Tips for Increasing Productivity

Did you know that 20 percent of American adults consider themselves chronic procrastinators? Significantly less than the 80-95 percent of college students who do, yet still a sizable portion of the population. And even if you don’t fancy yourself a chronic procrastinator, we have all faced days, weeks, or even months where we have experienced a dip in productivity — perhaps most glaringly so during the pandemic, when we have seen an increase in the demands placed upon our time.

While it is important that we give ourselves grace during times of chaos and change, that is often easier said than done, and the stress associated with feeling unproductive can be detrimental to our mental and physical well-being.

So while it is imperative that I remind you to be kind to yourselves, I think it equally beneficial to discuss the ways in which we can be our most productive selves when the days feel a bit too short and the to-do list a bit too long.

Eliminate Distractions

How many times have you been in the middle of an important task, only to heed the siren call of the apps beckoning to you from your phone? After all, it is exceedingly plausible that important news could have been announced in the 30 minutes since you last refreshed your feed, and even more likely that significant drama has gone down on reddit.

Studies show that the average American spends 5.4 hours on their phone each day, and while some of that time is doubtless directed toward productive purposes, a considerable portion likely is not.

Thus, if you suspect that your thirst for social media might be impinging on your time, make an active effort to disconnect.

I am personally a big fan of Freedom. The Freedom app allows you to block access to distracting websites and applications on all of your devices for a specified period of time. While it is not free (though they do have a free 7-use trial), I have seen substantial surges in productivity when I actively and consistently use the app … and dips when I do not. And they are apparently having a 30 percent off sale with the code “FOCUS30.”

Unsubscribe From Emails

How many times per year do you supply your email address to an unreasonably communicative company? Whether it is to gain access to a sale or read something behind a paywall, we are frequently gifting others the opportunity to bombard us with email communications. And bombard they do.

I realized last year just how many minutes per day I was spending on deleting emails from companies that weren’t even providing much present value. Sure, I could just scroll on past and allow the number in that ominous red notification bubble to tick up by the hour, but a) I’m not a sociopath, and b) scrolling eats time, too.

So one Sunday I went through my emails and unsubscribed from every single company that I was no longer interested in hearing from (read: 90 percent of them). Yes, it swallowed up a bit of time, but in the months since, it has paid dividends, as I spend significantly less time in my inbox than I did in the days of yore. And now that time can be better spent making jokes at my children’s expense on Facebook.

Take Notes

I am in an intimate relationship with the Notes app on my phone. Quite possibly a codependent relationship, but it serves me, nonetheless. Whether it is grocery needs, topic ideas, or nuggets of news, I am consistently updating relevant lists in real time so that I need not spend precious moments cycling back through my memory when it comes time to execute them.

Whether it’s an app or an old-fashioned notebook (I see you, Boomers) that you keep handy, utilize the tools around you to make better use of your hours. Because the less time that you need to spend on recall or on trying to compile elements of your work, the more time you can spend on the work itself.

Make Your Own Inspiration

I don’t know about you, but inspiration for me is fickle, fleeting, and finicky.

And in case you were wondering, no, I did not set out to use that much alliteration in one go.

In order for many people to be productive, they have to feel appropriately inspired. For me, because I’m a lazy cliché, that means that I need mood lighting and rain sounds and greenery to write.

But that’s not necessarily sustainable.

If I had to wait to write a novel until it rained, I could be waiting forever — unless, of course, I were writing that novel in the summer months of Florida, in which case I’d be done in a week.

So I use apps like Calm and Ambient Mixer to simulate rain sounds or a flickering fire. I bought electronic flameless candles so that I do not singlehandedly keep the real candle industry afloat. And I filled my office with artificial plants, because if keeping a plant alive hinged on the greenness of my thumb, you could consider me Ted Bundy.

No, I am not telling you to turn your office into a greenhouse or to buy enough candles to host a seance, I am simply encouraging you to find what makes you inspired.

And then don’t wait for that inspiration to strike; make your own inspiration instead.

Reclaim Your Time

Is there a book that you’ve wanted to read? A podcast you’ve wanted to listen to? A class you’ve wanted to take?

Do it.

Don’t think that you have the time?

Watch a MasterClass while you brush your teeth.

Listen to a podcast while you take a shower.

Put on an audiobook while you’re in the car.

Reclaim those moments that we often lose to the minutiae of the day.

Because part of being a productive individual is feeling mentally and intellectually stimulated. The problem is, we regularly feel as though there are not enough hours in the day to achieve that level of stimulation. And usually, we’re right. There aren’t enough hours. But there are moments. And if we reclaim enough of them, they will accrue and will swell into hours over time.

Don’t Be Productive

Yes, you heard me right. My advice for increasing your productivity is not to be productive.

Counterintuitive, yes, but it hearkens back to my earlier message: Be kind to yourselves.

Burnout is real, and sometimes the best gift that we can give to our future selves is to be mindless and indulgent in the present. So take a break. Go for a walk. Watch a television show (preferably one that has murder in it). Do whatever it is that you need to do in order to engage in self-care.

Because when we care for ourselves, we build up the requisite mental and emotional capital and well-being to later spend on the tasks at hand.

So afford yourselves the same grace and understanding that you afford others. Because life and the work that we do in it is a marathon, not a sprint. And it is important that we all remember not only to build our strength and endurance but to allow for critical periods of rest, as well.

Because productivity requires balance.

And caffeine.

Lots of caffeine.

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