The secret to getting more done lies in picking the right productivity rules and then turning them into your principles. This can transform the way you do your work and pretty much anything else you do during the day.
These principles can help you become more productive, efficient, and manage your time better, thus saving a sizable chunk of it each week. You can then invest that time in things you enjoy.
It’s not a coincidence that some people are more productive than others. We might call them gurus, consider them successful, or refer to them as high achievers. But they are just the individuals who built a productivity mindset. They know how to get more done in less time, and have structured their day in the most effective way possible.
Here are four principles to help you embrace a productivity mindset.
1. WRITE IT DOWN
Almost everyone keeps a to-do list, but is it your best friend? If you want to become effective and productive, write everything down and organize those items into a prioritized task list.
The easiest way to do this is to make it a habit. At the end of every day, note all the tasks you want to achieve tomorrow. And then begin your day reviewing those tasks, giving them a priority, and adding any additional items to that list. Doing this at the beginning and end of your day helps ingrain this behavior into a habit.
Research has shown that writing your tasks down reduces stress, improves memory, and can even help you fall asleep faster. That’s because it takes those items out of your working memory, freeing up your brain to focus on what you need to do right now. Your brain can only carry between five and nine pieces of information in your working memory, and for only twenty minutes at a time. The longer you try to keep your to-do list in your head, the less you’re actually able to focus on and achieve. This also can be why it’s difficult to fall asleep if you don’t write your tasks down. Once you let that information go, your brain can finally relax.
Productive people often have multiple to-do lists that they meticulously track. You can use bullet journals, calendars, or productivity apps to help you track and organize your priority list. It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you use it often enough to become part of your daily habits.
2. ELIMINATE THE NON-ESSENTIAL
One thing productive people know is that busy does not equal productive. It’s easy to fill your day with tasks. But high achievers understand that there is a difference between doing things and doing the right things. One takes you towards a goal, the other doesn’t.
No matter how successful or ambitious you are, there are only twenty-four hours in the day. How you allocate those hours matters. As you get in the habit of writing your to-do lists down, you can work on giving each task a priority. This requires you sectioning your life into priorities. For example, maybe the most important things to you right now are your family, your health, and your business. De-prioritize anything that falls outside of those main buckets.
This requires brutal honesty on your part. Will going to see that movie with friends help your mental health and lower your stress? Or are you procrastinating on other more important tasks and seeing that movie will actually do the opposite? The answer will vary every time you ask it, but it’s vital that you sit with these questions and listen to what your gut tells you. Sometimes you have to put off what you want in order to do what you need. That’s a hard balance to find.
Another aspect of eliminating the non-essential is breaking down your tasks into manageable pieces. Instead of an enormous task like doing your taxes, you can break it down into smaller tasks. While this might not seem like it’s identifying the important tasks and prioritizing them, it actually is. When you break things down into bite-sized pieces, you see which elements of that task are the most important. It will also save you from wasting your time. If you get halfway through your taxes and have to stop to find a specific receipt, this can take you off track and disrupt the time you allocated for the task. Being prepared is always the best approach to productivity.
It can be tricky figuring out what tasks are urgent and necessary. But by being honest with yourself and breaking them down into manageable steps, you can identify not just which tasks to remove, but how to approach your tasks in the most efficient way possible.
3. FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME
Multitasking is one of the worst things you can do to your productivity. This might seem counterintuitive. After all, if you can do more than one thing at a time, won’t you get more done in less time? Research says no.
Studies show that when you multitask, you’re not really doing multiple things at the same time. You’re doing what’s called task-switching. And because your brain is cycling through where to focus your attention, it never fully concentrates on any one thing. You might get more tasks completed, but the quality of your work won’t be as good as if you had dedicated your entire focus and effort. This also drains your energy and overworks your brain, putting you at a higher risk of burnout.
Instead, practice single-tasking. Focus on one task at a time, working on only that task from beginning to end. It might seem like you’re working slower and not getting enough done, but you’ll start seeing more momentum thanks to more energy. Since you aren’t draining your attention, your brain can work more efficiently, and eventually, you’ll get more done in less time with better results.
That doesn’t mean you have to always only do one task at a time. There are certain things you can multitask with that won’t cost you energy or fracture your attention. If you commute, listening to audiobooks or podcasts can be an effective use of your time. You can also do this while you’re exercising or taking a brisk walk on a break. If you drive, you can work on your task list using a voice recorder.
The key to effectively multitasking is to understand what area of the brain you’re using. When you exercise or drive, you’re not using executive functionality in the same way you do when solving a math problem. So, listening to an audiobook or conducting a walking meeting doesn’t compete for resources in your brain.
When you first start, you might notice that your attention wanders, and it’s easy to get distracted. To help strengthen your focus, spend some time identifying where your distractions are likely to come from. Dr. Adam Gazzaley has some helpful insights into distraction, how to single-task, and how to get your focus back. You can listen to his advice in a recent podcast episode.
4. WORK IN SHORT BURSTS
Your brain is as powerful as a supercomputer. But unlike a machine, it needs rest to function optimally. When you spend your day relentlessly busy, you drain your brain of the energy it needs. This affects everything from your mood to your performance to your motivation to do anything in the future. Even worse, if you do this day after day, you put yourself at a high risk of burnout.
To prevent low energy or burnout, learn how to take frequent breaks. An effective way to parcel out your work time is by using the Pomodoro Technique. Work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. You can work up to 40 minutes at a time, but unless you’re working towards achieving a flow state, you don’t want to go over an hour.
Working in short chunks helps tackle procrastination. If a task feels too big, or your day is too busy, it can trigger the fight-or-flight response in your brain. Because tasks aren’t something you can physically fight or run away from, you end up in freeze: procrastination. It robs you of your power and increases your stress while putting you in a negative state of mind. But when you set a time limit, it takes away the unknowns and helps you regain your power. It’s easier to get yourself to work for five minutes than to complete a monumental task. Work your way up to longer increments until you’re maximizing each work section.
The more you’re able to get done, the better you feel and the lower your stress. And because you’re prioritizing the most important tasks first, you’ll make progress faster, building your momentum and confidence one Pomodoro session at a time.
Be sure you don’t forget your brain breaks. It’s important that you take a break in between each work session and that you replenish your brain and body during that time. You don’t want to scroll social media or make a doctor’s appointment. Put your phone away and take a quick walk around the block. Do some yoga, eat a brain snack, or meditate. And don’t forget to hydrate. You want to replenish your brain so that when you go back to work, you have plenty of focus, attention, and concentration at your disposal.
Anyone can be productive. By adopting these four powerful productivity principles and implementing them in your life, you will get more done in less time. You’ll increase your energy, motivation, and confidence, helping you reach your goals and unlocking your truly limitless potential.