We all want to know how to be more productive for very personal reasons—to accomplish more, to achieve our goals, to make more money, or sometimes, just to get things done earlier to make more time for Netflix.
About three years ago, I was absolutely terrible with productivity habits at work. Whenever I set a goal, I failed to accomplish it. Not because I didn’t have time but because I always found an excuse to procrastinate.
I looked at my friends, my colleagues, and everyone around me. I wish I could be like them—full of energy, big wins, high work ethics, high performance.
I beat myself up many times. I felt like I was born a loser. I thought productivity wasn’t something for me. I would never reach it.
But I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore. Something had to change.
And that put me on a journey of research, self-discovery, and, ultimately, a life-changing obsession with productivity.
I read every book about productivity. I dived deep into how successful people achieve whatever they want in their life. I jotted down every hack I’ve learned along the way and tried for myself.
I made a list of over 100 productivity tips and tricks. I experimented with each of them, crossed off what didn’t work for me, and kept what worked.
That changed my life forever.
I’m now proud to call myself a productive person. I’ve accomplished goals that I’d never thought I could make them.
And today, I’ll share with you the 21 most practical tips I’ve learned about productivity. For each tip, I’ll explain why it’s beneficial and how I applied it to myself.
Ready? Let’s jump in.
You may already know this: 80% of the income you generate comes from 20% of your customers. Or, 80% of the results you obtain come from 20% of the efforts you make.
That’s the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule. It holds true for many aspects of life and work. It can benefit your focus and productivity if you know how to use it to your advantage.
While applying the 80/20 rule, keep in mind that only 20% of your work represents 80% of your results. That means 80% of what you’re doing or will do is terribly inefficient.
So, to successfully apply the Pareto principle, you need to identify the most important tasks (MITs) to your work and life. In other words, they’re essential to achieving your goals. Without them, you may not make your dream come true.
Before I share my 3 steps to identify your MITs, here are some best practices you might want to try out:
First, always work from the list:
In the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, self-help guru Brain Tracy shared 3 tips to manage time and boost productivity:
- Work from a list
- Prioritize your list
- Eat the biggest frog first
The first thing is always working from a list. Tracy suggests creating a master list, a monthly list, a weekly list, and a daily list. Then, whenever something new comes up, add it to a specific list before you do it.
By doing that, you can “increase your productivity and output by 25% or more from the first day that you begin working consistently from a list,” as Tracy said on his blog.
Second, always make priorities and work on your MITs first:
Get your MITs done before you move on to other tasks on your list. If you put them off too late, you’ll get busy and run out of time to do them. It’s better to get them out of the way, and the rest of your day is gravy!
Third, use a tool:
A task and project management tool like Upbase is probably all you need. With Upbase, you can create task lists, Kanban boards, set task priorities by colors, and many more. You can use it to manage your personal stuff or work with your team.
It’s simple, easy to use and free.
You may find a digital calendar enough. But if you’re looking for a comprehensive productivity platform, I recommend you try Upbase.
Bear in mind that a tool is just a tool. You need to equip yourself with skills to make the tool work as you want.
Fourth, plan your day the night before:
I’ve only been planning out my day before night since the beginning of this year. And I want to tell you it’s the best new routine I’ve picked up in 2020.
In case you don’t know, it’s the Ivy Lee method.
Each day, before going into bed, write down the three most important things you want to get done tomorrow. Then, start each day by working on those three things.
Here’s why it works:
When you spend 10 to 15 minutes before sleep to meditate on and write down the things you want to accomplish tomorrow, you send a request to your subconscious.
Your subconscious never rests. It controls your heartbeat, blood circulation, digestion, and all the vital processes and functions of your body. It also knows the answers to all of your problems.
Hence, what happens on your subconscious level influences what happens on your conscious level.
When you plan your day the night before, your subconscious will get to work on those things while you sleep. Eventually, what goes on unconsciously becomes your reality.
As Napoleon Hill states, “The subconscious mind will translate into its physical equivalent, by the most direct and practical method available.”
If you don’t plan your days the night before, you’ll waste your willpower deciding which tasks need to be prioritized. You end up losing 30 minutes or 1 hour instead of just a few minutes.
Even worse, you’ll choose the easiest tasks to start your day, like checking emails, which will reduce your productivity.
