If you want to know how to be more productive , you’ll love this article. There can be little doubt that we live in the most distracting age yet. Focusing on the task you have to do can often seem like an uphill struggle and may even find yourself distracting yourself.
And yet, there are people out there who never seem to be affected by the distractions of the modern-age, such as social media, phones, emails, television and the like.
While being distracted and interrupted is natural and will always happen, whether it’s from work commitments, family and friends, engagements or simply having to go run daily household errands, there are many techniques you can apply in your life that can help you to overcome procrastination, focus more on your work or any other task, and get more done.
Procrastination can become a serious habit and can affect all types of people, leading to a sense of unfulfillment, the feeling of underachievement and more seriously, depression. It can produce low levels of performance and productivity ranging from such things as poor sales in business to an untidy home.
There are, however, some simple tools and methods for over-coming procrastination that I shall teach you in this article.
Whether you want to increase your performance at work and business, whether you are a creative artist who wishes they could get more done or whether you simply wish to get your home in order, the simple methods can and should be put into action immediately.
If you’re ready to become more productive, cut out distractions, achieve what you’ve been putting off for so long, read on…
How To Be More Productive In Life And At Work:
1 – Visualise the End
What is it that you want to achieve or create? Do you want to write a book? Do you want to declutter your house? Are you looking to start a business?
Having clear and defined goals will put you steps ahead of most other people. A lot of people have some idea of where they want to go and what they want to do, but they remain ideas only. Having a clearly defined goal gives you a target to aim for. Goals provide focal points for action.
Imagine a football player aiming for the goal during a game — the goal is in sight and he knows how to get there. There will be obstacles in his way which he will need to work around and avoid. Sometimes he won’t always be able to get past these obstacles, but with persistence and expertise, knowledge and skill he can work around his obstacles and reach his goal.
Imagine instead, if he only had an idea of where the goal was. Where would he aim? Would he be running and kicking in the right direction? Would he achieve his goal?
Having your goals set in stone gives you a place to aim. If you miss, it’s not necessarily because they are unachievable, it’s probably because you haven’t worked out a way in which to avoid or work past the obstacles.
It has been proven that those people who write down their goals have a much higher chance of achieving them than those who merely keep them in their head. The simple act of writing them down on paper means you have a physical and constant visual reminder that doesn’t disappear like your memory does. Your goals will exist in concrete form in the real world rather than the unreliable and abstract one of your imagination and memory.
2 – Start Now
Sometimes, the only thing stoping you beginning a task is yourself. You may have no distractions, you may have time, and you may have the tools you need readily available. But somehow, you just can’t find the will or the motivation to do the required task.
One way to combat this is to practice just doing it, of pushing yourself (no matter the circumstances) to work. Procrastination and laziness can become habits and the only way to break them is by just facing the task in hand, head on.
The problem is, that when you get used to not doing something, the habit of not doing something becomes the norm and you get used to that feeling — it becomes comfortable, but ultimately it leads to frustration and a lack of fulfilment. Not showing up and doing the work becomes too easy and so you try to avoid it, no matter the cost.
Often, it isn’t the task in hand itself that prevents you completing your work, but the thought of actually siting down and doing it that prevents you from even starting.
By getting into the habit of doing work regularly, you train your brain to consider it normal to work.
Getting used to procrastination will lead to an unhealthy mindset and destructiveness.
Sometimes, the best time to work is when you don’t feel like working. Ask yourself: If you could only ever work when you felt like working, how often would you actually work? The answer may very well be “not very often.”
People get worried about starting and end up putting things off not because they believe they can’t manage the work they have to do, but because they make excuses. They lead themselves into thinking that the work is too difficult or too time-consuming.
But, by tackling the task head-on and against all the odds can lead to a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that you can achieve anything, no matter the circumstances.
Do this many times over and not only will working become second nature, it will be enjoyable at the same time.
3 – Remove the Trivial
In David Cronenberg’s 1984 science fiction horror film The Fly, Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum), explains to Ronnie (played by Geena Davis), why he wears the same clothes everyday: “Learned it from Einstein. This way I don’t have to expand my thought on what I have to wear next, I just grab the next set on the rack.”
