Being productive is more than just being busy, it’s about getting things done. – Photo by Holidayextras (CC BY)
We all have busy days – some more busy than others but then we all know that being busy is not the same as being productive. To be productive means to get things done – as in finished, complete, over with done.
Have you ever had that day when you felt like you have not accomplished anything despite being so busy and tired the entire day? Well, I hate that feeling – it makes me feel useless.
So how can you boost your productivity, get things done and have a productive day (or life) on a day-to-day basis? I created a list of what I think are the things you need to do to be productive.
Pick Just One Task
You need to learn how to monotask because we humans weren’t made for multitasking. If you were ever told that we are capable of multitasking then you were told a lie. It seems like we can multitask but we really can’t. What we do is quickly switch from one task to another.
Computers used to do that way back in the day – that is – appear to multitask by switching from one job to another. Then we began to have multi-core processors that allowed computers to do real multitasking.
But unless you’re a computer where you can just upgrade your processor (a.k.a. brain) to have multiple cores then accept the fact that you can’t multitask.
So-called multitasking in humans often result to less than average quality of work, stress, depression, and yes unproductive days. It actually prevents you from being productive at work.
What you need to do is choose one amongst the myriad “productive” things that you have to do.
But which one?
Simple, choose the one task that brings the most value. That one task that will brighten your day, that will make you feel like a champ.
Am I making sense here?
Define What “Done” Means
How do you know that you’ve accomplished something? How do you know that you’re actually done?
You see, I had this programming project once where the end-result was not clearly defined. We have a vague idea of what needs to be done but we weren’t really clear on where the finish line is. Me and my team wrote code like crazy but felt like we weren’t getting anywhere.
Imagine driving somewhere without knowing where that somewhere is?
You know you have to drive to get there but you don’t know when to stop.
You have to clearly define the finished product in your head.
Say you have to fix a leaking roof. How do you know that you’ve fixed the roof? Is it when you have applied sealant to where you think the holes are? Do you have to test it first by pouring bucket-loads of water to make sure there’s no more leak?
Define what done means for your task. Failing to do so will just have you running in circles not knowing when the day will end.
Product developers have what they call an MVP or a Minimum Viable Product. The idea is to have something done that really works. It may be something that needs improvement but right now, that something gets the job done.
This usually don’t apply to simple things but if you were trying to accomplish something huge – say build a house – you’ll have to break things up into smaller things.
How small? Small enough to finish it in an hour, half-day or even a day but certainly not more than one day.
The idea here is to accomplish something that brings you closer to your ultimate goal.
Just about everyhing in this world tries to get our attention. Phones, computers, TV, radio, people, the dog and the cat.
If you’re serious about getting things done then you have tune out all of these distractions and focus on the task at hand. In my case, I turn off everything that I don’t need to get the task done.
I turn off my phone, I turn off my computer’s notifications, I block social media sites, I tell my kids and wife not to disturb me and so on.
There was this one time (years and years ago) when I accidentally crashed a client’s server because I wasn’t focused on the task at hand. No, you don’t want that. Instead of getting things done, I ended up having more things to do. Not a good thing.
Some people say music helps them focus but I noticed that to not be the case for me. Instead of working, I end up singing.
So what do I do?
Earplugs! Perfect to tune out the rest of the world and focus on getting the task at hand done.
This may sound counter-intuitive especially to the workaholic types but it’s true.
Taking regular breaks can make you more productive.
Regular breaks allow us to regroup, rethink, replenish and relax.
You know the saying, “All work, no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
The best ideas usually come to me during break time.
Here’s the twist though, you have to learn how to take a real break.
I mean, if you’re still worrying about finishing your task while taking your break then you’re missing the point. The idea is to “get out of it” and enjoy – have a cup of coffee, relax, take a nap (just a nap), eat ice cream, talk face to face with somebody else, stare at the horizon, whatever.
Take a break.
Here’s how I do it.
25-minute work, 5-minute break, 25-minute work, 5-minute break, 40-minute work, 20-minute break, then back to start.
I keep doing that cycle until I get my task done. You can copy mine or you can do it your own style.
Of course, take meal breaks when necessary.
