Eight ideas on Improving Your Productivity

Eight ideas on Improving Your Productivity

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Here are 8 different things you could try, together or separately, to improve your time management, and thus your productivity.

What have you tried?

They’re listed in the order I thought of them, not necessarily in priority order:

  1. Important stuff first thing in the day. Research shows we tend to do the easier or urgent tasks first. Instead, work out what is important and do that. You might only have one important thing for the day. You might think it’ll only take 5 minutes. Awesome. Get it done first, and you’ll feel far more productive.
  2. Have a “boot-up” routine. Some other research shows routine helps create structure, order, and predictability. A routine does not need to be anything other than a set series of activities. We often have started the day routines but don’t think of think of them. Most of us wake at the same time, then do the same few activities (e.g., toilet, clothes, food, teeth). I’m saying to add something into that for work. So, read an article. Send email. Avoid email. Make a to-do-list. Do the easiest thing on your to-do-list. Exercise. In sport, players often talk about pre-performance routine. The set of activities they perform before taking a through, shot or kick. And research shows that these routines improve performance. Why? Mainly do to setting the right mindset and awareness levels to perform well.
  3. Have a “shut-down” routine. Just like boot-up routines prepare you for work, end routines officially close of the day. Cal Newport talks a lot about shutdown routines and how they are valuable for his productivity. What I like about shutdown routines is they help set the end of the day. This is particularly useful for people who work at home or from home. Where leaving work might otherwise be the trigger for the end of work. Cal goes through a bunch of tasks that essentially mean he updates his to-do list, looks at the weeks ahead, schedules what he’d like to work on the next day, and then closes everything off. Done. Not to be referred to again until the next workday. I like this as a way to stop work. Not going back to email or tasks. It helps create a ring around work. Allowing you to better make use of non-work time. And thus, be better when you’re at work as well as when you’re away from work.
  4. Make a list for each day that starts with “Today will be successful if…” and there are MAX 3 things on that list. So, if new things pop up during the day, they can come onto the list, but something else has to come off. I’ve been doing this, and I’ve encouraged clients to do this often. I like it because the to-do- list is manageable. Three and it doesn’t grow. It might change, but it does not grow. So many clients have found this one approach dramatically reduce their stress around getting enough work done often enough.

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  1. Strive to be productive not efficient. Essentially, do one thing at a time and do it well. For most of us, we want to pack something into every minute and hour of our day. So, we no longer just have a walk with the dog or go for a jog. We take our phone and listen to music, or podcasts or make calls. Instead, forget that stuff. Just walk. Be present in the moment. Enjoy the slow times. In fact, make time for slow times. Because, inevitably, fast times will arise. And you’ll need your batteries to be fully charged.
  2. Set designated start and finish times to your days, and each week. This is idea could be built into your daily routines. One of the things I’ve noticed with academics (and PhD students) is the relative distain for time. E.g., they’d rather build a website even if they’re not a web designer than pay someone to build it for them. Whereas, if you set limits on your time, you start to value it more. If work doesn’t start until 8am and finishes at 6pm you’ll do less fluffing during the day. Overall, this’ll mean you are more productive during work time and also have more leisure time! Remember, the designation includes taking 2 days off per week. And at least 2 weeks off per year. The best research example I can think of that demonstrates this is the cartoon by sketching science.
  3. Write down your designated work times. Building on above, writing down these times makes them more concrete. It is one thing to acknowledge you’re working 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. It is far more powerful to write down or tweet, My work hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Writing (and specifically tweeting) creates a public record and accountability that our psychology finds hard(er) to break.
  4. Do the difficult stuff first. Other research shows when you do the difficult stuff first you are more productive overall. So, consider doing the difficult stuff first. Again, duration might not be an indicator of difficult. But it could be. Other factors such as your knowledge of the subject or task might be a better indication of difficulty. Apparently, the reasoning behind this is our thoughts wonder from the easy to the difficult. So we are distracted. As our thoughts wonder, we also have increased anxiety, making us perform worse on the easy task, while not making progress on the difficult one. 

What are your tips?


Dr Richard Huysmans is passionate about working smarter, not harder. Since 2008, Richard has been helping PhD students and academics improve their productivity without increasing their work hours. He’s tried various productivity approaches so that you don’t have to. He knows what works in academic and student research settings. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, visit his shop, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Spotify, YouTube, and Medium.

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