The question (and answer) of productivity is inherently elusive.
It seems to have no answer and the longer you think about it, the more lost you get.
But what if there is an answer?
Let’s define productivity first. I like this definition from Psychology Today: “Productivity hinges on mental energy, a sense of motivation, alertness, and buoyancy. It often emerges naturally from work that one finds inherently meaningful or valuable.
Researchers find that it can be cultivated through focusing on meaningful elements of a larger goal, or focusing on a larger meaningful goal can help activate energy and drive for component tasks. Physical elements also play a role in fostering productivity; exercising, eating healthily, and sleeping well can boost efficiency.”
Ok, interesting, but how do we actually cultivate productivity?
Here are five psychology-tested methods to finally understand (and skyrocket) your productivity:
Method 1: Create a schedule for the tasks that need to be completed, breaking them down into tiny parts
This works particularly well with tasks that seem horrible or impossible to complete. Breaking them down into tiny steps means you don’t have to see the rest of the ladder while also trusting you have what it takes to complete any task.
It’ll have the added benefit of boosting your confidence (you already started completing the task!) and bringing your anxiety levels way down, helping fuel your motivation levels for the next task. Tiny, seemingly useless tasks sometimes us give exactly the kind of confidence boost we’re looking for.
Method 2: Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (like this quick exercise) when you feel stuck
Step 1: Recognize that your mind is playing tricks on you. No one spends all their time being productive. We are wired to want to relax a lot and that’s A-ok. Take the pressure off yourself for being human.
Step 2: Do something. Do one tiny thing, then take an hour-long break if you have to. Be proud of yourself what whatever you have done; after all, many have done nothing!
Step 3: Do one more small thing. There, that’s TWO things now.
Step 4: Now do one big thing. Don’t worry; you can take a break soon!
Step 5: Be curious. Ask yourself why you don’t want to do the thing you’re avoiding. Is it because you’re afraid you’ll fail? It usually is.
Write down the exact negative thoughts around the procrastinated task and the feelings that come with it (i.e. hopelessness, depression, anxiety, guilt, etc.). Acknowledging the feelings helps begin to take their power away. Substitute your original worried thought for a more balancing thought. You can include your motivation/reasons to keep going!
Method 3: Focus intensely, then take a break
Time yourself if you have to. Rest in knowing rest is always near. Indulge in distractions, knowing they’ll help boost your next spurt of productivity.
Typically focus best for periods of 90 to 120 minutes, and it may be even shorter. Take a walk.
Play a game on your phone. Do nothing. Do all the things you were told NOT TO DO at work.
We promise you’ll be more productive than your colleagues, who are probably spending most of their day doing even less.
Don’t believe me? Check out this American Psychological Association study about how doing more than one task at a time lowers productivity and this one about the effect of listening to music on work performance.
Method 4: Give yourself the right to abandon your plan
Sometimes doing nothing is the right thing to do. Sometimes doing everything is.
Don’t fall too hard for anything. Very little is set in stone, anyway. For example, sometimes technology helps and sometimes it poses a distraction. Sometimes your brain takes a while to move from one task to another and sometimes it doesn’t.
You’re a unique person and you don’t function exactly like everyone else or you’d be a robot.
Method 5: Check (and savor) your payment flow regularly
After all, money tends to speak for itself! Check your PayPal, bank account, benefits plan, whatever you need to realize the
benefits you’re reaping.
Level up by asking yourself what your task would do for you. Work out of love, not fear, and focus on the opportunities.