Most people would like to find ways to increase their productivity.

But what does it mean to be productive?

  • For some people, productivity is defined by the number of items they check off of their to-do list
  • For others, it's measured by doing tasks that align with their goals and responsibilities
  • And for some, it's how long they can stay away from the TV or Facebook

If you're reading this, you're probably in one of the first two groups.

Productivity is about the combination of effectiveness and efficiency.

And we don't stop there:

The more productive a person is, the more productive they'd like to be. Productive people are all about growth.

people making themselves productive and using their time wisely

Image via: Pixabay License, by geralt, via Pixabay

You've Gotta Be Productive

Think about the most productive days of your life. They were the days when it seemed easy.

After all:

They're the days it seemed like we were on top of the world, and we:

  • Checked lots of items off our to-do lists
  • Caught up on reading
  • Spent quality time with family
  • Slept well

If only every day were that awesome and productive, eh?

Here's the good news:

With the right tools, it's possible to have more of those awesomely productive days.

The 8 Top Productivity Techniques

Below, we've compiled a list of the most popular productivity methods and techniques.

However, here are a few tips for choosing one:

  • Remember the goal: to actually get things done
  • You're not stuck with one forever: if it doesn't work out, try another
  • Use these as guidelines, not rules
  • Take what works from any method and leave what doesn't
  • You can combine more than one method to customize one for yourself

1. The Pomodoro Method

In the Pomodoro Method, you work on tasks in chunks of 25 minutes (each chunk is called a "pomodoro") and take a five-minute break after each pomodoro.

Moreover, this method puts a lot of emphasis on maintaining focus, which naturally increases productivity.

pomodoro method tomato timer

Image via: CC by 2.0, by Marco Verch, via Flickr


Fun Fact

The Pomodoro Method got its name from the Italian word for tomato. Creator Francesco Cirillo named the method after the tomato timer he used to do his own pomodoros as a university student.


Resources for the Pomodoro Method



pro tip

Your pomodoros can be as long or short as you want. For example, 20-minute pomodoros (with a 10-minute break) may work better for you.


2. Zen To Done

The Zen To Done (ZTD) Productivity System was created by Leo Babauta, the author of the popular Zen Habits blog.

Here's how it works:

Build individual habits in a step-by-step way as you work through your workflow. It's actually designed to work with Getting Things Done (GTD) but in a more simple way.

So why do we need ZTD?

Because:

GTD is complex and not for everyone. On its own, GTD would work for most people. However, if you need to drill down deeper, ZTD is going to be your new BFF.

zen to done how to increasing productivity

Image: Pixabay License, clipboard by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via Pixabay, altered by author

Resources for the ztd


3. Getting Things Done (GTD)

The Getting Things Done (GTD) method is NOT for the faint of the heart or for people looking for a quick productivity method.

But here's the thing:

GTD is a complete lifestyle change and overhaul. However, it's a method that is genuinely game-changing.

All you have to do is this:

Dedicate a month or so to really learning this method and preparing as author David Allen instructs. It's proven that this method is life-altering.

"Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them."

- David Allen, author of "Getting Things Done"

Watch this short video with GTD creator David Allen explaining GTD in a nutshell.

First of all, GTD focuses on an initial push of dumping everything in your life into an "inbox."

However, it's not just your email inbox. You need an actual physical inbox to put receipts, random post-it notes, stuff that needs to be filed, etc...

Then, at the end of every day, you clear your mind and your inbox to achieve "Inbox Zero."

If you follow GTD, you'll find that most productivity systems and organization apps have full GTD integrations. For example, Evernote, ToDoist, Wunderlist, etc...

chart showing how to increase productivity to get things done

Image: CC0, by SageGreenRider, via Wikimedia Commons

Resources for the GTD


  • David Allen's book "Getting Things Done"
  • His website
  • This awesome Sketchnotes outline of GTD
getting things done sketchnotes outline

Image: CC by 2.0, by Jenny Cham, via Flickr

Watch David Allen's TED Talk.

4. The Personal Kanban Method

With the Personal Kanban Method, you visually diagram your tasks and goals while keeping the projects that are "work in progress" to a minimum.

Here's what to do to visualize Kanban:

Think of a wall with tons of post-it notes and three or four columns to put them into:

Or whatever you want your columns to be.

learning productivity kanban board post its

Image: CC by 3.0, by Jeff.lasovski, via Wikimedia Commons

Resources for the Personal kanban method


5. Eat the Frog

Eating the frog is a reference to a possible Mark Twain quote:

If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.