Although a fictional film, there is a truth and a lesson to be learned from this quote. Albert Einstein bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste valuable time and brain power on deciding what to wear each day.
Many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, businessmen and leaders have followed his example.
Steve Jobs’ image is forever blazoned in the mind of the common milieu wearing a black mock turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers — a marked contrast from the majority of highly visible businessmen. Barack Obama said in a Vanity Fair article that, “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have other decisions to make”.
Most people probably couldn’t wear the same clothes each day and wouldn’t entrust someone else to decide for them, but what other trivial matters could you eliminate from your life?
For example, you may find that you waste far too much time choosing what music to listen to when you work (if you listen to music whilst working, that is). Choosing what to listen to may eat into your working time. In order to counteract this, simply put aside some time one day to create a playlist of music that you like and hit play when you work.
You may also find that you waste a lot of time setting up your workspace, searching for and opening files, etc., when you should be working. Instead, make sure everything you need for the task in hand is open and ready for you before you begin.
If, for example, you want to bake a cake, make sure you have all your ingredients at hand and measured before you actually begin baking, rather than reaching into the cupboard to find the next ingredient every time you need to add something new.
What unessential distractions are you able to remove from your life?
Don’t let trivial matters hinder your workflow.
Don’t sideline important tasks with trivial matters.
Eliminate time wasting activities before you begin.
4 – Make Plans
When somebody plans a party or a holiday, they do so because these are not things that can easily be arranged at the last minute. Getting everything into place and making sure people are available takes time and organisation. Planning them in advance means that any arrangements can be made to ensure a smooth and successful process.
The same should be applied to your work. Planning what you are going to do next can put you steps ahead in your productivity.
Plan the emails you need to send or the phone calls you need to make. What tasks need to get done and when?
The more time and effort you put into planning your work, the easier and more productive you will become because you will have a map of where you need to go and what to achieve and less time will be spent on unessential tasks.
Planning ahead needn’t take a long time though, maybe just ten to fifteen minutes a day, but it could save you hours later on.
If something new arises during your day that will need time and attention delegated toward it later, schedule it as soon as possible.
When you are overwhelmed with your work it can be easy to remember to keep details logged, but remember that it is a very valuable asset.
It is advantageous to plan your day the night before. You will wake up knowing what you have to do during the day ahead and be filled with insights, motivation and great ideas.
Make different lists for different purposes.
Firstly, create a Master List of things you want to do in the future (you can sort the ideas out later). Your Master List is where you will store all the activities, notes, ideas, etc., you intend to do at some point in the future.
Secondly, create a Monthly List at the end of the current month for the month ahead (this can contain items from your Master List).
Lastly, have a Weekly List where you plan your week in advance. Your Weekly List is the one you will use and modify throughout the week as plan your following day.
For each day you should write down three important tasks, completing these in order of importance.
Planning your future, both the distant and near, can have a massive effect on your productivity.
The next time you have a project to complete or work to complete, make a list of the steps you need to take in order to bring the task to fruition. By doing this, you will feel more in control of your work.
Prioritisation and organisation of your notes is not a priority, organising them comes later. Your task at this point should be to to create a kind of “brain dump.”
By planning ahead your thinking will become clearer and your creativity will increase.
5 – Prioritise
Productivity and creativity isn’t a constant — it has ebb and flow, and you need to be ruthless in your prioritisation in order to complete your tasks.
If you have a task list (which you should), break it down into categories of importance. Which tasks can be got rid of altogether?
When you have a list of tasks to complete it can seem like they’re flashing a constant red light at you.
Steven Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests breaking down tasks into the following categories:
Quadrant I: Urgent and Important
Quadrant II: Not Urgent and Important
Quadrant III Urgent and Not Important
Quadrant IV: Not urgent and Not Important
If a task needs to be completed soon, then it is classed as urgent. What classes as an important task or a task that isn’t important is for you yourself to decide.
However, aim at first to complete the Quadrant I tasks in order that you don’t find yourself held back and being crushed down by deadlines.
