How to be more productive and get things done more effectively
To be more productive is commonly understood as getting more things done in less time. We certainly love that feeling of being a busy bee. However, does being more efficient also mean being more productive? According to Charles Duhigg, author of the book “Smarter Faster Better”, achieving higher productivity is about making choices in certain ways that switch one from just being busy to prioritizing and tackling the things of high value.
To get the right things done at the right time makes one more productive. Effective and systematic workflow choices are not only valuable at the workplace they also offer many benefits in personal life.
“Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!” (Tony Robbins)
This tutorial on how to be more productive will teach you essential techniques to better manage your time and tasks. Concepts such as the 80/20 rule, the Eisenhower Matrix, or the Rule of Five allow you to prioritize your goals and become more productive in your daily life.
How To Be More Productive – Overview
Please ask yourself the following question: Did I (recently) achieve something of value with a quantifiable impact? To actually answer it thoroughly you will need previously defined goals.
One of the utmost priorities to be more productive is to establish and set goals that are achievable and measurable. Once goals are set with a realistic approach, the core outcome of the goal should be focused on. We can also call it a mission statement.
Mission Statement – This is the core outcome of your target goals. If established, whether written or not, it will ensure to keep you passionate about your goal. It will keep you motivated throughout the workflow process and also energize you at tough times. Without a mission, we may easily lose our perspective on what or why we started.
Setting up the right workflow to achieve one or several goals is essential and the right tasks should be prioritized once the mission is clear. Any quantifiable actions should be prioritized to avoid wastage of time. These three W’s will help you in prioritizing such tasks.
Three W’s – What, when and why will help prioritize the tasks in your workflow. What to do? When to do and Why to do will make you able to take up the right job at the right time.
Strengths and weaknesses – No one can be an all-rounder. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses allows you to confidently sign up for only those tasks you can complete with the right outcome. It can be beneficial to occasionally say ‘No‘ to the tasks which don’t excite you. Those tasks may distract or get you off the track. Learning to say ‘No‘ will shape your ability to delegate tasks to others.
Delegate tasks – It is crucial to know that bigger goals cannot be achieved successfully without collaboration. Try developing an essential leadership quality, i.e, ability to delegate tasks, to fulfil your mission.
Organize – After setting the priorities for each task, organize them to establish a workflow. You may want to complete easy tasks first or prefer to start with a difficult one. While that's up to you, ensure that always those tasks with a high impact on your goals stand first.
Prepare – Develop a habit to create a daily and weekly schedule for all tasks. Furthermore, experiment with time logging as many duties as possible to measure their efficiency. Last but not least, weekly review and feedback rounds help to further optimize your workflow.
How to Be More Productive – 5 Techniques
Prioritizing is certainly a subjective process. However, it is worth applying a few proven techniques that help you prioritizing and organizing your tasks.
1. The 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle)
According to the 80/20 rule, 80% of a project's outcome (achieved goals) is based on 20% of the causes (assets). Hence, focus on the 20 % of the factors that will give you the best outcome.
The 80/20 rule derives from the business world where 80% of the profit comes from 20% of the customers. As a general principle, identify a project's best assets be it clients, tools, human or material resources, or products and focus on them to create maximum value.
There are many examples in all areas of daily life where we can see this rule being applied. Think of all the activities we follow during a normal 24-hour cycle and you will recognize that only 20% really make a difference. Sleep is one of them.
Back to improving productivity, completing 20% of the most important tasks in your project will, therefore, contribute to 80% of the desired outcome. So, prioritize the most impactful tasks, monitor their outcome, and if possible outsource or delegate all other duties.
2. The Rule of Five
The Rule of Five was developed by Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow. The rule is:
- Working on this task right now
- Working on this task right now
- Working on this task next
- Working on this task next
- Not actually going to work on this task
According to this rule, prioritize only two things at a time and have plans for the other two in place. Additionally, don't plan any tasks that other people assume you would do in the future.
This will prevent you from overloading your work schedule as focusing on too many tasks at the same time will only reduce the efficiency of your mental resources. Multiple tasks easily lead to switching focus often and result either in poor or average outcomes.
3. The Eisenhower Matrix
This is a matrix system to set priorities, developed by the 34th US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It helps to keep the most important task visible and prioritized. Sometimes important tasks may fall under the radar and suddenly appear in front of you unexpectedly, leading to failure or mistakes.
As shown, four quadrants with axes of urgency and importance are assigned a number value. Tasks that are most important and urgent are assigned top priorities.
- A task that is urgent but less important is assigned priority.
- Tasks that are not urgent but important are assigned priority.
- Less urgent or important duties get the lowest priority.
By assigning a task to one quadrant, this matrix helps to ease or even to remove decision making as well as lower the risk of emotional overload from tight workflows. You will simply stay focused on core tasks.
4. Time Management – 5 Productivity Techniques
How many hours do you get a day? Silly. Everyone gets the same 24 hours. However, why is then not everyone equally successful? Is it because not everyone can be good at time management?
Well, those who know the value and importance of time often teach themselves effective techniques of time management. As a result, they become more productive, energized, successful, and sometimes even less stressed or positive. Everyone can achieve this.
Hence, after prioritizing your work, it’s important to manage your time to get things done effectively. As a tip, try to avoid multitasking. It will make you less effective. Below are some productivity techniques to help structure your time effectively.
4.1. Pomodoro Technique
This technique by Francesco Cirillo, suggests 25 minutes of uninterrupted focus followed by 5 minutes breaks. It seems like an easy task, however, it’s not always easy to maintain.
