Do you feel increasingly pressed for time and overwhelmed with every passing day?
If every day has the same 24 hours, why do we feel like we are getting less and less done?
There are several reasons for this, but they all come down to the same thing – lack of productivity.
If you get distracted by your phone every few minutes, feel too tired to do the things you know you should do, or feel like your life lacks meaning, this article is for you.
Read on to learn why productivity is essential (in all areas of life) and the best science-backed strategies for becoming more productive.
Definition Of Productivity
Nowadays, productivity is a buzzword, but what exactly does it mean? Productivity can mean different things in different contexts, but it is generally a measure of performance.
Being productive means using your time wisely and doing things efficiently and consistently. It comes from a combination of intention, organization, and self-discipline.
Many people think that productivity is measured by how much you get done in a day, week, or work shift. However, it is rather the art of achieving more with less.
So yes, sitting around procrastinating and watching cute kitten videos on Instagram is not productive. But forcing yourself to sit at your laptop and work for 12 hours straight, seven days a week, isn’t either.
The Importance Of Productivity
While productivity is mainly discussed in the workplace, it can positively benefit all aspects of our lives. Let’s explore where we should seek to be more productive and why.
Being productive in your work can mean less stress, happier employers and clients, and the potential to earn more money.
If you’re an employee, you may think, “I have to be in the office for 8 hours a day regardless, so it doesn’t matter how I get my work done.” However, implementing more efficient methods will make you less likely to experience high-stress days where you struggle to complete your workload by 5 pm.
Productivity is even more critical if you’re a freelancer or business owner. The more productive you are, the higher your income and business success.
Let’s say you’re a social media manager who gets a fixed rate for a project. The output of that project entirely depends on how long it takes you. By planning the project thoroughly and using systems, you’ll likely complete it much quicker, resulting in a higher per-hour rate.
Unproductive people leave work and spend their evenings watching yet another Netflix series. While this may feel comforting after a long and stressful day, it doesn’t help you grow as a person.
On the other hand, productive people maximize their free time by eliminating distractions and practicing self-discipline. They have a clear goal to better themselves, so they use their free time to learn new skills, journal, practice mindfulness, or set goals.
In The Community
Productivity does not just benefit us. When we use our time wisely, we can help others grow as well as ourselves. We have more time and energy to support that friend in need, take care of the environment, and help out in the community.
Most of us have a cause close to our hearts, yet we often feel we don’t have the time to help out. But the truth is, we’re probably spending our time unwisely, and if we implement more productivity strategies, we will find we have more time to make a difference.
6 Ways To Spend Your Time Being More Productive
Being productive is about using your time wisely. To determine whether your actions are wise or unwise, ask yourself, “Am I spending my time with intent?”
We all have different intentions and values, so there are no hard and fast rules of what is productive and what is not. Still, here are six ideas for using your time productively. Take the ones that resonate most with you and implement them into your life.
- Volunteer In Your Local Community
Volunteering is an incredibly productive way to spend your time. An hour volunteering at your local animal shelter is 10 times more meaningful than an hour of scrolling on your phone.
Of course, when dedicating your time to helping others, be sure to choose a cause you feel passionate about. For me, it is helping stray cats and kittens, but for you, this could be joining the local committee to make your town greener or spending time with residents in a care home.
Using your time to help a cause you feel passionate about increases feelings of purpose, self-worth, and overall life satisfaction. One American Psychological Association study also found that volunteering can extend your lifespan.
- Learn Something New That You Can Use In Your Life
Education and productivity go hand in hand for several reasons. Reading books about productivity can help you learn strategies to use your time more wisely while learning a new skill can make your work or home life more efficient.
One relevant example is the use of AI in the workplace. Understanding AI and how it works could reduce errors and time spent on tasks, which increases your productivity and frees up your time.
Learning does not only come from studying, either. Watching motivational Youtube videos is a form of learning as it challenges your beliefs, changes your perspective, and increases your confidence.
One study by Manchester Metropolitan University measured the effects of motivational videos on the self-efficacy of American football players. They found that watching motivational videos quickly and significantly increased their performance.
