Time is extremely valuable. There are only so many hours in a day, so figuring out how to make the most of your time is crucial. Many people often believe that they can increase productivity only by putting in as many hours as they can. Simply working hard is not going to maximize your output. Working smart in addition to working hard will ensure you are utilizing your hours efficiently. Learning to manage time is not an extremely complicated process but does require practice. Here are nine effective strategies to guide you in achieving maximum productivity.
1. Focus On Only One Item At a Time
Studies show that our brains do not have the capacity to accomplish multiple difficult tasks successfully. When you try to multitask, you actually end up significantly reducing productivity, becoming more anxious, and ultimately less satisfied. Single-tasking, on the other hand, increases overall performance. It allows you to get tasks done quickly and at a higher quality.
There is additional pressure and stress when you are starting and stopping activities. Because your attention constantly switches between various tasks, you take more time to redirect and maintain focus. This leads to great energy usage, which contributes to an overall lack of motivation.
The more you continue to multitask, the less you get done, which leads to multitasking again in an attempt to get it all done. However, it is possible to break this cycle by understanding the power of single-tasking.
2. Do Not Use To-Do Lists
To-do checklists help but are often not the most effective methods for maximizing productivity. When we see a list of numerous options in front of us, our brains are likely to become overwhelmed and want to quit. It is also very difficult to prioritize the items when written in a checklist format. However, there are better methods to help with functionality. Calendars can be very beneficial tools when used properly.
Write down EVERYTHING: Because there is a finite time during a day and every single task takes time, the only correct way to plan is to make time central. Unlike lists, calendars allow you to consider the time factor. 5 unimportant tasks can easily take up an hour. So, whether it is a professional task, personal errand, replying to an email, or even exercising, everything should be written on the calendar!
Incorporate your patterns: If you are not a morning person, try to distribute your tasks so that they do not interfere with your mornings. If you like to spend the majority of your weekend resting, strategically disperse your weekly tasks so that you can spend those other days relaxing.
Break it down: tasks do not always only take up one calendar entry. Large projects can take months. Breaking down such items into smaller tasks helps bring clarity and organization to the calendar.
3. Beat Procrastination With “Time Travel”
Time is inconsistent. This means that you cannot trust your future self to accomplish things the way you envision them in the present. Many of us often put off tasks, relying on this idea that our future selves will be able to manage the consequences.
A phrase that some of us may be familiar with is, “I can finish watching this episode. I will just study tomorrow”. The majority of the time, this does not happen as other activities end up taking over that time you previously reserved for studying. To combat this problem, you should constantly ask yourself what steps you can take now to ensure you do the right thing in the future. Anticipating how you could possibly sabotage yourself later will help you come up with a solution to defeat your future self.
4. Touch Items Only Once
We often use up lots of time doing tasks but end up redoing them because we either did not fully complete them the first time or we were not satisfied with the results. Consciously using the “touch it only once” strategy will eliminate this unnecessary effort that is spent in many different areas. Following this rule will not only save you time but will help you mentally declutter.
Organizing with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” workflow will guarantee you are touching items only once.
5. Practice a Consistent Morning Routine
Many productivity experts emphasize that the way we begin our day has a tremendous effect on how the rest of the day goes. A solid morning routine can greatly increase self-efficacy and inner peace. For example, if you are able to practice conscious mindfulness in the morning, the rest of your day will feel much more peaceful. This will, in turn, increase productivity by reducing stress and blocking any overwhelming feelings. Research does show that many people who are early birds are often more productive. However, this does not mean that people who prefer waking up later do not have an effective morning routine that leads to a productive day. The time you get up is not nearly as important as how you fuel yourself during those couple of hours following your wake-up time. Although habits included in morning routines can vary from person to person, here are a few helpful strategies everyone can make use of:
Set a reasonable time to wake up as you should have enjoyable and beneficial aspects in your routine.
Practice meditation or yoga. Stillness is just as important as movement during the morning hours. Being still helps us learn how to focus our energy
Eat a filling + healthy breakfast. If we feed ourselves food with little nutritional value, we do not feel as confident as we could. Our energy will also rise and crash throughout the day. Without consistent energy it is very difficult to maintain focus.
At the end of your morning routine, briefly scan what you need to accomplish for the rest of the day. Reviewing will help you maintain control over your schedule rather than feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
6. Structure Your Goals Using the SMART Method
Productivity can sometimes be measured by the success we achieve through our goals. Being able to reach goals with little investment of time and effort can determine how productively you are working. Additionally, if your goals are clear and structured, your productivity in the achievement of the goals will be much higher. By using SMART goals, you can drastically improve the achievability of your goals. The SMART method provides criteria that serve as a guide for creating direct and focus-driven targets. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
Specific: To make the goal clear and well defined, you should be able to answer the 5 W’s. Who is involved? What exactly do I want to achieve? When do I want to achieve? Where do I want to achieve? Why do I want to achieve?
Measurable: You should include a quantifiable aspect to measure your progress. Ask yourself, how many? What is my indicator of progress?
Achievable: Make sure you are being challenged by your goal, but it should also be well defined so that you actually know it is attainable.
Realistic: Ensure that you have the capabilities and resources to accomplish the goal.
Timely: Your goal should have a deadline. A start and end date will give you a sense of urgency, which will motivate you to complete the task.
7. Know Your Capacity
It is crucial to acknowledge and understand your capacity. When you overload your schedule, you will become extremely stressed. While you may be able to meet deadlines, the quality of work will deteriorate if you continue having unrealistic productivity expectations. Similarly, if you schedule too little, you can become bored and unmotivated. To find that sweet spot in your capacity level, you should experiment with different amounts of work each day. This will allow you to find the perfect amount of work to match your capacity.
8. Take Proper Study Breaks
Numerous studies have found that taking moments to relax and regain energy is essential for maximizing productivity and achieving successful outcomes. Many students believe that all night studying and cramming will ultimately help them earn fantastic scores. However, such routines can actually decrease academic performance and cause health issues such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Here are a few tips to take proper breaks:
Regularly take short breaks instead of only a few long breaks. Use the Pomodoro technique, in which you work for 52 minutes, then take a break for 17 minutes.
Use social media for only 30% of your breaks and try to include some activities that have some sort of physical movement.
Use your break to tidy up and clean. This will give you a sense of organization when you return to your work again.
Have a snack to boost your energy levels and drink water to stay hydrated.
9. Pay Attention to Your Work Environment
Your work environment can drastically affect your motivation and overall productivity level. The structure of your working space matters. Some factors, such as loud settings, can lower your focus, while peaceful environments can make it easier to focus on the material. In addition to these larger factors, smaller details in your environment can also create huge impacts on your mood. For example, a simple switch from artificial lighting to natural sunlight through a window can lift your mood and make you work faster. You should do whatever you need to do in order to get in the zone, but here are a few things to consider about your environment:
Lighting- studies show links between different light sources and productivity and performance.