You can break down this technique into 5 simple steps:
- Choose a task
- Set 25 minutes timer
- Work until Pomodoro rings then put a check
- Take a 5 minute break (this is the completion of one Pomodoro)
- Take a longer break every 4 Pomodoro cycles
Practice a few Pomodoro sessions and then try to apply the technique during your whole workday. Stick to the timer. If it stops it stops and this means stop what you are doing.
Remember to take a proper break in order to rest your eyes and mind and to be able to refocus. The whole idea behind the technique is to fully focus on one task.
4.2 Time Boxing
Time Boxing suggests structuring your work sessions on a larger scale. Don’t fall into 60 or 80 hours per week. Limit yourself to work 35 to 40 hours per week. In the end, you are not here to work endless hours, you want to manage and free time to enjoy your life.
Furthermore, you can set rules for watching TV, e.g. just on weekends, or web browsing, e.g. no internet after 10pm. The goal is to enjoy many activities and avoid having one that overrules others. This technique helps to set and live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Batching is one of the most commonly applied productivity techniques and allows you to chunk, prepare and finish similar tasks in one session.
Bundle things together and you can focus on a much larger chunk of work. Always set a time for such iterative activities, e.g. in the early morning when you will be feeling fresh.
It is a smart strategy to apply and you will reduce the number of tasks from your list quickly. By the end of the day, create and schedule batches for the next day. Examples of tasks that can be chunked are social media, emails, receipts, filling of forms or scheduling meetings.
4.4. Ultradian Rhythm
It is impossible to have a laser-sharp focus at all times. No one is superhuman (at the time of writing) with an ability to always focus with maximum intensity.
There are times when you may have a strong focus and there will be the time when you simply start losing interest in what you do at that moment. Try taking this into account when you learn how to be more productive.
Try to keep a written log of your mood and focus for about three weeks. After that time you will be able to follow your body’s ultradian rhythm, and you optimize your productive time and understand your downtimes better.
This technique suggests setting a 90 to 120 minutes cycle in which you will perform at peak productivity. It is followed by a 20 minutes hiatus. Hence, the most crucial tasks should be scheduled within peak productive cycles. Less complex jobs should be completed within the 20 minutes hiatus.
Another benefit is that you now can better decide when to take meetings, rest hours, coffee breaks, or chats with colleagues and clients within your daily routine.
4.5. Forgive Yourself
This is one the most important productivity tips and is often neglected. Don’t force yourself to an excessively tight schedule. I know, we all want to reach higher levels, get promoted and thus want to be more productive.
Therefore, it is essential to take enough breaks during work, go for a walk, go to the cinema or do whatever relaxes you during leisure. Give yourself enough time to rest and recover or you risk burnout and career setbacks as your performance and productivity will suffer.
Don’t feel guilty to take a 20 minutes hiatus and complete lower value tasks. Those will prepare you for the next productivity sprint. It is important to understand that everyone has slower times. Accept it. Of course, always take full advantage if you feel in a highly productive state.
Improve Productivity – Tools
Making use of the best productivity tools and technology will help you to be more productive. Apps, extensions and tools can be found on the internet and are often free to use.
Learning – A great way to improve productivity is to steadily increase our general knowledge and our ability to perform certain mental tasks such as typing, reading, or learning. Those interested can enroll in speed reading classes, try a typing program, or try to learn faster.
One Tab – Strong and uninterrupted focus is key in your prime working hours to efficiently check or close the items in your to-do list. During work, many open browser tabs can deviate your focus. One Tab, which is an extension, helps you focus on your work. It creates a list by combining all tabs.
Dictation – Some people prefer to speak rather than type or write. Dictation software can assist in getting information digitalized fast and reliable. A great way to be more productive when manual data input is laborious.
Offtime – Checking your phone again and again during work hours leads to poor productivity. Offtime is an app to mute notifications or to create categories like home, family, work, etc, with predefined settings. It also provides you with some stats of phone usage, which you can use to further optimize your productivity.
Flipd – Flipd is a tool that stops you from using phones during your peak productivity hours. It initiates a custom lock screen which turns off all notifications except emergency contacts. You will not be able to get into the phone before the set time. If you like these things you can also join the Flipd community to take up productivity challenges and compete with other users. A tool that may keep you away from your phone if you struggle otherwise.
Moment – This is another app that blanks out your screen beyond your self-imposed usage limit and reminds you to chill out in the real world. Of course, it does not lockout emergency call options.
Harvest – This tool will track your time for each task. You can track the time of iterative tasks to better estimate your efficiency. It can assist a lot in implementing the ultradian rhythm technique and help to learn how to be more productive.
Zapier – It is a tool that will help you in the automation of repetitive tasks. It saves you time by connecting apps on your phone together to automate things like add a new contact from phone to Gmail, save tweets to google sheets, etc.
How To Improve Productivity – Summary
From now on, you are the driver behind your efforts to implement effective productivity techniques. Productivity is personal. To learn how to be more productive, you will need to understand how to create, manage and apply your focus on the tasks that matter the most.
It’s up to you. Be in control. Try implementing the skills and techniques on how to improve productivity described in this tutorial. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments or send us an email.
You only need to practice the above-mentioned productivity techniques and strategies in a way that works best for you. Finding the method that works best for you depends on your preferences, personality, ability, motivation and self-discipline.
By adopting some or all of the strategies you will be able to increase your productivity and manage your time more efficiently not only at work but in daily life as well.
What are the best techniques on how to be more productive? Feel free to share your very own tips or add suggestions on what should be added to this tutorial.
Resources: Pareto Principle | Eisenhower Matrix | Rule of Five | 80/20 Rule – Wikipedia