This guide was built to give you an understanding of what productivity really is and to arm you with simple yet powerful techniques of how to become more productive.
What is productivity?
Productivity is often a misunderstood concept. Typically we assume that if we get more things done each day, we’re highly productive. But the assumption couldn’t be more wrong.
“Productivity is not about getting all things done, it’s about getting the most important things done, those with the most impact to reach your goals.”
When we think of someone productive, a friend or colleague, we tend to picture someone “busy” pushing through those tasks ticking them off one by one, trapped under an ever-growing pile of work.
It’s easy to think that busy people with a lot of output are productive, but the actual work they produce might be of little use. Being busy with many tasks, work-responsibilities, and long working hours does not mean that you are productive.
To become more productive, focus on the tasks that bring you closer to your goals, and consistently do so. Not everything is essential. No matter what you’re working on, there are tasks that you shouldn’t do or delegate, and only a few that are truly important.
James Clear, the author of bestseller Atomic Habits, puts it in this way:
“Being productive is about maintaining a steady, average speed on a few things, not maximum on everything.”
Darius Foroux, author and productivity guru, says:
“Productivity is when you focus on relevant output, getting the right things done. Things that improve your career, business, organization.”
What does productivity mean to you?
Before you put your head down and start thinking about becoming more productive, think about “why” you have this urge, what’s driving you. A standard answer that you might think of is; having more free time to do the things you enjoy doing.
If you can do more with less, surely you can reach your goals sooner, leaving you with time to focus on other goals in life. Is it a career goal you have, more time to read books, more time with your family or friends? Having clarity around what’s driving your actions will help you when things get tough.
What are the benefits of increasing personal productivity?
We all have 24 hours in a day, it’s up to each of us to determine how we want to use those hours. Productive people get more done with less effort, allowing them to focus on what was driving them in the first place.
There are clear benefits of improving your personal productivity, focus on the tasks with the most impact, the right things, and you’ll achieve more, and get better results.
Other benefits can be:
- Reduce Stress
When you become more organized and start to achieve your most impactful tasks on time, you will feel less stressed. Instead of running around trying to accomplish everything, you can focus on what matters the most. Your personal well-being increases, e.g., you feel happy and comfortable.
- Increase Engagement
Increased productivity and engagement are closely related to each other. More productive people are usually also more passionate and engaged in the work they do. Harvard Business Review pointed out that higher engagement leads to a 22% increase in productivity (read the article here).
- Improve self-confidence
Improving productivity also allows you to learn more in less time. And, when you get better at what you do, you’ll also increase your confidence. In other words, productive people will learn more, get better at what they do, and become more self-confident.
How to become more productive
As highlighted earlier in this article, it’s a significant difference between “movement” and “achievement.” Checking off tasks will allow you to feel more accomplished, but it won’t ensure that you move closer to your goals. Whatever strategy or technique you go with, and there are plenty to choose from, the most important thing to remember is to go with the one you feel most comfortable with.
Like everything else in life, to make a change, it requires time and focus. So you need to look for a strategy that you can stick with and create a habit around.
To get you started, here are some of the most common and practical productivity strategies:
The Pomodoro Method
Perhaps one of the most known and researched methods out there, and for a good reason, it’s simple and it works. This method can help you keep focus by getting things done in shorter bursts.
In-between, you take frequent breaks that can either be short or long, depending on how many tasks you’ve completed. You don’t need any particular tools to get started, all you need is a timer. In short, here’s how it works:
- Start on a task that you want to accomplish
- Set the timer on 25 minutes (This block is referred to as the “Pomodoro”)
- Work on the task until the timer rings, put a checkmark on a paper
- Take a 5-minutes break
- After completing 4 “Pomodoros” take a 15-20 minutes break
The main idea behind this popular technique is that the timer creates a sense of urgency, allowing you to keep focused and not give in to distractions. Learn more about the Pomodoro Method.
Eat That Frog Method
Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Applied to the real world, the “frog” would symbolize the most impactful and essential task you have to complete on a given day, week, or month.
