Let’s take a second to talk about how busy we are.
Let’s face it: our lives have never been more crowded and hectic, and part of that is seemingly by design. A lot of value is placed on being busy all the time, and somehow our culture has twisted this into making packed schedules and overwork into status symbols.
But being busy and being productive can be two very different things. Rather than focusing on how to best use our time, we’re simply focusing on doing something every second of the day.
Many of us can’t help but feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, when in fact we may just be using the time we have ineffectively.
How to Be More Productive
Here are 15 ways to make sure you’re maximizing your productivity and not frittering away precious hours.
1. Get Plenty of Sleep
The fact is, great sleep improves your productivity. Hibernation-quality shuteye sharpens your focus, ups your creativity, and makes you more accurate and effective in all areas of your life.
Everybody knows sleep is good for you, but thanks to other productivity boosters in your life, you might not even realize how tired you actually are.
Maybe you drink coffee or an energy drink as a pick-me-up. Maybe you exercise in the morning, or take a cold shower. Even staring at a lit computer or phone screen can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime and waking up a bit.
Or maybe you’re not getting as much sleep as you should be, but you’re still awake and alert enough to get your work done.
The thing is, a temporary alertness or energy boost is no substitute for real sleep. Even if you feel awake, the negative effects of sleep deprivation still hit you, running in the background like malicious programs on your computer. Your attention, creativity, and overall effectiveness suffer… even if you don’t feel tired.
Naturally, the best thing you can do to combat this is to get better sleep—and by this, we mean regular sleep.
Stick to a strict schedule as much as possible, and don’t take your screens to bed with you. This will train your body and your brain to sleep at certain times, and you’ll doze more deeply and wake more rested as a result.
2. Schedule Your Work
Whatever tasks you’re facing today, take time to schedule them in order of priority. For example, you want to prioritize writing this week, make sure you build time for that into your schedule.
Don’t let a day go by without working toward your goals. Even if it’s just 15 minutes here and there it adds up. The work habits you build will determine your success or failure.
Every day you skip out on your work, you bring yourself closer and closer to failure, anxiety, stress, and the really bad habit of procrastination that dooms far too many promising careers.
3. Avoid Endless Organizing
Gotta get your life in order, right?
Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find at least two dozen articles about the “X-number Habits of Organized and Productive People.”
Based on that mess of evidence alone, you’d think that organization and raw productivity were inexorably linked. And to a certain extent, they are connected: many experts agree that a certain level of organization, as well as a well-ordered mind, can aid workflow and boost output for many people.
But there’s a line that gets crossed somewhere. Spend just a little too much time scheduling your week, arranging meetings, and reorganizing your computer files—and suddenly you’ve wasted your entire day.
Too much organization, particularly an over-reliance on schedules, can harm your productivity in other ways. Having routines is helpful, but they can be confining if followed too strictly.
You can’t schedule creativity, and getting too uptight about when and where you are at all hours of the day can hurt your ability to think on your feet. Try going off-book for a day, and see if improvising knocks any bright ideas loose.
4. Get Off of Social Media
I know what you’re all saying: “Oh, social media is distracting, huh? Next, you’ll be telling me that grass is green, and water is wet!”
Yes, everybody knows that social media like Twitter and Facebook can be massive time-sucks. But the landscape has changed.
These days, instead of social media distracting us from our jobs, it’s actually integrated into our workday in surprising ways.
If you run a business, work freelance, or create content of any kind, you probably do a considerable amount of networking every day—and in today’s increasingly digital atmosphere, a large amount of that peer-to-peer interfacing is done over social media.
But no matter how important interacting with customers, fans, and partners online may be to building your brand, social media isn’t your job. No matter how many followers you get or leads you generate, that alone won’t net a profit. And it’s far too easy to use “networking” as an excuse to avoid other, more productive tasks.
If you’re not producing, you’re not eating.
A good rule of thumb is that of your waking, productive hours, 10% or less of that time should be spent on nonessential activities like social media. Any more than that, and you’re eating into your productivity—and, likely, your profits.