The Eat the Frog method relies on completing the biggest, most important, and sometimes most unpleasant task first thing in the morning.

Although this can be a good practice, it's best done in conjunction with one of the other productivity methods because it doesn't really address the whole day or week.

Resources for the eat the frog


  • The book "Eat That Frog: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time" by Brian Tracy
  • Brian Tracy's blog
  • A great PDF with the method outlined

fun fact

Despite being credited for it, Mark Twain may not have been the originator of the quote that inspired the "eat the frog" movement. However, it's still a great strategy!


6. Must, Should, Want

This method, sometimes known as the Moscow Method, is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory.

Every day, choose three tasks you want to get done:

Resources for the must, should, want


7. The SMART Goals Method

The SMART Goals system isn't specifically a productivity method. However, it's very useful in conjunction with other methods.

When you set goals for yourself, make sure they are:

  • Specific: "read 100 pages" not "read more"
  • Measurable: find an indicator of progress (the Seinfeld Method is a good example)
  • Achievable: make sure you're setting goals that can be reached given your current resources
  • Realistic: making unrealistic goals will set you up for failure
  • Time-Related: set a specific time that you want the goal completed, and make sure it's a deadline that's realistic and achievable

Resources for the SMART goals


8. Don't Break the Chain (Seinfeld Method)

The methodology behind Don't Break the Chain is to pick one goal that's important to you and do it for a set amount of time every day.

After the first day, spend the same amount of time every day working on it until it's done.


pro tip

The amount of time for any given task is completely up to you. It may be 15 minutes or one hour. Whatever works!


Once you've completed your task/goal for the day, check it off on a calendar.

Ideally, the series of calendar marks serves as motivation to spur you on to complete the task.

calendar seinfeld productivity method

Image: Pixabay License, by JCamargo, via Pixabay, altered by author

Resources for don't break the chain



fun fact

Don't Break the Chain is also known as the Seinfeld Method because it's the preferred productivity method of comedian Jerry Seinfeld.


19 Tips for Increasing Productivity

You can't increase productivity by doing just one thing differently. To gain progress, you need to pull together lots of little things.

Some of these tips will help you gain an inch.

Some will help you gain a mile.

However, choose the ones that you think will work for you and just get busy.

1. Stop multitasking...seriously STOP

Remember back in the day (like a few years ago) when we all put "good multi-tasker" on our resumes?

Well...

It's been debunked. Research studies show that multitasking doesn't work.

Focus on whatever task you're doing, and give it 100 percent of your attention.

2. Do your heavy lifting during your peak time

When is your peak time? If you don't know, you need to figure it out.

For most people, it's the first couple of hours in the morning. However, many people come alive at night. You probably know your peak time. Do your most mentally taxing work during that time.

Also, during your off-peak time, schedule mundane tasks like responding to email and sorting your inbox.

3. Plan a day ahead

Before you leave the office, or before you go to bed, do this one thing:

Plan the next day by making a list of three things you'd like to get accomplished.

Regardless of your preferred productivity method, you can use Must Should Want to do this.

4. Go to bed, already!

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher slept only four hours at night. However, you probably can't do that.

The Iron Lady had a specific gene variant that allowed her to sleep less: p. Tyr362His. Most of us don't have this gene. It would be cool if we did, wouldn't it?

But what does this mean for you?

Most adult human beings need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Shortchanging yourself will decrease your productivity.

Go to bed! (after you finish reading this article)

5. Or...be like Einstein and take naps

And this doesn't contrast with number four.

I've made this section quote-heavy deliberately. Also, I've made it longer than other sections.

Here's why:

I want you to see that some of the most successful people in history famously took/take short daily naps. This can change your life.

“You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one — well, at least one and a half."

- Winston Churchill

  • Albert Einstein: 10 hours of sleep per night and daytime micro-naps (also called hypnagogic napping) to keep his mind clear at all times
  • Salvador Dali: napped for just a few seconds at a time
  • Aristotle: took micro-naps
  • Bill Clinton: takes 15-20 minute naps in the middle of the day
  • Winston Churchill: took off his clothes and got into bed, almost every afternoon for up to two hours
  • Leonardo Da Vinci: 15-minute naps every four hours (he reportedly didn't sleep a full night's sleep, only naps)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson: worked a "two-shift day" by taking 30-minute naps
  • Thomas Edison: napped more than he slept at night
  • John F. Kennedy: one- to two-hour nap every afternoon

“If I can take a nap, even 15 or 20 minutes in the middle of the day, it is really invigorating to me. On the days when I’m a little short of sleep, I try to work it out so that I can sneak off and just lie down for 15 minutes, a half an hour, and it really makes all the difference in the world."

