Do you feel like you always have way more on your to-do list than you can handle? And do you feel like you are always adding new tasks, but hardly checking any off? Then it might be time to look at your priorities and goals and learn how to increase productivity.
We all love getting things done. And luckily, productivity is a skill that you can learn. No need to be born as a “naturally productive person”. It’s all about habits and knowing how to do it. But before we dive into all the details, let’s look at some definitions first.
(If you are here only for the 28 productivity tips, you can also jump there directly!)
Disclosure: Some of the links below are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
What is it to be productive?
When you look up the dictionary definition of the word “productive”, you’ll find a few different meanings of the word. In general, it means to have the ability to produce or create something. Note, how efficiency is not actually part of the definition here.
In daily life, whenever we call someone productive, we definitely think of them being efficient. We think of someone who gets a lot of ish done. And because we all have goals and dreams, that’s what we want to be. Efficiently productive, checking things off our list left and right.
While productivity is a huge topic for businesses and employee monitoring, here I want to talk about personal productivity. Because this is about us and our lives.
What is personal productivity?
Personal productivity is like the word suggests “personal”. As an employee, your productivity is measured by how much output you produce. Specifically, the output the business is paying you for. No one is going to check or care about your household chores. Business only!
When it comes to personal productivity, it’s all about your own goals and priorities. What do you want to get done? What is important to you? And what do you need to live a healthy and balanced life?
Personal productivity is subjective
This means, that the definition of personal productivity can be highly subjective. You need to personally take the time to write down your goals, objectives, and tasks and prioritize them. No one else can do this for you. But it can help to have a sparring partner who knows you a little bit.
They can tell you what they see you spending your time on. Oftentimes we set priorities unconsciously. You know, like the stereotypical dad who always works and never has time for his family? Those dads probably didn’t consciously decide that their family is not a priority. They just feel more pressure from work and simply give in.
Taking the time to think about your priorities and the bigger picture will also automatically help to increase your productivity. When you make sure your actions are in line with your goals and values, you will get things done much easier because you are more motivated.
Why is personal productivity important?
Critics of productivity methods argue that the constant struggle to fit more things into our day is bad for us. And that productivity is nothing we should worry about.
In my opinion, these critics are missing a crucial point. Personal productivity is not about cramming your day full of tasks and timing every breath you take. On the contrary, personal productivity is about making sure that what you do in a day brings you closer to what you want.
If that happens to be a life of big achievements and business success, then yes, this might mean working on your efficiency and speed as well. But if your goal is to live healthier and become a more relaxed and happy person, this could also mean to schedule relaxation and playtime into your day regularly.
Again, personal productivity is not about “producing output” you can sell to anyone but yourself. It is about doing things that are in line with what you want and making time for them.
Decide what your life should look like
Without personal productivity, your life might be governed by to-do-lists and chores. No time to actually shape your lifestyle. That sounds a little sad, doesn’t it?
This is why I think personal productivity is important. I think everyone has the possibility to work on their dream lifestyle and to make time for what’s important to them. Sometimes all it takes are some small adjustments to how you plan out your day.
How to increase productivity
Alright, now that we are on the same page about the meaning and importance of this, let’s figure out how to improve productivity.
How can I make myself more productive?
Your first and most important task to increase your personal productivity is to figure out how you can be a more productive person. For this, you need to know your own tendencies. Specifically the unproductive ones. Watch yourself, especially on those days when you seem to get nothing done!
How do you feel on those days? What do you do instead of the tasks? Do you browse Facebook? Do you procrastinate even starting? Do your ideas for unrelated things start flowing as soon as you want to focus?
Work with your tendencies
It can be really helpful to write these things down. Have a notebook on your desk and whenever you notice a certain behavior that keeps you from being productive, simply write it down. Don’t dwell on it, just write it down and go back to work. (I love plain Moleskine notebooks* for things like that. They are of good quality and also look chic. Kinda important for something you want to keep close to you, isn’t it?)
