Getting things done these days can be extremely difficult, considering all the distractors we live with.
Here’s the drill: you’re sitting at your table, ready to start working. You’ve canceled all your plans because the deadline is like two days away. Just when you start typing, a teenie-weenie notification window pops in the down-right corner of your desktop: your best friend messaged you on Facebook. You don’t see the entire message, but it ends with something like this: 😂😂😂. You know it’s hilarious, and need to open it...
You look at your watch and start sweating. “How on Earth am I going to exit this vortex?!”
We got you.
10 Life-Changing Productivity Tips
Now, at some point in your struggle to become a better-organized person, you’ve probably implemented at least one of the following tips. And yet, here you are, searching for more advice.
But, have you ever tried implementing all the tips?
Let's get started.
1. Store Your Information Elsewhere—Your Brain Is Not As Reliable as You Think
How many times has this happened to you: you’re in the supermarket with an empty basket in your hand. You stare at the dairy products shelf for a couple of seconds, then you turn your head to the vegetable shelf. The “why am I even here?” moment slowly kicks in.
You search your pocket for a shopping list, and there’s nothing. You left it at home. You can remember the staples you need on a regular basis: bread, yogurt, cookies, but there was a ton of other stuff. You barely remember two or three more, because they go into your favorite dish. That’s it. You go home semi-empty handed. Your brain has failed you once again.
Now, before diagnosing yourself with ADD, consider that this is perfectly normal.
We rely on our memories for some crucial things, like learning from past experiences or sharing stories with friends. Memory is necessary for us to create our identity. Therefore, we assume that it’s accurate.
Research after research, study after study, has proved that our memory can’t be trusted due to its sensitivity to internal and external factors (check here, here, or here).
Now that we know that science has confirmed what we already kind of know from experience, that our internal hard drives are not the most reliable information storage, it’s time to consider a new one.
What are the most important characteristics of your “external memory”?
It has to be easily approachable
It needs to have a lot of space
You need to be able to label and organize the information inside
It’s a plus if it offers back-up options, in case it suddenly bursts into flames
You can use a notebook, that’s fine. But, will you always carry it with you? Is it possible for it to burst into flames? Are you ready to start piling up notebooks in your home, because if you work hard, you’ll have like 10 of them filled out before you say “Oh no, I left my notebook at…”?
Fortunately, there are countless online tools well-organized people use as their right hand. They all have back-ups, can be accessed from your phone or any other device with internet access, and they make it super-easy to label and organize your data. Even if your computer breaks down, you’ll still have access to your data. Neat, right?
Do your research and discover which type of tool best covers your needs.
2. Use a Productivity Planner and Learn to Prioritize
When it comes to long-term planning and preventing the procrastination vortex, a proper productivity planner is a must-have.
Among all these life-changing productivity tips, the productivity planner is perhaps our favorite! So, how do you start keeping a productivity planner?
One option is to take a blank notebook or a word document and design it yourself. The other is to get a guided planner.
Whichever option you choose, these are the most important characteristics of a good productivity planner:
It’s appealing to use
It helps you prioritize your tasks
It’s Focus Time technique-friendly
It helps you define long-term (yearly, monthly) plans and short-term (weekly, daily) plans
It travels with you
If you choose to design your own planner, that’s great, but also risky. If it’s not designed in such a way that stimulates you to come back to it, you can easily start neglecting it and fall into another self-debilitating episode of not fulfilling your tasks on time, and not following your dreams.
That’s why we recommend using a guided planner. The Productivity Planner is meticulously designed to empower you to focus your mental energy on the most important tasks at hand.
This is how it works: first, you need to list your goals. Then, you divide them into steps and sub-goals. Once you get that right, you need to learn how to differentiate between important and additional tasks (more on that here). Then, you define your weekly and daily tasks, prioritize and accomplish them, all by relying on the Focus Time technique.
Another important thing: The Productivity Planner has a beautiful and elegant design, and it can fit any bag or even a larger pocket!
We’ve illustrated already what can happen when a tiny Facebook notification comes your way while you’re trying to focus. It all starts with an irresistible short scroll, a message, or a cat video to relax. We promise ourselves it will only take 3 minutes, but the reality, or better say, the clock, always strikes hard. Next thing you know, you’re watching your aunt’s vacation photos from 2012, browsing a random meme page, engaging in a political debate, or taking a “Which Taylor Swift song best describes you” quiz.
And, it doesn’t stop with Facebook, right? Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, Netflix—you name it.
Luckily, you’re not alone in this, and there is a solution.
You don’t need to shut down your social network accounts or start working offline. You can simply download a browser extension that helps you block any website you’d like to prevent yourself from using.
These are not all the same. For example, Brain.fm helps you maintain your focus by providing you with a 2h soundtrack which, according to its developers, is scientifically proven to work. Rescuetime is a multipurpose app, but it’s also a website blocker and your online activity recorder. After a certain period, it generates a report about your internet activities, so you become aware of how much time you spend on social networks, online shopping, productivity blog posts, and so on.
