How Can Personal Productivity Be Improved?
There are many ways to improve personal productivity. But we can consolidate them into five – stay healthy, plan your work, avoid distractions, learn to say “No,” and take specially-designed productivity courses.
You should be interested in improving your productivity if you want to get the most out of your day. The more productive you are, the faster you get things done.
In this post, we’ll show you actual steps that you can take to improve your productivity to achieve more in the time you have.
Let’s get into these steps!
1. Put your health first
You can’t be productive with poor health, so take steps to stay healthy by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating nutritious foods.
Not only does work affect health, but poor health also affects performance.
Let’s see the practical ways to stay healthy below.
Get enough sleep regularly
Generally, a sleep-deprived person will have more memory lapses and notice a significant drop in problem-solving skills. For improved personal productivity, have a good night’s sleep of about eight hours every night.
Good sleep helps the body reboot. It performs restorative tasks that reset your hormones as well as energy and stress levels so that you can wake up feeling refreshed.
If you are sleep-deprived, the day’s work will suffer, and you will struggle to concentrate.
Scientists find that sleep deprivation costs US companies over $63 billion per year in lost productivity.
When you’re stressed, you won’t work at your peak. Exercising is a good way to relieve stress because it triggers the release of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. So have a 30-minute exercise session five times a week.
Exercising increases blood flow and helps to keep the body’s glucose and oxygen levels high. These not only help the muscles, but they also help the brain.
The cognitive benefits of exercising include improved concentration, a sharper memory, and prolonged mental stamina.
For improved personal productivity, put your health first by exercising regularly.
Eat nutritious foods
Remember the saying “you’re what you eat”? It means that when you eat healthily, you feel healthier.
So you need nutritious food that helps maintain a stable blood glucose level. For example, fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and antioxidants, which play important roles in muscle restoration and minimizing bodily inflammation.
Poor nutritional diet can cause lower energy levels, fatigue, decreased mental effectiveness, and ultimately decreased productivity.
That said, to increase personal productivity, put your body first by eating healthily.
2. Have a productivity plan
Planning your work improves personal productivity because it gives you an overview of all that you need to do, as well as when and how you’ll do them. So spend a day every week to schedule the week’s jobs and break the daily tasks into smaller achievable tasks.
A productivity plan is simply a plan for your time. It involves looking at all that you need to do, when they should be done, and creating a schedule for them.
Thus, planning gives you a better idea of your goals and what you need to do.
It also helps you prioritize work so that you’ll not waste time on less important activities.
Additionally, it gives you an idea of how you’ll get things done, thereby helping to eliminate guesswork.
But how do you go about productivity planning?
Plan the Workweek
Plan your week ahead of time. Simply take some time every Sunday to look at your work for the coming week, and schedule particular jobs for particular days.
With this, you can be focused on tackling each day’s tasks without worrying too much about the other jobs.
Plan your Workdays
Before jumping at the tasks scheduled for a particular day, take some time to plan how you’ll go about them.
The day’s plan takes the “job” to be completed in the day and breaks it down into smaller approachable tasks. So a plan can simplify a “job” that seems overwhelming.
It also helps you easily visualize when you’ll achieve the day’s objectives. So, if some extra work arises, you’ll instantly know where to slot it without disturbing your rhythm.
The simplest way to plan a workday is to create a to-do list. List out the tasks you will do in the day.
However, prune the list so that it does not contain too many tasks and be overwhelming. As the day proceeds, check off tasks that you complete.
When planning a workday, you should use the following techniques.
Break big tasks into smaller ones
Breaking big tasks into smaller ones helps you see progress often as you complete each small task. With each successful completion, you get positive feelings of joy and satisfaction. And this motivates you to take up the next tasks.
You probably have heard the saying, “you can’t move a mountain.” It’s very true. However, you can move small rocks.
When you look at the things that you need to do (as a whole), it can come out as an immovable mountain – undoable. You may even struggle with determining where you’ll start.
However, breaking the big tasks down into smaller ones makes them more approachable and doable.
Another reason why breaking big tasks into smaller ones works is that humans don’t like delayed gratification.
Everyone wants to see progress often, rather than waiting to see progress at the end of a long period.
This simply means grouping similar work (or works that require the same skill) together and doing them in one stretch of time rather than doing them at different times in the day. Batching tasks increases your productivity because it helps you focus on a particular type of work at each point in time.
Task batching works because of our biological makeup. The human brain is not wired to multitask. Different tasks require different thought processes. So anytime you move from one task to another, there’s a switch in your thought process.
Interestingly, that switch in thought process comes at a cost – a reduction in speed and performance accuracy. This is why you shouldn’t be operating your phone while driving. You’ll drive slower, and you can’t concentrate well.
So, where possible, it is best to complete similar tasks before moving on to different tasks.
