Productivity Requires the Right Mentality
“Time is actually not intangible; it is concrete and measurable. You can compare [organizing time] to organizing a closet. There’s a limited amount of space that is oftentimes crammed with way too much stuff that you can possibly fit,” explains Julie Morgenstern, organizing and productivity consultant and author of Time to Parent, in Time magazine.
In other words, being more productive is just a matter of figuring out how to accomplish more in less time. That may sound obvious, but that’s only because the implications of that statement are difficult to appreciate.
If you wanted to organize your closet to fit more clothes, you wouldn’t just let your shirts, pants, and socks lie in a large pile. You would figure out the best place for each item of clothing and diligently put everything where it should be. Similarly, you can’t just let your tasks and goals sit on your to-do list, choosing them without any rhyme or reason. You need a strategy, and the following three ways how to be more productive in life are here to help you create one.
7 Ways to Be More Productive
Entire books have been written on the topic of being more productive, and it would be impossible for this article to list each and every piece of advice that’s out there, on bookshelves, blogs, and online forums. Instead, we’ve selected the top 7 ways to be more productive that you can implement right now and instantly see huge results, and here they are.
1. Start Every Day by Eating a Frog
“Eat That Frog” is a title of a self-help book by Brian Tracy, an incredibly popular Canadian-American motivational public speaker and self-development author. In the book, Tracy explains the importance of accomplishing the most difficult task of the day first to get it out of the way before you deal with smaller tasks.
“You must develop the routine of ‘eating your frog’ before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it,” writes Tracy, who understands that productivity isn’t about how many things you checked off your list but about the results you were able to achieve in the time you had. You should always expect life to get in the way, and you’ll be much better off with the most difficult tasks already accomplished when it inevitably does.
2. Always Have a Plan
Professional chess players think 10 to 15 moves ahead while forming abstract plans and calculating concrete variations. You don’t need to meticulously plan every minute of your life, but you should know what you want to accomplish some time before the time for accomplishing that thing comes. The more days you plan ahead, the easier it is to make adjustments to your schedule and deal with the unexpected surprises life likes to throw at us every now and then.
There are many different tools that can help you create a plan, from a simple paper planner to sophisticated software applications with a myriad of different features, but only you can decide which of them works best for you. If you’re happy with a paper planner, keep using it but keep an eye out for other options as well.
3. Curb Your Perfectionism
Perfectionism is an enemy of productivity. We would all like to write flawless emails, release bug-free software, and come up with products that don’t need any improvement. The truth is that we all make mistakes and work best when we accept this fact and refuse to let it bring our productivity to a crawl.
Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life, writes Brené Brown, the author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
If you’ve been born with the mindset of a perfectionist, it won’t be easy for you to change your ways and become at peace with imperfection, but it’s well worth the effort.
4. Focus on Just One Task at a Time
We like to praise our computers and mobile devices for the ability to multitask, but humans are not machines—we can't truly work on two different things at the same time. Just try reading an email while being on the phone with someone. Instead of performing both of these tasks simultaneously, you'll inevitably find yourself rapidly shifting your focus between the two tasks.
The problem is that there's a cost to switching focus between tasks, and that cost is lost productivity. If you want to accomplish as much as possible with the time you have, you should focus on just one task at a time and eliminate all distractions that might prevent you from being productive.
Turn off your email notifications, put your smartphone in silent mode, and use headphones to cover up distracting noises around you. Initially, you might find it difficult to maintain focus for more than just a couple of minutes, but that's only because you're used to inefficient multitasking.
Give it some time, and it won't take long before you'll be able to maintain focus on any task for as long as you want.
5. Work During Your Peak Hours
According to chronobiologist Dr. Richard Coleman, about 10 percent of the population are extreme owls or extreme early birds. Such people often find themselves at a disadvantage compared with their coworkers because they find it impossible to achieve peak productivity during regular work hours (or at least a good chunk of them).
If that sounds like you, your goal should be to move the most difficult tasks you need to accomplish as close to your peak hours as possible. So, if you're an early bird, you should start your day with the most challenging tasks that you can find on your to-do list. On the other hand, you should take your time and work on easier tasks first before you take on the first challenging task if you know that you naturally perform better later in the day.
