Being more productive in both our personal and professional lives can sometimes seem like an impossible goal. There always seems to be too much to do and not enough energy or hours in the day to achieve it all. Increasing the number of hours you work a day or week is often believed to increase productivity, but this is not the case. One study from Stanford University by economics professor John Pencavel found that productivity per hour actually declines when a person works more than 50 hours a week. So how to be more productive? Increasing productivity can be as simple as making a few small tweaks to our daily habits and psychology. Here are eight ideas that are sure to improve your efficiency, well-being, happiness, and make you the most productive person you know.
How To Be Productive
1/ Look for any advantages
Studies have shown that low levels of productivity don’t always come from laziness, as was often thought, but more often are related to an inability to manage emotions effectively. So the fear of failure can make someone procrastinate to the point of not even starting a project that they would otherwise succeed in. Worrying about failure often leads to postponement which is, of course, a great temporary solution. The problem is when this continues, we fall further and further behind schedule to the point where there seems to be no hope of recovery.
The solution is, at the beginning of a new venture, to look for every possible advantage, not limited to the end result. For instance, getting started on a new project can be exhilarating, the process can be relaxing (while writing or performing repetitive actions, for instance, when you get into a state of flow). The feeling of achievement and negating of guilt in simply taking the first few steps can be rewarding without actually finishing the whole project and meeting any set goals.
2/ Don’t rely on willpower to increase productivity
We all assume that willpower is the most important thing when trying to be more productive. If only we tried harder, if only we were able to stick to our goals and promises to ourselves, if only we were more self-disciplined… The big problem with relying on willpower is that it is a very fragile way of achieving anything as it waxes and wanes with our mood and energy levels. If something becomes difficult, we blame our lack of resolve for being unable to cope and overcome these difficulties.
Instead, we should try to reframe the problem, seeing the difficulties as actually part of the process. If you know that difficulties and setbacks are an integral part of the venture, if you’re ready and know ahead of time that unexpected challenges are actually part of the process, not an unfortunate lack of good luck or want of willpower, then you will be better prepared mentally to continue and to succeed.
3/ Motivate with rewards
Rewards are a great way to motivate and studies show that immediate rewards are the best! If you’re working on a project, professional or personal, that will take time to bear fruit then be sure to build in rewards along the way that will keep you happy and eager to continue. Small things such as a great book, your favorite cappuccino or a night out at the cinema all help to show yourself that your efforts have value, even before the bigger goals are met.
For example, in one study, audiobooks were given to a group of people at a gym to listen to while working out. The stories were addictive and the participants were only allowed to listen while exercising. The result was that those given the audiobooks were eager to return and exercise more regularly than those who didn’t receive the reward of the exciting stories.
4/ Have a strategy ready for anticipated distractions
A really powerful way of becoming more productive is to pre-empt and deal with distractions before they even happen. It has been shown to make you two to three times more likely to stick to your goals. The trick is to devise a tactic for common events in your life that you already know are most likely to distract you and prevent you from fulfilling your objectives.
If you know that every time you leave your desk to go to the bathroom, you stop and look at your phone for half an hour, browsing email, social media and watching funny videos of cats, develop a strategy to avoid this. Switch your phone off, log out and hide the passwords to your social media accounts or put the phone in another room and only allow yourself the reward of using it at lunchtime or for just five minutes for absolute essentials. If a favorite, tempting café is en route to the gym and you often end up stopping there instead of doing your workout, take a different route to the gym.
You can make little pacts with yourself, promising yourself the reward of a favorite pastime only after you’ve achieved certain goals. One hour working on the computer allows you a certain amount of personal time. A good workout at the gym allows you your favorite coffee at your favorite café. Use a timer and a calendar and stick to it and you’ll see the productive hours add up over the ensuing weeks and months.
5/ Forgive yourself
Studies have shown that people with the lowest levels of productivity also show lower levels than normal of self-esteem and exhibit the least kindness to themselves. Being hard on yourself clearly does not help in the long term with becoming more productive. The studies further showed that people who have failed to meet their targets, such as students who didn’t study for their exams, do much better in the long term if they forgive themselves. Hanging on to guilt, negative emotions and ‘punishing’ yourself for past failures is shown to lead to lower self-esteem, low motivation and hence lower productivity in the ensuing months.
6/ Visualise a realistic future
We often put too much pressure on ourselves by being unrealistic. Assuming that tasks will take less time than they really do is very common This can lead to a slump in motivation when you feel that you have ‘failed’ by not keeping a schedule that was never truly possible. We all often make the mistake of believing we will magically have more energy, more motivation, and more time in the future. You trick yourself into thinking that things are hectic right now but they will return to ‘normal’ once you have overcome the current crisis or glut of work and chores.
The truth is that there are always unforeseen events that take over our time and energy and we have to always allow for those. If we set our expectations and goals too high for the future, we risk continually failing which leads to more procrastination, less productivity, and, most importantly, lower levels of well-being. Setting realistic goals will allow you to take back control of your life.
7/ Reduce the effort you use
Being your own best friend and making things easier for yourself can make all the difference in raising your productivity. For instance, if you know that you want to go running in the morning, put out your clothes the night before, put your keys and running shoes by the door. Do any other preparation that will help you out in the morning, thus needing less motivation to actually get out the door first thing. If you want to work a long, productive day at the office and eat healthily, then take the time to buy the ingredients and prepare yourself a healthy lunch to take with you. Thinking ahead can make your goals a whole lot easier and reduce the effort needed in being your best self each and every day.
8/ Define yourself and your identity
The language we use in describing ourselves is important to the point that it helps sculpt our identity and, in so doing, affects our motivations on a broader scale. If you say that you ‘are dieting’ as opposed to calling yourself ‘a healthy eater’, it has a different psychological impact on your behavior. A person who calls themselves ‘a healthy eater’ is more likely to take it seriously long-term as they see it as part of who they are, as opposed to something they choose to do at this moment in time. So decide who you want to be, use the language that makes it a permanent part of your lifestyle and identity, and then live your life according to that blueprint.
Our productivity can ebb and flow but we can see that there are so many small changes we can make in our choices, our psychology and our day-to-day lives. These small changes will allow us to fuel-charge our motivation on an ongoing basis, meeting our goals whilst increasing our happiness, satisfaction, and well-being.
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