If you want to become more productive—cut the social media procrastination by force. If you want to practice social media breaks, partner at Intelligent Change, Mimi Ikonn, explains how you can start this habit.
4. Similar Tasks Go in the Same Batch
When you’re trying to organize your day by setting multiple tasks, make sure to avoid writing them in the following way:
8:00 am: Go to the Post Office
8:45 am: Write an article about productivity
11:15 am: Hairdresser
12:00 pm: Vacuum-clean the living room
2:00 pm: Declutter the email inbox.
What’s wrong with this list?
At first glance: it’s just a time-bounded to-do list. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that these activities could form logical clusters: computer-related, outdoor, and one house chore.
If you want to enhance your productivity, try to organize your tasks by theme:
Email inbox decluttering
Sending job proposals
Once you’re done with the computer activities batch, you can move to the outdoor batch:
Seeing a dentist
Going to the post office
Visiting a hairdresser
Then, when you come home, house chores are still there, and you can focus on them:
Vacuum the living room
Do the dishes
And so on.
If you jump from one type of task to another, you’ll waste a lot of time just in switching the locations, not to mention that every time you start doing a new type of activity, you need to adapt. If you’re done vacuum cleaning and then start writing an article, you probably can’t dive into it immediately. So, outsmart your brain, save precious time and energy, and organize your tasks logically!
5. Automate Boring Tasks
Once again: it’s no longer the olden days!
Paying your bills should no longer be an adventurous task that involves a walk down to the post office or a bank, waiting in line for who knows how long and scrolling your Instagram, and stopping by the ice-cream shop on your way home.
We’re not sure what your job is, but these are some of the things we are able to automate. Alarms, newsletters, bills, invoices—technology has got you covered.
6. Delegate Some of Your Tasks to Others
If you’re the controller-type, you’ll probably feel personally affected by this productivity hack: you don’t have to do everything by yourself.
When it comes to work, it’s fine if you can’t manage and complete all the projects you’re involved in by yourself. Sharing responsibilities with others can be extremely beneficial both for your mental health and your business.
However, many people perceive delegation as a loss of control, while in reality, they need to stay accountable for things to really get done. If something goes wrong, you’re still responsible, so don’t worry—control is still in your hands, only a more reasonable amount.
If you’re a one-man-show in business, and the amount of tasks becomes overwhelming, you can always consider hiring a virtual or real assistant. On the other hand, if you work for a company that has many other employees, don’t be shy to ask a colleague for a helping hand when things get rough.
Delegating tasks works excellent for non-work obligations—if you don’t have enough time for a detailed seasonal cleaning, there’s nothing wrong with hiring a third-party service to clean it up for you, or simply ask one of your household members to complete your house chores if you don’t have time.
This way you can offload some of the menial tasks and focus on what’s really important to you.
7. Multitasking Needs to Stop
Multitasking is one of the greatest delusions among busy people.
Why not take all the projects at once? How would you possibly tell your client they need to wait longer than just weeks? How do you decline a job proposal?
This kind of “yes attitude” can make our days extremely busy and frustrating. You’re trying to save and productively use every single second, you have your schedule perfectly lined up, you know you can do it all on time. But, how long does that last? Two days, three days, two weeks? How long before you start to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, because you’re too tired and too torn between different projects you’re juggling all at the same time? How long before you start making errors or submitting below-average work?
It’s time to open your eyes: multitasking is a lie. In the end, it will cost you more than it can save you time. Neuroscientific studies have shown that only 2.5% of people are truly capable of multitasking. The rest of us—we’re natural monotaskers. Scientific studies have identified many reasons that explain why multitasking doesn’t work for us, and here are two main points:
When you split your attention between two tasks, each of them doesn't get the same “amount” of attention, naturally. There’s a scientific reason behind the “don’t text and drive policy.” People are not capable of parallel information processing, especially when the information comes from different sensory sources (linguistic and spatial, for example).
The more we multitask, the less we truly accomplish. Why? Because we lose focus, and studies have shown that people who multitask lose the ability to learn new things. They simply become overloaded.
So, in order to overcome a loss of productivity, start dealing with one thing at a time. We guess this can make you panicky if you’re an overachiever. However, learn to focus on one task, and remember tip number 6 once more, especially if that’s the case with you.
Quitting multitasking is probably one of the greatest life-changing productivity tips you can get!
8. Make Breaks
This is not really a hack… it’s the most normal thing in this world to do when you’re working, and yet we still forget to do it.
But, how often does it happen that you leave everything for the last minute? Or simply accept too many tasks in a short deadline? In both cases, you might find yourself stuck to your computer screen for five or six hours in continuity. That’s bad. It’s really bad.
Studies have shown that overworked people often deal with chronic stress and its common consequences, such as burnout. This way they compromise not only their physical and mental health but the quality of their work as well.
