Many of us feel like we need to be more productive. This week we’re considering why we feel that way, and some ways we can boost our productivity.
How can we boost our productivity?
Probably because I’ve hosted a podcast about productivity for nearly 9 years, I have frequent conversations about productivity. Many–maybe most–of them center on someone’s feeling that they’re not productive enough or desire to be more productive.
It’s worth the time and energy to evaluate this honestly, to find that line between productivity that’s adding value to your life and what’s been termed toxic productivity: “Toxic productivity is essentially the drive to be productive at all times, at the expense of all other pursuits. At its core, toxic productivity is simply a new term for ‘workaholic’ with a fresh modern spin.” [from How to be more productive: 10 productivity tips]
If we’ve thought carefully about that question and are aware of that boundary, there are things we can do to boost our productivity. As a starting point, it’s important to define what you mean by productivity–you can’t hit an undefined target.
1. Develop a clear vision
- For your life right now.
- For your days
Define what you mean by productivity. If you want to be more productive, what do you mean by that? What would a more productive life look like?
At its most basic level, increased productivity just means achieving more results from less effort: “Increased productivity indicates greater output from the same amount of input. . . . Thus, productivity growth is our opportunity to create more from less.” [from What Is Productivity? How to Define and Measure It?]
What results do you want to achieve? What would need to change in order for you to achieve that vision?
2. Know yourself
- “Remember who you are.” Who do you want to be in the world? How does a person like that spend her time, energy, and attention?This is relevant to setting goals or intentions.
- Physiology When do you have the most energy? When is it easiest for you to focus? This is relevant to scheduling your tasks.
- Obstacles – internal and external. What throws you off track? What are your “time thieves”?
“If you can identify your biggest time thieves, the activities or situations that throw you off course, distract or interrupt you, or the bad habits that keep you from performing better, you will improve your results much more quickly and learn how to be productive on a daily basis.” [from a Lifehack article on How to Be More Productive: 16 Practical Ways]
How can you prepare for those obstacles or interruptions so they don’t throw you off track?
3. Cultivate habits that help
- Setting intentions (goals). Write them down: “Today/this week I will . . .”
In an article on Boosting productivity published by the American Psychological Association, the authors noted that “Research is showing that establishing a habit of writing about goals can boost performance.
“Cheryl Travers, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Business and Economics at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England, asked students to identify areas where they needed to improve, such as raising a grade in a class or increasing concentration while studying. The students were asked to visualize desired outcomes and outline how they could put their goals into practice.
“Then the students kept diaries for three months to reflect on their goal progress. For example, students could write down what happened as they attempted to make a change in a particular situation, what worked well or not well, what could have been done better and actions they could take going forward. Travers found that the reflective goal-related writing had a significant impact on their ability to perform better academically (British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2015).
“‘The act of writing something down seems to make us accountable to a goal,’ Travers says. ‘It also helps people to write their way through a problem when they encounter barriers.'”
Phrase your goals in the positive (instead of “I won’t” or “I’ll stop,” consider “I will”). Focus on the few rather than many. Review them regularly — consider journaling about them daily, as noted in the British study discussed above.
- Intentional daily and weekly routines
Researchers in one paper defined a routine as a “repeated behavior involving a momentary time commitment to a task that requires little conscious thought.” [from 7 life-changing benefits of daily routines]
Multiple studies show that having consistent routines provides benefits to our mental and physical health as well as to our productivity. One example:
“Researchers at Northwestern find that daily routines make you more likely to effectively use your time. ‘Often, no routine means you simply run out of time, leaving things undone and not making the most of your time.’ Rituals help ensure you’re productive even when you’re not particularly inspired. Having to go back-and-forth about when you’re going to start, what you’re going to do, or how long you’ll work saps your mental energy and willpower. To save time and energy, make a plan and stick with it every day.”
