“Productivity growth, however it occurs, has a disruptive side to it. In the short term, most things that contribute to productivity growth are very painful.” — Janet Yellen
Want to achieve your goals? Want to realize your wildest hopes and your dreams? Want to live a life according to your schedule and in the pursuit of your passions, rather than slaving away at some dreaded 9-to-5 job?
Well, of course you do. We all do.
And all you need to do so that you can live the life of your dreams is to become more productive. Sounds pretty simple right? But we all know that’s not exactly the case.
While becoming highly productive is the route to all achievement, sometimes we just can’t snap ourselves out of our lazy ways. We can’t seem to overcome the incessant call of procrastination, nor the desire to kick our feet up, relax, and unwind.
It’s the classic Catch-22; it’s the typical dilemma that we all face.
But, either we learn to be more productive and effectively utilize the small amount of free time that we do tend to have, or we defer our hopes and our dreams for just a little bit longer by engaging in one of the many distractions that presents itself to us on a daily basis.
So, what are we supposed to do?
We say that we want something, but we find ourselves not willing to give up the routines and bad habits that have become so commonplace to us. What gives?
The answer partly lies in how badly we want something. Do we want our goals so badly that we’re willing to do whatever it takes to achieve them? Or, do they really, deep down inside, not mean enough to us that we’re wiling to sacrifice it all – friends, socializing, and any other semblance of normalcy.
Of course, that’s not the whole story, but it is a large part of it.
Yet, the truth of the matter is that, if we do want to get ahead, exit the rat race, and truly enjoy this thing that we call life, we have to become more productive. We have to ignite the engine of our productivity with high-octane action, organization, and discipline, along with an unrelenting desire to never give up.
But we all know it’s not that easy…
The Road to Productivity
The greatest equalizer in life is time. We all have the same amount of time – just 24 hours in a given day, 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds, to be more precise.
What we choose to do with that precious amount of time dictates the quality of life that we lead. And while the road to productivity might be paved with disappointment, it’s clearly the route to all achievement.
So, what does it take to be more productive?
Whether you call these productivity hacks, or merely the best methods that exist for achieving our goals in the short amount of time that we do have, these are 10 integral ways to go about improving your productivity.
#1 – Become an Early Riser
We get more done in the early hours, period. While we might hate the incessant sound of the alarm clock in the morning, it’s quiet, uninterrupted time you can leverage to inch you closer to your goals.
While some wouldn’t categorize themselves as a “morning person,” so to speak, the question that beckons us is, “How badly do you want it?”
If you want something bad enough, you’re willing to sacrifice just about anything to achieve it.
Set your alarm clock to 30 minutes earlier for the first week. Then another 30 minutes the next week. And another 30 minutes the week after that. Until you can wake up at least 2 hours before the time you wake up right now.
2 hours? Yes. Two hours.
Even if this means waking up at 4 in the morning or earlier, the morning is the time where you’ll accomplish the most. Your mind is clear and you can focus on what’s important at the very start of the day. You have to organize your time and your sleeping schedule to achieve this.
#2 – Exercise for 30 Minutes
All it takes is 30 minutes. You don’t need much more than that. In fact, you can even build up to the 30 minutes by taking the momentum approach to your habits. Start small and build. Do 10 minutes per day for the first week, then increase by 10 minutes the second week, and another 10 minutes the third week.
Just 10 minutes? Yes. It’s not the small amount of time that counts, but the build up to the larger goal of 30 minutes that matters. The momentum does wonders to help you lock that in.
But, let’s backtrack a moment. Why does exercising for 30 minutes help to make us more productive? Well, exercise, if you’ve followed along with some of my posts here, is actually a keystone habit. It creates a small win in the morning, and allows for other good habits to form around it.
But the habit of exercising for 30 minutes does more than just allow other good habits to form. Being a keystone habit, it helps to eliminate other bad habits in the process. Plus, 30 minutes of exercise helps you be more productive by changing your physiology.
When you exercise, you oxygenate the blood, and release good neurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that help to reduce perceived pain and enhance your mood. These have a significant impact on your overall emotional well-being, mental clarity, and physical fitness.
You’ll find yourself feeling charged, motivated, juiced, and passionate enough to pursue whatever it is that you need to tackle in order to achieve your goals.
#3 – Set Monthly & Weekly Goals
Want to be more productive? Well, first you need some long-term goals. Set S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals so that you have a direction to travel in. Once you’ve set those long-term goals, you can’t change the goals, even if you fail over and over again; you have to change the plan.
But I’m going to assume that you have some long-term goals and you’ve created some deep and profound reasons for wanting to achieve those goals, and not just superficial ones. Being more productive has to do with what you do on a weekly and monthly basis towards those goals.
You can also call these milestones.
Milestones are created by looking at your long-term goals and breaking them apart. What do you have to achieve this week, this month, or even today to get you closer to your goals?
These goals should be actionable. In order to be actionable, they must be meaningful, hence the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. long-term goals. Be sure to make this a priority if you want to become far more productive than you are today.
#4 – Create a Daily To-Do List
While to-do lists shouldn’t dictate your entire life, they do help you focus your efforts. It’s easy to get distracted in the day and lose sight of what needs to be done. I’m not talking about the million different chores or “things” that we need to do. I’m talking about the important tasks that really matter.
Creating a daily to-do list in the morning will help you to see just what needs to be done for the day, but also to provide some clarity to your mind. It’s easy to get disorganized when we don’t keep track of important items.
