My to-do list is set.
Desk is organized.
Coffee is prepared.
Computer is on.
Classical music is playing.
“I’m ready to start working,” I tell myself.
“You know what?” contemplating my next move.
Let’s me just check out this new video Gary Vee uploaded today on YouTube to encourage me to get started.
“Ahh man, that video was absolutely incredible,” I mutter to myself.
Alright time to really get started….
After I just watch this quick TED talk on the science of productivity (damn you Youtube and your recommendation algorithms for suggesting this video)
As I am watching that video, I come across an interesting concept that relates Newton’s First Law of motion to the science of motivation in the video.
So I decide to do a quick google search to remind myself of what Newton’s first law is.
This definition populates:
An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an EXTERNAL FORCE.
As I’m slowly reading & interpreting that statement, still not truly grasping the connection between that and motivation (shame on me), an email notification pops up informing me that I’ve received a message from a coworker.
I type out a reply and while I’m in the inbox I notice an attention-grabbing email from one of my favorite bloggers that I open as well.
45 minutes pass and I still haven’t started work.
You see how easy it is to lose focus?
Concentrating has always been one of my biggest struggles.
Luckily, after diving deep into the research of what makes some of the most successful people in the world productive, I have come across a handful of tips and tricks that they utilize across the board.
While there are numerous ways that I have found to increase productivity, the following 15 tips have been the most effective for me.
- Have A Morning Routine
Your brain feels sluggish upon awakening, and it needs a bit of time to realize that what the hell it’s doing.
You can create certain shortcuts to allow your brain to feel sluggish for a shorter time, and that’s accomplished by having a morning routine.
One of the first things you should do in the morning is ensuring you drink a few glasses of water.
When you sleep, you lose water through sweat and respiration.
Studies have shown that drinking just one glass of water in the morning can increase your productivity by up to 14%. (2)
When it comes to your actual morning routine, It doesn’t truly matter what you do in your mornings, as long as you do it regularly.
Some people will choose to have a healthy breakfast.
Others will start exercising as soon as they’re out of their pj’s.
Some will meditate.
Some will get to work immediately to tackle their most important tasks.
I typically exercise, preferably out in the sun to capture some Vitamin D, then I’ll take a refreshing cold shower before getting to work.
- The 80/20 Principle
Also known as Pareto’s Law, this principle states that 80% of the things we want are accomplished by 20% of the activities we choose to engage in.
In other words, 80% of the things we do can be a huge waste of time.
This is a powerful principle that if used correctly, can help you achieve much more with less.
Answering phone calls, checking emails, & satisfying low-end clients can take up copious amounts of your time & hinder your productivity.
The 80/20 principle helps you identify and prioritize activities that can boost your productivity levels significantly.
If you would like to know more about the 80/20 principle & how to apply it strategically with real-life examples, you can check out my massive guide on this topic here.
- Just Start
As easy as this tip sounds, it’s actually fairly difficult.
At least it has always been for me.
You might think you need to feel motivated before you start, but motivation often comes after starting.
Over time, I’ve realized the most important thing is to find a way to get started.
And one way to get started is by applying the 2-minute rule.
There are 2 parts to the 2-minute rule.
First part: If the task takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. No excuses.
Second part: If a task is a bit longer, begin with just 2 minutes.
For instance, if you have a programming assignment that needs to be completed, begin with writing just a few lines (2 min) of code. That’s it.
Before you know it, you will slowly gain momentum.
Overcoming that initial bit of inertia is the trickiest part, but once it’s conquered, it’s much easier to stay in motion
- Use a Not-to Do List
To-do lists have played a major role in my personal and business life.
However, not-to-do lists have played even a bigger role.
I can’t highlight how pivotal establishing a not-to-do list has been in my life.
I remember when I was first struggling with overwhelming opportunity.
So many business & life opportunities, that seemed worth it at the time.
So much cool stuff online from social media to reddit piquing my curiosity.
A comical video on Instagram, an attention-grabbing article on Twitter, a new business opportunity in my inbox, you name it…
That’s what a not-to-do list is here for.
A not-to-do list is a compilation of the things that affect your daily productivity.
Maybe you have a weakness for Snapchat?
Maybe you find email sidetracking?
Maybe you have too many tabs open?
Whatever it is, it’s essential to identify your time-consuming habits and include them on a not-to-do list.
