Top Five Ways to Increase Productivity

Taken from my most recent blog post.

Whether it’s through my normal work day in a demanding career, or with my focus on side projects, productivity is becoming more and more vital as the work load increases. Some of this may seem pretty obvious and simple, but the practice makes a big difference in what can be accomplished and how it leaves you feeling at the end of each day.

1. Plan your day the night before. Spend just a few minutes either at the end of the work day, or at some point in the evening well prior to going to bed, to update your to-do list or any other planning method you might use. This will not only set you up in a position where you are ready to go the next morning, but it helps clear your mind for better sleep.
2. Make time for yourself in the morning. I know it isn’t easy, especially if you aren’t a morning person, but get up a bit earlier than normal for yourself. Don’t start by checking emails, but do something just for you. Meditate, stretch, put on a podcast and go for a walk, read a few passages from a good book, whatever it is that you love to do take some time to start your day this way. Your mood will be boosted, and you will step into your day ahead with more focus and clarity.
3. Brain Dump. Now, you may have done some of this when planning your day the night before, but odds are that when you sit down to work or focus on a task, you likely still have other tasks and to-dos bouncing around your head. Take a few minutes before diving in and just dump anything popping into your head out onto a piece of paper or other document. The grocery shopping you need to do, the emails that have to be sent, the call to your mother that you need to make, and the errands you have to run. Whatever you are carrying with you, just dump it out. It will make space in your mind and you will find that you will be in better position to focus on the task at hand.
4. Eliminate distractions and unclutter your space. These may sound like two different things, but they are one in the same. First, if you are working in space that is covered in other work or random papers, your focus is likely to drift off to something else sitting around you. Keep it neat! Then come the other distractions. Move the biggest distraction away — your phone. Sometimes just the periodic buzz of an alert coming through is enough to set your brain moving in a different direction. Silence it, or turn it on do not disturb when diving into a task. Your computer can also be a killer here, take steps to avoid social media at all costs. You can check out Facebook or Instagram during a break. (See number 5 below) Then there are the people distractions. These might be harder to manage depending on your environment but if possible, close your door and tell others that you need time to work. This is probably one of my biggest struggles, but after learning that it can take an average of 23 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption, I’ve made this one a major priority. I don’t want people to think I’m being rude, but closing my office door at times of the day just has to be done.
5. Take more breaks. Sitting for hours working can take a real toll, and your brain just starts to lose the ability to keep the focus that you so desperately need. By getting up and stepping away from your work space periodically, you will be able to jump back in, feel refreshed, and your brain will be ready to roll again. There is a great technique that I’ve been testing out for the past few weeks which helps with remembering to take a break, along some of the above. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique. It breaks down your work day into what are typically 25 minute increments with a 5 minute break in between. After four such intervals have passed, a longer break of 15–20 minutes is taken. The key is to eliminate distractions and focus on one task during the 25 minutes of work, then you can use the 5 minutes to get up, walk around, check social media, anything other than the work that you were just performing. Not only has this technique made a positive impact in my productivity, but it seems to make the work fly right by without feeling drained at the end of the day. The breaks are a tremendous benefit without reducing any productivity, in fact, I’m quite certain they only increase it.