It’s that time of year where people around the world start setting ambitious new years resolutions.
We list out things we want to do differently, habits we want to change, and how we’re finally going to join a gym next year.
One of my new years resolutions is to be more productive.
I want to be more efficient with my time at home and at work
But exactly how can I do that?
To answer that question I sought the advice of experts.
I read a bunch of scholarly articles, for honestly the first time since I was in graduate school, to see what the latest research had to say.
And some of the results were really surprising.
Let me show you.
- Avoid fantasizing about your future
- Use rewards for motivation
- Break a big goal into smaller ones
- Meticulously plan out your day
- Try a standing desk
- Work in 30 minute intervals
- Stop multitasking
How to set attainable goals and achieve them
- Avoid fantasizing about your future successes or failures
- Create a specific plan on how you can achieve your goals, step-by-step
- Don’t talk about your goals to others; keep them to yourself (telling others about your goals decreases the likelihood of achieving them).
- Break a big goal into smaller ones that are easy and quick to complete
How to Be More Productive According to Science
Set a reward.
Researchers gave a group of people access to an ipod for free if they came to the gym. Compared to a control group without an ipod, the group with an ipod was 51% more likely to go to the gym.
Here’s how you can apply this to your productivity routine:
- Find something you enjoy (listening to music, eating ice cream, playing with your dog)
- Use it as a reward for doing something productive
- Restrict yourself from the reward until you’ve completed the task
It sounds simple but that’s what makes this productivity tip great.
One of my former bosses gave me similiar advice.
We were talking about how to be better at building routines at work, specifically around checking daily metrics on how the business was doing.
Her advice was to tie the check to something you already do every morning.
For her it was doing yoga. Her routine was to check the numbers every morning before she could do yoga.
Mine was having coffee, and I love my morning coffee.
I built a routine where I quickly checked the morning stats before having my coffee in the morning, and it was really effective.
It really worked for me.
How to Be More Productive In the Morning
Plan out your day.
Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, suggests ruthlessly scheduling every hour of the day.
He says it’s one of the biggest factors of success.
The best way to set up your day for productivity is to schedule every single minute of it.
Every Friday after work or every Monday before starting your week, take the time to review your to-do list and assign a time period to each. Planning your days hour-by-hour is beneficial in many ways:
- You have a clear task list and know what to do after finishing the previous task;
- Limited time brackets help to finish tasks faster, avoiding overthinking some little details;
- You’ll get so much more work done as you know exactly what tasks needs to be completed.
How to Be More Productive at Work
Seriously, this one is that simple.
The researcher, Mark Benden from Texas A&M, studied two different groups of call center employees.
One group had traditional sitting desks and the other had desks that enabled them to stand whenever they wanted to.
The group with standing desks stood for about 1.5 hours every day.
And they were 42% more productive than the group who sat.
In this study productivity was measured based on the amount of calls per hour.
Earlier this year I went on a journey for the perfect standing desk.
I’m a little weird and wanted a permanent standing desk, so not one of the motorized ones that can go up and down.
If the motors in those desks break then your desk can’t work anymore.
So I found this workbench from Home Depot that is perfect for me.
I use it when I take calls during the day. I much prefer standing when I’m on business calls compared to sitting down.
I have a cushy floor mat so my feet don’t get tired.
After using it for over a year I’m completely used to it.
I can also work at my standing desk, and sometimes I do, but I can also sit at my breakfast bar if I want to get some quick work done.
I’m a huge fan of my standing desk and would recommend them to everyone.
How to Be More Productive As a Student
Build your attention span
I won’t go full boomer on you and talk about how kids these days only look at their phones.
I’m a millenial but I feel closer to Gen Z than I do the boomers.
But research has shown that students average only six minutes of work before looking at their phones. (Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2013)
To combat this, the researcher suggests monitoring your productivity time and trying to increase your record before looking at your phone.
First, take your baseline and see how long you can focus before looking at your phone.
Then take that number and try to double it.
He suggests shooting for 15 minutes first then working your way up to 30 minutes.
To do this, give yourself a technology break.
Set a timer for 2 minutes where you’re allowed to look at anything on your phone.
Then set another timer for 15 minutes, turn your phone upside down, and work.
Over time start working up to 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes concentration starts to decrese, so there’s not much benefit to going beyond.
Try a pomodoro timer or some of these productivity apps for students.
Multitask is a innocent sounding word that makes it sound like you’re being productive.
You’re doing multiple things at once. That’s productivity, right?
Only 2 percent of the population is actually good at multitasking.
A better way to describe it is task switching, and that is the opposite of productive.
Research has shown that task switching decreases productivity and increases the time it takes for you to completeyour original task.
It can take up to 25 minutes to resume a task after being interrupted.
If you get interrupted four times a day then you’ve lost up to an hour of productive time.
Add that up over a 100 person company and that is a lot of wasted time.
Some reasons that people context switch are:
- You’re prone to over-optimizing your time.
- You constant stimulation.
- You think in the 2%. Spoiler, you’re not.
- You often have trouble focusing.
Understanding the reasons can help you be conscious of when you multitask so you can start breaking the habit.
Use the other tips in this post, like breaking big tasks into smaller ones or grouping similar tasks together.
Set and Write Goals
Lots of people set goals but the amount of people that achieve them is much smaller.
Cheryl Travers, a professor at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England, asked students to set their own goals.
The students wrote down areas they wanted to improve in, like getting better grades or increasing their concentration.
Dr. Travers asked them to visualize the specific ways they could take action on those goals to make them real.
Over three months the students kept diaries to track their progress.
The professor discovered that “reflective goal-writing” had a positive impact on their ability to do well in school.
| “The act of writing something down seems to make us accountable to a goal,” Travers says. “It also helps people towrite their way through a problem when they encounter barriers.”
Even for students that didn’t set academic goals, like lowering their stress, had a stronger academic performance.
The takeaway for me is that setting a goal isn’t enough, you have to visualize how you’ll get there.
Say you want to become a Director of Marketing. What steps can you take to get there?
First you need management experience. To get management experience you need to manage one person, then two, then three.
Then you need to be able to move from individual contributor work to thinking more long-term and strategically.
You need to form strong opinions, build a roadmap, and get executive buy-in from other Directors or Executives.
You might need to pick up other marketing skills, like SEO, PPC, or copywriting.
So go beyond the goal and think about what steps you need to take to get there.
There are many ways to increase your productivity.
Meticulously plan your day.
Try a standing desk.
Develop your attention span.
If you’re Googling how to solve this problem then you’re already a lot further along than most.
Keep going. You can do it.