Even though we all want to be more productive, it's hard to make major changes. Small changes are easy- and can be incredibly powerful. The following 20 tips are simple enough to be immediately incorporated into your daily routine. Some tips will help you better use your time. Others will help you harness your energy. Others will help you stay more focused. No matter what, they all work. So try a few -- or try them all!--Jeff Haden
Commit to a process, not a goal. Don't just set a goal of creating better customer relationships; commit to calling at least two customers a day to ask how you can better serve them. Don't just set a goal of landing new clients; commit to cold-calling at least two leads every day. Commit to a process that leads to a goal, and you're much more likely to achieve that goal. Focus on what you will do, not on what you want to happen.
Call this the "pain in the butt" technique: when something is hard to do, you'll do less of it. Store sodas in the refrigerator and keep bottles of water on your desk. Put the TV remote in an upstairs closet. Shut down your browser so it's harder to check out TMZ. Use a "productivity" laptop that intentionally doesn't have a browser or email, leave your phone behind, and move to a conference room to get stuff done. Convenience is the mother of distraction, so make it a pain in the butt to satisfy your temptations.
Time is like a new house. We eventually fill a bigger house with furniture, and we eventually fill a block of time with "work." So take the opposite approach. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to complete an important task. You'll be more focused, more motivated, your energy level will be higher, and you'll actually get more done.
Even though we'd like to focus solely on our most important tasks, we all have other stuff we need to do. Instead of sprinkling those activities throughout the day -- or worse, taking care of them when they pop up -- take care of them in a preplanned block. Better yet, schedule that block for when you know you'll be tired or in need of a mental break. That way you'll still feel (and be) productive even when you're not at your best.
You're polite. You're courteous. You're helpful. You want to be a team player. You're overwhelmed. Say "no" at least as often as you say "yes." You can still be polite while protecting your time. And you should protect your time -- it's the one asset no one can afford to waste.
Say you decided you should cold-call 20 new prospects every day. Great idea -- but sounds daunting. Sounds really hard. Sounds almost impossible. Instead, start small. You can call two people a day, right? That sounds easy. That you will do. Then, in time, it will feel comfortable to increase the number. Whenever you want to create a new habit, start small so you will actually start -- and stick with it through that tough early time when habits are hard to form.
Small, frequent breaks are a great way to refresh and recharge. Like the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management strategy where you work on one task for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. (To time yourself, use a kitchen timer or your phone.) The key to not burning out is to not let burnout sneak up on you. Scheduling regular short breaks ensures that won't happen.
Here's one from Getting Things Done: when a task takes less than two minutes, don't schedule it, don't set it aside for later, don't set a reminder -- just take care of it. Now. Then it's done. Besides, don't you have enough on your schedule already?
Free time shouldn't just happen by accident. Free time shouldn't be something you get around to if you get a chance. Plan your free time. Plan activities. Plan fun things to do. Not only will you enjoy the planning -- and the anticipation -- you'll actually have more fun. And the happier you are, the more motivated and productive you will be over the long term. Which, of course, is what personal productivity is all about.
We've all eaten a heavy lunch that seemed to kill the rest of the day. So take a different approach. See lunch as fuel for your afternoon -- and as one meal you know will be healthy. Plan to eat a portion of protein that fits in your palm and a couple of vegetables or fruits. Make it easy and pack your lunch -- then you won't waste time driving to and from a restaurant.
It's extremely likely you don't drink enough water. That's too bad, because feeling good sparks motivation and effort. Plus, if you drink water first thing in the morning, you'll boost your metabolism. Drink more water throughout the day and you'll be less hungry, feel more energetic, decrease your chances of contracting certain diseases -- and you'll have to get up more often to use the restroom, which ensures you'll be more active throughout the day.
A quick nap can improve creativity, memory, and your ability to stay focused. Besides that, neurologists tout the learning benefits of midday siestas.Silicon Valley companies compete to see who can design the the coolest napping rooms. Napping is not just napping anymore; it's a skill. And it's a skill that can super-charge your productivity. (Here are some great tips for productive napping.)
Think about the people you've met recently. Who left you feeling more motivated, excited, and energetic -- who made your life better? Then seek to spend more time with them. Surround yourself with people who can improve your life, and your life will naturally improve. Sounds obvious, but it's also something we all too often forget.
Change is tough. Habits are hard to form. If you want to learn a new skill, don't decide you'll become world-class. The goal is too big, the road too long. Instead, decide to do one small thing really, really well. Then build on that. Success, even minor success, is motivating and creates an awesome feedback loop that will motivate you to do another small thing really well. One step at a time you might someday become world-class -- which, after all, is how that works. Start small, stick with it, and someday your big dream will be a reality.
Take it from Ernest Hemingway: "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day... you will never be stuck." His advice applies to all kinds of work. When you stop in the middle of a project, you know what you've done, you know exactly what you'll do next, and you'll be excited to get started again.