By Larry Kim
These productivity techniques will keep you on track and happy.
1. Turn Off Alerts
It’s terribly tough to get into your Zen zone when your phone is buzzing every few minutes. Depending on how chatty your phone is, you may get notifications for everything from emails to retweets. It’s essential you shut these notifications off! Trust me, you’ll see efficiency skyrocket once you tell your phone to shut its blabbering mouth.
2. Ignore the News
As I lengthily discussed in an earlier article about productivity, the news can be a tremendous time sink. The idea that we need to keep up to date on the news is largely outdated. Most of what passes as news today is prettily packaged garbage—it’s trivial, depressing, and unreliable. If something major happens, you’ll find out one way or another. Instead, focus your attention on what’s useful and actionable in your life.
3. Exercise in the Morning
It’s been shown that exercising in the morning can greatly improve your productivity. Exercise energizes rather than exhausts you, contrary to what the couch potatoes might tell you. (Not that I’m judging. I can be very spud-tacular myself at times.)
Exercising also promotes good health (quick, alert the press!), and some studies have shown that exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours following your workout. Less stress, more efficiency—it’s definitely worth setting that alarm 30 minutes earlier.
4. Have 30-Minute Meetings
As Jeff Haden notes in an Inc.com article, “whoever invented the one-hour default in calendar software wasted millions of people-hours.” The truth is that most meetings never need more than 30 minutes to accomplish their missions. Many really only need 15 minutes. Don’t be a calendar-default deadbeat. Next you’ll tell me you kept your phone’s default ringtone, too.
5. Drink Water
Most of us don’t drink nearly as much water as we should. Our bodies thrive on water?—just like the rest of the world! Drinking more water gives you more energy, keeps you healthy, and gives you an excuse to get up for bathroom breaks so you’re not stuck in a chair all day (which is horrifically unhealthy too, so you’re killing two birds with one water bottle).
6. Give Yourself a Break, Man!
You work hard—you deserve a break! Maybe with a Kit Kat, maybe with a cup of tea, maybe with a walk in the park. It’s easy to burn yourself out if you try to work at full throttle all day long. The truth is that our minds just aren’t designed to work that way. For optimal productivity, try the popular and praised Pomodoro technique—work for 25 minutes, then give yourself a five-minute break.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
This one is a pretty standard productivity tip, but it makes the rounds for a reason—when you’re too eager to please, you often end up getting in over your head. Remember, it’s not simply a matter of being agreeable—when you take on too much, all your work suffers. You may end up missing deadlines, and despite good intentions, you could end up disappointing others when you are unable to meet the extraordinary expectations you’ve created for yourself. Sometimes you just have to say no, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
8. Hug Your Dog
Many studies have shown how having pets can promote physical and mental well-being. Employees who are allowed to bring their dogs into the office are less stressed and often report more job satisfaction. There’s nothing like a cuddle with a furry friend to alleviate some of that toxic stress.
9. Make the Most of Lost Hours
Depending on your commute, you may spend hours driving to and from work in your car. Those hours don’t have to be wasted—consider scheduling calls in the morning that you can take during your drive to work. Subscribe to popular industry podcasts and listen to them on the way home. Stuck waiting at the boarding gate before a flight? Catch up on industry news and articles.Make the most of those previously wasted hours.
10. Silence Your Inner Perfectionist
New college grads still try to pass off perfectionism as the ultimate worst-trait-that-isn’t-really-a-bad-trait in interviews, but it’s time to recognize that being a perfectionist really is a dangerous deal. Yes, a single piece of work canalways be better, but what are you sacrificing by laboring over slight improvements? Do the best you can do in a reasonable amount of time, and then stop. Your inner perfectionist can be helpful, but it also needs to be kept in check.
11. Down With To-Dos, In With Scheduling
Have you ever had that to-do item that simply wouldn’t disappear? It hovers at the bottom of the list or scratched in the corner, petulantly scowling at you for days, weeks, even months! As more time passes, you feel even less inclined to give it attention.
We’ve all been there—it’s just one of the reasons I’m saying out with the to-do list and in with scheduling. As Eric Barker, a writer for The Week notes in the article “How to Be the Most Productive Person in Your Office—and Still Get Home by 5:30,” scheduling requires you to be realistic about what you can get done. It makes you seriously sit down and consider your available time and what specific slots you can designate to completing certain tasks in a given day.
To-dos are pipe dreams. Scheduling is a game plan. Studies show that even scheduling free time can be rewarding and can result in better quality of time spent—even if that time spent is playing PS4 or reading a Stephen King novel.