Another method to prioritise your tasks is to make a list (upwards of 10 items), and circle the five that you think need your most attention, those that should be your primary focus. Everything else on the list (the non-circled tasks), should then be avoided until your five primary tasks have been completed.
After you have completed these tasks, add more items to your list and begin the process of circling again.
6 – Set Time Restrictions
By putting constraints on your time you can help yourself to focus. Making deadlines for yourself means you will be less inclined to procrastinate, and knowing you don’t have time to waste means you’ll get more done. Watching the clock can increase your productivity and focus your attention on the task in hand.
If someone told you that you had forty years to create a recognisable, successful and global brand what would you do? You’d plan ahead, right? You’d make short and long term plans and set dates in the future for when you’ll achieve those goals.
The problem is, most of us don’t have forty years left in which to achieve something. It’s certainly healthy to believe we have enough time to get everything done, but sometimes, it might be safer to just presume we don’t. I recently overhead a snippet of a conversation on the street that went: “It’s probably something I might do in the future”. That’s all I heard. I have no idea what the conversation was about, but I couldn’t help but think, “Why wait? Why not get started today?”
The point is that while you may not be looking at creating the next big thing, ask yourself what you would be doing if you knew that you didn’t have much time to do it in. Then ask yourself why aren’t you doing that thing right now?
Generally speaking though (and slightly more optimistically!), we do tend to overestimate the length of time it takes to complete a task.
Have you ever taken a long time to get through reading a book, only to find yourself whizzing through the last 100 pages? Or maybe you can remember furiously trying to complete essays at school or university in the final few hours before they were due in and then wondered why you didn’t get around to doing them sooner, spending more time on them? It’s because we give ourself a time limit
— we tell ourselves that this weekend we have to finish the book we’re reading or that we only have a few more hours before or assignment is due in.
The thought of completing a task can seem like a mammoth effort, but once we complete it we wonder what was so difficult about it in the first place.
Set time restrictions and your goal will be completed sooner rather than later allowing you to move on to the next task.
7 – Batch Similar Tasks
If your day consists of routine tasks such as answering emails, returning phone calls, entering expenses into a spreadsheet, etc., try batching them together into categories rather than attempting to complete those things at separate times or all mixed up into one block.
Batching means dedicating blocks of time to similar tasks in order to decrease our distraction levels thus increasing our productivity levels.
According to a study by University of California, Irvine “…people switch activities on average of every three minutes and five seconds.” Then, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”
Batching is about setting aside a specified amount of time for tasks and making a determined effort to disallow distractions that take us away from that focus.
Set a few times each day in which to complete these tasks. Batching tasks will help you free up your valuable time. For example, if you’ve been receiving a bunch of emails that you wish you could unsubscribe from or perhaps relegate to a certain folder, don’t deal with them as they come up, declutter and sort your inbox in one session
By completing similar tasks together you will be less inclined to switch from one thing to another.
Batching will ultimately make your life more simpler, less stressful and more streamlined.
Instead of scrambling to try and get a load of things done sporadically throughout the day or week, you do them all at the same time.
For example, maybe you write a blog. Rather than wait until the day of publishing your blog post to begin writing, why not write a few posts in a single day in order that you have your next few posts to publish ready beforehand?
Reducing your daily work clutter by task batching will improve your focus and help to rid you of distractions.
8 – Turn It Off
Constant interruptions and distractions are creativity and productivity killers. We live in a world that exposes us to a constant feed of information and noise that can gain control of our attention. Emails, social media alerts, phone calls can all have a detrimental affect on our work.
On the one hand they can make our lives easier, but on the other they can make it near impossible to produce any quantity or quality of work.
There is one person who can control that technology though, and that person is you. You are the one who can turn off your phone, your social media alerts and (if the work in question allows it), your entire Wi-fi connection.
To an extent, a lot human beings have convinced themselves that they need a mobile phone. More so than that, they have convinced themselves that is needs to be constantly turned on in case of emergencies. The truth is though, that most individuals are very rarely faced with the type of emergency that requires immediate action. When was the last time you had an emergency (of the life/death situation), to attend to?