Once you have a good list, screen it for patterns. Things that pop up again and again. Those are your unproductive habits. And like we all know, habits can be changed. Pick one habit at a time and train replacing it with a new and more productive behavior.
An example for this
An example for this: I notice that I open Facebook every 30 minutes. Probably because this is my current attention span. So my hypothesis is that after 30 minutes I need a short break. But I don’t want to take a break that takes me down the social media rabbit hole and ends up eating 2 hours of my time.
So I decide to find a new “break habit”. Whenever my focus fades, I want to stand up, stretch for a second, and go drink a glass of water.
I want to work on this new habit for 30 to 60 days until it happens automatically and I no longer need to think about it. Then I will start working on the next unproductive behavior.
How can I be more productive in life?
Personal productivity is not only about your own behavioral tendencies though. What you surround yourself with and what your general lifestyle looks like is also extremely important.
Make sure to have a good environment. Have some plants or flowers in your workspace. And clean it up a little!
Clutter, noise, and other distracting factors can decrease your productivity. Why? Because they all compete for your attention, making it harder for your brain to focus.
Surround yourself with people and things relating to your goals. Being able to exchange thoughts and ideas regarding your topics will fuel your productivity immensely. Seeing stuff relating to your goals will keep you focused on your why and bring your thoughts back to your task if you get distracted momentarily.
How can I be more productive again?
Sometimes we lose our productive mojo for longer than just a moment. First, everything is fine, we are killing it at checking off tasks and feel on top of the world. But then life happens. Routine sets in. Our old procrastination habit rears its ugly head. And it gets harder and harder to stay focused on the task at hand.
When this happens, it usually means, something is missing. Or something is too much. Do you make sure you get enough sleep? Eating well and working out? Do you have new sources of stress in your life? Or – gasp – are you bored with things?
If you know how to be productive, but it seems super hard to apply this knowledge, take some time to really think about the reason for this. Maybe you simply need a day off. Or maybe it is time to adjust your goals again. Whatever the reason, once you take care of it, being productive will be much easier again. You got this!
You might agree with all of the things I said so far about how to increase productivity. But you might still want something more specific than that. Or a summary of the tips in the text above. I got you! If you need some good old straightforward productivity tips, the following list is for you!
1. Think about what you want to achieve the evening before
Planning out your day the evening helps you start your day right away. In the morning, you can start tackling your mission right away, without having to sit down and think what’s actually the next thing to do.
2. Have a written task list
You might know exactly what the next 5 steps towards your goal are. But writing them down will make it much more likely that you actually do them, too!
So whatever your next project or goal is, make sure to write down the steps towards it.
3. Break big projects into smaller tasks
While you write your tasks down, make sure to be realistic about what a task is and what a project is. Projects don’t belong on your task list but should be broken down into smaller pieces.
A single task should never take more than a couple of hours from start to finish. If your goal is to do the whole spring cleaning, for example, one task could be to declutter one room. Another task could be to clean all the windows. And so on.
4. Prioritize your tasks
Once you have your task list, make sure to prioritize it properly. There are various ways on how you can prioritize. You can, for example, simply go by what is really important to you to get done that day. Prioritizing by gut feeling, so to say.
Or you could use a specific system for prioritizing.
The Eisenhower matrix for prioritizing a task list
I personally love to use the Eisenhower matrix when I am overwhelmed with a long task list. The Eisenhower matrix groups tasks by their importance and urgency. This helps me be objective about what needs to be done today and what can wait or even be crossed off my task list completely.
It looks like this:
5. Know your peak times
Another important part of planning your to-dos is knowing your personal peak times.
If you are at a mental peak in the mornings, right after waking up, use that time for more mentally challenging tasks.
If you know you always have an early afternoon slump after lunch, plan some mindless work there. For office workers that could be cleaning out old files. If you work from home, maybe plan some household chores like unloading the dishwasher into that timeframe.
