No matter what the optimists say, achieving productivity is not always as easy as ABC.
And that’s perhaps the reason you landed on this page, hoping to find something you don’t know or haven’t yet tried.
Well, you’re not alone.
Many people struggle at being productive, too.
Productivity is a double-edged sword
If you think about it, productivity is both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, technology has spawned a whole laundry list of apps and tools that enable productivity in the workplace, at home, or just about anywhere else, whether for business or personal purposes.
On the other, the ready availability of productivity apps has created an always-on mentality that’s increasingly becoming difficult to curb, especially if you factor in the growing ubiquity of mobile devices.
And then, there are the seemingly endless tricks and techniques that Google so readily feeds its users whenever they search for information using the terms “productivity tips,” or any keyword combination with the word “productivity” in it.
This explains the emergence of a phenomenon known as “productivity porn.”
You become addicted to it when you start consuming every productivity, creativity, or life hack resource that comes your way, subscribing to various productivity blogs and podcasts, or trying a shiny, new productivity app every week – all in the name of becoming as productive as you possibly can be.
But as you probably already realized, productivity porn is nowhere good for anyone looking to actually be productive.
Tools, tips, tricks, and techniques are good, but without action, they’re meaningless.
If you’re somebody who already has a full reservoir of productivity knowledge to fuel you for the next year or so, I suggest that you stop reading right now and get back to whatever it is you should be doing.
No hard feelings.
Yes, you can thank me later.
But if you’re looking to genuinely find productivity advice to set you in the right path, read on because we’ve compiled a list of useful tips for you to act on.
*Note: We’ve also created a handy PDF version you can take anywhere with you. Just click on the banner below to grab your copy. Your download will include a subscription to our email list so you automatically get updates every time we publish a new blog post.
The ABCs of productivity
A – Avoid distractions.
Distractions are everywhere and come in all forms and sizes, from the funny cat meme everyone on Facebook is sharing to the 100 emails that found themselves in your inbox while you were asleep.
The TV in the living room, the leftover chocolate pudding from last night, the endless beeping of your smartphone, the dirty dishes in the sink, the laundry waiting to be dumped in the dryer – anything at all that keeps your attention away from the task at hand is a distraction.
While avoiding writing distractions is easier said than done, it all boils down to one thing: focus. No, make that ruthless focus.
But how do you stay focused?
An article on Entrepreneur.com suggests three things:
- Do creative work first.
- Allocate your time deliberately.
- Train your mind like a muscle.
B – Begin your day with a clear mind.
Former Esquire CEO and chief editor Phillip Moffitt says in a blog post:
“Your mind state when you awaken can strongly influence what your attitude will be throughout the day.”
A Quora thread lists various ways to achieve clarity every morning, and hence, become more productive:
- Practice gratitude.
- Grab a cup of coffee, sit in a corner, and write three pages of whatever thought that crosses your mind. Over time, this routine opens your mind and unshackles you from the unimportant stuff.
- Say something kind to yourself as you look in the mirror or head to the toilet. Then, move.
C – Challenge yourself.
“There’s always a new challenge to keep you motivated.” – Sean Connery
Whether it’s pushing yourself to write 1,000 words every single day or finish a task or two in 15 minutes or less, there’s always something to push you to be better than yesterday.
Here’s a tip:
Instead of competing with others, aim to become a better version of yourself.
D – Delegate.
One mistake a lot of people make is hold on to work they can delegate to others. This becomes a blow to their productivity because they either don’t believe other people can do what they do, or they haven’t yet taken the time to find able and competent people to partner with.
To get more things done quickly, get others to help you so you can focus on the activities you’re good at.
E – Exercise.
From upping your energy level to improving your brain function, there are many reasons to exercise.
A study cited by a TNW article found that people who lead an active lifestyle perform better on cognitive tests than their sedentary counterparts. Another study, as quoted by an Active.com article, discovered that respondents were 23% more productive on workdays they exercised than on days they didn’t.
