Ten Strategies to Improve Productivity

For many of us, the struggle of this time of year is to maintain the momentum we had in January and keep it going all year in terms of productivity. With that in mind, I want to take a little time today to walk through ten things I try to do and think about when looking to maintain or increase my productivity.

Organize Your Space

Most of the time, I’m a professional academic. For writing and research, that means often needing obscure books from my collection, which I’ve amassed over the past decade in academia.

It’s a big waste of time, and often derails whatever I was thinking when I have to look for a book and can’t find it. This winter, I took the time to alphabetize the whole collection, which has sped things up. Getting organized is a good first step to being more productive.

Prioritize Your Plans

For a lot of us, work and life are more complicated than they were before. My workdays, for example, involve two teaching jobs at two different universities, as well as writing my own academic work and freelance writing.

When there’s a lot to do, one thing that helps me is to make a clear list of priorities for the day, week, and month, and to work on things in order of their urgency. It doesn’t change the total amount of work you have to do, but doing this might help you decide what to work on next.

Be Wary of Overload

With so many different things to do, it’s easy to decide, on paper, to work as many hours a day as possible. I don’t think that this is a winning strategy for the long term, leading to people burning out and quitting on things that are important to them.

Instead, make sure that you’re caring for yourself as well. Food, water, sleep, and rest are not luxuries, they are building blocks for everything else that you need to get done.

Plan Your Breaks

You’ll rest. If you work yourself to the bone for too long, you’ll have to either quit at something or suffer from some kind of stress-related illness. Or, you can plan ahead to rest, and build that into the list of daily, weekly, and monthly priorities that I suggested above.

I think the latter is the smarter way to go: I’d rather build in the rest into my days and weekends rather than hoping I’ll find the time later when I full well know how busy things can get in life.

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

On my best days, I can teach for hours on end, then sit down and write several pages of a dissertation before taking the time to write two or three pieces of clients.

That kind of day also comes from me being rested, sleeping well, and having the motivation to be super-productive. Such days are rare, and if I depend on them every day, I’ll burn out quickly. Instead, I think it makes a lot more sense to set deadlines that you’re almost certain you can make so that it’s easier to maintain a sustainable, humane pace.

Take Time Off

With working from home, it’s easier now than ever, for a lot of folks to plan to do excess work on the weekends, at night, and so on, usually from places they’d usually be resting. While this might be necessary from time to time in order to help you make emergency deadlines, proceed with caution here.

To maintain the kind of pace that I like to Monday through Friday, I’ve found that taking at least 24 consecutive hours off has been extremely helpful in feeling rested and keeping my mental state good to be focused on workdays.

Get The Right Tool For the Job

Until recently, I made all of my lecture notes by hand in paper notebooks. While I love the idea of handwritten lecture notes to keep for a career, I ended up with six volumes of the things, which make the risk of forgetting a notebook at home when I need it in class a distinct possibility.

Late last year (hello, tax write-off) , I got a tablet that’s only for writing and it has become a central location for all of my notes, which has made preparing for each day’s varied tasks a lot simpler and lighter in my bag.

Do After Action Reports

In many military circles, after every mission, the teammates sit down and go over what went right, what went wrong, and some ideas on how to get fewer things wrong in the future. In written form, this is called an After-Action-Report or AAR.

Lately, I’ve taken to doing AARs at the end of my days and weeks, to try to optimize what I get done in a day. So far, it has me making more lists so I don’t forget things, and getting to bed earlier than I have in years. So far, these seem like a good idea that I want to keep up.

Keep The Big Picture In Mind

Regardless of any advice I can give you, there are going to be hard days, days where you want to quit, and ones where it all seems like a waste of time. On those days, I think it’s vital to keep in mind why you’re working, going to school, and so on. When things do get tough and you need to dig deep for some motivation, the reasons you set upon the journey in the first place will be what carries you through.

Reward Yourself

Remember in all of this that you’re a human being, and things like being kind to yourself go a long way. For me, this looks like taking some time to sit down, have a nice cocktail, and read for fun on a Saturday afternoon. These small rewards are good breaks, and they remind you that you’re more than a worker, student, etc. and that you need to, can, and should make your own enjoyment a priority, too.
About author
Garrett is a writer and commentator based in the South. His areas of expertise lie in cooking, fashion, and the outdoors among others. He has been writing and educating professionally for years, and enjoys creating online discourses around positively masculine spaces.


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