Our tendency to make poor decisions is called decision fatigue, coined by social psychologist Roy Baumeister. In a groundbreaking 2005 paper, he wrote:
“The process of choosing may itself drain some of the self’s precious resources, thereby leaving the executive function less capable of carrying out its other activities. Decision fatigue can therefore impair self-regulation.”
Try to plan your tomorrow tonight. When you do this, there’s no guesswork about what you’ll be doing when you sit down to work in the morning.
How to identify your MITs?
Here are 3 steps to help you do that:
Step 1: Write down your most important goals you currently have.
Step 2: Write down all the tasks that help you reach your desired outcomes.
Step 3: Ask yourself, “If I could only do one thing on this list today, which one thing would it be?”. Repeat this question two more times, and you’ll identify the other two most important tasks.
If you have a hard time identifying your MITs, just look at the tasks you have been putting it off for too long. In my experiences, there’s a good chance that they are your MITs.
“Your time keeps flying away into vanity while you dine with your distractions. Your life keeps diminishing while you waste your time feeding your distractions.”—Sunday Adelaja
I personally hate all types of notifications. SMS, Skype, Facebook Messengers, Apple updates, Windows, you name it. I disable all notifications on my phone and desktop.
My friends asked me, “What if you miss an urgent call or message? What if your parents call you? What if something happens?”
A lot of “what ifs.”
But the truth is I haven’t missed anything.
A lot of people blame it on fear of missing out. They need notifications or to be active on social media because they want to be involved.
But whatever reasons you have, you can’t deny that notifications and all other types of distractions stop you in your tracks and hurt your productivity.
In a study, three researchers at Florida State University found that:
“[…] mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device, […] As mobile phones become integrated into more and more tasks, it may become increasingly difficult for people to set their phones aside and concentrate fully on the task at hand, whatever it may be.”
Another thing you probably wouldn’t have guessed: “[…] unless your phone is fully silenced or off, it’s probably still distracting you.”
In other words, as long as your phone is next to you, and you know there is some sweet cellular action happening, your productivity isn’t protected.
And notifications aren’t all that distracting. Social media, newspapers, YouTube, Netflix—They all are your productivity’s enemy and make you suffer from “distraction syndrome.”
So, how can you cure this syndrome? Here’s what works for me:
- Practice asynchronous communication. Simply put, you send a message without expecting an immediate response. You understand work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone, and you don’t hope someone shows up whenever you’re online.
- Put your phone on airplane mode or turn off all notifications on your computer and mobile device. Close everything, but what you need to do your task.
- Block distracting websites like newspapers or social media platforms using apps like Freedom. Shut down your browser if you can. If necessary, do the work somewhere without the Internet.
- Find a distraction-free workplace. It can be your office, your house, a coffee shop, a co-working space, etc.
- Listen to music to improve your concentration. Classical music, nature music, or ambient soundtracks are a good choice. You can also wear a noise-canceling headphone to block outside noise.
Distractions are the number one enemy of productivity. When you eliminate them, your productivity will boost through the roof.
“What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.”—Susan Cain
One of the most common lessons I’ve learned when searching for productivity tips is to stop multitasking.
I stopped doing that when I knew it.
Let’s see what I found:
- People who regularly multitask have lower brain density in the region of their brain responsible for empathy, cognitive control, and emotional control.
- When multitasking cognitive tasks like writing, you lower your IQ scores as much as if you used marijuana or stayed up all night.
- It takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. Don’t forget, when we multitask, we are interrupted more than once, which costs you not just 25 minutes.
- Our productivity goes down by as much as 40% when doing several things at once.
- When we multitask, we don’t actually do it. We just switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another.
- Heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers.
- Multitasking reduces work performance, makes projects last longer, and creates that panic-inducing backlog because your to-do list isn’t getting done.
- The more you multitask, the higher chance you lose the ability to remember what you were doing, you’re unable to learn as much, and you have difficulty putting what you’re learning into new contexts.
Alright, that’s enough. I don’t want to overwhelm you with more data.
One thing to remember: Stop multitasking. Instead, do a single task at a time.
I love how Leo Babauta, blogger at Zen Habits, does to avoid multi-tasking. I tried to apply for myself, and they work really well.
- Set up to-do lists for different contexts. I apply this by using Upbase to create different lists for calls, errands, shopping, home, projects, meetings, etc.
- Have a capture tool to take notes on what needs to be done. You can use Upbase to take notes as well. No need to use another tool.