StayFocusd is an awesome chrome plugin that I highly recommend if internet surfing is a constant distraction for you, which it has always been for me.
It limits the amount of time you spend on time-wasting websites by completely blocking access to them.
With today’s endless distractions – work, traffic, emails, social media, smartphones, laptops, colleagues, friends- concentrating has become nearly impossible.
In fact, productivity in the U.S. workplace has been steadily decreasing in the last 10 years.
And according to a few studies, it can take an average of 23 minutes to refocus on a task after being interrupted.
When it comes to getting rid of disruptions, it’s important to apply an actionable step with specificity.
Being proactive trumps being reactive in this case.
For instance, if the pinging notifications on your phone are distracting, an actionable step would be to hit the do not disturb button on your phone to avoid any vibration, sounds, or lighting up of your screen.
If people distract you, an actionable step would be to communicate with your colleagues, classmates, friends, or family and let them know what your working hours and to only reach out to you if the matter is urgent.
Having the courage to say no to others is critical to maximizing productivity levels.
If I gave up saying yes to everyone and learned to say no growing up, I would have been less consumed by stress.
The habit of pleasing people can be daunting.
Every time you agree to perform a task you don’t feel like doing, it beats you up mentally.
Because if your plate is too full, there’s no room to take care of yourself.
When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.
Additionally, if a new and better opportunity emerges out of the blue, you will miss out on that.
Setting boundaries & saying no conveys, you have a vision, plan, and an opinion.
- Take Advantage of Downtime
So you have to commute 40 minutes each day on your way to work?
Those are 40 minutes that can be utilized for self-improvement.
You can use that time to make a mental list of your daily goals, listen to a podcast or an audiobook, or prepare and rehearse for your upcoming presentation.
Waiting at the doctor’s office? Use that time to pound out some emails.
Standing in line at the DMV? Prepare your calendar for the week ahead.
Need to fold some clothes? Brainstorm ideas for your next venture.
By taking advantage of gap times, you will not only feel like you’ve added more hours to your day, but you will also be ahead of the pack.
- Preparing & Prioritizing
I plan my upcoming work week on Sunday nights.
It can take up to 45 minutes for me to schedule my week ahead, which may seem time-consuming, but the return on investment is worthwhile.
In the past, I’ve tried to rush in my activities and accomplish multiple things at once without planning them properly, but that only increased my stress by positioning me in a reactive state.
Visualizing my entire week ahead of time allows me to batch, prepare, & fork my projects & activities in a way that drastically increases what I accomplish in the week and reduces the chance of late nights and work pile-ups forming.
Prior to falling asleep each night, I plan out my schedule for the following day by writing down 3 important tasks that I would like to accomplish and ordering them by importance.
I normally tackle my most important and unpleasant tasks first to ensure I won’t procrastinate, as I have a terrible habit of putting things off and inventing things to do just to escape the important.
Additionally, I make sure to set specific start and end times for my work to avoid distractions.
Blocking off time for my work has allowed me to focus on one thing at a time and instill discipline in myself.
By allocating your work & time across each day of the week and scheduling your most important activities when you reach your productivity peak, you are setting yourself up for success. (6)
- Single Task
A large to do list leads to anxiety;
Anxiety leads to a lack of concentration;
Lack of concentration leads to multitasking;
Multitasking leads to decreased productivity;
Decreased productivity leads to failure;
Not only can multitasking make you less efficient, it can increase your likelihood of committing errors.
One study showed that people who are constantly bombarded with information overload struggled to pay attention, or recall information, as well as those who completed one task at a time. (1)
Switching between tasks has been shown to deplete someone’s productivity as much as 40%.
The importance of focusing on one thing at a time is becoming more necessary than ever before.
Sure, your plumbing needs fixing, and you have to pick up the kids from school, but that’s not really relevant to the presentation speech you’re writing right now, is it?
Being overwhelmed is the same as doing nothing and far more draining.
It is easy to get into the habit of wanting to do everything.
But the problem is there are only so many hours in a day and no matter how good we are it’s inefficient to do everything ourselves.
Time is not on our side.
That’s why it’s crucial to automate, delegate, & batch as much as possible.
By outsourcing or automating things, you can free up your time and focus on the important things that matter.
If you have the ability to automate repetitive tasks with software, tools, or systems, then do so.