- Former Pres. Bill Clinton

Here's how to take hypnagogic naps

  • 1
    First, sleep sitting upright or leaning back in your office chair.
  • 2
    Hold a heavy-ish metal object (like your keys) in your hand.
  • 3
    Then, relax and let your mind go to sleep.
  • 4
    When you doze off, you'll drop the keys and the noise will wake you up.
  • 5
    Bam! You're refreshed and ready to go.

If you work in a carpeted office, simply put a book or something on the floor so your keys will hit that and make a noise.

“I wasn’t actually sleeping. I’m a beta tester for Google Eyelids. I was merely taking the opportunity to update my Facebook page.”

- Morgan Freeman, after getting busted snoozing on a movie set

After saying all of this, I do want to add one thing:

Not everyone needs a nap. But most people would benefit from it, even if it's a hypnagogic nap. I like to call it "turning off the brain for a few minutes."

6. Procrastinate (maybe)

This is NOT for everyone.

However, some people work best under a deadline.

If you know you're facing down the clock, it can increase focus and urgency.

7. Get your priorities straight

Whichever productivity method you use, employ the Must Should Want method, which can really be just a post-it note on top of your calendar.

First, list the three items you'd like to get accomplished in a day and order them in terms of importance.

Then do the most important task during your peak time.

8. Goodbye, slackers!

Here's a quote from motivational speaker Jim Rohn:

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Avoid spending a lot of time with folks who aren't productivity-minded.

They will drag you down and hold you back.

9. Automate, automate, automate

You need to automate whatever you can.

With 21st Century technology, there's just no excuse for doing tasks that can be easily and effectively automated.

Some great tools for automation:

  • 1
    Zapier: save email attachments to Google Drive, tweet all blog posts as soon as they're finished, save new Google Docs to Dropbox
  • 2
    IFTTT: similar to Zapier, but with even more automation options (and FREE)
  • 3
    ActiveCampaign: email marketing automation
  • 4
    Buffer: automate social media marketing efforts
  • 5
    Grammarly: no matter how great you think your grammar is, TRUST ME, Grammarly can help you
  • 6
    Tons of sales automation tools: seriously, there's no reason to do this stuff manually
  • 7
    Accounting automation tools: not only are they more efficient, but they're also more likely to be human-error-free
  • 8
    Evernote: using IFTTT, you can auto-save attachments, emails, calendars, and more to your Evernote
  • 9
    TripIt: all travel related emails and calendar events in one place
  • 10
    Boomerang: schedule emails in Gmail

10. Hello, guacamole, love of my life

This is science (not diet advice):

What you eat affects your productivity.

Therefore, here are some great eating habits that will boost your productivity:

  • Plan ahead and have some of the brain foods below handy at all times
  • Avoid carbs in the morning and at lunch -- but if you do eat carbs, eat a couple of bites of your protein first
  • Eat a small lunch
  • Have a protein-packed small breakfast
  • Enjoy healthy snacks throughout the day
take seeds, berries and oranges on as healthy snacks while being productive

Source: pexels.com

Here's a list of brain and productivity superfoods:

Food

Benefits

Salmon and other fish

fatty fish is excellent for promoting productivity

Berries

increase memory function

Green tea

increases energy naturally, especially Matcha

Dark chocolate

improves overall focus...Note: DARK chocolate with low sugar content, not a Hershey bar!

Nuts

almonds and walnuts are a solid protein source that gives you a boost in brain performance

Avocado

natural blood-flowing stimulant (YES bring on the guac!)

Water

lots of it

Bananas

for when you need a glucose boost between meals, they will help you focus

Eggs

pure protein to feed that beautiful brain of yours

Spinach

helps your brain stay stronger for longer

Kale

increases brain function and concentration

Tomatoes

increase productivity

Sunflower seeds

fight off mid-day sleepiness

8 books about eating for maximum productivity

Title

Author

"Eat Right, Be Bright"

Arthur Winter, M.D

"Change Your Brain, Change Your Life"

Daniel G. Amen M.D

"Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power"

Lisa Mosconi

"Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain's Silent Killers" 

David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg

"Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain—for Life"

David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg

"Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective 3-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory"

Neal Barnard, M.D

"Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health"

Drew Ramsey, M.D

"Brain Food: How to Eat Smart and Sharpen Your Mind"

Lisa Mosconi

11. Learn keyboard shortcuts

This seems like such a small thing in the great big scheme of things.