F – Fight for your workspace and time.
If you work from home, it’s imperative that people around you respect your time and space. If you’re married with kids, speak to your spouse and children about the importance of keeping your workstation off-limits – and their voices down – while you work.
For visiting relatives and neighbors, make them understand that just because you’re always home doesn’t mean you’re always available for chitchat.
G – Go without the Internet.
I can just imagine people’s reactions when somebody tells them to go without the Internet to be more productive.
Something like this:
While the Internet is undoubtedly a technological breakthrough providing countless benefits to millions of people worldwide, it also has its downsides.
Mindlessly browsing your social media feed when you should be writing? Laughing at funny videos or watching movie trailers on YouTube when you should have been doing some research?
Yup, these happen even to the best of us.
An article on Lifehack.org touting the productivity benefits of unplugging from technology says:
“It turns out that when we disconnect we don’t have to fight our own minds trying to distract us.”
And then, there’s Joshua Fields Millburn who killed his home Internet without so much as a backward glance. He says that it’s the most productive thing he has ever done.
Because his Internet usage has become deliberate.
H – Have a nutritious meal/snack.
If you love food, like I do, the idea of eating your way to productivity sounds lovely, if not heavenly.
Then again, the cliché “you are what you eat” still holds.
Keeping yourself nourished while working ensures your brain has all the glucose it needs to function properly.
Also, eating healthy not only makes you healthy overall. According to an article on AHealthierMichigan.org, studies show that out of 15,000 US and UK employees, those with poor nutrition report 21% more sick-related absences.
I – It’s time to go when it’s time to go.
No matter how “in the zone” you are, stand up and leave your workstation to use the lavatory, grab a bite to eat, or stretch your sore muscles whenever the need arises.
Listen to your body. Remember, the moment you fall sick, your productivity plummets.
J – Join freelance groups or communities.
When you find yourself stuck in a rut and unable to move forward, the best course of action is to find people who share the same passions and interests as you do, namely, fellow content developers who understand the challenges of working from home and keeping your creative juices flowing.
If you’re not sure where to find these communities, start your search on LinkedIn or Facebook.
K – Keep your workstation organized.
While it’s true that chaos sometimes fuels creativity, “a messy workspace isn’t conducive to being productive,” says an article on TimeManagementNinja.com.
Imagine needing a file right now or that post-it where you scribbled a supplier’s contact information. But because you have no idea where either is, what do you suppose would happen?
My guess is that you’d be spending loads of time looking, and frantically at that. Worse, you could even lose a potential client because of your failure to communicate your proposals on or before an agreed-upon deadline.
An organized workstation where virtually everything you need is within reach can greatly improve your productivity.
L – Lay out tomorrow’s plans before you retire for the night.
A clear start to the day – this is what you get when you lay out today’s schedule the night before. You wake up with a clear sense of purpose, as well as a roadmap to guide you through the day.
Michael Hyatt maintains a nine-part nighttime ritual that sets him up for a productive day ahead.
M – Meditate.
It doesn’t have to involve complicated yoga poses (although those would be cool if you can actually perform them). Meditation has many known benefits.
This article lists 76 including:
- better decision-making capabilities,
- and reduced blood pressure.
N – “No” is your friend.
If you have a hard time saying “no” because you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, about time you learned the merits of excusing yourself from a situation with no clear benefits – for you or the other party.
Saying “yes” to everything leaves you overworked, swamped with tasks better tackled by other people, and feeling frustrated and inadequate when you deliver subpar results.
O – Often go out of the house.
I have a writer friend who goes to a park armed only with a pen and paper to write his first draft. And he swears by how much he gets done implementing this strategy.
This may not work for everyone, but sometimes, being holed up inside the house all day can stifle creativity. When that starts to happen, a change of scenery is in order.
P – Prioritize.
Write down your top three tasks for the day and resolve to finish them before giving in to distractions.
No complicated trickery involved there – just sheer willpower to get the most important stuff out of the way before you get sucked into a quagmire of distractions that can be difficult to recover from.