If not, then aim to delegate or outsource, so you can concentrate on the tasks that yield the best return on time.
I typically batch similar tasks like emails, social media, or errands, into single batches.
For instance, I spend 2-3 hours planning my meals for the entire week every Sunday.
Not only does it save me loads of time and energy.
But I know exactly what you will be having for lunch and dinner every night.
And I won’t spend time rationalizing about my next meal or cooking from scratch.
I also like to work in increments for optimal productivity.
Marathon work sessions have become a thing of the past for me.
According to one study, the highest-performing 10 percent of employees tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break.
That’s because overworking often leads to less productivity.
The brain is a muscle that tires from repeated stress.
Like a runner slowing down after a few miles, our brain’s ability to perform tasks has diminishing returns over time.
That’s why it’s crucial to take breaks between work sessions.
Take a walk. Grab a snack. Hydrate. Take a cold shower. Take a nap. Meditate.
By taking a break and refreshing your attention span, you allow your brain to reboot by removing your thoughts from work.
- Take Power Naps
Mental performance generally peaks during the morning & gradually declines as the day progresses.
One of the best all-natural ways to maintain high energy, focus, & productivity levels is by taking power naps.
A study done at the University of California – Berkeley showed that napping even for just 20 minutes can boost cognitive function by eliminating the brain’s temporary storage space to create room for new information.
The study began with participants being asked to complete a demanding task in the early afternoon which required them to absorb a great deal of information.
At 2 pm, half of the volunteers took a nap while the other volunteers remained awake.
Then at 6 pm, the volunteers were given a new challenging task to complete.
The results showed that the nap group not only performed better than the no-nap group, but they also performed better than they had upon awakening in the morning.
Power naps might not seem like a great idea for an office worker, but they really work.
Other studies have also reinforced the link between napping and productivity.
A 10-20 minute nap is the ideal amount of time that has been found to increase your vigor & decrease your fatigue levels. (8)
You could know all the productivity tips in the world but if your working environment is uncomfortable then you’re never going to get much done.
Creating a working space that puts you in the right frame of mind can make a huge difference in your productivity levels.
75-79 degrees has been shown to be the ideal temperature range that will make you most productive.
Too cold and you will be using a great deal of energy trying to stay warm instead of staying focused.
Too hot and you will be sweating, icky, and flat out uncomfortable.
You also need to give yourself adequate lighting to be able to see and work in comfort.
This doesn’t involve just desk or room lighting either.
The optimal working spaces involve lots of natural light.
In fact, research has shown, individuals who sat near a window with access to sunlight have been shown to be more alert and perform better on exams, than individuals using artificial light.
- Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting is a conscious decision to skip certain meals.
Imagine yourself as a lion.
When you are in a fasted state, you are quick & alert; you are naturally out to hunt.
However, once you’ve hunted your prey and consumed your meal, you become satisfied & sluggish, therefore losing alertness & motivation.
Fasting not only can increase your productivity, but it can also provide you with various health benefits.
Fasting can help you lose weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases, and if done correctly, can also lead to better sleep and lots of energy.
In one study, which was embarked on both humans and animals, scientists found that fasting stimulates the growth of neurons and aids in reversing neurodegeneration.
Intermittent fasting also saves you time.
The less time you spend trying to prepare food or plan out your next meal, the more time you have to be productive and efficient.
People often consider food as fuel, but that analogy is far from the truth.
Whenever you refuel your car, it typically doesn’t matter what brand of fuel you select as long as the tank holds enough to transport you to your destination.
Food is however much different due to its direct impact on cognitive performance.
Reverting to the same analogy, you would definitely select a particular fuel brand if you knew it would increase your car’s performance and take you to the destination in less time, right?
Well, this is how food can affect your brain.
Most of the meals you consume are eventually converted into glucose considering that’s the brain’s nutrient of choice.
However, when your glucose levels are low, your mind starts to wander and your attention drifts.
Now, all the foods you eat are different so your body will process them at different rates.
Foods like pasta, cereal, and soda cause a spike in glucose levels and energy followed by a drop in blood sugar that leads to a slump.
Others, like burgers and pizza, provide a more reliable source of sustained energy but they are more difficult to break down, so eventually, your brain will experience a reduction in its oxygen levels, making you groggy.
Consuming a good mix of healthy fats, protein, veggies, and fruit will provide your brain the necessary glucose while still allowing your body to process the food in an efficient way.