- Turn off all distractions when working. I also tell my team not to interrupt me when I need to focus on an important project.
“Perfectionism and procrastination have such a fine line. You say, ‘Well, I want it to be good. I want it to be perfect.’ But what you’re really doing is not doing your work. You’re putting off showing up and being visible because then you’re going to be judged, and it might suck.”—Jen Sincero
For years, I tried to be a perfectionist. I was always afraid of something going wrong, so I waited, waited, and waited.
“‘I’m not talented. I’m not ready. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have any contact. What if I start now and fail? What if nobody will help me. Now isn’t the right time. I’ll start when I have more money, time, experience, and resources.”
These thoughts were big excuses that stopped me from making changes.
Let me get this straight: If I didn’t make my decision to stop waiting, I wouldn’t be where I am today:
- Traveling to a dozen countries across four different continents
- Developing my own network of mentors and experts across industries
- Building an all-in-one project management and productivity platform
And best of all: forming many healthy habits that I thought I would never succeed.
In a study on perfectionism and productivity, Dr. Simon Sherry, a psychology professor at Dalhousie University, found increased perfectionism is correlated with decreased productivity.
“[…] perfectionism trips up professors on the way to research productivity. The more perfectionistic the professor, the less productive they are.”
Here are some problems associated with being a perfectionist:
- You spend way too long doing a task than required.
- You avoid taking risks or wait for the perfect moment, which eventually leads to procrastination.
- You focus too much on small things that you forget the big picture.
- You overthink every decision you make, which causes you to lose opportunities.
- You second guess yourself all the time because you think there is always something to improve.
- You feel frustrated and desperate when things are out of your control.
Perfectionism is the enemy of your productivity. Don’t fall into it.
Your workspace, no matter if it’s in the office or in your home, must be a place that inspires you to work.
If you find yourself tired or discouraged from sitting in front of your computer, you need to check your desk right now.
For me, I’d like to keep my workspace as simple and organized as possible. A clean workspace helps me better focus on the task at hand.
In a survey from the Brothers International Corporation, “87% of office workers say when their workspace is disorganized, they feel they are less productive than when their workspace is organized.”
Whenever I declutter my desk, I apply the KonMari method.
In case you don’t know: The KonMari method is created by Mario Kondo, tidying expert and author of the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
The KonMari method includes six basic rules of tidying:
- Commit yourself to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
- Finish discarding first
- Tidy by category, not by location
- Follow the right order
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
When tidying my desk, I follow the KonMari method by asking myself if a thing brings me joy. If it does, I keep it. Otherwise, I give it to others or put it in trash if it’s no longer of use.
Besides my desk, I clean up my computer. I turn off or trash all unnecessary desktop icons, so I’ve got a clutter-free desktop.
When you’re working in a mess, there isn’t much to focus on. You’ll end up sifting through papers and boxes to find what you’re looking for and waste valuable time.
This isn’t to say your workspace needs to be clean all the time, but if you find that the clutter is distracting you, it might be time to tidy up.
Journaling is a key morning routine habit of many highly successful people.
Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, to name a few.
Journaling was always something that I wanted to do regularly. But I couldn’t make it.
But this year has been different. I started a journal on January 01, 2020, and have an entry for just about every day since then—nearly 10 months might not seem like a lot to many people, but it’s about six times what I’ve ever done before.
I journal both in the morning for about 5-10 minutes per session, but the return of investment is incredible.
To improve my productivity with journaling, I don’t simply write down my thoughts. I also write down my big goals every single day before I start working.
By doing this, I’m reminded of what I’m working towards on a daily basis. It serves as fuel for my motivation and inspiration to stop procrastinating and take massive action instead.
I also maintain a daily gratitude journal to keep myself less stressed and happier.
At the start of the day, I jot down 3 things that I’m grateful for. They can be my recent achievements or anything that makes me feel good.
Imagine you can leave your house with a smiling face and full of positive energy. If you want to get this feeling, start journaling your gratitude.
Sometimes I also write down the lessons I’ve learned from my failure or mistakes. Where did things go wrong? How can I do better next time? Should I seek help from others?
This way, I can avoid making the same mistakes and realize what I need to improve to accomplish my goals.
I know some people don’t have time to write in the morning or even in the evening. If you can’t make it early in the day, choose any time in the day that works for you.