- Build Your Social Network (In Person)
You may think that socializing is not a smart way to spend your time as it could prevent you from doing ‘more important’ tasks. However, science has found that building and nurturing our (in-person) social network benefits us in many ways, including boosting our productivity.
Meeting new people and deepening connections with others encourages new ideas and increases creativity. So while you may think you should not meet a friend because you have to finish a difficult project, taking a social break could help you complete it faster as you will return to it with a fresh perspective.
Building your social network can also open up collaboration opportunities, enhancing productivity further.
- Relax: Recharge Your Brain
When you hear the word productivity, you likely think of action rather than relaxation.
Society has taught us that the busier we are, the more productive we are, but this is not true. When we do everything at 100 mph, work 16-hour days, and never take a vacation, there is only one destination we are heading to – burnout. And burnout is a place where productivity is impossible to cultivate.
Taking time to recharge is essential to avoiding burnout. But by relaxing, I don’t mean laying in bed and scrolling through your social media feeds or working your way through an entire Netflix series in one weekend. There is productive relaxation and unproductive relaxation.
Activities like meditating and walking in nature are productive ways to relax as they do more than de-stress us. Unlike watching Netflix and playing video games, productive relaxation activities benefit us in many ways, such as improving concentration and promoting better sleep.
- Journal: Spend Time Reflecting & Being Grateful
Like recharging, taking time to reflect is essential for maintaining high productivity. Journaling can help you find clarity and solutions to problems by putting your scattered thoughts onto paper. It allows you to monitor your process, get clear on what you want, and let go of any anxious energy.
If you struggle to put your thoughts into words, start small by recording your gratitude. Write down three things you feel grateful for each day. It will only take a minute or two, but the benefits will be huge.
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, conducted a series of studies on people who keep gratitude journals. He found that grateful people think more positively, deal better with adversity, and are generally more alert and well-rested.
- Get Organized
As productivity is all about good organization, one of the easiest ways to become more efficient in your work or home life is to get organized. If you want to improve productivity at home, get spring cleaning.
Research shows the visual distraction of clutter causes cognitive overload and lowers focus. To cultivate productivity, we must ensure our brains are in top form. And as our brains like order, we can improve our brain functioning by creating an organized environment.
Organizing your finances can have the same effect. While it’s not a visual distraction, poor money management causes stress and anxiety, which lowers our energy and draws our focus away from our goals.
Common Barriers To Productivity
Now, I know what you’re thinking – being productive is easier said than done. While that may be true, certain lifestyle choices can make productivity more challenging. Understanding the common barriers and knowing how to overcome them will make the road to efficiency much easier.
Excess Social Media Usage / Screen Time
Your biggest productivity killer is likely the device you are reading this article on. Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful things about the internet and social media, but having 24/7 access to it at our fingertips can be incredibly distracting.
Having your phone next to you while working on your laptop is one of the worst things you can do. Instead, keep your phone on silent in another part of the room, ideally somewhere hidden.
If your social media addiction prevents you from being productive at home, I recommend setting screen time limits or blocks on your phone. Many great apps allow you to do this. I have mine set up to block all notifications and access to apps for the first hour after I wake up so that I don’t get distracted from my morning routine.
One productivity killer that may surprise you is your diet. Yes, that’s right, the type of food you put into your body (along with when you eat) can positively or negatively affect your productivity.
A study by Population Health Management was carried out on almost 20,000 employers in America. The results found that people with a poor diet were up to 66% more likely to experience low productivity than those who consumed nutritious foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
High alcohol consumption is even worse than a poor diet when it comes to productivity. When we drink alcohol, the messages between our brain and body slow down, reducing many cognitive functions such as problem-solving and concentration.
If you work from home, you might see sipping a beer while sending emails as a perk to remote work life. However, research shows that drinking while working and working while hungover both cause impaired work performance. So it’s best to keep those beers for once you’ve finished all your work tasks!
Strategies To Improve Productivity
Along with removing distractions and fueling your body correctly, there are MANY productive strategies. In fact, there are so many different strategies listed online nowadays that knowing where to start can be overwhelming.
As someone who has had a keen interest in productivity for many years (and tried plenty of different strategies), I’m sharing the methods I’ve found to be the most successful.
