How to Increase Productivity? is an important question for all. Whether you are an employer or an employee, the word ‘productivity’ is known to all.
It is a vital part of our lives and everyone around us is always striving to improve upon it. While some ideas prove extremely successful in optimizing productivity, others fail to impress.
With so many theories doing the rounds, we decided to explore some ultimate ideas that can help us increase productivity manifold. In this blog, we will discuss the top 10 tips to increase productivity. But first, let us understand why productivity is so important!
Why does productivity matter?
With the rising population, competition is at an all-time high. As per some statistics, an average employee is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes per day .
In such a competition-driven market, this level of productivity will bear no fruitful results, leading to our downfall. In order to sustain against the competition and stay employed, it is vital that we focus on improving productivity.
As it is going to be essential for people to know how to stay productive, we must familiarize ourselves with the tips & tricks to stay productive. So, let us look at some tried and tested techniques that help increase your productivity.
Remember, these are not a “fix” but methods that will need to be learned and implemented. Following these tips will not only make you a more productive worker at your office but also train you in the art of time management to help achieve your broader life goals.
How to increase productivity?- Top 10 techniques
- The Pomodoro technique
- GTD – Getting Things Done
- The Ivy Lee Method
- Work in 90-minute cycles
- Kaizen philosophy of Self-Improvement
- Creating a work-life balance
- Tackle the important challenges before lunch
- Follow the two-minute rule
- Take a walk
- Be proactive, not reactive
1. The Pomodoro Technique
In Italian, ‘Pomodoro’ means ‘Tomato’. This technique was first developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. In 2013, a revised edition of the book by the same name was released. This technique focuses on time management by incorporating short breaks into your daily work routine to improve productivity.
How does it work?
The idea was inspired by a tomato-shaped kitchen timer , but don’t feel obliged to use one in your office space. The idea is simple
Work for twenty-five minutes and then take a five-minute break. Once you have worked for two hours with five-minute regular breaks, feel free to take a thirty-minute break to refresh yourself.
It is an effective technique as it improves time management skills and helps understand prioritization. We often fail to set strict, time-bound goals and tend to get distracted with phones, etc., during work.
With the Pomodoro technique, you will be able to segregate all the work and stay fresh and productive for longer durations.
By using this technique you will become better at dividing your work into short intervals and frequent breaks will keep you fresh.
2. GTD method- the art of stress-free productivity
Amelia Earhart once said that “the most effective way to do it is to do it”
which essentially is the core idea of this method. GTD stands for ‘Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity”. The GTD method suggests that the productivity of a person is directly proportional to their ability to relax.
The promising aspect of the system is that it only gives a rough skeleton and is flexible and customizable to individual needs. There are five core aspects of the system that basically aim at improving productivity through prioritization. The five aspects are:
- Capture – This is the first step and it requires you to ‘capture’ your task, to-do lists, thoughts, and ideas. This first part has to be the easiest in order to tempt you to get this done. Try to do this as soon as a task or an idea pops into your mind. An app, a fancy notebook, or the back of a receipt work all the same.
- Clarify – This part requires you to elaborate on your task. It is easy to write down “make a report”, but what does that require? So, clarify your goal and break it down into smaller to-dos that are easier and less intimidating to jump into right away.
- Organize – Organize tasks as per priority and category. At this stage, it is helpful to set deadlines to complete your task.
- Reflect – It is easy to make wonderful plans and lists and then forget them entirely. So, reflect on your tasks and to-do lists. Spend quality time in deciding what to do now, what to do next, and the rate of progress of each task.
- Engage – This is the GTD part. You have your tasks organized and into buckets. They are further broken into smaller, digestible tasks. Now it is time to jump right in and GTD.
3. The Ivy Lee method
How to increase productivity is a question passed down to generations. While many seek answers, few actually theorize different tricks.
For e.g. almost a hundred years ago, Charles Schwab, one of the richest men of his time, asked a renowned public relations pioneer and productivity consultant Ivy Lee to help improve the efficiency of his workforce.
When Schwab asked what it was going to cost him, Ivy told him to pay him whatever he saw fit after ninety days. Ivy received a cheque worth almost $400,000 (worth today) for his effort. So what did he do to earn such a huge amount?
Plan for the next day today. Structure your day beforehand and write down six tasks you need to complete tomorrow.
Once listed, arrange them starting with the most important tasks to the least important ones.
As your day starts, begin with the first task and focus solely on it until it is finished. By doing so you will harness a laser-like focus on the task at hand and find it easier to complete it.
Use the same method to complete tasks on the rest of your list. Take up the next task only after the previous one is finished. If some tasks are left incomplete, add them to the list for the next day.
Repeat the process every day. Practice makes perfect.