5. Avoid Toggling Between Tasks
Try as we all might to avoid them, distractions and interruptions in the workplace are inevitable. Coworkers stop by to ask questions or chat. Our phones buzz in our pockets. Reading new texts, emails, and popup ads ruins our workflow.
According to a recent study completed at the University of California, Irvine, toggling between two or more activities creates a demand for “recovery time,” meaning that it takes your brain a certain amount of time to “recover” from a distraction.
After you dispel an interruption and get back to the task at hand, most people experience about 25 minutes of reduced creativity and focus before they’re back to peak performance again.
Obviously this number varies slightly from person to person, but the fact remains that workplace interruptions reduce your productivity.
Luckily, there’s a pretty simple solution to this problem. While you can never totally isolate yourself from distractions, you can do your best to focus on one task at a time instead of rapidly toggling between different activities or projects.
This will keep you running at maximum productivity for more of the time, and better help you establish a “flow” in your work that keeps you moving.
6. Limit Your Meetings
Face-to-face meetings are an essential part of the business world. They’re where big deals get made, where important decisions are reached, where new partnerships are forged.
They can also be a huge drag on productivity.
While it’s true that meetings can be productive for some attendees, almost all meetings (especially those that involve large groups) end up wasting somebody’s time. And lots of meetings aren’t productive from the get-go, serving merely as recaps of past work that could have been handled by one person over email.
And while terms like “collaboration” and “inclusiveness” are snappy buzzwords, not every decision in a business needs to be made by committee—or have a captive audience when it’s made or announced. Plus, how many meetings have you been in that ran long because people decided to shoot the breeze afterwards, or even in the middle of official proceedings?
Even scheduling meetings can be a huge drain on productivity, simply because of how difficult it can be to coordinate multiple people’s schedules.
To make the most of your meetings, try scheduling a brief, recurring weekly meeting with your team to go over items that affect everyone. Write an agenda and stick to it to avoid getting off track and wasting time.
7. Manage Your Emotions
Whatever your profession, it’s important that you prioritize your own emotional health. If you’re thinking about problems at home, or feeling anxious about your insecurities, you won’t be able to give your all to the task at hand.
Some days, you might be scared, angry, hurt, or feel emotions you haven’t felt or haven’t wanted to feel for years. It’ll open up parts of yourself you never imagined we’re there. Embrace it. Get help. See a therapist. Talk about your feelings and problems.
Taking care of your emotions first will allow you to be much more productive at work, in your writing, and in all your other endeavors.
8. Take Care of Yourself
You are your biggest obstacle to success. You have to learn to work harder on improving yourself than you do at your writing career.
When you work on improving your life, even if it’s just a little bit, it’ll help you become more creative and productive.
Practice self care. Take that walk around the block. Eat healthier. Meditate. Get rid of bad relationships. Make your relationships better. Reduce your stress.
Also remember to stay cool! It’s really hard to be productive when you think you’re melting…or when you’re freezing to death in an overly air-conditioned space!
Use fans, sweaters, and even the air conditioner to create an optimal working environment that’s not too hot and not too cold.
Small things may not seem that important but they can make all the difference in the world over your lifetime. Creating is hard enough without adding 10 more problems to your life.
Solve the little problems and becoming a more productive creator will be a lot easier.
9. Add Value Always
Focus on adding value to your work, not making money.
Your readers need your help. Your job is to help them, no matter what kind of books you write. Your story and message could change their life. It’s your job to do the best you can possibly do to help your reader. Nothing else is as important to your career as helping your readers.
When you have a big decision to make about the direction of your work, the title for your book, or any other creative decision, ask yourself:
“What’s best for my reader?”
Whatever the answer is, it’s almost always the right choice. Do what’s best for your reader. Add value to their lives. If you do that well enough, everything else will work out.
If what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, it’s up to you to change it. Do something different. Try new things. Experiment. Play like a kid. You will figure it out if you really want to become more successful and productive.
Believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, and believe in your work.
You can do it if you’re willing to do the right thing day after day after day.
That’s how you build a successful life and a successful career.