If you are a night owl who gets the most creative ideas late in the evening, make sure you plan some “ideation” time then.
6. Eat the frog first
No matter when your ideal productive time starts, it is always a good idea to start with the task you dread most. And this is what “eating the frog first” refers to. This helps you in several ways.
First of all, when you start tackling your tasks, you are still fresh and full of willpower. This makes it easier to get over yourself and do the unloved thing.
Second of all, once it is done, you’ll know that the worst part of the day is already behind you. This will give you a huge feeling of accomplishment and a boost both in motivation and productivity.
7. Batch similar tasks
Another helpful tip to increase productivity is to batch similar tasks. Instead of writing an email every hour or so, take one hour at the end of the day to work through your inbox.
Think of it like having to buy things from different supermarkets. You would want to get everything you need from one supermarket at the same time, right? Going there several times would be inefficient and you would waste quite some time.
For your brain, focus, and productivity the same thing applies. If you have to go to a specific mental place to do one thing, it makes sense to go there once and check off all the things you want to do there.
8. Put your tasks in your calendar
My last productivity tip for the planning part is to put your tasks into your calendar. I am a big fan of the Gmail calendar for this because this way I automatically have my schedule on my laptop and my phone.
When you put your tasks in your calendar, two things happen:
- You give your task the same importance you give to, say, meetings with other people. Don’t underestimate the psychological power of this kind of commitment to your task!
- You actually block your calendar time. If now some external request for your time comes in, you can check if you even have time for it. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that you should deny everything automatically. But it will make you aware that you’ll need to find a new timeslot for a task, should you decide to move it.
If you want to take it to the max, you can take up time blocking in your calendar. It’s a real game changer!
Set yourself up for increased productivity
9. Turn off notifications
The one thing that can really kill productivity is constant interruption of what you are doing. And guess who is the worst offender doing this? That’s right, your phone.
Whenever you get ready to get into the zone, turn off your notifications. All of them. On your phone, your laptop. Close all browser windows that are not needed for what you are doing right now.
10. Get a productive environment
We are used to getting input constantly. Our brain takes in all kinds of information from our environment, even if we don’t actively want to.
So clutter can decrease our productivity, nice things like plants can actually increase it by up to 15%. So make sure you have a space in which you can do your best!
11. Pop on those headphones
I used to think that this tip only applied to people in noisy open-plan offices. But now that I am working from home, I learned again what huge difference the sounds (or lack thereof) can make to my productivity.
12. Use templates
Now, this productivity tip is a more long-term investment in your productivity. Whenever you have tasks or projects that keep repeating in the same or a very similar manner, you can benefit from templates.
This doesn’t have to be work-related, it can apply to any area of life.
Let’s say you create a workout plan for yourself every month. And you know the building blocks for this workout plan. Let’s say you always want to do cardio twice a week and then some workouts focusing on various muscle groups.
Writing down these building blocks for reuse and saving a nice-looking template for the finished workout plan you just need to fill in would take quite a bit of repeat work off your shoulders, wouldn’t it?
13. Know what gives you energy and use it in breaks
Productivity comes not only from what you do while working but also from what you do during your breaks. Do you spend your time on things that give you a good vibe? Or do you cram some other tasks into your break?
Probably not a surprise, but the latter is a really bad idea. In order to stay productive and possibly even increase productivity, you want to take really good breaks. Those that make you feel refreshed and come back to your task with a smile.
For me, that can be as easy as doing a silly dance around the kitchen while I wait for my decaf to brew. Or taking a quick walk around the block to soak in a little sun. Find some of those little things that give you energy.
14. Change your seat
Changing your seat can help you increase your productivity in several ways.
When the space you are in fits the task at hand, this automatically helps put you in the right mindset. For example, if I need to be super pedantic because I am doing invoices, I’ll sit at my desk. On the other hand, if I want to be creative and brainstorm ideas, I’ll sometimes end up sitting on a pillow on the floor, my pens, notebooks, and post-its scattered around me.