What you eat dictates how your day will go.
For instance, kale, often used in salads, is one of the veggies recommended by most fitness coaches for detoxing diets.
Kale has high concentrations of vitamins K, A, and C, and it protects your brain against oxidative stress. (10.A)
Blueberries, contain a high concentration of manganese and vitamins C and K.
They’re often considered the brain’s “superfood”, and they will play a role in seeking out and neutralizing the free radicals in your body. (10.B)
Walnuts are some of the best nutrients you can consume for your brain’s health.
They contain polyphenolic compounds that can help reduce your brain’s inflammation and oxidation.
These compounds also play an important part in improving the strength of the signals transmitted by neurons, so they will increase your focus. (10.C)
Green, black, and white tea contain large amounts of L-theanine and caffeine.
L-theanine is effective in reducing stress and improving attention.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can promote cognition and attention.
The combined effect of these substances will take your edge off, and will allow you to focus better on the task at hand. (10.D)
Fish, especially oily fish such as trout, herring, and wild-caught salmon contain essential fatty acids.
These acids cannot be produced by your body, so you have to consume them through proper nutrition.
They are critical in helping protect your brain from degenerative diseases. (10.E)
Another good idea would be to have some healthy snacks between your main meals, in order to keep your brain’s glucose levels steady throughout the day.
Eating fruit and protein bars as snacks can improve your productivity and enhance your mood. (9)
Staying hydrated is another key ingredient of staying productive & boosting mental output.
Even a 2% loss of body water can impact your focus and cause fatigue and brain fog.
Our brains are 80% water so it requires plenty of water to keep functioning at its best.
- Nootropic Supplements
Mindset, nutrition, sleep, environment, & exercise are not the only ways to boost productivity.
Supplements are another powerful way to hack your productivity.
Nootropics are brain-boosting supplements that can support concentration, memory, energy, focus, relaxation, anxiety, motivation, stress, sleep, & more.
Even though most people consider supplementation a relatively new concept, they have been used for thousands of years.
There are numerous nootropic supplements out there ranging from huperzine A and gingko biloba to choline and fish oil.
They can be found either online or at your local grocery store
One of the most widely-consumed nootropics in the world is coffee.
Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant of the nervous system.
Caffeine blocks adenosine, a substance which makes your brain feel sleepy.
You don’t necessarily have to take supplements or consume caffeine to boost your motivation and productivity, but it can give you an edge.
Before selecting a nootropic stack to fuel your productivity levels, make sure you already maintain an active lifestyle and eat a healthy diet.
Nootropic supplements work best in conjunction with a hale and hearty lifestyle.
Additionally, when selecting a nootropic supplement, it’s best to read the labels to ensure you purchase an all-natural brain-boosting stack that carries no animal products, soy, gluten, nuts, wheat, dairy, preservatives, or artificial colors.
People often tend to focus on the physical benefits exercising can produce.
Sure, having a low blood pressure, a healthier and more attractive physique can surely help with your confidence, but that’s not the only thing exercise can help you with.
Multiple studies have shown that regular exercise can affect your performance at work.
Physical training offers various cognitive benefits, including prolonged mental stamina, sharper memory, lower stress levels, faster learning, improved concentration and motivation, and enhanced creativity.
Exercise can also improve your mood, which might also be beneficial for your productivity.
And the best part is, these benefits are almost immediate. (11)
- Get Enough Sleep
Unfortunately, sleep is one of the first things people sacrifice when they become too busy.
Instead of making sure they have a good night’s sleep, they overwork and plan well into the night, waking up fatigued the next day.
Losing sleep is one of the worst things you can do if you want to increase your productivity.
Being productive is closely related to having good time-management skills.
If you couldn’t manage all the tasks you prepared for the day during your work hours, you should change your schedule instead of losing sleep over them.
Push to complete the most difficult tasks you when you’re most productive.
Make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish, and set deadlines for each of them.
Minimize your distractions, but never lose sleep.
Sleep deprivation can not only reduce your productivity levels, but it can also have serious repercussions on your health.
When your brain is sleep deprived, it lacks the ability to make proper neural connections and jump to conclusions as fast as it would when rested.
In some cases, your judgment might be impaired by the accumulated fatigue.
Some estimates consider that insomnia is responsible for losses in productivity of up to $63 billion per year in the US alone. (12)