“[…] Evolutionary biology. The human brain can’t focus on a single task for long periods. Our brains are meant to ensure our survival. To protect us from looming threats the brain is in a constant state of alertness. So focusing on one thing for a long time is hard for your brain.”—Darius Foroux
You may have heard of the Pomodoro technique. But if you haven’t, it’s a time management method using specifically timed intervals. Each interval, also called a pomodoro (meaning tomato in Italy), lasts 25 minutes.
During each pomodoro, you pay attention to working on one task. Once the time is up, you move on to another. After a few pomodoros, you’re allowed to take a break.
I didn’t know this technique until I read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.
A dozen friends recommended it to me. But thinking it might be like other productivity books, so I didn’t check it out.
Finally, a bad day came, and I decided to read Deep Work.
In three words: It’s INCREDIBLE.
It transforms the way I approach work. It makes me think about how I am using my time. Every time I re-read the book, I learn something valuable.
According to Newport, deep work requires long uninterrupted periods. It’s “a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
Think about doing research, writing a book, or developing a strategy.
Meanwhile, shallow work is low attention, full of distraction, and easy to replicate. Meetings, emails, or social media are great examples.
To get into your deep work by applying the Pomodoro technique, here are a few things you need to do:
- Use a tool to set the 25-minute interval. I use Good Timer. Note that you can change 25 minutes to 30 or 40 minutes.
- Assign just one task to every interval. Don’t try to cover more than one task during this time.
- Don’t skip your breaks. Breaks are part of the Pomodoro technique. If you ignore them, you break the technique.
- Don’t check your email and social media during your break. Instead, do some stretching, go outside, grab a new cup of coffee or whatever, etc.
- Take a 15-minute break after 4 intervals.
You’re probably thinking, “Easy peasy! That’s nothing! I can do it like a cake!”
But if it’s so easy, everyone on earth would be productive, but unfortunately, not all of us would.
The 2-minute rule comes from David Allen, who brought the Getting Things Dones (GTD) method to the world.
There are two parts of the 2-minute rule.
First, if you can do something in less than two minutes, do it now.
Think about washing your dishes, tossing clothes into the washing machine, or taking out the garbage. You can get them done in two minutes or less, but you decide to procrastinate because you think you can do it later.
This applies to many other things: mail, paperwork, phone calls, requests from others. Follow the rules and deal with them right now.
If something takes too long, then put it on a to-do list—but avoid this if possible.
Second, when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
James Clear explains this best:
“The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away. […] This is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it. A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy.”
Whenever I build a new habit, I apply the two-minute rule. For example:
- Read one paragraph before going to bed (instead of “read books”)
- Wear gym clothes (instead of “do 30 minutes of gym”)
The 2-minute rule isn’t about the results you want to achieve. Instead, it forces you to focus on the process of actually doing the work.
All you need to do is get started, taking action, and let things flow from there.
The 2-minute rule works for me, and I believe it’ll work for you too.
If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.—Mel Robbins
You may know The 5 Second Rule, an inspirational book and life mode written by Mel Robbins.
If you don’t know Mel Robbins, she is one of the world’s most requested speakers and one of the most popular on-air commentators for CNN. Her TEDx Talk has been viewed over 25 million times.
Robbins’ the 5-second rule provides a unique approach to eliminating procrastination by counting down to hold you accountable. If you want to increase your productivity, you need to take immediate, consistent action. It’s not your motivation to make you succeed; it’s your intent, which leads to your actions. As she said:
“The moment your instincts fire up but you feel yourself hesitate, that’s when you use the ‘5 Second Rule.’ You have five seconds. Start counting backward to yourself from five to one, then move,” says Robbins. “If you don’t move within five seconds, your brain will kill the idea and you’ll talk yourself out of doing it.”
I have found myself using the 5-second rule, which starts the moment that my alarm goes off. As soon as I wake up, I immediately remember the rule. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and then I just go!
I also apply this rule in every other aspect of my life. Whenever I feel trapped in my thoughts, I countdown from 5 and focus on living in the moment.
When I get to 1, I give myself no other option. I’ve done the things that I didn’t think I could. I’ve completed the things that I find to be important to my happiness and success. I start working towards my goals before being dragged down by others’ schedules.
I couldn’t recommend you enough to read The 5-second rule.
Give it a try.
With task batching you stay focused on a certain task and can achieve flow: a mental state where we get “in the zone,” distractions dissipate, and the work becomes easier.—Anna Wood
First things first, task-batching is different from multitasking.