The good news is that most of us are somewhere in between the two extremes. What's more, you might be able to move your peak hours with certain lifestyle changes, such as by going to bed earlier or quitting coffee.
6. Use Technology to Improve Your Productivity
When it comes to being more productive, technology can be both your biggest ally and your greatest enemy—it all depends on how you use it. The last thing you want is to surround yourself with distracting devices that don’t help you get things done faster or easier.
If you don’t really need your smartphone while at work because you communicate with your colleagues on Slack, why not turn it off or at least turn on the silent mode? Likewise, if you don’t need to immediately respond to emails, why keep email notifications on all the time?
In Windows 10 and Windows 11, you can minimize or completely stop notifications when you need to stay focused using the Focus Assist feature (called Quiet Hours in earlier versions of Windows 10). You can do the same on macOS using the Do Not Disturb feature, which can be accessed directly from the Notifications tray or System Preferences.
There are also many productivity apps for desktop computers (you can check our review of the best productivity apps for Mac) and mobile devices alike, including time trackers like Toggle, task organizers like Todoist, and automation solutions like IFTTT. When used wisely, these and other apps can do wonders for your productivity.
7. Learn to Say No More Often
In life and business, the ability to say no is essential, especially when it comes to saying no to doing things you don’t want to do. The less you have to do, the more time you can spend being productive and focusing on your priorities.
When you find yourself in a situation when you want to say “no,” it’s best to just say it, instead of beating around the bush. Be assertive and don’t be afraid to set firm boundaries. After all, your time is the most valuable thing you have in life, and nobody deserves it more than you do.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to cushion your negative answer with kindness. Even something as simple as, “Thank you for the great opportunity, but I really don’t have time for it at the moment,” is much better than, “Sorry, but I’m not interested.”
If possible, avoid burning any bridges because an opportunity that doesn’t sound too appealing right now may be just what you need in the future.
How to be More Productive Working from Home
Working from home can be a challenge, especially if you're naturally more productive in the office setting, with coworkers all around you and your boss breathing down your neck. However, there are several simple things you can do to stay productive when you work from home:
- Start early: They say that the early bird gets the worm, and we definitely agree. When working from home, resist the temptation to sleep until noon (unless you're a night owl!) and force yourself to sit behind the computer as soon as you can. By completing a task early in the day, you'll be more motivated to continue being productive for the rest of the day.
- Have a dedicated workspace: It's easy to underestimate the importance of a dedicated workspace until you find yourself without one. When working from home, a dedicated workspace helps you separate your home life from work and motivates you to work when it's time to work. If you don't have a spare room that you could turn into a home office, you can improvise and use a room divider to create a work corner in your bedroom or living room.
- Maintain regular work hours: One of the many perks of working from home is that you can take a morning jog, work for a few hours, go for launch with friends, and work until you feel tired. As appealing as this may sound like, it's almost certain that you'll be more productive and happier if you maintain regular work hours and get work done as soon as possible, instead of dragging it out endlessly.
With these seven tips, you can make working from home something you look forward to. If you also want to learn more about the concept of zero emails in your Inbox read about Inbox Zero and how to achieve it to boost your productivity.
Bonus: Keep Your Inbox Clean with Clean Email
While the previous three ways how to become more productive have approached the topic of productivity from a bird's eye view, our last tip is very specific. It deals with email management, which is now a huge part of our lives.
There are about 125 billion business emails sent and received each day, with the average office worker receiving about 90 emails a day and sending around 40. No wonder that inboxes are overflowing with unread and unwanted emails, making it difficult to use email for its intended purpose.
Fortunately, there’s Clean Email, an easy-to-use bulk email organizer that uses powerful filters and intelligent algorithms to help you organize your cluttered inbox with a few clicks. It works with Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and other major free and paid email services, and you can trust it with indexing your emails because it only analyzes email headers with metadata—not the actual content of your emails or their attachments.
Besides bulk email cleaning, Clean Email can also automate your email management with its automation features. You can tell it to automatically get rid of all marketing emails, archive emails from your boss, or mark all emails from a certain email address as read.
We hope that you now see that figuring out how to be more productive at home and work is much easier than it seems. Productivity is about taking small steps toward a certain goal, and each individual step doesn’t require much effort at all. But take a few steps in a row, and you’re suddenly a mile away from where you started while everyone else is still figuring out where to go.