A routine that uplifts & energizes can help you make productivity gains
Countless notifications ping as we complete an assignment. We multitask our way through quick tasks, hoping to squeeze out a few extra minutes. We schedule a day in advance, only to discover that the tasks take way longer than we’d anticipated. Emails and calls come at us non-stop, and we run circles putting out fires.
We all try to be more productive, but in today’s busy, distracted lifestyles, it seems harder than ever to get to the bottom of your to-do list. Even the meaning of “productivity” is elusive. Does it mean finishing everything on time, even if not everything on the list matters? In this article, we will look at what it means to increase productivity and how we can do that mindfully and sustainably by building a number of techniques into a daily routine.
What it means to be productive
In industrial terms, productivity is a measure of production. If your company manufactured four more cars this week compared to last week, your company’s productivity increased.
But we know that a quantity-over-quantity mindset isn’t always the best for the work we do. As a knowledge worker, what matters is the depth and value of your work, not the number of tasks you complete. You’re not an automaton, so don’t think or act like one.
That’s why it’s important to define your own personal concept of productivity, and ask—and answer—the following questions each time you sit down to tackle another work-related task:
- Is this my most important task right now?
- Am I adding value or just being busy?
- Am I simply letting urgency drive me?
- At the end of today, could I look back and say that I worked on what mattered most?
Since none of us are wired the same way, how we work also differs. Broadly speaking, there are four types of “Productivity Personalities”:
- The Prioritizer: She keeps her workspace in order and completes her tasks from most to least important. She believes that lack of time is really a lack of priorities.
- The Planner: He makes sure each step of a project is organized, sequenced, and clear before doing anything. He loves to ask “How should I get this done?”
- The Arranger: She’s the talkative encourager that follows her heart and intuition, even if it means sidetracking at times. She makes sure everyone is feeling and doing their best.
- The Visualizer: He’s the guy who breaks down different elements of a project, connecting the dots and coming up with ideas and solutions. He thrives under pressure.
Asking and answering the right questions, creating your own concept of productivity, and finding your productivity personality can help you escape the trap of toxic productivity
The culture of toxic productivity
Somewhere along the way, “do your best” started sounding more like “do all you can”. Toxic productivity, what we used to call “workaholism,” is defined as the drive to be constantly productive while sacrificing all other pursuits.
It’s a mindset that you must be constantly “doing.” You feel guilty when taking a break. You couldn’t turn your mind off and enjoy your rest even when you have to take a breather. Even when you’ve done enough, it never feels enough—you could have done more, or done it better.
Striving too hard to be productive can actually cause us to feel demotivated, resulting in procrastination, underperformance, or even burnout. Toxic productivity may also have a negative impact on mental health. And as more of us work at home, the lines between “work” and “home” are increasingly blurred, leading to an urge to be at work at all times to prove (to ourselves and to our colleagues) that we’re really “working”.
If the above paragraphs sound a bit too familiar, here are ways to combat toxic productivity:
- Focus on what’s important, not just what’s urgent, as outlined by the Eisenhower Matrix.
- Practice professional detachment, and remember you’re not your job.
- Schedule time to unplug, cultivate curiosity, and do absolutely nothing.
- Restore work-life balance by setting clear boundaries.
- Build restful breaks into your daily schedule.
Increase productivity: obstacles and solutions
A messy workplace acts as a productivity sapper in more than one way. Visually, it’s distracting and annoying. Plus, you’re always wasting time looking for misplaced items. And that’s just the beginning! Keep your desk clear except for what you need for the project you’re working on right now, and spend five to ten minutes at the end of each workday preparing your desk for the next day. Arriving at an orderly, ready-for-work desk in the morning could be a powerful boost to your productivity. A great sound system stocked with focus-inspiring music would also be helpful.
Our inboxes are notorious for being one of the “good” or “important” distractions we easily succumb to. After all, it’s how we communicate with coworkers and clients. But left unmanaged, the itch to refresh your inbox every minute spells unproductivity in big, capital letters. Even if you don’t think you suffer from inbox addiction, try setting dedicated times each day to process emails. Make folders to keep your inbox organized, and turn off social media notifications when you buckle down for a work session. Experimenting with the Pomodoro technique for inbox and work sessions may be a good idea.
We often work so hard that we forget to take care of what actually allows us to do our work—our minds and our bodies. Lack of sleep, proper exercise, and restful breaks all lower your productivity. Studies show that standing up and moving more enhances cognition, which helps you focus longer and think clearer. Taking naps, fixing your posture, and managing stress are also great ways to decrease the burden on your body and mind.
