Credit: By Lars Karlsson (Keqs) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
I have a confession: I’m a procrastinator. I have been known to waste criminally long periods of time distracting myself from the task in hand, especially if it seems difficult or I’m unsure how to start. Sound familiar?
The good news is productivity is a skill that can be learned; I have been able to accomplish my goals for the day relatively painlessly and have more time to enjoy the things that matter simply by making a few simple changes to my routine.
Do you wish you had more time to do the things you enjoy or spend with the people that matter? Are you fed up of procrastinating? Do you dream of working smarter, not harder? Then read on.
Follow these seven steps and become a master of productivity today!
#7 Look After Your Body
We all know a healthy body results in a healthy mind but procrastinators tend to waste so much time, well, procrastinating, that often their own wellbeing gets neglected. I used to work through the night to meet deadlines and compensate for the lack of sleep with too much coffee and comfort food.
I hadn’t set boundaries for myself and my work suffered as a result.
By looking after my body, however, and giving myself set times for ‘work’ and ‘life’ I found that I was able to accomplish far more than ever before – just this one change made me more productive.
Having a good night’s sleep is one of the core factors in maintaining a healthy body and mind. Your sleeping space should be free from electronic devices and not too warm. Having a sleep routine is important; I stopped working into the early hours and pulling all nighters and soon felt the benefits. Having a set time to stop working allowed me the time to relax my body and mind, so sleep came easily.
Each morning, I start the day by taking some exercise – a walk outdoors is an excellent way to wake up body and mind whilst getting some fresh air – and then eating a protein-rich breakfast before sitting down to work. If I need some extra brain power I eat a handful of fresh blueberries, or drink a blueberry smoothie: the latest scientific research has found that eating blueberries boosts cognitive function.
I make sure to take regular breaks throughout the day and to finish at my scheduled time: having an ‘end point’ helps me focus on achieving my goals for the day.
#6 Tidy Your Workspaces
Although some people can function just fine in ‘organised chaos’ I’ve found having an uncluttered space from which to work and an organised desktop really helps my creative juices to flow.
I’ve removed all the rarely-if-ever-used icons from my desktop and placed all my documents in easy-to-access files so that whenever I want to access anything, it’s just a couple of clicks away and I’m not wasting ten minutes searching for a particular image.
#5 Turn Off Distractions
Credit: By Mungous (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBe honest, how often do you look at your phone? A research study conducted by Nokia found that the average smartphone owner checks their phone and incredible 150 times during a 16 hour period, meaning they are losing around two hours of precious time each day to browsing the internet, checking emails and replying to texts.
By simply turning off email notifications you could gain up to an hour of extra time each day, boosting your productivity; it’s virtually impossible to resist the urge to look when you hear the sound of a new mail landing in your inbox.
I also activate airplane mode to make randomly browsing the internet easier to resist, which brings me to:
#4 Harness the Power of Technology
If, like me, the lure of Facebook (other social media sites are available) is too much to resist, there’s software that can help you remove temptation altogether. Download Self Restraint (for PCs) or Self Control (for Macs) and they will block your choice of offending websites for a set amount of time. Better still, they’re free! I won’t lie, at first this is hard and you’ll most likely find yourself absently clicking on a page only to find it blocked and you may experience a weird kind of withdrawal but it does get easier with time and once the habit is broken you’ll experience a new kind of freedom! I know I did.
Not convinced? Unsure if you really are wasting time on the interwebs? Rescue Time is a nifty site that shows you exactly how you spend your time – and how you’re wasting it.
#3 Change Your Routine
What’s the first thing you do when you start work?Check your emails, right? And how many Credit: By karpidis (originally posted to Flickr as Yoga at the beach) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commonstimes has an email thrown up something new for you to deal with and before you know it half your morning has gone? Since reading The 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss I’ve stopped checking my emails as my first task of the day and it’s made an incredible difference to my productivity. I now only check my emails after I’ve accomplished my main, or most important, task and that way, whatever they throw at me, I know I’ll still have achieved my goals and made real progress.
Here’s the routine that works for me:
Get up, throw on some clothes.
- Go for a walk or do some Yoga (preferably outdoors)
- Shower, get dressed.
- Eat a high-protein breakfast and some fresh fruit.
- Eat that day’s hedgehog*.
- Check, and respond to emails.
- Work through the rest of my to-do list, taking regular breaks.
- Check, and respond to, emails.
- Make tomorrow’s to-do list.
- Do something I enjoy.
#2 Make a List
At the end of each working day, make a list for the following day. That way you have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish and being able to tick off each completed task is incredibly satisfying (well, it is to me!).
Your list shouldn’t be too long, as it’s likely to be impossible to achieve: 3 – 5 tasks would be more than enough and huge jobs should always be broken down into smaller milestones – achieving these will spur you on, giving you the motivation to keep moving forward.
Display your list somewhere prominent in your workspace, so that it’s the first thing you see and it will help you remain focused throughout the day. I write mine on a chalkboard but a post-it, or scrap of paper would do. You could choose to write an electronic list, though beware of distracting yourself if you go down this road!
#1 Eat a Hedgehog for Breakfast
Fear not, no hedgehogs have been harmed in the writing of this article! I first saw the phrase ‘eat a hedgehog for breakfast’ on a discussion board for a professional qualification I’ve been studying for. My fellow students had been discussing how to juggle work, life and studying and I mentioned that I’d been experimenting with always starting my working day by tackling the task I found hardest or wanted to do least; getting that task out of the way provides a huge sense of accomplishment and everything after it seems simple. One of my fellow students commented that he’d begun doing the same, and that he called it ‘eating a hedgehog for breakfast’. Genius.
This technique isn't just useful for work, either; it works just as well with household chores or personal tasks.
For me, eating a hedgehog for breakfast has been the single most powerful factor in helping me to be more productive and achieve a better work/ life balance. He may not be easy to swallow, but the gain has most definitely been worth the pain!
Comment below if you’ve had success increasing your own productivity or, if not, what ONE thing are you going to do TODAY to make you more productive?