5 Things You Need To Start Doing To Be More Productive
I used to think that the key to achieving phenomenal results and succeeding in life was working super hard. So I have worked hard for most of my life. However, working hard can be frustrating if you are not working smart, too. The key to better results is working smarter, not harder.
When I was 21, I used to work and study for about 18 hours a day. I had my first full-time formal job and felt a constant need to prove myself. I went to my day job during the day, went to school in the evenings, did my assignments during breaks, and grew my startup at night.
At that time, all that effort landed my numerous consultancies with reputable organizations. I got life-changing opportunities to work with A-list companies and built a fairly successful career in the public health space in my country.
As I have gotten older, I have started to think differently. I realized that working more is not always the right or the only path to success.
The secret is to do less, not more.
When you do less, you accomplish more. No, you don’t get more done (you’re doing less, after all), but if you do less and focus on the important stuff, you actually achieve better results and more meaningful accomplishments.
If you do not get enough sleep, exercise, and relaxation, you find that you become less and less productive. You begin to work longer and longer hours, which is the exact opposite of what you want.
Do less, not more.
“Result is the only truth.”
This is Apollo’s mantra. He is my older brother. He is usually the person I go to when my life gets too hectic for me. He has taught me many life lessons that have helped me become more productive.
His philosophy is that there’s a notable distinction between being busy and being productive. Being busy doesn’t always necessarily mean you’re being productive. Despite what some might believe, being productive is less about time management and more on managing your energy.
It is the business of life. It is learning how to spend the least amount of energy to get the most benefits. I have learned how to reduce my work week from 80 hours to 40 hours, and get a lot more work done in the process. For me, less is really more.
Here are the 5 things I started doing to become more productive.
You can do the same.
1. Start increasing your productivity instead of working overtime
Have you ever wondered where the five-day, 40-hour-work week came from?
In 1926, Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, conducted an experiment with his own staff: He decreased their daily hours from 10 to 8 and shortened the work week from 6 days to 5.
As a result, he saw his workers’ productivity increase.
A 1980 report from The Business Roundtable titled “Scheduled Overtime Effect on Construction Projects” states that, “The more you work, the less effective and productive you become over both the short and long term.”
In an article for AlterNet, editor Sara Robinson referenced research conducted by the US military which revealed that “losing just one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level.” You can get fired for coming to work drunk, but it’s acceptable to pull an all-nighter.
In my case, I found that I always had to work overtime because I did not have enough time in my day. There was always something else demanding my time and attention. I needed to do something to boost productivity for the work I chose to do.
I learned that to boost work productivity, it is important to also stay focused and avoid distractions. You’ll need to be disciplined and set proper boundaries to ensure your work doesn’t continue to creep into your personal life.
By doing so, you will benefit from having more time to spend doing things outside of work that you enjoy.
Be productive, not busy, and you will enjoy less overtime and more productivity in the work you do.
2. Say “No” more often
I struggle with saying no to people. So, I usually find myself spread out too thin and feeling burnt out because I over-commit myself saying yes to too many things and too many people.
One of my 2020 resolutions was to say no more often. I am happy with how this has turned out. In the beginning, there was always the looming pressure that I was making a mistake I would regret — but looking back, I see that it was the right thing to do for myself.
I have learned to say No more often so that I have the luxury of time to say Yes to the things I really want to do.
Have you heard of the Pareto principle?
According to the Pareto principle, 20 percent of the effort produces 80 percent of the results; however, 20 percent of the results consume 80 percent of the effort.
Instead of working harder, we should focus primarily on the efforts that produce the majority of the results and forgo the rest. That way, we have more time to focus on the most important tasks. Stop saying “yes” to tasks that yield little or no result.
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”
— Warren Buffett
So what should you say “yes” to? And when should you say “no”? If you can’t figure out if something is going to be worth your time, consider running a simple split test.
Consider tracking everything you do, and the time it takes to complete each task and the results. Then go back, assess your list to see what did (or didn’t) prove fruitful, and take your findings into consideration to optimize for future tasks.
Most of us say yes more often than we should, for a variety of reasons, including guilt and overstretching ourselves, but also because it is so much easier than saying no. Nobody wants to be the bad guy.
How To Say No More Easily
Make it your choice to say no.
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers split 120 students into two groups. One group was trained to use the phrase “I can’t” when discussing the specific choices, while the other was trained to use “I don’t” in framing their decisions.
The students who told themselves “I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.