Q – Quit sabotaging your own success.
It’s been two years since I decided to work from home full-time.
When I decided to quit, I was deathly scared of the financial repercussions of not succeeding, but I was positive that focus and hard work would get me to where I wanted to be.
I was both right and wrong.
Right because focus and hard work are, without a doubt, essential to succeeding online – or in any venture, for that matter.
But I was also wrong about myself, in a way.
The first few months, the work ethic I was so proud of took a turn for the worse. Because I didn’t need to be in the office at a certain time, I allowed myself to work only when I wanted to, on days I felt like working.
My productivity scores nosedived as a result, and if not for like-minded people constantly reminding me of my obligations and that I could do better if only I exerted more effort, I probably would have quit and run back to my boss begging her to take me back.
R – Reward yourself.
There are people on the Internet who make no bones about their hatred of gamification. They insist it’s nothing but marketing BS.
No matter how you feel about the subject, gamification, in this context, doesn’t even have to involve badges, points, or pricey rewards. You only need to liven things up a bit, particularly when work starts to feel routine and dreary that it’s driving you crazy.
For example, once you finish the first draft of an article that’s approximately 1,000 words long, give yourself an additional 10-minute break. You may opt for the occasional cupcake, if you’re so inclined.
S – Stay in touch with friends.
One downside of working from home is the lack of social interaction with colleagues – no water cooler banter, no brainstorming sessions triggering brilliant ideas, no after-work get-together, and no boss checking up on you whenever your productivity scores lag.
Schedule time to unwind, and what better way to spend that time than with the company of family or friends?
T – Take frequent breaks.
If that sounds counterproductive to you, consider this:
According to a New York Times article, taking frequent breaks makes you more productive and helps you stay on schedule.
“Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, says John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”
A Buffer.com article agrees and even recommends 16 activities you can do while taking breaks, such as:
- taking a walk,
- and getting a cup of coffee.
U – Use productivity tools.
Install apps like Strict Workflow or RescueTime to block out distracting websites like social media while you’re writing. WriteRoom, a Mac app for distraction-free writing, provides a minimalist, full-screen writing environment that forces you to just write.
V – Venture to the water dispenser often.
In other words, rehydrate … a lot.
Aside from flushing out toxins and maintaining the balance of fluids in your system, there are other reasons to drink more water, courtesy of this WebMD article:
- control calories,
- energize muscles,
- get healthy skin,
- improve kidney function,
- and maintain normal bowel function.
W – Walk and stretch, walk and stretch.
Sitting is the new smoking. Although standing desks have their fair share of proponents, a new study found they may not be as effective as they’re believed to be.
Walking and stretching your way to health are still the best ways to counter the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.
X – Execution follows motivation.
Zig Ziglar likened motivation to bathing:
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
Zen Habits reinforces this universal truth:
“One of the biggest challenges in meeting any goal, whether it be related to productivity, waking early, changing a habit, exercising, or just becoming happier, is finding the motivation to stick with it.”
The same article lists eight ways to motivate yourself from the get-go, including:
- start small,
- really, really want it,
- and commit publicly.
Y – You must unplug from technology every now and then.
Your phone constantly beeping, your inbox turning into a chat box because you respond to emails the moment you receive them regardless of their importance, and the TV blaring in the background while you work.
Does any of these sound familiar?
Research Digest presents research-backed reasons to unplug from technology, including:
- and longer attention span.
Becoming Minimalist insists on perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for content creators:
“Powering down promotes creation over consumption.”
Z – Zap your social media browsing urges until your top three priorities for the day are done.
Even if social media is part of your daily work, learn to curb the time you spend on it. Unbridled social media browsing can be likened to a black hole that sucks you into a never-ending abyss of mindlessness.
While helpful in so many ways, social media is a time-waster, if you’re not intentional about it.
So there you have it, folks – your productivity tips from A to Z. Are there any others you’d like to add?