Sometimes emotional baggage and analysis paralysis (overthinking things to the point of nonaction) can hold us back from performing as well and as much as we could. Look out for symptoms of burnout, such as exhaustion, chronic stress, feelings of inadequacy, or feeling overwhelmed. Focus on what you can do, what you do have, and what actions you can take to keep moving forward.
Taking care of yourself in the morning ensures optimal performance for the rest of the day. Build a routine that uplifts your spirit, clears your mind, and fills you with energy. The key word here is “routine”—repetition creates good habits, which adds stability into your mornings and makes sure that the most important things are done first. Habits for a relaxed, refreshing morning include meditation, exercise, journaling, deep breathing, and eating a light but nutritious breakfast first thing in the morning.
We might think that pressure in a work culture would help workers accomplish more, but the hidden costs of this type of leadership show otherwise. Research demonstrates that excessive workplace stress is linked to health problems ranging from metabolic syndrome to heart disease. Disengagement from work—a deep, personal “I don’t care at all”— and decreased loyalty toward the company may result from being part of a non-supportive team. All this in turn lowers a company’s profitability and productivity over time.
Thus, a supportive work culture is paramount to increasing productivity. A positive culture is characterized by:
- Care for and interest in colleagues as friends.
- Kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
- Forgiveness when mistakes are made.
- Encouragement and inspiration for one another at work.
- Respect, gratitude, and trust for each other.
Everyone operates differently. As you go through the following productivity tips, pick out several techniques to experiment with, and see what works for you. Don’t treat these tips as a to-do list, use them more like a menu. Pick the techniques that appeal to you, try them out, and see which ones work to increase your productivity.
“Multitasking is not humanly possible,” says neuroscience professor Earl K. Miller.
Your brain cannot actually do two things at once: instead, it constantly shifts between the activities, reducing the quality of work, increasing stress levels, and wasting precious energy and time. Research demonstrates that monotasking (doing one thing at a time) actually helps you get more done.
Take care of the biggest tasks first
Go after the biggest, scariest task when you’re most alert. Once tackled, you would finish other assignments more quickly than you would have had, were the big scary task still looming over you. And don’t forget to treat yourself when you’ve conquered that big project!
If it takes two minutes or less, do it now
Entrepreneur Steve Olenski claims that completing quick tasks right away actually saves time. That’s because you won’t have to keep reminding yourself to deal with it later, and you won’t actually have to go back and finish that task.
Set up your workspace well
An orderly, distraction-free workspace that has everything you need for the project at hand and nothing else is crucial for productive work. Working from home doesn’t always mean a quiet office, however. If that’s your struggle, see if these tips for setting up a productive workspace could help.
Adopt the “One-Touch Rule”
Once it becomes a habit, this rule would simplify and streamline your work and life. The idea is to touch each thing that comes across your path only once. Whether it’s an email, an invoice, or an article draft, deal with it when you can give it your full attention—not before, not after. Doing this would drastically reduce the pile of half-finished tasks on your list.
A car can’t run on an empty gas tank—and neither can you. If there is not 7-9 hours of rest per 24-hour period in your daily routine, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Sleep affects your productivity, memory, and psychological health. Lack of sleep triggers your body’s “fight or flight” response, evoking high levels of stress and reducing your ability for optimal performance. If you struggle with this, maybe it’s time to start treating “getting more sleep” as a goal to reach.
Use focus tools
Apps and technology create tons of distractions, but they can also be tools to remove those distractions and improve time management. Relaxed yet upbeat music can gear up your mind and keep you in a focused, productive mindset. Blocking distracting websites increases your productivity when working online. Automation, organization, and calendar apps are all helpful in boosting productivity. But given the way our brain responds to exciting changes in our environment or new information (also known as distractions), it’s important to block digital distractions with apps like Freedom and use Focus Sounds to tune out distracting background noises and calm your mind.
Increase productivity with Freedom
While the personal aspect is important, there are a number of “tried and true” techniques to increase productivity that generally work well for most people. Through trial and error, you will be able to find the best approach for you. The fundamentals of productivity—mindful time management, good sleeping habits, a bullet-proof morning routine, a distraction-free workspace, and distraction blocking with apps like Freedom—may seem simple, but they’re powerful and life-changing.
Start small, pick one habit to change, and watch your productivity levels soar!