By reducing the switch from one thought process to another, task batching helps you complete scheduled jobs faster. By keeping you focused solely on similar tasks, the technique helps you to pay attention to details, thereby increasing your performance accuracy.
Eat the Frog technique
This technique simply means doing first those things that you dread. The Eat the Frog technique works because those “frog” tasks and procrastination come hand-in-hand. It is very common to keep postponing a dreaded or difficult task only for it to be undone at the end of the day.
Productivity consultant Brian Tracy was inspired by a quote by Mark Twain to coin the “eat the frog” phrase. It has become among the most straightforward techniques for increasing personal productivity.
The original Mark Twain quote is: “if it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first“.
To use the “eat the frog” technique, when planning your workday, identify your “frog” and schedule it to be done first.
The frog could be the task you dread most, the most challenging, or the most important task (in terms of impact on the overall objectives).
If you leave the “frog” task for later in the day, you may not have enough time or energy to complete it when you try to.
So complete your dreaded “frog” task first thing in the morning. You can then rest assured that the worst is behind you, and you’ll positively attack other tasks.
The “Eat the Frog” technique is best for people who struggle with procrastination or get many things done but aren’t making progress on the important things.
This is a time management technique invented and popularized by Francesco Cirillo. The Pomodoro technique involves breaking your tasks into 25-minute chunks called pomodoros. One reason why the Pomodoro technique works is that it creates focused work sessions.
The pomodoros are separated by 5-minute breaks, but after 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break of about 15 – 20 minutes.
Instead of thinking in terms of the whole day that you have to work, the Pomodoro technique will have you thinking of the next work session. It helps you focus on completing as much work as possible in each 25 minutes session.
Another reason the Pomodoro technique improves personal productivity is that it allows short breaks between the work sessions.
When you do a particular work for an extended period, mental fatigue creeps in – you begin to lose focus, and your performance on the task declines.
A break is important to clear the mental fatigue from each focused work session.
So, even when not using the Pomodoro technique, it is important to schedule time for breaks in your workday plans.
Even 1 or 2 minutes micro-breaks to simply get up from your desk and stretch work wonders to personal productivity.
Kanban is a workflow management technique that is an upgrade of the checklist. Instead of one column of things to do, the Kanban makes use of three columns – “to do,” “doing,” and “done.” The Kanban method helps you visualize how you’re completing tasks and gives you an overview of what remains to be done.
Using the Kanban system, you’ll need a whiteboard and sticky notes. List the tasks in the sticky notes and put them under the to-do column.
When you start a task, move it to the “doing” column, and when you complete a task, move it to the “done” column.
The MoSCoW technique is used to prioritize tasks. When planning your workday, the question of what task to do first can be daunting. The MoSCoW technique helps solve this.
MoSCoW stands for:
- Must have: These are necessary tasks and need to be done as soon as possible. They should be given the most priority and must be done first.
- Should have: These are tasks that are important but are not urgent. They need to be done, but holding them off for a while will not hurt objectives too much. You should plan to do the “Should haves” immediately after doing the “Must haves.”
- Could have: These are desirable tasks (you’ll want to do them), but they are not very important and not very urgent. Also, there will not be much of a problem if they are not done.
- Won’t have: These are tasks that you don’t have to do. Most people make a wish list instead of a checklist. These tasks are not important at all (at least for the time).
To use the MoSCoW technique, make a 2 by 2 matrix with the 4 boxes being must have, should have, could have, and won’t have.
Then write out all your tasks, and put them in the appropriate matrix box.
This helps you focus on your most important tasks for improved personal productivity.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the available time. This means that if you schedule 2 hours for a 30 minutes task, it’ll take 2 hours.
This doesn’t mean that you underestimate the time for tasks when scheduling.
Rather, it means that you should not overestimate when you are planning your workday. That is, don’t assign a task more time than it should take.
3. Avoid distractions
Anything that breaks your concentration when you are doing something is a distraction. And this reduces productivity.
Distractions affect concentration, and concentration level is directly related to productivity level.
So, to improve personal productivity, you need to avoid distractions when on a task.
There are different sources of distractions. Avoid all of these.
Avoid digital distraction
This is a distraction due to electronic devices and media. Digital distractions occur when your concentration on a particular work is broken by the need to operate your phone or computer.
In the information age, and especially with social media buzz, digital distraction is pervasive.
Avoiding digital distractions does not mean removing technologies or electronic devices but removing addictiveness and being disciplined with their usage.
Practical steps to avoid digital distractions towards improving personal productivity include:
Silence your phone. When you have to do certain tasks, avoid taking calls. Don’t only put your phone in vibrate mode because the mere vibration can be distracting. You can always return missed calls.
Avoid chatting and social media engagements. Chatting or scrolling social media feeds robs you of valuable time that you should have used for work.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can quickly scroll through Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook while you are working.