Next time you need to avoid saying yes, use “I don’t” in your refusal, to reinforce the helpful behavior of saying no to things that aren’t worth it.
Another great trick is to avoid activities that don’t add enough value to your life is the 20-second rule: For activities you shouldn’t be engaging in, or negative habits you want to break, add an element of difficulty, adding on a 20-second roadblock, so to speak, to you starting that activity.
For example, if you’re trying to use lessen your use of social media, delete the tempting apps from your phone, so that it takes you another 20 seconds to find your laptop to access them. By adding in an inconvenience, you’ll be less likely to engage with that draining activity or habit.
3. Ship more often
Do the work that needs to be done and put it out there as soon as possible.
Hit that green Publish button on Medium.
Hit the Send button on that Email.
Hit that Start button in that Software.
Hit the Tweet button on Twitter.
Create and Ship.
Stop being a perfectionist.
Dr. Simon Sherry, a psychology professor at Dalhousie University conducted a study on perfectionism and productivity. The study found that perfectionism trips up professors on the way to research productivity.
“The more perfectionistic the professor, the less productive they are.”
There is a robust correlation between increased perfectionism and decreased productivity.
Here are some problems associated with being a perfectionist:
- You spend more time than required on a task.
- You procrastinate and wait for the perfect moment. (In business, if it is the perfect moment, you are too late.)
- You miss the big picture while focusing too much on the small things.
Marketers often wait for the perfect moment. In doing so, they end up missing it.
A renown Chinese Proverb emphasizes this point:
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.
Basically, in the context of the conversation here today, this means that if you want success and growth in the future, the best time to act is now.
Do not wait until everything is perfect, do it now.
4. Take some time to do nothing
Most people don’t realize that when we are too focused on something, we’re essentially locking ourselves in a box that can end up being counterproductive to our work or the results we’re chasing.
It is important to walk away from work once in a while and have some alone time, which is good for the brain and spirit.
In a book by Professor Barbara Oakley called a Mind for Numbers, she emphasizes the need to make time to do nothing to allow the subconscious part of the brain to contribute to problem-solving.
One ongoing study at Harvard University indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone.
And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.
It is important to take time for reflection. We often find the solutions we’re looking for when we’re not actively searching for them.
It is also important to understand that we don’t become more productive overnight. Like everything in life, it requires effort and practice.
Change doesn’t happen just by sitting around and waiting for it. Instead, take the time to learn more about your body and find actionable ways to optimize your energy and time for a more successful and happier life.
5. Rest. Get some sleep!
Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep.
— Mesut Barazany.
This has been the most dramatic productivity hack for me. Sleep.
Sleeping more regularly and for at least 6 hours every night.
I read a life-changing book called the Secret World of Sleep by Penelope A. Lewis. In her book, she emphasizes that irrespective of how well you were able to get on with your day after that most recent night without sleep, it is unlikely that you felt especially upbeat and joyous about the world.
Your more-negative-than-usual perspective will have resulted from a generalized low mood, which is a normal consequence of being overtired. More important than just the mood, this mind-set is often accompanied by decreases in willingness to think and act proactively, control impulses, feel positive about yourself, empathize with others, and generally use emotional intelligence.
It’s important for us not to overwork ourselves and get enough sleep to maintain a high level of productivity. Next time you’re wondering why you may not be working productively, the reason may be simple as you being deprived of adequate sleep.
Whenever you feel that sleep might be a waste of precious time, these simple reminders might help you.
- Leonardo da Vinci took multiple naps a day and slept less at night.
- The French emperor Napoleon was not shy about taking naps. He indulged daily.
- Though Thomas Edison was embarrassed about his napping habit, he also practiced this ritual on a daily basis.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, used to boost her energy before speaking engagements by napping.
- Gene Autry, “the Singing Cowboy,” routinely took naps in his dressing room between performances.
- President John F. Kennedy ate his lunch in bed and then settled in for a nap — every day!
- Oil industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office.
- Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was a non-negotiable. He believed it helped him get twice as much done each day.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson took a nap every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in order to break his day up into “two shifts.”
- Though he was criticized for it, President Ronald Reagan famously took naps as well.
These are the 5 simple things that have phenomenally helped me improve my productivity. I know the list is not exhaustive, but sometimes all you need is a few good habits that then become a part of your normal life routine.
I hope they help you, too.
The floor is now yours…
I hope you learned something useful from reading my article. Share any habits you use that anyone can pick up and improve their productivity.