But here's the deal:

A zillion little things throughout the day add up.

Therefore, learn keyboard shortcuts.

12. You, you, you

Take time for yourself to do some things you enjoy.

Go to a museum. Read a novel. Or, simply browse Pinterest (or Tumblr, or whatever your thing is).

After taking some time for yourself, you'll be more productive when you zone back in to work.

woman being productive on her spare time by reading good books

Image: Pixabay License, by StockSnap, via Pixabay

13. Own your attention

Choose selectively what you read and watch. Furthermore, you can even consider going on the Information Diet.

Seriously, how much news do you really need?

"Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence."

- Tim Ferriss, author of "The 4-Hour Workweek"

Your attention is one of your most valuable resources.

For this reason, guard it closely.

14. Don't distract me!

This makes all the difference:

Manage your distractions.

Oh, I know. It's hard. HARD.

You're important. And you're productive. Consequently, people need you. However, you need to work. So eliminate as many distractions as possible.


fun fact

Research shows that it takes an average of 23 minutes to regain focus once you've been distracted.


9 tips for managing distractions

  • 1
    Turn off alerts on your phone
  • 2
    Put your phone on Do Not Disturb and add the essential people (kids, boss, partner, etc...) to your Favorites so that their calls come through
  • 3
    If you work at home, put a "do not disturb" sign on your door to remind the folks you live with that you are AT WORK
  • 4
    Keep your desk as decluttered as possible (falling stacks of books, for example, are hugely distracting)
  • 5
    Make sure your inbox stays as empty as possible
  • 6
    That includes your mental inbox: those nagging little things you know you need to get done -- put them on a list and then put them out of your mind
  • 7
    Take breaks periodically (the Pomodoro Technique is designed around this principle)
  • 8
    Skip what you don't know and come back to it later, which can keep you from going down rabbit holes
  • 9
    If the distraction is unavoidable, respond immediately instead of stalling or analyzing

"Remaining focused under pressure will take you further than those who don't. Because the pressure will cause them to crumble."

- Benjamin Hardy, author at Inc.com

15. Accept your failures...and MOVE ON

Unproductive days are going to happen

Lazy days are going to happen

Mistakes will be made

Time will occasionally be wasted on things that just don't work out

However, the key is getting back up and moving forward.

"This is a distinguishing feature between winners and losers. Anyone can have a bad performance. A bad workout or a bad day at work. But when successful people fail, they rebound quickly."

- James Clear, author of "Atomic Habits"

16. Done is better than perfect

Get the job done. Completely, 100 percent DONE.

Then go back and tweak it and fix the flaws.

To be your most productive, you MUST tune out your inner perfectionist.

"You can fail at plenty as long as you get a few important things right."

- Tim Ferris, author of "The 4-Hour Workweek"

17. Get passionate

It's much easier to be productive when we're passionate about what we do.

Some tips on finding your passion:

  • Ask yourself "what subject could I read 100 books about without getting bored?"
  • What are you mediocre at?
  • Remember what you loved doing when you were a kid.
  • For 20 minutes every day, think about things that have recently caught your interest.
  • Create something new. If it's your baby, you're more likely to be passionate about it.
  • Pay attention to what you're doing when you go into "Flow" state. What makes you lose track of time? That may just be your passion.
  • What do you hate to stop doing? Hint: that may be your passion.
  • Look at your book/magazine/movie/cd collections. See any patterns?
  • Who fascinates you? There may be clues in their passion that make you feel passionate.
  • Ask yourself: "What would I do if I didn't have to work?"
  • Another question: "What comes effortlessly to me?"

"Your true passion is not found overnight, but is realised through series of discoveries of small interests. I have always regarded thinking/meditating as a process of reading/analyzing your mind, which in turn leads to discovering your true passion."

- Logan Jay, via Quora

Watch this excellent video on how to find your passion.

18. Check email at specific times

Productivity expert Tim Ferris checks email twice a day and suggests everyone do the same.

Figure out which times you should check yours and stick to that. If there's an actual emergency, believe me, people will find you outside of email.


pro tip

You should never check email during your productive focus time. Checking and responding to emails is a low-bandwidth activity.


19. Just say no to meetings

Meetings eat up an exorbitant amount of time.

In fact:

Research shows that the average office worker spends over 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings.