When working, concentrate on the act of concentrating and save checking emails etc., for another time.
You could try temporarily deleting apps on your phone/tablet that tend to steal your attention. Try deleting things like the Facebook or Twitter apps from your phone/tablet for a few hours — your information will still be there when you download it again. Basically, when you’re working or studying, if something isn’t necessary in helping you complete your task, get rid of it.
There are several apps and software programs readily available that block or limit the amount of time you spend on certain websites or applications.
It is important to remember that distractions (particularly those in the 21st Century), are inevitable, and that you’ll eventually have to break your concentration. Take control both of your intentional and unintentional distractions.
Set time windows throughout the day when you will attend to answering emails, making phone calls..
It is also important to remember that our lives are not measured by the number of ‘Likes’, followers or views that we have, but by the work we produce and by the value we give.
9 – The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was devised in the 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, and has become one of the most popular and effective time management techniques used today.
Using the Pomodoro Technique enables the user to maintain maximum creativity and freshness, enabling them to work with more clarity and with less mental fatigue.
The Pomodoro Technique is a simple one, in which you divide your time into short segments and take a break periodically. Ideally, you work for twenty-five minutes and then break for five.
Each block of working time (called Pomodoros, after the Italian for tomato – Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer as a university student), should demand your full attention on the task, while each 5 minute break requires you to completely break away and rest from your work.
A simple but effective technique, before proceeding to use the Pomodoro Technique one should take five minutes or so to plan their day. Work out your tasks and how many sessions they will require.
Begin your first task and focus on working hard for the next twenty-five minutes. If any other ideas pop into your head during this time, mark them on paper to sort out and work on later. If you complete your task before the timer sounds, work on another, short task.
After the twenty-five minutes has elapsed, take a short break of five minutes. Move away from your workspace, get a refreshment or take a short walk. After this, begin working again for twenty-five minutes.
After four sessions have passed take a longer break of around fifteen minutes and then begin the process again.
The frequent breaks keep your brain focused, and the short amount of working time means that your brain doesn’t get too overworked. The breaks will also help make larger tasks seem less overwhelming.
Regular breaks from your work is not as counter-productive as you may think. It will help you keep your focus and concentration levels high.
Be aware that this method may not suit everyone as they may find the breaks too distracting. You may find that you prefer to work for an hour or ninety minutes and then take a break. Ultimately, what the Pomodoro Technique propagates is that tasks are more ably achieved when broken down into smaller chunks and that routine is an essential part of productivity.
10 – Manage Your Space and Declutter
One way your can change your productive behaviour is to change your working environment. Your space should be a pleasant and comfortable place to work in, free from clutter and unnecessary items.
Your workspace should be a bright and airy place in order to improve your overall mood and well-being.
Albert Einstein once said that, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”. However, excessive and unnecessary clutter in your work space will have a negative impact and will affect your ability to focus. Having too much clutter in your workspace competes for your attention in the way that multitasking does. Putting a system in place to deal with incoming clutter, both digital and physical, will help you to work more efficiently and help to maintain time management.
A lot of people can easily lose up to an hour every day searching for and organising their workspace.
Clear your space, have a clock in sight to keep control of your time and organise the tools and equipment you need.
Conduct a monthly review of sorts of your space and set aside time to clean and organise.
Studies have shown that people exposed to more natural light than those who don’t achieve more effective activity and get more efficient sleep than those who work darker conditions.
Studies have also shown that incorporating plants into the workplace can increase productivity by up to 15%. A small fern or cactus at your desk is all that is needed.
Music can also be beneficial to your productivity. However, if you choose to listen to music when you work, be aware that unless it’s a task you perform on a regular basis and are used to doing, then music can actually decrease production levels.
Try experimenting with different colours in your space. The colour of your furniture and walls can influence your productivity. Blue and green and yellow are great for generating new ideas, red is great for doing something physical and green is calming and reassuring. Historically, a ‘green room’ is a term applied to rooms as such that functioned as a waiting room for actors before a performance, as a calming and restful environment.