Remember the “switching cost.” You can’t do something optimally when you’re jumping in and out of social media while at it.
Turn off media alerts. Alerts and notifications serve only one purpose – to call your attention to something in your media device. In so doing, notifications draw your attention from the work you have at hand.
So turn off all notifications from phones and desktop applications.
Limit checking emails. Also, limit the time you spend checking your emails. Consider checking and replying to emails only 4 times a day.
Noise is a distraction that can break your concentration from what you are doing.
Noise can raise the level of your stress hormones which makes it difficult to concentrate, affecting your productivity.
To avoid noise, you should understand the sources of noise.
Conversation. Even the neighbors’ conversations can be disruptive. To avoid this distraction, close the doors where possible. If you’re working from home, dedicate a private workspace where you will not be disturbed.
Bad Equipment and Fixtures. Disturbing noise from chillers and squeaky sounds from cabinets can distract from work. To avoid this disturbance, keep all equipment and fixtures working properly.
Declutter your workspace
You can also be distracted by things lying around your workspace. They may not cause any immediately visible negative effects, but clutter causes mental stress and fatigue and affects the brain’s concentration ability.
Simply declutter and get organized to avoid this subtle distraction. Your workspace should not be your storage space, so get rid of all the unnecessary things lying around.
However, if determining what to get rid of is difficult, consider the following:
- Recency – when was the last time you used the item? It probably isn’t as important as you think if it has been a long time.
- Frequency – how often do you use the item? If you don’t use it often, it probably should be tucked away and not left lying around.
- Importance – how important is the item? If it is something you wouldn’t use again (like rough papers used in previous projects), it probably should be discarded.
4. Learn to say “No”
Refusing to be always available for everyone helps you put your tasks first. It also helps you commit all your time and energy to your tasks, improving your productivity.
One of the biggest productivity killers is being available to virtually everyone for everything.
As much as you want to be polite, courteous, and helpful, you can’t be available to everyone all the time if you want to be truly productive.
When you’re available whenever someone needs your help, you will be taking from your productive time. This leaves you with less time to do your work.
So, to be productive, you need to learn to say “No.” To do this, you should guard against the concern of being seen as a good colleague.
Saying no helps personal productivity because of the following:
It keeps you from being overwhelmed
Saying “yes” whenever you’re called upon is basically taking someone else’s workload and adding it to yours. If you’re already wondering how you’ll complete all you already have, taking up more can easily be overwhelming.
That is, saying “no” sometimes improves personal productivity by helping you put your tasks first and keeping you from burnout.
It helps you establish boundaries
Saying “No” at times helps others know what they can expect from you.
If you’re always available, people will expect you to always be available for them, and they’ll always call on you for help, distracting you from your work.
So saying “No” will keep others around you from not always disturbing you and affecting your productivity.
5. Take a Productivity course
A guaranteed way of improving personal productivity is to take courses specially designed to help people improve their productivity. Learning from an expert will help you gain mastery of your time faster.
In virtually everything in life, you’ll learn faster if you have an expert to guide you instead of learning on your own.
A productivity course from a reputable provider like Iris Reading is the best guide you’ll find.
Typically, a productivity course will help you identify things that can cause you to be less productive and also help you learn strategies to improve your productivity.
For example, in the Personal Productivity course from Iris Reading, some of the things you’ll learn are:
- Strategies to avoid procrastination
- How to boost productivity by checklist
- Common to-do list mistakes and how to overcome them
- How to avoid wasting time
- How to improve focus and limit distractions
- How to overcome information addiction
- How to eat healthy for improved productivity
- Work-out tips for busy people to improve personal productivity
- How to optimize your sleep for improved productivity
- How to unclutter your environment for improved productivity
- How to stay motivated and productive after a long workday
The course also comes with three bonus webinars:
- Quick life hacks to maximize your productivity
- Top productivity apps for professionals
- Top productivity apps for students
The course is designed to suit both students and working professionals.
It doesn’t matter what you do.
If you sometimes feel that there aren’t enough hours to do what you need, the productivity course may be what you need.
Improved personal productivity will help you do what you need to get done faster and more efficiently. Fortunately, you can improve your productivity by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthily.
Another way is to plan your productivity, especially planning workdays using techniques like task batching, “eat the frog,” MoSCoW, Kanban, and more.
It also helps to avoid distractions, including noise, clutter, and digital distractions.
Try to put your work first by not being available to everyone that needs you all the time.
Our last and most important way is learning from and being guided by an expert.
When it comes to expert guidance in improving personal productivity, Iris Reading is one of the most reliable names around.
Our programs have been hosted by some of the best universities in the world, including Stanford and Harvard. Our courses have been attended by thousands worldwide, including students and executives of Fortune 500 companies.
Register for the Iris Reading Personal Productivity course today if you want a fast track to improving your productivity.