Tools like apps, self-help books, and productivity planners can be a great help for improving your productivity, but you need to be committed to making changes if you’re to see any kind of progress.
It’s especially difficult if your bad habits are long ingrained — even replacing them with a few new good habits may not be enough.
This is because improving productivity is an ongoing process. You need to be continuously learning new tactics and striving to become your best possible self.
To do this, it helps to have a number of productivity hacks that are backed by science in your repertoire.
1. Have a Reason
Why do you want to become more productive? If you’re working on your productivity simply to appease your boss or because you like the idea of being more efficient, don’t expect to get far.
It’s difficult to achieve any goal unless you’re truly committed to it, which means you need to have a reason that matters to you on some deep level.
2. Reduce External Distractions
It’s impossible to stay focused on a task for long if there are external distractions vying for your attention.
A big problem is that apps and devices themselves are designed to actively distract you. This keeps you on your phone for longer — playing games and scrolling through social media.
Since none of this is good for productivity, you need to take steps to fight distractions by removing them.
A way to do this is to make your phone less appealing. Turn off all but the urgent notifications (either for the entire day or just during business hours).
Better still, delete non-essential apps and rely on web versions instead. Finally, studies have found that it’s effective to enable grayscale on your phone. This makes your phone look boring if you mindlessly pick it up and reminds you to return to your work.
3. Accept That You Can’t Multitask
Multitasking allows you to complete more than one thing at the same time and is, therefore, a huge timesaver. Except for the fact that 97.5 percent of people are unable to multitask, despite most people believing that they can.
Instead of multitasking, work on batches of tasks. This is a great tactic to clear many small tasks off your to-do list at once and make some real progress.
For instance, if you have a large number of emails to send, write them one after the other until you’ve finished.
If you need to do some quick research or fact-checking for a few different projects, do it all at once — and when you’ve found what you were looking for, move on to something else without letting yourself become sidetracked with a new idea.
4. Keep a Notepad at Hand
On the topic of becoming sidetracked by new ideas, another productivity hack is to always have somewhere to write down your thoughts. This could be a physical notebook or an app on your phone.
You may find a pen and paper better, as just unlocking your phone may distract you. Use the notepad to write down anything you want to research later, items you neglected to add to your to-do list, and anything else of importance.
This will mean you have no need to worry about forgetting something later and you’ll barely break your concentration.
5. Create Specific Targets for Each Day
Instead of having a vague idea of how you’ll use your day (such as, “I’ll work on project X”) — or, worse, figuring out each day as you go along — set specific targets.
For example, define a particular part of the project you’ll complete along with, perhaps, reading certain articles you previously bookmarked and a couple of podcast episodes you’ll listen to.
Aim for just a few targets each day to keep things achievable.
6. Stick to a Schedule
A productivity hack that virtually every successful person uses is to stick to a schedule.
In particular, time blocking is a great tactic, as it means you know what you should be doing at every moment of the day and it gives you a limit to work on each task, which can encourage you to use your time wisely.
Whereas you may like to use a paper calendar to prevent the need to look at your phone, there are advantages to using an app — the main one being that you can shift items around if something unexpected crops up.
Make sure to include every activity you need to complete on your schedule, including things like checking email and managing your business’s social media pages.
Plus, don’t forget to schedule a time to prepare your calendar for the next day or week (depending on how far you’re able to plan ahead).
You’ll gain the most from time blocking if you put in the effort to learn about yourself. For instance, it’s common to find that you’re able to focus best on certain types of tasks at a particular time of day.
Although traditional advice is to start with the most difficult activities on your to-do list, many people find they are more alert and creative in the afternoon.
Experimenting with your schedule could mean you find that you no longer struggle nearly so much with a particular task and that the quality of your work improves.
7. Streamline Your Inbox
You’ll never be able to optimize productivity if your email inbox is packed with messages and new ones are entering throughout the day. There are a few ways to streamline your inbox once and for all.
First, stop simply deleting emails that you have no interest in reading. The vast majority of the time, you can click “unsubscribe” or update your preferences to be free of these messages forever. If that fails, redirect the messages to your spam.
Next, stop marking important emails as unread to remind yourself to deal with them later. Instead, move them to the appropriate subfolder. Finally, once you’ve finished with an email, either delete it or save it by moving it to another subfolder: never just leave it in your inbox.
These productivity hacks will help you reach the ultimate goal of inbox zero — and, more importantly, stay there.
8. Automate Whatever Possible
Repetitive tasks are a huge time suck — and often purely a waste of your time. Automation is often the solution. Explore the possibilities to find out if you could eliminate a large number of activities from your schedule permanently.
9. Finish Each Task
Before you move on to another activity, finish what you started. Nothing is more demotivating than having a large number of half-finished to-dos, as it means you’ll have achieved very little even though you may have put in many hours of work.
If you feel stuck, a better method than changing activity is to take a mini-break for a couple of minutes. Use this time to clear your mind. You’ll often find that you return knowing exactly how to continue.
10. Take Long Breaks, Too
It’s only possible to stay focused for a certain amount of time. Try using a timer to find out how long this is for you — it’s unlikely to be more than two hours and there’s a good chance it’s significantly less than that.
Whereas you can train yourself to learn to concentrate for longer periods, this is something you need to build up to gradually. In between periods of focus, it’s important to take breaks to switch your mind off for a while. Otherwise, you’ll be using work time unproductively.
To see the best results, give your breaks a purpose. Breaks are the ideal time for a short workout, some stretches, a walk to get some fresh air, or even refueling with coffee or a healthy snack.
What you shouldn’t use your breaks for, though, is social media, online shopping, and other internet addictions. This will ruin your mindset and make it harder for you to stay productive over the rest of the day.
11. Meditate to Improve Your Concentration
One more way to use your breaks is to meditate. Studies have found that meditation improves alertness, which can have an impact on attention. This is because meditation trains you to clear your mind of internal distractions and to stay focused on just what you want to think about.
12. Reward Yourself
Being more productive naturally comes with rewards. For example, it means you have more time in the evenings and at weekends to spend with family and friends, you are less stressed about falling behind with your responsibilities, and you’ll see better results for your business or gain more opportunities for career advancement.
However, it still makes sense to give yourself some extra incentives, such as a treat for reaching a productivity target and a proper celebration when you hit a major milestone.
13. Sleep Enough
You can do all of the above, but you’re still likely to see poor results if you’re sleep-deprived.
One study found that insomnia and insufficient sleep led to productivity losses of $1,967 per employee. The good news, of course, is that by working on your productivity, you’ll free up more time for sleep. Just make sure you do use it to get plenty of rest!
Underlying all the above is the need to focus on tasks that are critical for your business or career success and to eliminate the noise coming between you and your goals.
You can do this by delegating all your admin and routine work to a virtual assistant.
You’ll gain back even more time than it takes the VA to complete the tasks simply because you’ll be removing more of those internal distractions. Receive a skilled virtual assistant who can handle a wide range of tasks from MYVA360. Schedule a consultation for a 10-percent discount on our services.