Going to work in a new place can also help you get out of a rut and regain focus. Last but not least, changing your position is a good idea for your body.
15. Machine power
You know what can increase productivity without you needing to do much about it? Machines! Look at the things you do regularly like a CEO. What are things that are below your paygrade and could easily be automated?
Use apps, tools and other things to help you with the more mundane stuff. (For starters, check out the list of productivity apps below!)
The best automation step I have taken in the last years was to outsource the vacuum cleaning to one of those cute cleaning robots*. Now it does the vacuum cleaning for me daily, while I work on way more interesting stuff!
16. Stay healthy
You didn’t think there would a list of tips from me without this piece of advice, did you? But as always, it has its place here. When it comes to productivity, your body is your racehorse. It needs to be in tip-top shape to deliver the best possible results.
17. Have a good morning routine
The way you start your morning sets the tone for the whole day. So the morning is the perfect time to invest in yourself and your mindset to make sure you can be your best self and show up!
18. Just start
I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t know the problem of procrastination. The simple (but not necessarily easy!) solution to this? Just start. Forget about anything you might need to finish the task. Forget about anything else you could do.
A good ritual to trick your brain into obedience is to tell yourself that you will only do 2 minutes of the task. Then you can take a break or go to the bathroom or whatever else might be holding you back from starting. Only 2 minutes.
You will find that more often than not, you will not notice when the 2 minutes have passed. You will simply keep doing the task.
19. Give up on the illusion of perfection or “Done is better than perfect”
While it is commendable if you want to do every task as well as possible, it can hold you back. If you really want to increase your productivity, forget about doing things “perfectly”. Do the task and check it off.
If you later find out that it needs something else, that can be a new task. For now, focus on doing the essential thing and don’t worry about perfection.
What is done, is done. And we all know that done is better than perfect!
20. Make your progress visible
Cross things off or keep a “Done” list. The point is that there will always be new tasks and it can feel like you are fighting windmills when you tackle your list every day.
Making your progress visible will keep you motivated and actually show you if and how you increase productivity day by day.
21. Quit multitasking
Are you a notorious multitasker? Writing emails during meetings? Folding the laundry while listening to a podcast and mentally writing the next to-do list?
I’ve been there. I still sometimes am. But multitasking is the worst thing you can do if you want to be productive. In fact, your brain can not really multitask. What really happens is that your attention jumps from task to task very quickly. So people who are “good a multitasking” just have really quickly jumping brains.
But the result of all of this jumping around is actually a huge loss of productivity. And worse, you are teaching your brain that getting easily distracted is not only okay but desired! That is really the opposite of what we want when we are working on increasing our productivity.
22. Track and limit how much time you’re spending on tasks
When you start on your productivity journey, you probably don’t know yet how long certain things take you. This is normal and most people are actually not that good at estimating how long things will take them. So make sure to track this for a while. (See the list of productivity apps below for examples of good time tracking apps.)
Once you have a general idea of the time needed for a task, give yourself limits for completing those. This is really important because if we give ourselves too much time for a task, we won’t finish early. Instead, we’ll find more things to do around the task and it will grow bigger and bigger to fit the allotted time. This is also known as Parkinson’s law.
23. Follow the “two-minute rule”
Entrepreneur Steve Olenski came up with the two-minute rule for productivity. It says that you should do all tasks that take less than 2 minutes to complete immediately.
Just think about it: In 10 minutes you could check off 5 of these tasks. Now that would make a nice difference to the look and feel of your task list, wouldn’t it?
24. Take regular breaks
Taking breaks is important to make sure you can keep up your performance. Yes, during a break you won’t get any work done. But your body and mind get a refresher, helping you to focus better again.