Time Management Techniques
Managing your time is essential when it comes to having a productive day. Without good time management skills, it’s easy for the day to “run away” before you’ve even ticked off the first item on your to-do list.
Talking of to-do lists, while this is one of the most well-known organizational methods, it is not the most efficient. Here’s what I recommend doing instead.
The problem with to-do lists is that there is no way to determine the most urgent and important actions. This is why I recommend prioritizing your tasks using the 4 Ds method.
This simple yet efficient technique helps you determine what tasks you should do now, which ones you should delegate, which ones you can defer until later, and which ones you can delete altogether. This way, you can focus solely on the most critical tasks rather than getting distracted by those with no importance.
Once you know which tasks to focus on, use time blocking to put them into your schedule. I have been scheduling my days with the time-blocking method for several years now, and I am hooked!
It works by dividing your day into blocks of time. Each block then becomes the dedicated time to accomplish one task or group of actions. I find this insanely helpful with managing multiple projects and ensuring I dedicate time to everything needed. It also saves me from getting distracted by the many interruptions that come my way.
Another reason I like time-blocking so much is because it allows me to focus on one thing at a time. Despite all the hype around multitasking, recent studies show that it actually hinders our productivity and performance.
Specifically, science shows that when our brains constantly shift back and forth between tasks, we become less efficient and make more mistakes. Psychologist and professor David Meyer at the University of Michigan also found through his research that multitasking can reduce productive time by up to 40%.
Along with better managing our time, making changes to our lifestyle can improve productivity.
Change Your Habits
Did you know your habits could be slowing you down and stifling your creative and logistical thinking powers? One example is perfectionism which can cause you to go over a task multiple times when it was fine the first time.
Other bad habits that stifle productivity and promote distraction include:
- Keeping the TV on in the background while working or doing household chores
- Checking your phone first thing in the morning
- Hitting the snooze button every morning
The first step to changing your bad habits is to recognize them. Then, change them to healthier habits rather than try to eliminate them. For example, if checking your phone as soon as you wake up has become routine, create a new and healthier ritual like journaling, meditating, or sitting outside with a cup of coffee in hand (instead of your phone).
Unlock The Power Of Saying “No”
People pleasers, listen up! To master productivity, you must learn to say no to the constant requests from others.
Yes, I know dismissing someone’s request for help can feel uncomfortable, but taking on more than you can handle always ends badly. Not only will you run out of time and not get your most important tasks done, but you’ll also create unnecessary stress for yourself, negatively impacting your energy and mindset.
The best way to break free from people-pleasing tendencies is to be honest with yourself and them. If you get an uncomfortable feeling when someone asks you to do something, or you know you don’t have the capacity, just be honest and say that. Or, if you don’t want to say a definite no, tell them to come back later when you’re less busy.
Mindset And Motivation
One of the most common struggles people have with productivity is maintaining it. Cultivating a solid mindset and consistent motivation is essential to preventing productivity dips.
Think Realistically & Anticipate Roadblocks
One way to avoid fleeting motivation is to set realistic expectations. If you’ve always struggled to be productive, don’t assume you’ll suddenly become the most efficient worker in your company just by trying a new technique.
Instead, accept that there will be challenges along the way and anticipate those roadblocks. For example, let’s say you work from home and know you get distracted when your kids come home from school. Look for a solution to that roadblock or accept that the hours or 3 to 5 pm won’t be your most productive time and focus on being efficient during other times.
Avoid Comparing Yourself To Others
We all know people who make being productive look easy; they smash new goals every day and never tire. Comparing yourself to others can be extremely discouraging and make us feel guilty about our lack of productivity.
But remember, we all have different capacities, which determine our productivity potential. Not everyone can sit at a desk for 8 hours straight and tick off 100 tasks on their to-do list, and that’s ok. Rather than comparing yourself to others, uncover your own strengths and use them to your advantage to become more efficient.
Final Thoughts: Spending Your Time
Productivity is not something we can master in a day. Instead, we find it through trying and testing different strategies and discovering the ones that work for us.
Still, the best way to ensure you’re using your time productively is to question everything you do. Get into the habit of asking yourself, “Is this the best way to use my time right now?” This simple question will keep you focused on your goals and immune to distractions.
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