In relation to the earlier point on planning make sure your workspace is set up, easy to manage and with everything you need accessible before you begin, rather than afterwards. This will help you to immediately focus on the work you need to do rather than waste precious time organising.
11 – The 80/20 Rule
Hailing from the world of economics, the Pareto principle (better known as the 80/20 rule), states that, for many actions, around 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
For example, in business, it is often said that 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients. What this means in terms of productivity is that 80% of your outcome comes from 20% of your actions.
Whether this statistic is precise or not, the most important thing to remember is that there are certain amount of actions you take (the 20%) that account for the majority of the results (the 80%).
It is easy for us to waste time on activities that produce little effect when we could be doing work that produces more value, be it financial, emotional, educational, etc.
For example, in business, that could mean spending too much time buying supplies rather than emailing the right people, in general life that could mean finding the 20% of hobbies or entertainment that you get the most enjoyment out of, or the 20% of people you’re close to who make you the happiest or the 20% of the food you eat.
If you break down your life, you’ll find 80/20 ratios everywhere. Once you’ve identified the key productivity determinants, your task is to take all the 20% ingredients and make work together and in harmony, and then to avoid spending time on the 80% of activities that produce little and are unfulfilling.
In a nutshell, living life by the 80/20 rule tells you to focus your energies on that which you enjoy. Find out what you are good at, find out the activities that produce the most results for you and focus on putting your energy into those activities where you will get the most rewards, be it in business, your personal creative projects or your family and home life.
12 – Reflect and Review
It can become very easy to complete a large amount of work and then forget to take stock of it.
Analysing that which we have achieved is crucial to a deeper understanding of what methods of productivity work for you and what doesn’t.
Keeping a work diary is an excellent way of keeping track of your progress, your tasks executed, your tasks uncompleted and your setbacks. Make a note at the end of each day of what you have achieved that day as well as any errors or failing. You can do a self-review of your log at a later date (maybe at the end of the week or month), in order to gain a better perspective of your progress over a period of time.
Reviewing your work at the end of a week or month is ideal because, during the average week, unscheduled commitments and other surprise problems will inevitably arise that will need to be taken into account and assessed.
Gather every note, email, bill, etc., and anything else you may not have remembered to collect during the week and evaluate everything. Compartmentalise it, mark what has been completed and what hasn’t. Ask yourself what needs more commitment or time during the following week and make sure you have a plan in place for the action required.
Find out what works and mark it on your calendar. What can be improved, what can be got rid of?
What can be done in two minutes? What needs several hours of time?
Which tasks have the most positive and greater long-term effects? Which tasks will be more beneficial in the long term, even if they give no immediate results?
Mark all these on your calendar, making sure that you use your calendar for things that you absolutely must do, rather than just the things you want or may do.
13 – Mind Mapping
The phrase Mind Mapping was popularised in the mid-1970’s by psychology author Tony Buzan, who developed the system.
Mind Mapping is a technique in which one captures information and it can be used in your studying, business and personal life, amongst others.
Mind Mapping can be used for a variety of tasks, including organisation, project management and teaching.
To make a Mind Map you will need a piece of A4 paper (or larger), and at least three coloured pens or pencils.
At the centre of your sheet of paper (in landscape), write in capital letters or draw an image that captures and represents the central idea. It is important to position your idea in the centre of the page as it gives you plenty of space in which to complete your Mind Map.
Then, draw branches radiating from your central idea (these should be curved, not straight, for the simple reason that it is more enjoyable and pleasant to look at).
At the end of each of these branches, write down the words that you can think of that are associated with your central idea. For example, if your central idea was ‘New Car’, your associated words could be performance, interior, colour, seating etc. Similarly, if your central idea was ‘New Novel’ your associated words could be, theme, style, structure, characters, etc.
Then, repeat the process, continually drawing branching lines emanating from your associated words to other associated words, and so on.
It is important to use as many colours as possible, although one colour is usually used for each main branch in order to avoid confusion. That is (using the example of New Novel as our central idea), if the branch for ‘characters’ is red, then the branches emanating from that word should be red too, and so on.
Thank you for reading this article about how to be more productive and I really hope that you take action my advice. I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.