Start your day with a 30-minute meditation on whatever you want to meditate on. If you’re religious, then meditate on whatever your religious book is (Tanakh, Bible, Koran, etc).
Empty your mind and focus on whatever your meditating on.
I have to say this… Don’t meditate on your tasks – NOT GOOD!
Meditation is known to boost our energy levels, keep us focused, and remind us on what we really do what we do.
After meditating, it’s always good to do a quick 45-minute to 1-hour walk. Exercise release the pixie dusts in your blood stream that make you stronger, more focused and highly motivated.
If you’re the gym-type then go to the gym.
If it’s raining then do push-ups or whatever you can do at home besides cleaning the house.
What’s best if you can do it with family and/or friends.
We’re social people and by social I mean real interaction with real live people face to face. We NEED to hear other people’s voices.
Pro-tip, you can also do quick stretches when you take a break from work.
I’ll keep this short – if you don’t eat, you die. Food is our fuel, without fuel our thoughts begin to wander off to something else and guess what that something else is??? FOOD!
But don’t just eat. Eat healthy. A balanced healthy diet is always good.
Oh one thing about eating – don’t eat while working.
We love rewards no matter how much we deny it. We love a pat on the back whenever we do something good. That’s why we love those stickers and stars from our pre-school teachers when we were young.
And this is how you can make it for you.
Before you start getting down and dirty working on a task, tell yourself what kind of reward will you give yourself when you get it done. This gives you something to look forward to.
Needless to say, simple tasks get simple rewards. Huge tasks get huge rewards. This gives you the incentive to tackle that big boulder in front of you right now.
I always love treating myself to Starbucks once in a while.
Track Your Progress
This might not make sense if you’re working on a single teeny-tiny-task that’s not part of a bigger thing. It is perfect however for those tasks that you have to break down into smaller ones.
Say you have to build a new website. We know that building a website is a goal, not a task. So we break it down into doable tasks with matching accomplishment scores in percent.
Example 1. purchase a domain name (5%), 2. purchase a hosting plan (5%), 3. install WordPress (5%), 4. install necessary plugins (5%), 5. purchase and install a theme (5%), 6. tweak stuff (10%), 7. write an about us page (10%), 8. create first article (10%), and so on…
Put that in a simple spreadsheet and boom you have a simple but useful way of tracking your progress.
How does it help?
Remember our ‘Define What “Done” Means’ above? Tracking your progress tells you how close you are to getting it done (and getting that reward).
Other Things That May Affect Your Productivity
Besides the items listed above, there are still a few things that are known to generally affect one’s productivity.
Get enough sleep everyday – at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Sleeping is the time when your brain tries to make sense of everyhing that just happened. It processes a lot of things trying to organize data for re-use the next day.
Besides exercise, go out and burn some more calories by playing every weekend. It can be as simple as playing badminton or as hard core as football. Playing releases “feel good hormones.”
Long Vacation Breaks
It’s always good to take a vacation with the family for at least a week. Me and my family do our best to have 1-month vacations every year going around the Philippines. It’s just a nice way to get grounded to things that really matter.
Clean Up Your Office (Or The House)
A clean workplace and a clean house to go home to induces higher productivity. Take away things that you need. Try to go as zen as you possibly can. This may sound like a task on its own and it is but it’s one of those “make me feel better” tasks that affects your productivity for the rest of them.
Eat dinner together. Do a backyard barbecue. Go out for lunch. Play ball. Bathe in the rain. Finish a puzzle together. Do it with your parents, your grandparents, your kids, your grandkids and especially with your spouse. You can do it all together or with someone specific once in a while.
Do something fun with them, even better, do something silly.
Remember, productivity is not about busy. You need to have the willpower to change your lifestyle and become a productive person. You’ll come across a million ways to turn back but know that if you keep pushing forward, you will eventually get there and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
One thing is for sure there are lots and lots of productive things to do at home or at work that, when focused upon, will help you become a productive human being. I sure hope this article helps you become a more productive person not just for a day but for the rest of your life.
Has this article helped you be more productive? Or perhaps you have your own tips to share on how to get things done? Make sure to leave your reply below.