The 5 Biggest Productivity Boosts I Implemented in 2012

Efficiency

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

Dining Room
My dining room — not the best place for me to work.

I cannot stress how big an impact on your productivity your location can make. In 2012 I worked from a number of locations, including:

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

Apple

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:

  1. Wakefulness
  2. Level of energy
  3. Hunger

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

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:

But you’re likely to discover distractions that are more individual to you. Here are a few of mine:

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

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

Taking a Break

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!

Photo Credit: Andy Ciordia , `James Wheeler, leoncillo sabino, Darwin Bell and rishibando

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the founder of WordCandy.co. He has been a huge fan of WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not working, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!

9 Comments

  1. Grady Sibert

    One of the best things I did to boost productivity lately was start using the project timer in Freshbooks. When I turn it on I seem to stay very focused on the task and client at hand as I want to make sure clients get my full attention when I’m “on the clock”.

    The worst thing I did for productivity was get an X-box and COD II :)

    Great article and cheers,
    Grady

  2. enigmaweb

    Great article, I do most of this stuff and consider myself a fairly efficient and productive worker, but there’s a few extras in there I’ll have to add to my regime – thanks Tom!

    One other big thing that helps me a lot is having a routine. It doesn’t have to be uber rigid, just a basic routine that helps you know what you’re meant to be doing throughout the day and week. For me it goes something like this… Start 8:30am, do several hours of email/admin/project management. Break. On Monday & Tuesday near the beginning of the week I find I have a lot more admin & management stuff to do so on those days do another chunk of that before lunch. After lunch I try to schedule a solid afternoon chunk to a coding or design job – something I can sink my teeth into so at the end of the day I feel like I achieved something decent. Break. Last hour of the day usually a bit more admin stuff like emailing off the work and communicating with other team members – kind of a debrief. Just having this basic routine in place really helps me stay on track work productively.

    1. Tom Ewer

      Hey there,

      I think routine can be a great thing for many people if it fits your business. I actually like not having a routine — not feeling like I have to do something at a specific time, and I don’t think routine would fit my business that well as I tend to do a wide range of things. Having said that, I think we can all benefit from at least a little bit of routine. Thanks for sharing!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  3. Bojan - Alpha Efficiency

    2012 was a year of powerful productivity rituals, routines and habits. Perhaps all 3 of those are the same.

    But with the flavor of certain predictability, I’ve developed the mental muscle to create a habit out of my goals.

    And when you habitually increase the output of your money making activities, everything starts to fall in it’s own place.

    But all of that would not happen if I haven’t started outsourcing simple tasks to my VA’s. everything repetitive that I would procrastinate on, would be immediately sent to my team in Pakistan. These guys are awesome and diligent in what they do, and working with them gave me new perspective about my online business.

    The change is going on a next level in 2013. Output to a whole new level!

    1. Tom Ewer

      Hey Bojan,

      VAs can definitely be a huge boost to your productivity if you can outsource a lot of the simple tasks you are doing. The key is to ensure that you are not spending as much time managing them as you were doing the work, and that requires great VAs. If you can find ’em you’re set, and it sounds like you have!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  4. guha.ronnie

    Agree with quite a few of your points. For me it has been.
    1) Finally agree to sleep more than 4 hrs. Even 30 more minutes helps but catching up with 8 hrs over this past weekend helped immensely.
    2) Shutting down email/Skype during a ‘batch’ of work.
    3) Writing down the items that need to be achieved on a day and not agreeing to get distracted by my ADHD to work on other items that I remember to do during that day.
    4) Taking a 5 min break between batches of work is a BIG one.

    1. Tom Ewer

      I can imagine that sleeping more than 4 hours would help..!

  5. Harsh Agrawal

    Tim I always enjoy your writing… Needless to say, your personality comes out in your articles…
    I so agree with all the points above … The best way to improve productivity is:

    Remove all the distractions.
    Focus on one thing at a time.

    They are easy to say, but hard to follow. Once, someone start following it:
    Next level is to prioritise your work..Focus on what is most important…Maintain a To-Do list….
    Don’t check Email in morning…And yes, a healthy body and mind can deliver more… :)

    1. Tom Ewer

      Hey Harsh,

      It’s Tom 😉 Just a typo I’m sure.

      Prioritization is extremely important too, you’re right. Also far less easy to “teach” — after all, it is completely unique to your business.

      As for checking email in the morning, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as that. I like to clear my inbox in the morning as it gives me a clear mind to attack the day with. I appreciate that doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me!

      Cheers,

      Tom

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