Even though we all want to be more productive, it’s hard to make major changes. Small changes are easy– and can be incredibly powerful. That’s why the following 20 tips are simple enough you can immediately incorporate them into your daily routine. Some tips will help you better use your time. Others will help you harness your energy. Others will help you stay more focused. No matter what, they all work. So try a few – or try them all!
Create Systems, Not Goals
Commit to a process, not a goal. Don’t just set a goal of creating better customer relationships; commit to calling at least two customers a day to ask how you can better serve them. Don’t just set a goal of landing new clients; commit to cold-calling at least two leads every day. Commit to a process that leads to a goal and you’re much more likely to achieve that goal. Focus on what you will do, not on what you want to happen.
Make Temptations Hard to Reach
Call this the “pain in the butt” technique: when something is hard to do, you’ll do it less. Store sodas in the refrigerator and keep bottles of water on your desk. Put the TV remote in an upstairs closet. Shut down your browser so it’s harder to check out TMZ. Use a “productivity” laptop that intentionally doesn’t have a browser or email, leave your phone behind, and move to a conference room to get stuff done. Convenience is the mother of distraction, so make it a pain in the butt to satisfy your temptations.
Maximize Your Most Important Tasks
All of us have things we do that make the biggest difference. (For me it’s actually sitting down and writing.) What two or three things contribute most to your success? What two or three things generate the most revenue? Then eliminate all the extra “stuff” to the greatest extent possible so you reap the benefits of spending time on the tasks that make you you.
Purposely Allow Less Time for Key Projects
Time is like a new house. We eventually fill a bigger house with furniture, and we eventually fill a block of time with “work.” So take the opposite approach. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to complete an important task. You’ll be more focused, more motivated, your energy level will be higher… and you’ll actually get more done.
Chunk Housekeeping Tasks
Even though we’d like to focus solely on our most important tasks, we all have stuff we still need to do. Instead of sprinkling those activities throughout the day– or, worse, taking care of them when they pop up– collect and take of them in preplanned blocks. Better yet, schedule that block for when you know you’ll be tired or in need of a mental break. That way you’ll still feel (and be) productive even when you’re not at your best.
Just Say No
You’re polite. You’re courteous. You’re helpful. You want to be a team player. You’re overwhelmed. Say “no” at least as often as you say yes. You can still be polite while protecting your time. And you should protect your time – time is the one asset no one can afford to waste.
Start Small So You Won't Mind
Say you decided you should cold-call 20 new prospects every day. Great idea – but sounds daunting. Sounds really hard. Sounds almost impossible… so you won’t. Instead, start small. You can call 2 people a day, right? That sounds easy. That you will do. Then, in time, it will feel comfortable to increase the number. Whenever you want to create a new habit, start small so you will actually start – and stick with it through that tough early time when habits are hard to form.
Build In Frequent Breaks
Small, frequent breaks are a great way to refresh and recharge. Like the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management strategy where you work on one task for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. (To time yourself you can use a kitchen timer or your phone…) The key to not burning out is to not let burnout sneak up on you. Scheduling regular short breaks ensures that won’t happen.
Follow the 2-Minute Rule
Here’s one from Getting Things Done: when a task takes less than 2 minutes, don’t schedule it, don’t set it aside for later, don’t set a reminder… just take care of it. Now. Then it’s done. Besides, don’t you have enough on your schedule already?
Actively Schedule Free Time
Free time shouldn’t just happen by accident. Free time shouldn’t be something you get around to if you get a chance. Plan your free time. Plan activities. Plan fun things to do. Not only will you enjoy the planning – and the anticipation – you’ll also actually have more fun. And the happier you are, the more motivated and productive you will be over the long term. Which, of course, is what personal productivity is all about.
Exercise First Thing in the Morning
Exercise is energizing. Exercise will make you healthier. Exercise can make you smarter. Plus exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours after you work out. So there you go. Work out for 20 minutes first thing. Feel better. Be smarter. Be less stressed. Have a more productive day. Can’t beat that.
Eat a Healthy Lunch Every Day
We’ve all eaten a heavy lunch that seemed to kill the rest of the day. So take a different approach. See lunch as fuel for your afternoon – and as one meal you knowwill be healthy. Plan to eat a portion of protein that fits in your palm and a couple vegetables or fruits. Make it easy and pack your lunch and then you won’t waste time driving to and from a restaurant.
Drink a Lot More Water
It’s extremely likely you don’t drink enough water. That’s too bad, because feeling good sparks motivation and effort. Plus if you drink water first thing in the morning you’ll boost your metabolism. Drink more water throughout the day and you’ll be less hungry, feel more energetic, decrease your chances of contracting certain diseases… and you’ll have to get up more often to use the restroom which ensures you’re more active throughout the day.
Take a Productivity Nap
A quick nap can improve creativity, improve your memory, and improve your ability to stay focused. Besides that, neurologists tout the learning benefits of mid-day siestas.Silicon Valley companies compete to see who can design the the coolest napping rooms. Napping is not just napping anymore; it's a skill. And it's a skill that can super-charge your productivity. (Here are some great tips for productive napping.)
Make More Time For Your Favorite People
Think about the people you’ve met recently. Who left you feeling more motivated, more excited, more energetic… who made your life better? Then seek to spend more time with them. Surround yourself with people who can improve your life and your life will naturally improve. Sounds obvious – but is also something we all too often forget.
Count Your Blessings Before Bed
Take a second before you turn out the light. In that moment, quit worrying about what you don’t have. Quit worrying about what others have that you don't. Think about what you dohave. You have a lot to be thankful for. Feels good, doesn't it? Count your blessings every night and you’ll start the next day in a much more positive way.
Use Your Mind For Thinking, Not Remembering
Here’s another Getting Things Done tip. Don’t clutter your thoughts with mental to-do lists or information you need to remember. Write all those things down. Then you can focus on thinking about how to do things better, how to treat people better, how to make your business better. Don’t waste mental energy trying to remember important tasks or ideas. That’s what paper is for.
Turn Off Alerts
Your phone buzzes. Your email dings. Chat windows pop up. Every alert sucks away your attention. So turn them off. Go alert-free, and once every hour or so take a few minutes to see what you might have missed. Chances are you’ll find out you missed nothing,but in the meantime you will have been much more focused.
Be Inspired By Small Successes
Change is tough. Habits are hard to form. If you want to learn a new skill, don’t decide you’ll become world-class. The goal is too big, the road too long. Instead decide you’ll learn to do one small thing really, really well. Then build on that. Success, even minor success, is motivating and creates an awesome feedback loop that will motivate you to do another small thing really well. One step at a time you might someday become world-class… which, after all, is how that works. Start small, stick with it, and someday your big dream will be a reality.
Stop In the Middle
Take it from Ernest Hemingway: "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day...you will never be stuck." His advice applies to all kinds of work. When you stop in the middle of a project you know what you've done, you know exactly what you'll do next, and you'll be excited to get started again.
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