If you know me then you’ll know that I’m huge on productivity. Since time is a finite asset, it serves us well to make the very most of it, and I am fascinated by the concept of achieving more with less. After all, each of us only has 24 hours available in the day — it is what we do with these hours that makes all the difference.
Productivity became even more important to me as I established my business through 2012. All of you who are self-employed and/or run your own business will appreciate how important efficiency is, and all of you running a side venture will appreciate how vital it is to make the most of the scarce time available to you.
With the above in mind, in this post I want to cover the five biggest productivity boosts I implemented in 2012. If you’re anything like me, implementing just one of the following recommendations will make a huge amount of difference to the efficiency with which you work.
5. Optimize Your Location
I cannot stress how big an impact on your productivity your location can make. In 2012 I worked from a number of locations, including:
- My “home office” (i.e. a desk in the corner of my spare room)
- My living room sofa
- My dining room table
- My sister’s house
- My father’s office
- My local library
- Various coffee shops and cafes
By far the best environment for me is my local library — even though it is not what you might consider a “typical” library. There are loads of patrons milling around, people chatting and talking on cellphones, and just a general ongoing whir of background noise. They even bring school kids in on a Friday morning to sing. I know — a bit weird for a library, right? And yet, it works for me. I put my headphones on and slip away into my own little world of work.
The problem with home is that I have too many distractions — it’s too easy to start singing along to whatever music I’m listening to or flick on the television. At my sister’s house I’m often surrounded by her screaming kids (and although I love them, they’re not good for my productivity). At my father’s office the temptation to be sociable and chat business is far too great. And coffee shops are just a pain — finding one with decent wi-fi, paying an arm and a leg for a cup of tea, and so on. The library works for me.
With all of that said, I’m not suggesting that you immediately head over to your local library and become a productivity machine. It’s all about what works for you. In fact, you may already know which environment is best for you, in which case you should make a concerted effort to put yourself in that environment as often as possible. If not, get out there and start experimenting — what is the environment that works best for you?
4. Optimize Your Health
This is bound to be the least popular way of improving your productivity but can actually be the most effective in my experience. Here’s the deal. There are three health-related issues that can have a massive effect on your ability to work efficiently:
- Level of energy
If you’re not getting enough sleep, the quality of your work won’t be good. A lack of energy in general means a lack of energy to dedicate towards your work. And finally, hunger is a real distraction when you’re trying to get things done.
Even modest increases in the amount of sleep you get, the amount of exercise you do and the quality of the food you eat can make a huge difference to your productivity. Just experiment with it and find out for yourself. Those people who work themselves into the ground may be getting an impressive number of hours under their belt, but there is every chance that you could achieve the same work in less time just by being healthier and therefore applying themselves more effectively.
You shouldn’t wear the number of hours you work as a badge of honor — it’s about quality of work, not quantity. Be healthier, work less, achieve more.
3. Remove Distractions
Ah yes, that old nugget. It’s an obvious piece of advice, but I want you to take your application of it to a new level. Why? Because it’s one thing being aware of your distractions; it’s another actually getting rid of them so that your productivity increases.
So for the next couple of weeks I want you to start keeping a log. This log is really simple — every time you’re distracted by something whilst working, make a note of what it was. After a couple of weeks you’ll have a near-complete list of every single distraction in your environment. Common examples include:
- Your cellphone
- Calls of nature
- Hunger and/0r thirst
- Entertainment (television/games console etc.)
- Social media
But you’re likely to discover distractions that are more individual to you. Here are a few of mine:
- My guitar (i.e. I want to pick it up and play with it)
- Sales figures for my information product
- My pet cockatiel, Webster
Once you’re done, print out a list of these distractions with a big fat header saying, “Get Rid of These”. Then hang it up in an unavoidable place. When you sit down to work each morning, run through that list and check that all of the distractions are out of your environment (if possible). For those distractions that are less easily removed (i.e. your email client), make a mental note to slap yourself on the wrist and close down the program if you ever find yourself succumbing to temptation. Soon enough, your brain will know when you shouldn’t be doing certain things and avoiding those distractions will become habit.
2. Batch Tasks
Let’s think about the brain intuitively for a moment. What do you think it would find easier — completing five of the same tasks in a row or five different tasks? I think we all know the answer to that question, which is why you should look to batch tasks whenever possible.
So turn your day into “lumps” of similar tasks that can all be efficiently tackled in a row. The tasks don’t have to be exactly the same — for instance, you might combine emails, blog commenting and social media into one batch (as they all come under the same act of corresponding). When your brain is locked into that mode of operation, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you work through it all.
This has other benefits too — by getting through a hefty chunk of one particular piece of work in one go, you’ll likely feel a far greater sense of accomplishment than if you had merely done a little bit of everything. Try it on for size and see how it feels.
1. Take Short Breaks Between Batches
I love this one — not only has it revolutionized the efficiency of my work, it also makes the working day seem so much more enjoyable and productive.
The idea of taking short breaks between batches of work is based upon the popular argument that the human brain needs to take regular breaks in order to work efficiently. For instance, you may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique in which you are supposed to work in 25 minute blocks separated by five minute gaps. Whilst I like the idea in principle, in practice I found myself in a good flow after 25 minutes and not wanting to stop. That’s why I adapted the idea to simple move these breaks to the periods between batches of work. Generally speaking, these breaks are no more than 90 minutes apart.
Here’s my thinking behind this — if I am fixed onto a specific task, I am almost definitely going to be able to go at it full steam for 90 minutes. Therefore, any batch of work I do should be no longer than 90 minutes (although it could be as short as 30), and following that batch I will take a break of 5-15 minutes, depending upon the length of the batch. That break period gives my brain time to switch off from whatever I was doing, reset, and prepare itself for the next batch.
If you do this you may find that whilst the amount of break time you having during the day increases, you actually achieve more. It’s an unexpected outcome, granted, but that’s how it worked for me. But if you think about it for a moment, the idea of working for 4-5 hours nonstop then having an hour long break seems rather absurd, doesn’t it? Far better to break up the time and make sure that when you are switched on, you are working truly effectively.
What Productivity Boosts Work For You?
So there you have it folks — a selection of my top five productivity boosts in 2012. I hope they help to become more efficient in your working hours throughout 2013.
But now it’s your turn — we’d love to know what productivity boosts you have implemented that have offered great results. Please don’t be shy — share with us in the comments section!