I know very few people who feel like they have enough time per day to complete every task that they want to complete.
In fact, most of us scramble around, lamenting our lack of free time and looking for ways to enhance our efficiency. A prime example of this is productivity apps for mobile phones, which make up a nearly $60 billion industry.
Everyone is on the hunt for ways to become more productive. It’s not uncommon for college students to abuse drugs like Adderall to enhance their productivity, and for businesses and entrepreneurs to spend thousands of dollars each year on software and equipment for the sole purpose of reclaiming lost productivity.
Across the board, the pressure is on to consistently perform at one’s best and to get the most done in the least amount of time possible.
These pressures extend beyond the workplace. In addition to maintaining employment, the average young adult is also expected to have a fulfilling social life, romantic life, and to regularly engage in physical activity. If you add in hobbies or education to the mix, any time that could be set aside for resting or recovery goes out the window.
For obvious reasons, abusing prescription drugs isn’t a healthy route to take when trying to enhance one’s productivity. While apps, software, and equipment can help, they can also be quite expensive and often force us to adjust our workflow to accommodate — which ultimately leads to poor retention and thereby wasted money.
And yet, enhancing your daily productivity is not a lost cause. In fact, it can be a very meaningful and rewarding goal to work towards and improve over time.
Start Your Day With Exercise
We could talk ad infinitum about the benefits of starting your day with exercise. After all, your morning routine is a central part of setting yourself up for long-term success.
Exercise is a particularly powerful tool when it comes to enhancing your productivity throughout the day. Not only does it give you the chance to energize your body by elevating your heart rate and engaging various muscle groups, but it also prompts your brain to release endorphins, which elevate your energy levels and improve your mood.
As a result, exercising at the start of your day is shown to increase productivity throughout the day by 15%.
Get Plenty of Rest
How many times have you laid in bed unable to sleep because you were thinking about some task or assignment that needed to be completed?
If you’re like me, this probably happens more than you would care to admit. For those of you in the same boat, you likely also stay up later than you should so that you can get more done before going to bed.
In an effort to be more productive, you’re actually setting yourself up to be less productive throughout the next day. Depriving yourself of sleep is a guaranteed way to ensure that you lack productivity.
Without sleep, you’re going to be less focused and have less energy with which to apply yourself. Additionally, you’ll likely try to counter your tiredness by consuming an excess of junk food and caffeinated beverages, which can perpetuate the cycle of having trouble sleeping and trying to supplement your sleep with caffeine and sugar.
In short, sleep deprivation is the sworn enemy of productivity. (And health, for that matter.)
A study from Harvard University found that companies lose almost $65 billion annually because of employee sleep deprivation, revealing the simple truth that anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter to study and then had to go to class the next day knows: when you’re exhausted, trying to work sucks.
Spread Out Your Breaks
When trying to cover as much ground as possible in a single day, it can be tempting to just start working and not stop until you’re done.
Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work for many of us. Instead, it leads to rapid burnout in which we feel like we’ve worked so hard we can’t work anymore. Or, in the best case scenario, we get so engrossed in what we’re working on that we start to lose sight of the big picture and just create issues that we have to go back to later on.
Rather than trying to work hard for hours on end and then resting once everything is done, give yourself the opportunity to move and feel refreshed between tasks. Take a break.
Personally, I try to leave my desk for a few minutes every hour. Something as simple as going for a short two-minute walk and drinking a glass of water away from your workspace can do wonders to improve your mood and focus when you return.
Taking a moment to get in some exercise, like doing a few pushups or sit-ups, every hour, can be an excellent way to reset your clock and get more done.
There’s a powerful urge to multitask when you know that you have a wide variety of tasks to complete. It’s very easy to rationalize when we consider that we could work on Task A for a moment, check on Task B at a glance, and maybe even begin to brainstorm Task C all at the same time.
Unfortunately, multitasking spreads our attention too thin.
When we’re multitasking, our attention gets fragmented, our stress levels go up, and our productivity goes down. You can make much more progress– and much faster progress– by setting fewer goals for yourself and concentrating on them one at a time.
Invest in Mindfulness
Rather than forking out a couple hundred dollars each year on productivity software, consider investing ten minutes each day on cultivating mindfulness.
Mindfulness and productivity go hand-in-hand. Mindfulness, in its essence, is a sense of self-awareness. By practicing mindfulness, you learn to non-judgmentally be aware of your drifting thoughts and bring them back to center as needed.
Practicing meditation for a few minutes each day is the most reliable way to become more mindful in the other areas of your life.
It’s so effective, in fact, that Sir John Hargrave devotes a significant portion of his book Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days to exploring the benefits of meditation — though he prefers to refer to it as “concentration training.”
It’s so important to Hargrave, in fact, that meditation is one of the exercises that he sees as necessary if one is to be successful with his methods. He writes,
“Your mind-hacking success rests largely with the seriousness and tenacity with which you approach [concentration training].”
In addition to meditating, you can also learn to be more mindful about how you’re spending your time by keeping a time journal. Every thirty minutes or an hour, make a quick note about what you’re working on.
At my day job, I do this by keeping a spreadsheet open in one of my browser tabs, and when I see that thirty minutes have passed, I make an entry about what I’ve been working on.
By simply writing down your activities, you hold yourself accountable for how you spend your time and are less likely to allow yourself to engage in activities like text messaging, checking social media, or mindlessly scrolling through your email.
It forces you to become mindful of your activities and present throughout your working hours.
The Takeaway: Use Your Time Wisely
By combining these approaches, your productivity is going to improve without the need for stimulants or expensive software.
Keep in mind, however, that this is a process– especially practicing mindfulness. Don’t expect yourself to become the epitome of efficiency overnight.
Instead, remember that you are investing in your long-term capacity to be productive and effective at the work that you do. In time, the changes you make now will have an enormous impact on your successes in the future.