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You’ve probably read a dozen or more blogs about increasing productivity, searching for just the right formula that can help you get the most out of your day. The reality is that everyone is different, and our home lives and other external factors can easily impact the way we manage our schedules and tasks. So, instead of creating yet another blog that touts the importance of being awake at 5 a.m. and hitting the gym right away, let’s talk about some tried-and-true tactics that you can make your own and apply to your life in a way that suits you best.
After all, there is no one-fits-all solution to increasing productivity. We all function differently; some of us have hurdles to jump over such as managing ADHD symptoms or unpredictable schedules due to having children. Or you may just have a sluggish day here and there that impacts your ability to stick to your goals.
Whatever the case, these seven tactics can help you find ways to increase productivity in a way that works for you long term, even on your most hectic days.
1. Take the time to declutter
Take five or ten minutes before bedtime to declutter your home. This will quickly eliminate those moments in the morning rush when you can’t find something, and it allows your morning routine to move along more smoothly. You don’t have to do some massive purge and get rid of a bunch of stuff in some Mari Kondo-esque binge. But simple things like folding a blanket, putting the dishes in the dishwasher and putting books and other clutter away are qucik tasks that can make your home feel more peaceful to wake up to.
Your morning routine can have a big impact on how the rest of your day will feel, and starting the morning off in a hectic headspace can quickly derail you for the rest of the day.
Once you get to the office, spend a few minutes streamlining and decluttering your desk. Instead of immediately checking your email or Slack, take those first moments at the office to ensure everything is where it should be.
Having a clutter-free environment both at home and at work helps you think more clearly and reduces the amount of “noise” around you, regardless of what your day entails or what time you finally rolled out of bed.
Related: How to Permanently Increase Your Productivity
2. Create small, manageable to-do lists
A to-do list with 20 tasks can be overwhelming to look at. Instead of writing down every little thing you need to do for the week, focus on a handful of goals you can accomplish that day. Be realistic and resist jotting down tasks that aren’t necessarily urgent.
If you have a big project to finish that day, break it up into smaller tasks. Having those smaller tasks written out helps you better structure the project instead of looking at it as one big, daunting task.
3. Tackle your biggest task when you’re most alert
All too often, I see blogs that claim you need to tackle your biggest task first thing in the morning. While this is great advice for morning people, some of us need that morning time to let the coffee kick in and adjust to our day.
This tactic takes a bit of self-reflecting on your part, and it may fluctuate depending on the day. If you feel up to it, absolutely tackle the biggest task right away. But if you need an hour or two in the morning to get your brain juices flowing, then get a few smaller tasks out of the way first. Sometimes, crossing a few of those smaller items off our to-list first gets us into productivity mode.
That all said, what you should avoid doing is telling yourself you can do that big task at the end of the day when you’re already burnt out from everything else you’ve had to do. If you can, set a goal to have the biggest task done before lunchtime. You can come back from break knowing that big daunting task is already done and shift your focus on accomplishing your other tasks for the day.
Related: 36 Insanely Useful Productivity Hacks
4. Resist multitasking
It can be tempting to want to tackle a few tasks at once, especially if they seem small or easy. But studies actually show that when our brain is constantly switching back and forth between tasks, we become less efficient and more likely to make a mistake.
Focus on one task at a time, giving your full attention to each task. You’ll not only end up completing it faster, but you’ll also make fewer mistakes in the process.
5. Take short breaks that get you moving
It may have been a good look in the past to give off the impression you’re some workaholic who doesn’t need to take breaks. But thankfully, we’ve come to realize that it’s impossible to maintain this level of productivity. Eventually, you burn out, and getting any task done, big or small, can feel overwhelming. Working yourself to the bone will decrease your brain’s capacity for processing information, and it leads to careless mistakes.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day helps concentration and boosts your mood. So take a short walk around the office and stretch your legs. Get your body moving and your blood flowing. If there’s a cafe nearby you can walk to, treat yourself to a coffee or tea. Or just get outside for a quick walk around and breathe in some fresh air.
Your productivity levels go down the longer you go without a break, and at a certain point, your body and mind simply cannot produce anymore. So once you’ve completed a task, take a breather. It doesn’t have to be longer than five minutes, but it’s important for your mind and body to snap out of go-go-go mode a couple times a day.
6. Implement the “two-minute rule”
David Allen coined the two-minute rule in his bestselling book Getting Things Done. You don’t have to read the book to get the point: If you see a task or action that you know can be completed in two minutes or less, do it during those tiny windows at work or at home when you don’t have a more pressing task to do.
For example, if it takes you two minutes to do the dishes, just do them. Don’t leave it and let it pile up to the point where you feel overwhelmed and now your kitchen feels cluttered. Or, if you know you can take two minutes to send off an email and cross that off your to-list, go ahead and do it.
Finding and immediately completing tasks that take two minutes or less actually saves you time in the long run. So, if it takes less than two minutes, do it now and get it off your list.
Related: How Effective Employee Communication Boosts Productivity
7. Learn how to say no
If accepting a request means ignoring your own goals for the day, learn how to say no. Of course, you won’t always be able to turn away a request. But do your best to assess the situation, and if you know adding something to your plate will derail your day, say no or suggest another time you can do it.
There is so much power in saying no, whether it’s to a work request you know you shouldn’t take on or a social obligation that will drain you of your energy. Additionally, saying no helps you establish healthy boundaries and enables others to have clarity about what they can expect from you.
Not every day will be your most productive day, so do your best not to berate yourself when you have an off day or week. You are not a robot, and you’re allowed to have a less than stellar day now and again. Instead, refocus your energy on doing better the next day, and try to implement these tips in small increments that are manageable. You won’t magically change your lifestyle overnight; this is a process.
But as you put more effort into implementing the above advice into your day-to-day, you’ll figure out what works best for you so you can start having more productive weeks.