Learn everything you can about your profession and the goals you are pursuing. Ignorance is not bliss. It will ruin your dreams.
For example, if you’re a writer, you can:
Check out the best books on writing.
Understand how to do market research for writing and learn more about your customers and readers.
Every day, study so you can learn a little bit more about how to do your job the best you can. Time spent studying for your career is never wasted.
12. Make Mistakes
You’ll learn more from your mistakes than just about anything else.
Be bold. Get rejected. Publish crappy articles and books (at first).
You learn as you go and you have to be willing to fail or you’ll never learn what you need to learn to succeed.
The only difference between you and the most successful writers in the world is they’ve made more mistakes than you have. Learn from your mistakes and keep going.
13. Get Rid of Bad Habits
To become successful, I had to get rid of my addiction to video games, binge watching TV series, and complaining. I also had to develop new habits like working out, taking walks, meditating, and asking for help. I had to ask hundreds of people for help along the way. I never could have done it alone.
Bad habits and addictions will destroy your creative output. You need every extra hour you can get to take care of yourself and focus on your writing career.
If you waste that time on bad habits, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.
14. Build Relationships
Meet other people from your industry with big ambitions and good work habits. Just being around people who have achieved what you want to achieve will motivate the heck out of you.
You’ll see that other people are succeeding and you’ll be inspired to work extra hard to make your dreams come true.
15. Ignore the Noise
Don’t waste time with complainers, energy vampires, or depressed people. Their energy will infect you. It’s nearly impossible to create while depressed or stressed.
If you find something or someone in your life is distracting you from being productive, happy, and fulfilled, deal with it now! Putting it off will only make you feel more stressed, anxious, and depressed. And if that’s how you feel day after day after day, chances are you’ll never become a highly productive writer.
The Best Writing Productivity Tools and Apps
Below are 5 productivity apps that can help you stay focused and motivated at work and in your writing:
The Pomodoro method is basically PT for your ability to focus. It’s a system where you set a timer and force yourself to concentrate on a task until the timer goes off. Over weeks and months, you increase the length of each timed session, thus improving the length of your focus the same way doing pushups daily makes you able to do more pushups in a row.
Lots of Pomodoro tools, products, and resources are out there, along with even more Pomodoro clones. Seriously, just google “Pomodoro” and pick what suits your fancy.
Focus@will is a music app that uses neuroscience to make you more productive.
Its developers used research on how music and sound make focus easier or harder and created a program which will play music optimized to tweak your neurochemistry for better concentration, focus, and productivity. It will even let you choose styles of music to fit your current mood. They’ve also thrown in a productivity tracker so you can figure out which personalized options work better for our productivity.
If you do the kind of writing that needs a bibliography, you know that formatting the bib and tracking your sources feels like it takes almost as much time as writing the rest of the piece. Zotero is a browser extension that helps track and organize online and offline sources as you use them, then creates copy/paste bibliographies ready for Word, OpenOffice, or GoogleDocs.
As of this writing, it only works reliably with Firefox, but most of us have that on our computers someplace. When I do bibliography-heavy work, I keep an iteration of FF open and use it for research while using Chrome and Word for other tasks.
In high school, I dropped out of precalculus owing to a combination of advanced disinterest and a personality conflict with my teacher. The only class with space open during that class period was typing, which I took. Being able to type well over 100 words per minute is probably my superpower when it comes to writing productivity.
The best way to improve your touch typing is to type a whole lot. As a freelance writer, you have plenty of opportunity to do just that. But if you get bored, or you need that initial training, there are myriad programs and even video games that can help increase your typing speed. Spend half an hour with them each day and see what happens.
Social Media Blockers
If typing speed is my superpower, social media is my kryptonite. Those who follow my Facebook feed know I can rabbit hole down a conversation there and lose hours. My current solution: I turn off internet to my primary computer when it’s time to buckle down.
But you don’t have to go that extreme. Apps like Anti-Social, Cold Turkey, and SelfControl will set your computer up to keep you off social media until a certain amount of time has passed, or you’ve performed a certain task on your computer.
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