If you’ve been on my blog before, you know I’m a huge fan of habits. I’ve spent a few years working on developing good habits and replacing my less-than-stellar habits with them. Sure, they’ve slipped a little in recent times, but for the most part, I stick with ’em (and if I can, anyone really, truly can).
Recently, I’ve decided to take a crack at addressing somewhere I struggle with terribly at times: productivity. We live in a distracted world, yet we all feel burdened by constant work. When I hear the words “productivity” I honestly feel a little annoyed. It’s a word companies use to work their employees to death, right? Wrong. Turns out you can use productivity to your advantage, as well as your employer (if you have one). If you’re self-employed, all the better. Think of productivity like this: focusing on getting the necessary things done so you have time for whatever you want. To start on my productivity journey, I did what anyone would do: I read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Technically, I listened to it because, well, productivity, right?
Productivity is focusing on getting the necessary things done so you have time for whatever you want
I cannot recommend this book enough. Already, it has changed both how I view work and how I get work done. It’s helping me map out what I want in life and actually set attainable goals for myself. It’s helping me set boundaries with anyone I work with, with my social life (haha, that was a joke), and with media in general. If you read, listen to, or otherwise consume no other book this year, this should absolutely be the one you choose.
Results of my increased productivity
Before we start, I want to talk about my own (bad) habits and how taking these lessons from 4-Hour Workweek has transformed how I work and live. I read this book at just the right time. I was about to start working on a new temporary project where I would need to be part of a team of people again, during regular work hours. After a year of freelancing and working on my own time, I was dreading working the ol’ 9-5 again. How could I still work on the blog? Or just enjoy my free time now that the weather was warming up? Productivity to the rescue!
Right now, the part of the project I am working on (alone) is 2 weeks ahead of schedule. 2 weeks! Sure, a bit of that time was buffer time, but I have remained consistently ahead of schedule. The best thing? I haven’t worked over my hours one bit. I’ve also had time to work on the blog and do some outdoor things as well. Most of all: I haven’t felt stressed out. At all. That alone is my “why” for increasing productivity. Deadlines suck. I hate them. I’m one of those people who could probably be defined as a “master procrastinator.” I will find every other thing to do but the thing I need to do, until the last minute. We could get into the psychology of that, but I’ll let this TED Talk handle it. That master procrastinator is behind me now, though! Read on for the 3 keys to increased productivity that helped me.
Do one thing at a time. Seriously.
Our modern era has made us all into constant multitaskers. And it’s bad, very bad. Not only for our brains but for our habits as well. Does doing 10 things at once increase our productivity? Of course not. It just overwhelms us so we can’t focus on the things that need to get done. For some reason, I always thought productivity meant being better at multitasking. This is completely opposite of what increases productivity.
Start with a list. A small list. No more mile-long to-do lists. I’ve been there – I used to have 20 items on to-do list every day. Why? Maybe subconsciously I wanted to overwhelm myself. At the end of the day, I’d only have maybe half of that list checked and feel bad about the work I did in a day. Maybe you’ve been there, maybe you haven’t, but you’re making a small list now. Add the top 2-3 big-ticket tasks for the day. If you really only have one, just put the one. Resist your need to fill the list up. Keep it to a max of 3.
This key is as simple as taking your small list of items and focusing on only one thing on that list at a time. That’s it. It seems so simple, yet it’s such a challenge. We are constantly seeking stimulation and sticking to the one item at a time on your list will feel hard at first. Until you reach your reward – finishing tasks that would usually take you much, much longer to complete. Honestly, after being chronically disappointed in my own performance, completing tasks twice as fast or twice as early as predicted feels AMAZING. This alone will keep you on the path of one thing at a time-ness.
Eliminate. ALL. Distractions
Yeah, yeah. You knew this one was coming. We are too addicted to our phones. And we’re too addicted to other people being addicted to their phones. One thing I hate about living in this century is that everyone expects you to be available at a drop of a hat. This is just silly. You absolutely need time set aside where you can focus on other things and eliminate your phone from that equation completely.
You heard me: eliminate your phone. No, don’t chuck it into the ocean, but do turn the sound off and have it in another room for a period of time during the day for most of the day. Here’s what I do: I don’t sleep with my phone in the room (get an alarm clock). Not only does this help me sleep, but it prevents me from inevitably starting my day and ending my day on my phone. This is so good for your sleep and productivity. I keep my phone charged in a different room of the house from where I sleep and where I work. It is on silent – always. Every day at noon or whenever I take lunch, I spend a few minutes making sure I’m not missing anything big, checking email, etc. I then put my phone back, not to be touched until work is over.
Eliminate other distractions, too. You can use Chrome extensions to block your access to social media sites where you waste time. Don’t have a bajillion social apps constantly notifying you of everything. This reduces stress so much. I now only have notifications on for two things: email and the weather. You will find a distraction-less environment perfect for productivity. It eliminates the stress, the addictions, and, well, the distractions for actually doing work. And it will feel more rewarding to finish the work.
Batch work for increased productivity
This tip is extremely useful for those who are self-employed or who side hustle, but the lesson works well for regular-employed folks as well. Batch your work, batch all your work. Batch everything! Now, I want some cookies. Okay, maybe don’t batch things like bathroom breaks or workouts, but batch everything else.
What do I mean? Let’s use an example of a blogger who works full-time with something that’s not blogging. That’s just an example I thought of in my head, not sure where the idea came from. On a designated date and time, this blogger could write all the blogs for the week or month and schedule them accordingly. Then, they could make all the marketing assets for their blog on another date and time and schedule those. If you need to log time for work, log it all at once. Do all your administrative tasks all at the same designated time. Group all similar work at a designated time.
Why? The Zone. If you are constantly doing separate tasks throughout the day, your brain is having to switch back and forth between tasks. It’s hard to get in the zone when you’re constantly switching like this. Your brain focuses better if you continue doing the task or a similar task as you were doing, therefore increasing productivity. If a blogger who works full-time is writing a blog in the morning, working during the day, then making marketing assets after work, that’s fine. It is not, however, using time as efficiently as it could. Imagine this other scenario: it’s Friday night, work is over and your business is basically running itself because you’ve batched your work and everything’s done. Doesn’t that sound nice? Done.
Final words on increased productivity
Like most things involving your brain or in life, working on these key habits for increasing productivity takes practice. You’re not going to be perfect. There will be some days where it’s really easy and you’re getting a lot done and you feel like you’re flying through the air and other days where you fall flat. The main thing is to keep a clear vision of why you want to increase your productivity in the first place.
We’ve been taught that we need to extend our workday as long as possible through rigid schedules. Even as young children, we are required to learn within a set parameter of time. Could we have learned more in a shorter period of time? Probably. Can we get all our work done in a shorter period of time as well? Absolutely. If working in a more productive state without a clear goal or reason in mind, you will subconsciously go back to what you’ve always known: extending work to drag on for the entire workday (or longer). So keep your “why” in mind. Your why could be anything: to have more time to go on walks or workout, to learn something new, to spend time with your family, to work on your business or life passion. Whatever you’re clearing up your time for, keep reminding yourself of your why and keep your goals and visions clear.
Productivity away, my friends!