Picture yourself ending the workday free of stress, feeling accomplished about what you achieved that day. You are a productive machine where no task is too much to handle. You look forward to waking up the next day to passionately accomplish more, knowing exactly what needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people do not even come close to feeling this way about work. Thankfully, there are things we can all do to increase workplace productivity. To achieve that limitless productivity that many of us dream of, we have to take the right steps. Too many people today suffer from burnout, and just flat out lack passion. By understanding how the art of productivity works, you can work harder and smarter. Even your most productive friends will be blown away at how much you can get done in the day while maintaining peak energy levels.
Here are our top tips to increase workplace productivity:
Do the most painful task first
According to behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, the first two hours after we become fully awake are, potentially, our most productive. Mark Twain famously said that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you. The best thing you can do to increase your workplace productivity is to do your hardest task first thing in the morning.
Your “hardest” task is the one you’re most likely to procrastinate on. Maybe it is a project with an upcoming deadline, or a presentation you’re horrified of giving. Your mind is most clear in the morning, making this the most productive time of the day. By getting it done in the morning, you won’t be stressing about it the rest of the day. There’s not a better feeling than getting something important done before you even have your second cup of coffee.
Set yourself up for success the night before by writing down the task you plan to tackle the next morning. If you can, gather the material you’ll need to get it done too.
Getting things done is a habit, and by starting your day by accomplishing something important, you’ll already get more done than the rest of the office. For more on this topic, I recommend checking out the book Eat That Frog.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is actually counterproductive. Studies have shown that multitasking decreases productivity by as much as 40%. It can also cause you to introduce errors into whatever you’re working on, especially if one or more of your activities involves a lot of critical thinking. Need more evidence? A study out of the University of Sussex in the UK indicates that multitasking may actually be physically harming your brain. The study found that participants addicted to using multiple devices simultaneously has lower gray matter density in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is linked to emotional control and plays a role in decision-making, empathy and how we respond to rewards.
Consider focusing on one task at a time. This means you must stand firm and genuinely commit to your choices. You can manage your next task after working on the existing one. You don’t have to complete every task all at once, just the current period of time dedicated to it.
Create to-do lists
To do lists are a key component to increasing productivity. They allow an orderly way to efficiently organize everything you need to get done. Create your to-do list the night before work and make sure to write the most important tasks at the top.
Be sure not to clutter your to-do list with small easy tasks that will distract you from the things that actually need to get done. Keep it simple, nothing is more intimidating than a mile-long list. I highly recommend this Productivity Planner that I use daily.
Cultivate selective ignorance
Consider this passage from the New York Times bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek:
Cultivating selective ignorance is predicated on the idea that most of the information we ingest is not as essential as we make it out to be and that we and the world can get by just fine without it.
The majority of the information you get isn’t going to help you solve problems; in fact, it’s a distraction, and beyond your control. Try consuming less media at work, and limit your emails and phone calls to the ones that will immediately impact your current task for that day.
Use the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that an 80/20 imbalance exists in most input/output relationships. This essentially means that a mere 20% of what you do each day produces 80% of your results. Once you complete 20% of your work, the rest has a minimal effect on your performance and overall productivity level.
The idea of applying the 80/20 rule is to make sure you are tackling the 20 percent of activities that apply for 80 percent of the outcomes. While you may get the satisfaction of crossing a large number of small tasks of your to-do list, you should focus on the few, larger tasks that will generate the most significant results.
So, how do you go about making the best use of the 20% of time that leads to results? First, in the morning, identify the MOST IMPORTANT thing that needs to get done that day. Next, if we calculate 20% of the 8-hour work day, we get 96 minutes. Set a timer and spend the first 96 minutes of your day tackling the task that will produce the majority of your results. Do not let yourself become distracted with emails or any other menial tasks, as you will have the remainder of the day to focus on those. By applying the 80/20 rule, you will notice a dramatic uptick in productivity, while simultaneously reducing stress.
Be an optimist
There is a famous study by mathematician Marcial Losada that looked at the effect of negative emotions in the workplace. They observed behavior in different company meetings behind a two-way mirror. The study measured positive and negative statements made by employees, and their performance on a day-to-day basis.
Losada and his team found that high-performance teams have a staggering 6 to 1 ratio of positive to negative statements, while low performing teams were under 1 to 1. High performance teams were more resilient, flexible, and not stuck in self-absorbed, defensive behavior. Low performance teams had lower connectivity, asked no questions, and had almost no outward focus.
Take a deep look inward and think about the quality of your thoughts throughout the day. If you find that you are more negative than positive, it is time to make a change. Making an effort to be more optimistic can have a lasting effect, and make life more enjoyable (and productive). If you are struggling with being more optimistic, try reading Learned Optimism by Dr. Seligman. It is life changing.
Break up the day with exercise
It’s common knowledge that exercise plays a key role in improving your health and maintaining healthy hearts, lungs, and other systems in the body. But, did you know that exercise can kick your productivity into overdrive? That’s right. The latest research shows that breaking up your workday with exercise can make you smarter, happier, and more energetic.
Physical exercise stimulates the development of new mitochondria, aka the brain cell’s “power plants”. So exercise actually increases the brain’s energy capacity, boosting your mental output.
The good news is you don’t need to do any hardcore exercise to obtain these benefits. In a randomized controlled trial, researchers from the University of Georgia split people into three groups: low-intensity exercise, moderate-intensity exercise, and a control group (no exercise). During the six-week experiment, both “exercise” groups reported growing levels of energy (compared to the control group), but there was no discernible difference between the moderate- and low-intensity exercise groups. In fact, the low-intensity group reported less fatigue than the moderate-intensity group. This means that even a light period of exercise during the day can make you feel more energized. You will notice a positive effect on your mood, as your body floods your brain with positive chemicals during and after exercise. By getting a quick workout in during your workday, you will be supercharged to finish the day off strong instead of groggily making another pot of coffee to survive. Be sure to make sure your diet is total crap as well. If you’re having trouble eating healthy consider reading The Plant Paradox, or incorporate a healthy eating routine such as the ketogenic diet.
Get enough sleep
Getting an optimal amount of sleep (at least 7 hours) can have a dramatic effect on your workplace productivity – as can too little sleep. A great many working adults in the United States and around the world aren’t getting enough sleep. Nearly one-third of American workers—that’s about 40 million adults—are sleeping no more than 6 hours a night.
Even moderate sleep deprivation impairs cognitive and motor skills, even as much as if we were intoxicated. Sleep problems also negatively affect attention, memory, focus, learning, decision-making and creativity, wreaking havoc on work productivity and performance.
In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
Getting enough sleep should be of upmost importance. Shoot for 7-9 hours, and make behavioral changes that include establishing a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding stressful environments late in the day, and limiting your exposure to light at bedtime. Also, try checking out the ChiliPad, which has drastically improved my sleep. You will notice an immediate improvement in your mood and work productivity by getting those zzzz’s.