How to be more productive at work and in life

busy woman at photocopier

What would we give to be more productive?

For many people, being productive on a consistent basis is an unachievable dream – a concept we are very familiar with but, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to nail it.

Now, remember that productivity isn’t about getting through lots of activity. The secret lies in being able to identify and act upon activities that will give you the results you seek. Unfortunately, many of us go through life being very busy but unclear about our objectives. This is why we can end each day feeling unfulfilled, incomplete and wondering what on earth we’ve achieved during our waking hours.

So, why is it so difficult to be productive? Here are just some reasons that come to mind (this list is not exhaustive!):

  • Boredom
  • Distractions (think people, meetings, phone calls, emails…)
  • Lack of energy / fatigue
  • Procrastination
  • Lack of direction and purpose

Many things can get in the way of a productive day, but these obstacles can be overcome if you focus on why it pays to be productive, such as:

  1. Getting through tasks so you can free up time to do more of what you love;
  2. Accomplishing what you set out to do, which gives you a sense of pride and achievement; and
  3. Getting results with laser sharp focus, thereby impressing yourself and your boss.

Want to know how to become more productive?

Let’s start with the basics. Change requires effort so start by introducing three simple habits into your days. Small steps go a long way.

Here’s how you do it.

Habit one: Accept that productivity is a state of mind

Even if I give you the most innovative productivity strategies, it won’t matter one bit if your mind isn’t in the right state first.  Achieving top productivity requires that you take ownership of your mind. You are the master of your thoughts. Otherwise, the monkey brain will jump right in and take you on a random adventure down several rabbit holes.

Start practicing mindfulness via an app like Headspace or Insight Timer to build your mental stamina and ability to focus. Learn to cut through the noise of a million thoughts swarming around your head.

Habit two: Set an autopilot habit to regain focus

Procrastination is a major productivity sucker, whatever the reason – whether it’s because you don’t know where to start, you’re overwhelmed or you have a natural tendency to leave things to the last minute and then panic. Most of us exhibit low self-control when we start to procrastinate.

By practicing Habit one (mindfulness), you will increasingly notice when you are creeping away from productive work. When you recognise this behaviour, choose a default action to help you to get back on track. This means that, eventually, you won’t need to conjure up precious brainpower to make a concerted effort to be productive.  It’s like how you automatically reach for the chocolate cake when feeling down – it requires minimal conscious thought, so there is no reason why we can’t create similar “join the dot” scenarios to facilitate productive behaviour!

I use elements of the Pomodoro technique to regain focus when I fall off the productivity wagon. My autopilot habit is to set up a 25-minute timer to smash through whatever I’m supposed to be doing. This duration is long enough to make progress but short enough that I can continue with my procrastination activity afterwards if I choose to…. some progress is better than none, right?

Habit three: Clear out clutter and set up activity zones

Declutter your workspace! This doesn’t mean procrastinate by cleaning rather than doing your productive work, but it does mean making an effort to reduce the amount of information hitting you every day. Too many open tabs on your Mac, too many piles of paperwork, a messy desk and so on can collectively overload your senses. A Study by UCLA’s Centre on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) found that clutter is strongly connected to stress. Moreover, it consumes mental energy, affects sleep, creates overwhelm and consumes time as you struggle to find things.

Secondly, set up different zones for different types of work. For example:

  • Sort your inbox only whilst working in a coffee shop or at certain times of day
  • Sit at your desk to focus on operational activity that requires getting things done
  • Relax on the sofa or in a breakout space when doing activity that requires creative or strategic thinking

By associating specific physical spaces (or, even different days) with various types of work, you will train your brain to literally get into the right frame of mind and work more effectively on the task at hand.

So there you have it. If you commit to mastering these three habits, you’ll be well on the way to owning your productivity.

Abigail IrelandAbout the author

Abigail helps companies, executives and individuals enhance their performance and personal productivity.

She has developed a unique 360 degree approach that combines the world of business and wellness to boost concentration, focus, energy and performance both in work and in life.

To find out more about Abigail’s work visit her website

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