Although they're an evil necessity, you can keep meetings (and yourself) more productive by following some of these tips:

  • Do standing meetings
  • Or walking meetings (keep in mind accessibility needs, however)
  • Schedule timed conference calls or digital meetings
  • Meet for a specific, limited time, for example: 17 minutes
  • Use tools like Slack to communicate with your team

Productivity Blocks: How to Tell If You're "Stuck" and How to Get Unstuck

Everyone gets stuck occasionally, even the most productive people.

However, here's the good news:

You're stuck because you're productive.

Moreover, unproductive people don't get stuck because their lives aren't deliberately structured and planned the way ours are.

Some examples of things that can get us stuck:

  • "Analysis paralysis" when we're having a hard time making a decision
  • Plans that aren't working
  • Destructive or negative relationships
  • Feelings of hopelessness: "this will never get better"
  • Overwhelm when we just have too much on our plates: "I'm dancing as fast as I can"
  • Mistakes and failures (which can actually make you grow if you reframe the narrative)

Stuck happens.

Here's why:

Because life happens.

"Never miss twice. If I miss one day, I try to get back into it as quickly as possible. Bad days hurt you more than successful days help you."

- James Clear, author of "Atomic Habits"

Here's something that will help:

Every productive person who has ever lived has gotten stuck at one point or another.

If you've never gotten stuck, you're probably not moving enough. Folks who never get into the river never get stuck on the rocks.

18 ways to know if you're stuck

  • 1
    ​Longing for more than you have has become your norm
  • 2
    ​Although you used to be an action-oriented person, you feel that you're not anymore
  • 3
    ​You've lost control, or think you have
  • 4
    Your confidence has taken a hit
  • 5
    Blaming other things/situations/people has become more common for you
  • 6
    You find yourself ignoring problems
  • 7
    You're not present
  • 8
    You aren't making plans anymore
  • 9
    Belief in yourself isn't what it used to be
  • 10
    You feel like you're waiting for permission to move forward
  • 11
    Negativity has crept into your thought patterns
  • 12
    It seems like stuff no longer works for you, no matter how hard you try
  • 13
    Fear of failure dominates your thoughts
  • 14
    Continuing to try has become exhausting
  • 15
    Courage has waned
  • 16
    You've become your own worst enemy
  • 17
    Comparing yourself to other people has become commonplace

​Being stuck is painful. However, there are ways to get unstuck.

11 Ways To Get Unstuck Infographic

21 Books You Need to Read

Title

author

​"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"

Stephen R. Covey​

​"Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity"

​David Allen

"The 4-Hour Workweek"​

Timothy Ferriss​

​"Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less"

Greg McKeown​

"The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin"​

Benjamin Franklin​

"Daily Rituals: How Artists Work"​

Mason Curry​

"Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World"​

Cal Newport​

"The Power of Habit"

Charles Duhigg

"How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day"

Michael Gelb

"The Power of Full Engagement"

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

"Zen to Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System"

Leo Babauta

"The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results"

Gary Keller

"Manage Your Day-to-Day"

Jocelyn Glei

"The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right"

Atul Gawande

"Mindfulness in Plain English"

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

"The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work"

Shawn Achor

"Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work"

Chip Heath

"Mindset: The New Psychology of Success"

Carol Dweck

"18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done"

Peter Bregman

"Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity"

Charles Duhigg

​"Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience"

​Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

17 Apps To Consider

App

Description

Expensify

​for expense report automation

​to make meetings more focused and productive

​you have to be on LinkedIn but with the app, you can accept connection requests and things like that in little pockets of found time (think: grocery line)

Trello

​great if you're doing the Kanban productivity method

Evernote

​if you're using it, get the app

Noisli

​white noise app for productivity

Jumpcut

​stores 40+ clipboard items

Coach.me

​for adding new habits and getting reminders about them

Freedom

​stop being distracted by your device

​communicate with your team to reduce excessive emails and unnecessary meetings

​full-featured notes app that integrates smoothly with your other Google products

​music to improve focus

​block your access to distracting websites

​helps teams be more productive, gives you reports about where your team members spend their time

​see how much time you spend on important vs. non-important tasks

Todoist

​app and Chrome extension for to-do lists and more

LastPass

​password keeper so you can stop wasting time scrambling around for passwords

At the End of the (Long Productive) Day

I want to end this article with an important tip.

This is important:

Don't get too caught up in planning, downloading apps, organizing systems, researching productivity, etc...

You can waste a lot of time being "busy." There is a big difference in being "busy" and being productive.

​“It’s time to stop doing productive and start being productive”

- ​Mike Vardy, Productivityist

​What you're working on here is increasing productivity. And now you've read enough. Go have a productive day!

Do you have another way to increase productivity? Tell us about it in the comments!

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