Whether you work at home or in the office, freelance or self-employed, it always helps to boost productivity on the job. However, some people hear the word “productivity” and jump straight to cups of coffee and cans of energy drinks. Unfortunately, true productivity takes more hard work than that.
It seems like this obsession with productivity is only getting more and more intense, so why is that? Well, it’s most likely down to our ongoing shift into the digital age. With new technology, we are able to accomplish a lot more in a given space of time than we would have been, say, 20 or 30 years ago. This has led us to take on life, including work, at an ever-faster pace - with an in-built expectation for greater productivity. If our phones, computers, and software can get the job done at an ever-quicker rate - we are often left feeling guilty, subconsciously asking why shouldn’t we do the same?
On top of that, modern technology has also given us the opportunity to far better track our working hours, and so too our “productivity.” Whereas in the past going to work simply meant clocking in and clocking out for most people, the modern digital age has given rise to all kinds of system trackers and analytic programs designed to monitor and report back to us on our productivity. How many keystrokes you hit, how often you move your mouse, and even how often you leave to go to the bathroom are all part of the analytics that many companies now expect to receive on their staff - all in the name of maximising so-called productivity.
But true productivity does not lie in constant observation or pressure - true productivity is a mindset and a practice. Just like a muscle, this practice can be trained by developing certain habits and routines. If you’re looking to up your productivity, welcome the following habits into your life:
1. Start your mornings right
I know it’s tempting, but trust me - stop yourself from reaching for the phone first thing in the morning. Your morning routine should be about you and you only. Wait until you’ve allowed yourself to enter the “work” state of mind before caving in to the temptation of checking notifications and catching up on work emails.
Make yourself a good breakfast, workout, meditate, or simply read the newspaper. This will ground you in yourself for the day to come and help you to accomplish your tasks without other people scattering your brain before you’ve had the chance to start the day. Make your mornings about you, and you’ll be surprised how much easier it becomes to keep focused throughout the day to follow.
2. Hardest work first
Rather than procrastinate the tough stuff, it’s best to tackle your most challenging tasks in the earlier portion of the day. The morning is when your brain is going to be most active, alert, and receptive to fresh ideas. After the lunch break, your brain and body will be devoting energy towards digestion and metabolising, which tends to make us feel a bit sluggish.
If you make a habit of getting the most challenging, time-consuming work out of the way first, you'll notice yourself being able to relax afterwards and enjoy your more simple tasks without the pressure of procrastination mounting on your shoulders as the day goes on.
3. Cut the multi tasking
For many of us, multi-tasking has become a staple of how we work. That being said, it’s a total productivity killer. Switching between ten active tasks at once tends to have the effect of slowing us down, rather than making us more efficient. Even if you have the pressure of multiple deadlines to meet all requirements at once, you’re better off tackling each individual task one at a time.
In addition to improving the speed at which you complete each individual project, focusing on completing one task at a time will give a continuous sense of achievement whenever you do manage to wrap up a given task. This little boost of dopamine can be a powerful driver to help you power through with the rest of your to-do list.
4. Shorten your to-do list
Speaking of to-do lists, they are often a double-edged sword when it comes to productivity. While keeping track of what’s on your plate is absolutely necessary in order to get stuff done, to-do lists can quickly become packed to the brim and end up more anxiety-inducing than anything else.
The trick of productive people is to keep their to-do lists limited to the truly important matters at hand. If there’s a task on your plate that needs to be done but is not quite urgent, don’t put it on the same list as the tasks that you have to accomplish immediately. Doing so will only serve to allow the most important tasks to get lost in a sea of responsibilities, the outcome of which is usually panic and procrastination.
True productivity is not about the speed at which we accomplish tasks, but rather how we break down our use of time and what we manage to achieve with each block we allocate. Compartmentalising your daily schedule, and learning to focus rather than panic, are the main habits that all productive people share with one another.