If you have a family, then you likely know the importance of this, especially when it comes to things like doctor’s visits for the kids and yourself, important meetings and deadlines, and so on. But, a to-do list provides clarity for the day, not just clarity for your calendar.
Come up with a system that works for you when creating a to-do list. Whether you take the traditional route and write your list by pen and paper, or you use the digital method of an app or some other software program, come up with something that works.
On your daily list, create at least three most important things (MITs) for the day. Those MITs should be focused on your long-term goals. What three things can you do today towards the achievement of your goals?
#5 – Prioritize Your Time
To be more productive, you have to effectively manage your time. That much is pretty clear. If you can’t manage your time, and you engage in time-wasters, you can kiss your chances of achieving your goals goodbye.
While prioritizing your time might sound like a daunting task, it’s simple and straightforward. As long as you get organized and create your daily to-do list, you can prioritize what needs to be done and eliminate some of the time wasters.
Take your to-do list and categorize everything based on its urgency and importance. Everything you do in your day can be categorized as a combination of one those items. Things can be both urgent and important, neither of the two, urgent but not important, or important but not urgent.
When you can condense every single thing that you do in the day into those four categories, you can see just where your time is being spent. Things that are neither urgent nor important are a waste of your time, especially if you want to be more productive and achieve your goals.
Focus on the important but not urgent quadrant. That’s where you should spend the majority of your time. These are your long-term goal-related activities.
#6 – Do the Hard “Stuff” First
A little while back, I wrote a book called Chasing the Frog where I detailed the importance of having an empowering morning routine. Tackle the hard “stuff” first. Whether you want to call these MITs or your important but not urgent activities, front-load your day with these items.
The morning is a time of clarity and focus. If you wake up early enough, most of the region where you live is asleep. The air is still and silent. You can focus your mind and your efforts on accomplishing what needs to be accomplished rather than allowing the day to overwhelm you.
I thrive off of the morning. I live and breathe tackling my to-do list in the early hours of the day when the sky is still dark. If you want to achieve your long-term goals, do all the hard “stuff” first.
By front-loading the hard “stuff” first, you’ll also build momentum, feel empowered, and have a sense of accomplishment for the remainder of the day.
Real clarity is achieved in doing this, and the momentum that you build helps you become far more productive throughout the balance of the day.
#7 – Focus on the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20-Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is the argument that 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts. I wrote a post about the 80/20-Rule where detailed the importance of leveraging this powerful principle.
Whatever we do – sales, marketing, product design, college exams – 80% of the results that we achieve are based solely on 20% of the efforts. If you’re studying for an exam, 80% of your results are based on 20% of your time spent studying. In sales, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers.
And so on and so forth.
By leveraging the 80/20-Rule, we can propel whatever work we do on a consistent basis, forward. The trick here is to identify the 20% of your efforts that are being used to generate 80% of the results. Once you can do that, you can create explosive growth.
Of course, anyone that can pull this off, can unlock one of the most powerful methods for becoming more productive without having to put in endless extra effort and time.
#8 – Streamline Your Wardrobe
Numerous media outlets have chronicled how successful people always tend to wear the same things such as here and here. Names like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg come to mind. Simply put, we waste a lot of time, money, and mental resources selecting our wardrobe and ensuring we look fashionable.
But, what a number of successful individuals have decided to do was to adopt the simplicity mentality in their decision making in order to ensure that decision fatigue doesn’t set in. Anything that can be streamlined such as the wardrobe will only help to increase your overall productivity.
When you don’t need to waste mental resources on mundane decisions, you can focus your mental capacity on other, much more productive and meaningful things. This doesn’t mean to say that you should go out there and look like a slob. Absolutely not.
What you should do is to simplify your wardrobe. Select a rotation of outfits that you can wear throughout the week.
Anything you can do to free up some of the decision making you have to do on a daily basis will allow you to focus on more important things. In the end, it will help to make you much more productive.
#9 – Organize & Declutter Your Home & Workspace
You’ve heard the saying right? “Clean house, clean mind.” But that also applies to your workspace. Clutter weighs us down and creates unneeded distractions. When we have clutter, we tend to lose focus, and are unable to effectively manage our time and resources.
In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found a direct correlation between clutter and our inability to focus. Clutter creates a distraction, which makes us unable to focus the brain’s full potential to process information as it can in an uncluttered environment.
Particularly, they stated that when we’re presented with “multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.” — Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex
Simply put, any clutter on your workspace or in your home will cause a distraction that will limit you from being more productive. Spend 10 minutes each day decluttering one area of your home or office. Organization is most certainly one of the keys to success.
#10 – Eliminate Distractions
Distractions create a nuisance for us. They help to veer us off course, taking us in tangents, and most certainly don’t allow us to be more productive. They slow the process of goal achievement and they sap any ability for us to live our lives on our own accords rather than at the behest of someone else’s.
All of us could work to eliminate distractions in our lives. From the endless television shows, to the mindless social media surfing, to the in-person socializing that seems to take up too much of our free time, and beyond, we’re all guilty of distractions here and there.
But, if you want to be more productive and achieve your goals, you have to eliminate distractions from your life. You have to get rid of the not urgent and not important activities. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a life; it just means that you have to focus more of your time on getting ahead rather than just “hanging out.”
Some of these distractions are a product of our bad habits while others are a product of bad lifestyles, but they’re all a source of contention in that they help to move us further away from our goals rather than closer to them.