25. Use the Pomodoro-Technique with 90 minutes intervals
A perfect way to incorporate regular breaks into your schedule is the Pomodoro method. This time management technique gets its name from the tomato-shaped timer its inventor used. (Pomodoro means tomato in Italian.)
The Pomodoro technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals. Traditionally, these intervals were 25 minutes long and in between these intervals, you would take short breaks.
For me, 25 minutes is often too short to do anything substantial. So I like to make my intervals longer. But, as researchers at Florida State University found, your work interval shouldn’t be longer than 90 minutes.
26. Check emails only after your first batch of work
Hopefully, you are already following tip number 9 and have turned off all of your notifications. But even without the constant buzzing and ringing, many of us have the habit to constantly check our emails. Even worse, we do it first thing in the morning, right after waking up.
Our brains love this because they literally get chemically addicted to stuff like this. But reading your emails before doing anything else fills your head with things other people want you to do.
Skipping the emails in the morning and focusing on your to-do-list first, will help you immensely to increase productivity. Make it a habit to check your emails only after you got some work done!
27. Ignore “busy” tasks
The most productive people ever have one skill down to a T. They can say “no”. This might sound so simple and straightforward, but it can be quite difficult to implement.
When new and exciting ideas come along or other people need a “quick favor” from you, it can be hard to decline. But it all takes away from your goals. Focus on what is on your list of priorities. Focus on the things that will make a difference to your bottom line. Learn to say no to things that keep you busy but don’t contribute to what you want to achieve.
28. Write ideas & distractions down for later
While you are practicing saying no, your brain sometimes can’t let go of distractions and ideas. Science calls this the “Zeigarnik effect”. As long as you don’t do anything with the task, your brain will keep it in an open loop. Obviously, this can make it pretty hard to concentrate.
An easy hack to solve this is, again, having a notebook handy. Simply write any ideas, distractions and unrelated tasks down for later. This tells your brain that the task is filed away and that it can close that loop.
There are countless productivity apps out there. If you need help with any of the typical productivity problems – there is an app for that. To get you started, I collected a few examples of productivity apps.
Time tracking apps
RescueTime is an application that tracks the time you spend on websites and applications. In the free version, you get a weekly email report and can check your 3-month report history. You can even set goals.
It is really helpful to make you see how much time you are wasting on Facebook and how much you are really being productive. The premium version* even allows you to block distracting websites, to help you with your goals.
Toggl is another time tracking software that you can use across your devices to find out where you spend your time. I like about Toggl that you can pick your own tracking categories. What I don’t like is that you always need to remember to push the button to actually start tracking.
Where RescueTime records what you do by itself, with Toggl you need to remember to track.
ForestApp is an amazing productivity app. Not only is it a gamified version of the Pomodoro technique and helps you stay productive. It also has some real-life impact!
In the app, whenever you set a timer, you start growing a virtual tree. If you take a call, answer messages or do anything else with your phone while the timer is active, your tree dies. So just keep working and the tree grows in your virtual forest.
If you are being productive, you can earn virtual coins in the app. When you spend those on planting real trees, the company behind the app donates to an organization that plants trees in real life. Awesome, isn’t it?
Apps for organizing your tasks
Evernote is a great choice if you prefer digital note-taking to a traditional notebook. You can easily have several task lists and organize your thoughts in various digital notebooks.
You can even share notes with collaborators. Evernote is a great choice for anyone looking to increase their productivity. I know it helped me lots!
Trello is a project management tool and has countless features to help you organize your tasks into boards. You can also collaborate with others. If you are just starting out with increasing your productivity, this tool might be a little too much for you.
Asana is another well-known project management tool. It used to work quite differently to Trello and be organized more like a traditional task-list, but in recent years they added the board function as well.
Why do you want to increase productivity?
Now it’s your turn: I want to hear from you! Why do you want to increase productivity? What are your goals? Are you planning on using any of these tips?
And, most important of all: Have you shared this post yet? I’ll be forever grateful!
*These links are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.