12. Declutter That Desk
Clutter is extremely stress-inducing. A messy desk can make you feel overwhelmed and anxious, so clear those papers, throw out those old paper coffee cups, and feel that heart rate go down.
13. Equip Yourself With an Arsenal of Productivity Tools
Staying on task can be tough, but there are tons of great tools available to help you out. Don’t ignore these handy helpers—when someone offers you an ax in the zombie apocalypse, you take it, don’t you?
Are you a savvy social manager? Go with Hootsuite, which offers a central dashboard for managing all your social media accounts. Also consider Buffer, which makes it super easy to share found articles across various social sites.
For saving articles to read at your leisure, go with Feedly, Pocket, or Evernote. These apps are compatible across devices; you can earmark a blog post on your laptop and read it later on the train via smartphone.
Sick of forgetting passwords (then resetting them, getting an email, and choosing a new password, which you’ll forget again next time)? Try LastPass, which keeps tabs and secures all your various passwords for you. If you use numerous accounts in one day (and who doesn’t?), this one can be a serious timesaver.
There are plenty more tools out there, so always keep your eye out for new productivity pals to help you in your workday.
14. Begin With Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts have traditionally been the vegetable reviled by children across the country (although now that roasting is in, their reputation is improving). The truth is that you’ll enjoy those pork chops and potatoes much more if you eliminate the Brussels sprouts first. The same is true for productivity—eliminate your least favorite tasks right off the bat, and you’ll find the rest of your day to be more pleasant and productive.
15. Eat Breakfast!
Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day—it’s no ruse put on by Dunkin’ Donuts. A morning meal gives you the fuel you need to be present and productive at work, so don’t skip it.
16. The Two-Minute Rule
The general productivity consensus is that if a task takes less than two minutes to complete, you should finish it immediately. Whether that means responding to an email or confirming a doctor’s appointment, get those small (but often weighty-feeling) tasks done with, rather than let them collect and snowball.
17. Don’t Drown in the Shallow End of the Pool
When a hundred little tasks are nibbling at your brain, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost at sea. However, a little perspective can do you good—remember to not sweat the small stuff. If you’re going to worry, worry about the big things, not the little ones.
18. Verbal Commitments
It’s easy to break a promise to yourself, but it’s much harder to break a commitment you’ve made to another person. Words have weight and power—make vows to friends (and ask them to hold you accountable), and you may find it easier to keep commitments you wouldn’t necessarily hold yourself to.
19. Get Your Sleep On
Another tried-and-true classic—you absolutely need sleep if you want to be productive. Sometimes you might feel that if you only stayed up a few hours later, you’d get more done, but major sleep loss will ruin the entire following day.
In fact, Margaret Heffernan notes that losing one night’s sleep is cognitively equivalent to being over the alcohol limit (with none of the fun parts, unfortunately). Equipment needs to be properly cared for to work correctly. Your brain is no different! Getting a good night’s sleep of seven to eight hours is mandatory, not optional.
20. Sign In on Sunday (Just for a Minute)
Sunday is definitely a day for relaxing, but if you’re often overwhelmed come Monday morning, logging in briefly Sunday evening may help you alleviate some of that Monday mania. You don’t need to make calls or even answer emails—simply assess what your Monday game plan will be, and you’ll sleep a little more soundly.
21. Make Bad Habits Difficult for Yourself
Sometimes the best way to break a bad habit is to make things incredibly difficult for yourself. If you hate that you watch too much TV, keep the remote control in the upstairs closet. If you can’t help but surf the Web when you need to be focusing on a blog post, disconnect your Wi-Fi for a bit. While the extreme lengths you take to avoid certain habits can seem excessive, once those habits are broken it will be well worth the struggle.
22. Make Sure Your Goals Are Realistic
Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself sets you up for failure. Don’t be afraid to start with baby steps and work up from there. If you want to be an Excel master, start by trying to learn just one new Excel tip a day. If you want to run a marathon, start by getting out for a run a few days a week. Your goals shouldn’t be lofty ideals you never plan on reaching—they should be real and attainable. Once you meet your goals, create new ones that raise the bar a bit higher.
23. Stay Positive!
A positive outlook goes a long way toward keeping you happy, healthy, and productive. Count your blessings, and seek out the silver linings.
Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream, a marketing software company managing approximately a Billion dollars in annual ad spend for over ten thousand customers. The Boston-based company employs around 200 people and has been among the top 500 fastest growing private companies in America for the last 4 years straight. He developed free tools for Facebook, AdWords and Keyword Research used by over a million marketers worldwide. Larry’s columns about marketing and entrepreneurship on his blog, Inc. Magazine and Medium are read by millions of readers every month.