With this method, it becomes easy to commit and not get distracted as we spend dedicated time to accomplish everything throughout the day.
4. Work for 90 mins and then take a 20-minute break
This technique essentially develops on the Pomodoro technique, with some real science behind the ninety-minute work and twenty-minute rest cycle. Circadian Rhythms are a sort of biological clock that keeps track of the 24hr day/night cycle.
Similarly, Ultradian Rhythms roll in 90-20 -minute cycles that keep track of our individual brain frequencies.
Studies have shown that alertness, dopamine levels, and attention are all affected by these cycles. Hence, working with these cycles is a scientifically proven way to ensure peak productivity with regular breaks to refresh and clear your mind.
Our bodies are the tool with which we work. Using this method will allow you to work when your body is most ready to work.
5. Creating a work-life balance
A report published by the OECD summarized that Luxembourg was the most productive country in the world . But how is an entire country being extremely productive? The answer is with an optimal work-life balance.
Most economists agree that working for long hours not only stresses a person out, but it depletes their energy, makes them more prone to falling sick, and decreases their productivity.
All of these pose a cost to the employer. The French have had a 35-hour workweek since 2000. Luxembourg allows its employees to take five weeks of paid vacation and further room for making time for personal commitments.
In short, the country understands that by creating a work-life balance, they can increase the productivity of their workers.
So, take your vacations when you can. Spend time with your family and set and accomplish goals outside of the workplace. It is understandable to give higher priority to your financial goals.
But to achieve them, you will need to be productive, and productivity is directly related to a healthy work-life balance. At first, this approach may seem counter-intuitive, but as we have said earlier, a relaxed mind is a productive and creative mind.
Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement. It is a Japanese way of working and is a dedicated process towards minimizing waste and indulging in continuous improvement wherever possible.
In the Toyota factories, any worker could stop the production process to suggest improvements and correct errors. Such a practice leads to high production with minimal waste and therefore high productivity. The way of working is simple and is as follows:
- Standardize – Create a process to accomplish a task
- Measure – Quantify the efficiency of the process
- Compare – Compare how well the process meets the ends
- Innovate – Brainstorm ways to reduce waste and redundancies
- Improve– Create a better process based on the learning
- Repeat – Start with step one again
Implementing the Kaizen way of working will not only make you more creative but expand your creativity and capability to innovate. This is a continuous process and hence requires dedication. But with each iteration, you will become more productive, waste less and therefore become a valuable asset for your company.
7. Tackle important challenges before lunch
“If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing that that’s probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day!”
This productivity-enhancing method follows a similar philosophy, where you must deal with the most crucial task before everything else in the day.
In order to answer how to increase productivity, you must “eat that frog” in the morning, to set a productive tone for the day. Not only does it help you achieve the most difficult/important task, but it also helps you feel less stressed out while dealing with the rest of your tasks.
There are several benefits to finishing your important challenges before lunch. The 4 on top of our mind are:
- High energy levels
- Fresh mind
- Your body works faster during the first half of the day
- There are fewer distractions in the morning
So, get all the important tasks done before lunch so you can breeze through the rest of your day stress-free.
8. Follow the two-minute rule
While answering how to increase productivity, you must take into consideration the phenomenon of wasting time- Procrastination. Procrastination is the biggest enemy of productivity. This is probably why the hardest thing you may have to do to complete a task, is to begin it.
The two-minute rule is the golden key to doing away with procrastination and focusing on productivity. The idea is to get started so you can get done!
Newton’s law of inertia applies to human behavior too, where when at rest we like to stay at rest. But the two-minute rule tackles that very problem and makes your task too easy to procrastinate. Here is how it works.
The rule is, if the task can be done in two minutes, do it right away. After all, two minutes isn’t really that long, is it? So, send that email right away and set the meeting at the earliest.
But what about goals that require a longer duration? Surely there are tasks that take more than two minutes.
The key to accomplishing such tasks is the same as the ones that take 2 minutes- start them. Break down the length of your task into many small two-minute tasks to help you get started on your goal.
Need to make a presentation? Start with the title slide right away (takes two minutes). Before you know it, you will be on your way to finishing the task.
9. Take a walk
This sounds like a simple health exercise tip, but it is so much more than that! It is the ultimate answer to the question, How to increase productivity?
Some of the greatest minds in the world believed in a practice that not only boosted their productivity but also made them more productive; taking walks.
Beethoven would carry pencil and paper on his walks so he could jot down the next great symphony as it came to him. Charles Dickens and Darwin managed to squeeze 2-3 walks into their regular workdays. Tchaikovsky believed that cheating on the daily two-hour walk would make him ill. Maybe the greatest minds in the world were on to something.
