always be super productive and life shouldn’t be about getting the most work done every day. I think it’s more important to do the things we need to do more efficiently. This allows us more time for other things we can enjoy like our social circles and our hobbies. Therefore I have collected some of my best tips for productivity, so you can supercharge your days and enjoy more downtime.
So how can I be more productive?
1. Minimize distractions while working
If you want to be productive, you need to take away all distractions. Close all tabs you don’t need or, if you don’t even need the internet, turn off the wifi on your computer. Only open things you really need. Put your phone in a different room. If you want, you can keep the sound on for emergencies, but it would be better to leave it off. You are in work mode after all. It has been proven that people who put their phone in a different room work better than those who keep it near them, even when they put it in their pocket or bag.
Personally I also adjust my music to the task I’m doing. I don’t do well with complete silence as I’ll get distracted by every sound coming from outside, so I always have something going on. If I have a day of tasks that aren’t too intensive I’ll play my usual music. If I have a day with tasks that need focus I will put on instrumental music, soundtracks, Spotify’s ‘deep focus’ list or an ASMR room on youtube. Let me know if you’d like me to make a list of the things I listen to on those days!
2. Work with to-do lists
I know we all think we’re superman and will remember everything we need to do. Trust me, you don’t. Chances are you will forget to do something, which will probably pop up in your head right when you’re about to fall asleep. But aside from this very annoying occurrence, there are many benefits to keeping a to-do list. It decreases chaos, provides us with a plan, and checking off items gives us a little dopamine rush* which makes us more likely to tackle the next task.
And though it has not been proven, I always find they work well because of a perceived deadline effect. You know how a task always takes as long as you give yourself to do it? A to-do list implies I’m meant to do it today, which will make it a lot more likely that I will actually do it today.
For a to-do list to work well, it’s best to be as detailed as possible.
3. They break big projects down into small tasks
We tend to think in big pictures. We have amazing ideas, but then we get so intimidated that we don’t know where to start. So we don’t start. It sounds a bit crazy, but I think we’ve all been there. It’s not only on a work level but on a personal level as well. The best thing we can do here is to break our huge projects down into small bits. This way we can tackle one small task at a time. And in line with what I explained at point 2, this will give you that dopamine hit as well. So essentially tackle one small task, get a dopamine hit, and you’re more enthusiastic about starting the next task! You gain momentum, and will probably keep going. See how it is a lot easier to tackle things this way than to look at a blank page for half an hour until you decide to give up?
So when you write your to-do list, don’t say ‘clean house’. Break it down into small bits:
- Clean kitchen
- Clean bathroom
- Sink area
Break your big things into small things and it will seem a lot more manageable, and give you more satisfaction as you get to check things off way more often than if you’d write: clean house.
4. Get rid of decision fatigue
You know how those really smart and successful people seem to have a capsule wardrobe or simply wear the same outfit every day? They eat the same things and do the same things every day on a schedule. It might seem rigid or boring, but they have mastered their habits and taken charge of their lives. They have figured out the key to productivity.
By doing, eating and wearing the same things on the same days, they have taken away a lot of their daily decisions. While you could easily spend 20 minutes deciding what to wear and another 10 thinking about breakfast, they have gained 30 minutes by doing everything on a schedule. Whether they wear and eat the exact same things daily, or have a capsule wardrobe and a different breakfast for every day of the week, they don’t have to think about it.
But more important than the time it saves them is the decision fatigue. We all wake up with a certain amount of self-control daily. This self-control gets depleted by the things we do and the decisions we have to make. It is important to not run out of self-control, as we make our worst decisions in those times. I’m sure you have some stories of your own lack of self-control.
So now that we know this, we can capitalize on it by automating things we do and decreasing the number of decisions we take on a daily basis. This way, we can save our self-control for important decisions. And this is where the real value is hiding.
5. Prepare yourself and your environment
You know when you’re 5 minutes into your time block and your brain comes up with one of the following:
- I’m thirsty
- I’m hungry
- I need to pee
- I’m cold/hot
- I need a pen/paper/…
- Oh look at that, my battery is about to die
These are easy to prevent but are such good excuses for you to get up, do whatever your brain comes up with and forget about what you were going to do all together. Your monkey brain is winning!
You can make sure none of these are a valid excuse by taking 5-10 minutes before you start working to take care of them. Make sure you have everything you need at your desk, and you will master your monkey brain. Be prepared.
6. Work with the 1/2/5 minute rule
This is mainly effective for small tasks. Set a time limit for yourself. I think 2 is the most common, but this one all depends on you. Stick to one time though. Then whenever a task comes up, consider whether you can do it within the time limit you set for yourself. If you can, do it straight away. This might be answering an email, or making that doctors appointment. This takes care of a lot of small tasks and helps you be more productive, as you get a lot of things done in a small amount of time.
7. Work with time blocks and batching
A simple way to get a lot more done is to batch and work in time-blocks. Batching is to do similar tasks all at once. For example to get all your shopping done in one go, answering all your emails, making all your phone calls or scheduling all meetings in the same city on the same day. Personally, I batch my writing, the making of pins, and the re-pinning.
Time-blocking and batching is essentially the same thing. So for a time block, you can work in blocks of 1 hour, 2 hours, half a day, a whole day, whatever works best for you. But within that time block, you do the things you batched. So to put that in my schedule:
- Monday: researching & writing day
- Tuesday: writing day
- Wednesday: Pinterest day
- Thursday: creating new pins & proofreading the post that’s going to go up that night
- Friday: personal development day
Do you see how simple that is? Every day I have one or 2 tasks to focus on. This also helps me minimize distractions and keep the order in my head.
8. Make things non-negotiable. Also for yourself.
Have a list of non-negotiables. These are things that are in your schedule no matter what. It could be the show you watch every week, the Sunday afternoon you want to yourself or quality time with your partner in the evening. Have a list of these, and stick to it. Schedule them in, and don’t let anything interfere with them. Make sure you have the time and space to get to your non-negotiables. They are a commitment, even if it’s not with anyone else.
I always had colleagues and classmates ask me how I could work out before uni or work. And the trick is very simple. It was my non-negotiable. I just did it. You simply cannot see it as a choice. When it’s a choice, you can choose not to do it. When it’s not a choice, there is no decision to make. Treat these things the same way as your job. When you wake up, do you ask yourself if you should go to work today? Probably not, you just go. You don’t schedule anything over your job and come up with an excuse to your boss, do you?
So don’t let anything interfere with your non-negotiable. Don’t schedule anything over it, and don’t ask yourself whether you should do it. Just do it! This also saves you a lot of that aforementioned self-control and decision power.
9. Don’t depend on motivation
You are not always going to be motivated to do the things you should be doing. And while sometimes that’s okay, most of the time you really need to do those things. Therefore we simply cannot depend on motivation to get us to do something. Oftentimes, it’s really self-discipline that we need. For these things, consider the why. Why do you need to do these things, and can you somehow get yourself motivated to do it? Otherwise, there is not much left to do but make yourself do it. Try the above-mentioned tips, and set a reward or incentive for completing the task.
There is also the 10-minute trick. If you have to do something you don’t want to do, get started for 10 minutes and then decide whether you want to keep going or stop. Most of the time you’ll want to keep going as you’re invested in your task and think you might as well finish it.
So those are my 9 tips you can use to be more productive! I am sure that whenever you’re struggling to do something, these tips will help you get things done. I always love the feeling of a productive day and a day where I have ticked all the boxes on my to-do list.