Imagine this: It's 3 pm, you have a weekly team meeting in an hour, and a 6 pm deadline looming--but you've only managed to check off one item on your lengthy to-do list.

We've all experienced days like this; days where no matter how much we will ourselves, we just can't muster any productivity. Striving to win the productivity war can feel like a daily struggle that takes up more headspace than the tasks on our to-do lists alone.

But here's the good news: productivity is not black and white; there's no such thing as a naturally productive person and an unproductive one. Anyone can increase their productivity, it's often just a matter of motivating yourself to do so and experimenting with a few tried and true techniques. Additionally, there's no right way to be productive, from following the Unicorn Principle or even intentionally procrastinating, anything goes when it comes to increasing your work output.

If you're ready to start leading a more productive, less stressful work life, prioritize these two basic principles that all productive people live by.

1. They put themselves first

Highly productive people know that workaholism is not something to brag about, and an 80+ hour work week is not a badge of honor they want to wear. Not taking time for rest and self-care is the fastest route to burnout. Burnout is one of the biggest threats to building an engaged and sustainable workforce in today's professional landscape.

To avoid burnout and maintain peak performance levels, highly productive people make a concerted effort to carve out time each week for wellness, and they often start with sleep. More more studies are expounding on the benefits of sleep, citing that nightly zzz's are essential to maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health. Prioritizing sleep should be a no brainer because, after all, if your brain and body are tired, your productivity levels will suffer.

The benefits of exercise extend far beyond waist size and BMI, as regular exercise is proven to increase happiness and keep symptoms of anxiety and depression at bay. While most people recognize the benefits that regular exercise brings to their lives, many still don't consider exercise a priority amid the deadlines and endless responsibilities of their busy schedules. Highly productive people, however, view regular exercise as a non-negotiable part of their job descriptions and go to lengths to schedule in time every week to move.

Productive people know that unplugging is the key to recharging. Moving from smartphone to tablet to desktop day after day and spending 24/7 answering emails and slaving away on projects isn't doing anything to boost happiness or creativity. Take some time away from technology to participate in a hobby or spend time with friends and family.

One of the biggest hindrances to productivity and creativity is digital distraction. Workers today are constantly connected, consumed by their screens, and rarely give themselves time to step away from work. Technology overload creates excess noise that can be difficult to live with.

Highly productive people recognize that living an always-on lifestyle doesn't serve their professional, emotional, or physical well being. To combat this overload, they designate specific times of the day or week to step away from their screens and get back to themselves.

2. They focus on one task at a time

This might sound counter-intuitive but multitasking makes people less productive. Think back to every job interview you've ever been on, and the question of "How good are you at multi-tasking?" is probably the common denominator. For years expert multi-taskers were highly sought after commodities within companies because the idea of being able to juggle many projects at once supposedly suggested a hard-working team player.

As it turns out, managing multiple work streams at one time doesn't do individuals or their teams any favors. Contrary to some multi-taskers' proclamations, it's impossible to do two activities, fully and competently, at one time. Instead, multi-taskers switch back and forth between multiple tasks, which uses up stores of oxygenated glucose the brain needs to run efficiently and essentially exhausts the brain.

Mistakes occur when the brain is overly tired and unable to see things clearly. Furthermore, not honing in on one task at time diminishes the brain's ability to creatively problem solve and retain information. All in all, although it is lauded as an exemplary quality, more often than not, the practice of multitasking hinders performance.

Highly productive people know that multitasking adds time and stress to their already full days. So rather than bouncing back and forth between projects, emails, and meetings, they approach each item on their to-do lists singularly. This approach ultimately lends itself to a higher quality of work, more creative problem solving, and less stress.

Increasing your productivity doesn't have to be a huge undertaking. By simply putting yourself first and focusing on one thing at a time, you, too, can be a highly productive person.

Published on: Mar 13, 2017