Taking a walk not only has health benefits but has shown signs to boost your productivity as well. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport concluded that taking a walk can have immediate benefits. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity found similar results and suggested that even a 5-minute walk every working hour can boost mood, reduce fatigue, and cut food cravings. So, to be more productive just take a small stroll every hour and you will find yourself working at your optimal level.
10. Be proactive, not reactive
One day, at a restaurant, a cockroach flew in, jumping from table to table. This led to several people screaming and jumping around, adding to the chaos. The cockroach eventually landed on a waiter, who kept his calm, caught it, and set it free outside. While the guests were busy reacting, the waiter chose to ‘proact’ and find a solution.
In everyone’s work life, unexpected things are bound to happen. Such events bring forth strong emotional responses which can rile up unpleasant reactions in us.
This tendency to ‘react’ seriously affects our ability to be productive. Hence, we must strive towards becoming more proactive, which can happen when we make dynamic, flexible plans to adapt to situations as they change.
Plans are very important to our productivity. Not only do they save time and organize our goals and tasks, but they also allow us to develop a ‘what if’ stream of thought.
By thinking about all possibilities, we are able to better prepare ourselves from being surprised by unexpected events. Planning tasks and goals with a margin for contingencies for unexpected events can vastly improve your productivity in the workspace and in your life in general.
The little things
Apart from the philosophies of productivity, there are so many little things we can implement in our lives to work optimally every day. The following 9 tips are not easy to implement and work best when they are all incorporated into your life.
Their benefits complement each other and therefore together they give the most improved results. So, let us look at the little things that are easier to implement and can over time increase your productivity.
- Make daily goals
- Get rid of unnecessary and non-vital items on your to-do lists
- Exercise daily to increase productivity
- Set concrete deadlines
- Early to bed, early to rise
- Complete similar tasks together in batches
- Delegate where you can
- Stick to your schedule & avoid distractions
- Turn off your phone notifications
Busting a few myths about productivity
Over the years there have been many theories on productivity. Many of them have gained popularity and are often perceived to be effective, while many are nothing but myths.
It is important to remember that productivity is not simply about the quantity of output but also about quality. An analyst may very well be capable of churning hundreds of reports every week. However, if they are not of sound quality, their use is limited at the very least. Hence, let us look at some common misconceptions people have about increasing productivity.
Myth 1- Multitasking saves time
Firstly, 98% of the people cannot multitask, even when they think they can. What most people do is switch between tasks.
For example, we text, then we stop to read a mail and stop that again to get back to the text.
Secondly, a study showed that switching between tasks is actually inefficient and multitasking in this manner reduced productivity by almost 40%.
When a task is shifted, the brain takes some time to switch the goal of a task and turn off the cognitive rules of the old task to switch on the rules for the new one. Continuous switching of tasks, therefore, will render you less productive. Hence, the first thing to do to increase your productivity is to stop multitasking.
Myth 2- Listening to classical music boosts your productivity
Classical music boosts your productivity, it allows you to focus more intently and makes you more efficient. A 1993 study published this in the journal Nature, and has led to the phenomenon called the Mozart effect, wherein apparently listening to Mozart has positive effects in increasing the IQ of babies and improving the performance of workers in the office.
Subsequent studies have suggested that this is nothing but a myth.
While to some extent listening to music has a “mild-positive effect”, which results in improved performance, it is not limited to classical music and certainly not exclusively to Mozart.
So next time you want to listen to music to boost your productivity, just listen to music that you like, as long as it is not heavy metal, which serves only as a distraction and nothing else.
Myth 3- Working long hours will make you productive
Many workers use lunch breaks to finish work, take fewer vacations than they are allotted, and tend to spend long hours at the office than required. All are guided by a false principle of increasing productivity by working for more time.
It may seem logical, the longer you work, the more work you can deliver. However, it is not always true. Employers and employees both need to understand that overworking can only deliver quantitative results, not necessarily qualitative.
By depleting your energy, you allow your prefrontal cortex to shut down into a flight mode, where primitive instincts take over. Studies have shown that regular breaks are important for improving productivity.
An Ernst and Young study showed that,
for each additional ten hours of vacation employees took, their performance reviews were 8 percent higher the following year.
Hence, workers and managers need to work towards long-term productivity instead of achieving short-sighted temporary boosts in output.
Productivity is not all about saving minutes and a percentage increase in your output. It is a way of life that comes with practice. Working long hours l will not improve your productivity.
To actually see a difference, spend time planning your goals, take regular breaks and make sure you have a relaxed mind at all times. Create a good work-life balance, take walks and focus on creative solutions to your problems.
Take vacations and spend time with your friends and family. All of this will not only improve your time-management and waste-management at work but reflect in your life as a whole.
All the best!
Written by : Smita Nag