5 Game Changing (and Easy) Ways to Improve Your Productivity

For too many people, better productivity is like the Holy Grail. It’s highly prized and often lamented as something wholly mythological. After all, if better productivity were an achievable thing, we wouldn’t see countless articles, YouTube Videos, and books on the subject. We’d all just be more productive. Yet for those who fall into the category of average productivity, it can feel as inevitable as gravity.

There is good news, however. Average productivity is no more inevitable than better productivity is mythological. The stumbling block for many people is assuming that better productivity correlates with complex systems. Complex time management systems are a productivity boon, but they work best for people who already have the productivity basics down cold. For everyone else, there are countless simple productivity hacks that will be game changers for your lives.

Tidy Up Your Workspace 

As a rule, only the most disciplined of your coworkers and that one germaphobe maintain well-organized desks or cubicles. It’s easy to poo-poo that behavior as a waste of time. The time they spend cleaning is time you spend working, right? So you’ll be better off in the long-run, right? It turns out they may actually have a professional advantage over you. Clutter in your workspace isn’t harmless waste from past projects and your personal life. It actively inhibits your ability to focus.

All of those pictures, Loot Crate bobbleheads and folders compete for resources in your brain. Tidying up your workspace frees up those resources so that you can focus on the work right in front of you. This is one of those productivity hacks that falls into the category of a no-brainer. 20 minutes of effort can lead to weeks or months of improved productivity. Make a regular habit of tidying up your workspace and you’ll reap years of boosted productivity. Need a little inspiration? You can always turn to Marie Kondo.

Set Time Limits

Simply put, time limits keep you focused task and improve your productivity. One of the most effective ways to teach yourself to be more effective in terms of productivity is to time your tasks. I recommend designating a time limit for every task you take on.

Build Momentum with Easy Wins 

There is a school of thought that you should do your most difficult work first because you’re fresh. That works for some people and utterly fails others. Most of us know at least one person who wakes up ready to climb Everest or the professional equivalent. If that isn’t you, jumping onto your most difficult work first is like dropping a boulder on your brain. You never build up any psychological momentum for the task at hand. 

A different approach can yield better results for those us who wake up ready only to crawl to the espresso maker. Start your day with easy wins. Line up 3-5 easy tasks you can knock out in your first hour or so at work. Every completed task leaves you feeling better and more focused because your brain doses you with dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for motivational salience. That’s science-speak for making you find an outcome desirable. In this case, completing tasks is the desirable outcome. In short, you create a kind of psychological momentum that primes you for more difficult tasks. 

Eat a Balanced Breakfast

It’s so easy to skip breakfast in favor of coffee in a travel mug. It’s one of the worst sins you can commit against productivity. If the gas gauge on your car is near empty, you stop and fill it up. The machine simply won’t run without fuel. If your computer is unplugged, you plug it back in because the machine won’t run without electricity. Your body is an organic machine and your brain is an organic computer. When you skip breakfast, it’s the same as refusing to put gas in your car or plug in your computer.

A balanced breakfast contains at least three food groups, such as proteins, fruits, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Need a recommendation? Try oatmeal, yogurt, and a banana. Not your speed, try a hard-boiled egg, English muffin, and strawberries with milk. Pro tip: you can hard-boil your eggs on Sunday night and they’ll keep in the fridge for the whole week. The combo of carbs and proteins give your body and brain the fuel they need to function well until you get to lunch. Plus, skipping breakfast has been linked with obesity and that’s no good for productivity either.

Limit Multitasking…or Stop Altogether

Multitasking seems to be part and parcel of the modern world. We conduct a phone meeting while answering emails. We text while eating dinner. We read articles on our phones while watching a movie with friends or family. The reasoning goes that this behavior boosts our productivity. This idea of multitasking productivity boosts has become so ingrained that some workplaces consider it a job requirement. Let’s dispel some myths. First, multitasking doesn’t exist. What you’re actually doing is called task switching. Second, it doesn’t improve productivity even 1%.

Every time you switch tasks, you incur what’s called a switching cost. It’s basically your brain changing gears. The problem is that your brain isn’t built for constant task switching. In fact, the brain is so bad at it that it can reduce your productivity by 40% over the course of the day. While you can’t avoid any multitasking, you can take steps to limit it. Block out times in your day to check email and ignore it the rest of the time. Silence every last alert on your phone and computer that isn’t work mandated. Close your office door if you have one. Every distraction you eliminate removes a temptation to multitask.

You can achieve higher levels of productivity, even if your past performance doesn’t show it. It doesn’t take a complex system or a guru whispering into your earbuds. Productivity is the predictable result of factors that prep you for activity, prevent distraction, or limit disruptions. Tidying up your workspace and eating a healthy breakfast prep your body and mind for smooth operation and focus. Knocking out some easy wins primes the psychological pump for the important work. Cutting down on multitasking opportunities prevents the productivity-killing task switching process in your brain. With just these five hacks, you almost can’t help but boost your daily productivity.