Include time for rest and fun; movement
Have a consistent, reasonable bedtime
Add one new routine (or element) at a time
- Creating a thoughtful task list
One that’s reflective of your vision, that incorporates your priority, that’s comprised of actual achievable tasks (different from projects), and lists a realistic number of tasks in terms of the amount of time you have.
“sadly, according to the American Psychological Association, [multitasking] undermines productivity. Moreover, [the Harvard Business Review] also says that a temporary shift in attention from one task to another—stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance—increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%.” [from 5 Tips to Boost Your Productivity and Well-Being]
The answer is to develop the habit of attention. Ideas for expanding this habit are outlined in the previously mentioned article on Boosting productivity published by the American Psychological Association, which cites a number of studies done on the topic. For instance, Larry Rosen, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, has done studies aimed at helping students increase their attention span. Noting how often his study subjects interrupted their work due to technology (i.e., smartphones, etc), he recommends using tech breaks, starting with working on a task for 15 minutes, then 2 minutes to check phones, etc. Gradually increase the amount of time on task without allowing tech interruptions.
“Rosen’s studies have shown how being distracted can become a bad habit that ultimately decreases our effectiveness at work or in school.
- Time-blocking: blocking out time on your calendar for certain tasks of types of tasks
This sets boundaries around the time you’ll allow for the task–not just when you’ll start, but also when you’ll stop. (Think of how quickly you can get yourself or your house ready if you know someone’s arriving in 30 minutes.)
Be sure to take breaks. Almost every resource I looked at in preparing for this episode referred to studies showing the importance of regular breaks–even short ones–in maintaining focus and productivity.
“Intermittent breaks for renewal, we have found, result in higher and more sustainable performance. The length of renewal is less important than the quality. It is possible to get a great deal of recovery in a short time—as little as several minutes—if it involves a ritual that allows you to disengage from work and truly change channels. That could range from getting up to talk to a colleague about something other than work, to listening to music on an iPod, to walking up and down stairs in an office building. While breaks are countercultural in most organizations and counterintuitive for many high achievers, their value is multifaceted.” [from Harvard Business Review article called Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time]
4. Seek accountability
As one article notes in a discussion about productivity at work: “If you want to increase your work productivity, having someone holding you accountable can really help. Find a colleague who is interested in boosting their own productivity and hold weekly, mutual check-ins, or create a personal diary system to hold yourself accountable to regularly updated goals — keeping you on track.”
This applies to any area of your life where you want to develop new habits or otherwise become more productive (i.e., produce new results).
Look for an accountability partner–friend, coworker, coach, etc.
Some final thoughts
Whatever results we want to achieve in our own life, the things we’ve discussed in this episode represent the basics for establishing a meaningfully productive life. Probably the most important step, though, is to be intentional about it–to be thoughtful about setting standards for yourself on purpose, based on your own values, defining productivity in a way that means something to you, and to recognize if you’re veering toward that toxic form of productivity.
What do you think?
What does being more productive mean to you? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Links
- What is Productivity? How to Define and Measure It? | Simplilearn
- 5 Tips To Boost Your Productivity & Well-Being – Youmatter
- Multitasking: Switching costs
- Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time
- How to Be More Productive: 16 Practical Ways – LifeHack
- How to be more productive: 10 productivity tips – FutureLearn
- Boosting productivity
- Health Benefits of Having a Routine | Northwestern Medicine
- Why Routines and Schedules May Be Good for Your Mental Health
- 7 Benefits of Following Daily Routines | Clockwise
- Benefits of Having a Routine: 6 Ways Normal Routines Keep Us Sane and Healthy
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Susan Sanders says
Hi Laura – I really enjoyed this episode. I think the critical point is how we are defining productivity. It can be very different between people or between different stages of life for the same person. This week I am returning from a work conference 3 time zones away so productive means minimum viable product while I get back into my routine in a sustainable way. Next week will be different!
I like how you combine the research (including links!!) and your experience. Thank you for what you do!