If you eat that frog in the morning, or when you are the most productive, then you’ll get more done. Learn more about the Eat that Frog method.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Former President and five-star general, Dwight Eisenhower, had an extraordinary capability of being productive for more extended periods. One of his most essential productivity strategies is called the Eisenhower Matrix (or Box), and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can easily incorporate in your daily routines.
The matrix labels tasks, depending on their level of importance and urgency. Learn more about how to use the Eisenhower Matrix in this article.
Focus on ONE thing
A productive person doesn’t necessarily do more work, they focus their work on the right things. And If you then focus your energy on “one” right thing after the other, you’ll accomplish more, and you’re likely to achieve your goals quicker.
This is, however, not just about focusing on one thing in your life period. It’s about being critical of what you choose to focus your energy on, where you have the most impact, and eliminate waste. Hone in on what matters and let go of everything else. This technique is not as simple as it may sound, but if you learn to master it, you can achieve almost anything. Learn more about how focusing on one thing can help you.
The Ivy Lee Method
This 100-years old, 15-minutes method has been used by many professionals to increase their productivity. Why does it work? It’s dead simple. Here’s how it works:
- At the end of each day, write down the six most important tasks that you need to complete the following day. Not more than six.
- Prioritize and stack rank these tasks in order of importance
- Next day, start with your most important task and don’t more to the next task until you’ve completed the first one.
- Work through the list of the tasks in the prioritized order. If you have unfinished tasks from one day, move them over to the new list next for the next day.
- Every day you rinse and repeat this process. Learn more about The Ivy Lee method, and how it can help you.
Other more simple techniques to try
Experts in this field have a tendency to overcomplicate things. In the end, it’s you that have to sit down and do the work.
Here are a few tips on how to become more productive in your everyday life.
Make preparations the day before
At the end of each, spend a few minutes to plan for tomorrow. Organize your to-do list, so you know which tasks are the most important to accomplish. If you want to go a bit deeper, use parts of the “Eat That Frog” method and kick off your day with the most impactful task, and probably the most difficult one, in the morning.
“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy!” - Brian Tracy
Save emails for later in the day
This sounds simple, but it’s hard. But when you skip your emails in the morning and instead focus your energy on the most critical tasks, you’ll not only feel relieved but also you’ll accomplish more. Don’t get sucked into what others may think is urgent.
Learn when to do what
We’re often very good at managing our time well, but we’re seldom good at managing our “work energy” with the same efficiency. We’re all different, and we all have different times of the day when our productivity is higher. Some prefer mornings, other evenings.
Learn when you should focus on specific tasks, depending on when you have the most / least energy. When done right, this can be a game-changer and drastically increase your productivity.
Might come as a surprise to many, but journaling will not only help you get to know yourself better, it will also help your creativity and hence productivity. There is tons of data that support improved mental and emotional benefits when journaling. Learn more about how journaling can help you.
Time blocking is not in any way revolutionary, nor is it something new. In fact, many already use this simple technique today with great success. Still, because of these reasons, proven and simple, it should be mentioned.
The only thing you need is a calendar (phone, computer), and you’re set to go. You then block time for your most important tasks. During this time, you keep your focus on that one thing. Do this in conjunction with what time of the day you have high/low energy for a particular priority.
Clean your desk and digital “clutter”
Sometimes the most straightforward things can give you a productivity boost. One simple method is making sure your desk and office is clean and tidy. Not only does it make you look more professional but it will also increase your efficiency according to studies. Here’s an article that will take you through the benefits of having a tidy office and digital space.
Sitting down for prolonged periods causes poor circulation and can actually be harmful to your own health. Standing up or sitting straight will increase your circulation and give more oxygen to your brain, allowing you to keep your focus for more extended periods.
Best Productivity Books - that you should read
If you want to deepen your knowledge and understanding about productivity, have a look at these highly recommended books. They can serve as inspiration for making a change in your life.
- The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
- Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker
- The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Productivity is often a miss-understood concept. It’s easy to think someone busy is also productive, but it’s simply not the case. To become more productive, focus your time and energy on the most impactful and critical tasks that will bring you closer to your goals, and say no or delegate those that don’t matter as much. Not everything is equally important.
A method or technique can help pave the way to a different mindset that ultimately can change your life. Remember, nothing will happen overnight, consistency is the key to success.