If you’re having trouble organizing and implementing regular breaks in your working schedule, go back to tip number two—get yourself a nice productivity planner.
The Productivity Planner that we mentioned addresses this problem by helping you implement the Focus Time technique. This technique means that you split your most important task task into 30-minute uninterrupted segments of time, divided by 5-minute breaks. Then, when you’ve completed 4 or 5 of these power sessions, give yourself a longer break of 20 or 30 minutes.
How will breaks make you more productive?
When you take short pauses, you clear your mind and gain more focus and energy. If you were working on a hard-to-resolve task, taking a short break can help you consolidate and come back with a new approach. They can also give you a creativity and inspiration boost and help you build healthy habits: instead of smashing a sandwich down your throat while typing, you can take a short lunch break, have a soup and salad, change the scenery a bit by going outside and catching some fresh air, or even doing a quick stretching session.
Important disclaimer: scrolling Facebook or Instagram is not a break. When you do this, you don’t really rest your mind. Switching from one screen to another is not considered a break, so make sure you do something better: drink coffee alone or with a colleague, have a meaningful conversation with someone, go have lunch, or simply take a walk. If possible, do some stretching or yoga, your body will be grateful.
9. Experiment with Music—Find Your Productive Beats
Is there something more profound in human culture than music? Sounds and beats can wake us up, put us to sleep, change our mood, motivate us to do more.
A 2009 study that examined the connection between music tempo and productivity revealed that our performance improves when we listen to songs paced at some 121bmp or more. If you’re wondering which famous songs are paced at this rhythm, here’s a short list:
Black Eyed Peas—My Humps
Whitney Houston—I Wanna Dance with Somebody
Diana Ross—I Will Survive
Eminem—Just Lose It
Stromae—Alors on Danse
If you’re familiar with any of these songs, you probably know that they’re dancy and energetic, which is the main characteristic a productivity song should have.
While famous songs with catchy rhythms and lyrics might make you more energized, it could also be a problem if you’re working on intellectual or communicational tasks.
The first study was conducted with cyclists, so it’s logical that upbeat music with familiar lyrics motivated them to be more productive. However, a 2011 study showed that songs with lyrics can interfere with the processing of verbal information.
This means that writing articles, project reports, or a long list of emails don’t really pair well with “I… I will survive…!” running in the background. What does pair well is uplifting, upbeat instrumental music that has no lyrics!
Finally, the music you choose doesn’t have to meet the 120 bpm criteria. The most important thing about your productivity playlist is that you like it. You need to feel inspired and motivated when you play those tunes, so do some research, have fun listening to different music styles and artists, and discover the beats that make you feel productive.
10. When You’re Done—You’re Done
Once you leave the office, or your work desk if you work from home, make sure to bring only yourself home.
Juggling work-related questions and dilemmas when you’re supposed to relax and be present at home with your loved ones can be so depressing.
Because focusing on work outside working hours can lead to enhanced levels of stress and its dangerous consequences, such as burnout, depression, anxiety, coronary diseases, etc.
In addition, if you do this, you also hurt the relationships with your loved ones—your partner, children, parents, or roomies—whoever you currently live with.
Besides making a conscious decision to switch off work once you’ve switched off your laptop, or left the office, there’s something else you can do: block all work-related notifications for the rest of the day.
There are a couple of tools you can use to do this, such as turning off the notifications on your phone, logging off from your work-related apps, using the "Do Not Disturb" feature or limiting screen time and specific apps with parental controls, but we also recommend Daywise. With only a couple of clicks, you can schedule all notifications to see them only inside the working hours.
You can easily follow this step just by hitting the “Do Not Disturb” button or by logging off from Gmail, Slack, or other team-management platforms.
Of course, before doing this, make sure to tell your clients that you won’t be checking your inbox or other notifications after certain hours, in case they’re used to you replying the moment you receive their message.
Switching off completely once you’re done with work will help you regain energy and focus, by consolidating that day’s experiences and impressions. That way, even if things weren’t exactly the best, you have a chance to crush it the next day!
A Productive Takeaway
Did you make it to the end of the list? Congratulations! How do these life-changing productivity hacks sound to you? Do you think you’re able to implement them?
We suggest that you take it slowly: one hack at a time!
So, to shortly sum it up: automate what you can automate, delegate what you can delegate, and stop storing information in your head. Just remember the year we live in. There are tools for all that.
Stop doing multiple tasks at once, because your brain is getting tired from all the switching and rushing—it could use some nice inspiring music to boost its productivity.
Group your tasks in a logical manner and do similar things together. Don’t forget to take regular breaks, but remember—Facebook, Netflix and Instagram are not relaxing! Once you’re done working—you’re done! Do something that makes you happy and dedicate your time and energy to someone you care about—and there’s nothing wrong if that someone is you.
It is of immeasurable importance to acknowledge cultural differences in values and happiness. However, while there are some cultural universalities, there are also individual differences we need to rely on in shaping our happiness.