Multitasking will destroy your productivity. Meanwhile, task-batching will double or even triple your performance.
Confused? Let me explain it to you.
The idea behind task-batching is you batch together similar tasks and complete them one after another until they’re done. By doing that, you avoid the need for switching back and forth between skills, thoughts, processes, and concentrations.
- Batch checking emails. Schedule a time of the day to check and answer emails in batches. For example, 2-3 pm is for email checking. You can do the same for phone calls and messages.
- Batch meetings. Group all your meetings in one single block of time, instead of scattering them throughout the day. You can also push all meetings into a specific day of the week.
- Batch your chores: List types of chores you need to accomplish on a daily basis, for example, laundry, meal preparation, or sweeping. Then, determine the best time of the day to complete these chores.
Little things like emails shouldn’t get in the way of your important tasks. But they still need to be done, right? So, the best way to finish all those things is to combine them together and do them in one go.
Another helpful hint is theming your days to stay focused, maintain your sanity, and get more done in less time.
It’s popular these days to talk about the importance of getting up early. In fact, you may read some inspiring stories of people who wake up at 3:00 AM to become uber-productive.
Unless I had to wake up early for trips or appointments, I used to be a late riser.
Even when I woke up early, I barely made it in time. Five to ten minutes late seemed to be part of my characteristics.
So, when reading productivity guides and knowing someone wakes up so early, I wondered why they had to do that. I just didn’t understand.
Until I came across a lot of testimonials in favor of waking up early from highly successful people:
- Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin: 5:45am.
- Tim Cook, CEO of Apple 3:45am.
- Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks: 4:30am.
- Bob Iger, CEO of Disney: 4:30am.
- Anna Wintour, Editor in Chief of Vogue: 5:45am.
- Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Twitter: 5:30am.
- Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX: 7am.
- Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft: 7am.
- Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of AOL: 5am.
- Jeff Bezos, Founder & Ceo of Amazon: 5am.
- Donald Trump, President of the United States: 4am.
Me? 8am is the earliest.
I remember there is a saying, “If one man calls you an ass, pay him no mind. If two men call you an ass, go buy a saddle.”
I want to modify it this way:
If one man says he wakes up before 7am, pay him no mind. If two men say they wake up before 7am, start checking yours.
It’s time for me to change.
In 2018, I did a 30-day trial to wake up early at 5am. At first, it wasn’t easy because I always thought I wasn’t a morning type of person. But I never stopped trying.
Until now, waking at 5 am has become my natural act.
Here are some benefits of waking up early:
- You feel fresh and calm. In my experience, there is no better way to start off your day than to wake early.
- You have more uninterrupted time to work on your goal and dream. Early morning is usually the most productive time of the day for most people.
- Watch the sunrise. Really, I love it.
- You have time to exercise and prepare a great breakfast.
If you’re a night owl, it’s okay. Staying up late at night and getting a lot done is really not much different from rising early—both times are much quieter with fewer distractions.
However, I recommend you change your routine and see if anything better happens to your health and mind. If it works, perhaps you can be a morning person.
A worthy note that you should wake up early with intention. As time management expert Lauran Vanderkam emphasized:
“There’s no point getting up early just to do so. The question is what you’ll do with the time hopefully something that will advance you toward your long-term goals.”
One of the most consistent lessons I’ve learned across all of the productivity guides is the importance of building a morning routine.
Because routines bring so many benefits. They help create momentum to build good habits, establish priorities, limit procrastination, keep track of goals, and make us healthier.
As Leo Babauta, founder of Zen Habits writes,
“The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instill a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I’m getting certain things done every morning … namely, my goals. I’m setting aside morning time as a time of peace and quiet, and time to take small steps each day towards my goals.”
Now, I’ll share some of my daily morning routines that help me reach higher mental levels. I always try to do these during the first hour:
- Drink a glass of water. In case you don’t know, doing this first thing in the morning immediately helps rehydrate your body, improve gut health, and fuel your brain.
- Feed my mind with positive thoughts. Just think about what makes me happy, feel grateful, or hope. You don’t have to meditate if you don’t want to—sitting still and contemplating is a beautiful thing.
- Stretch and exercise. I often do some stretching in the morning. It’s useful to redistribute fluid, blood, and nutrients that may have succumbed to gravity’s command as you slept.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. I avoid food that is too sugary, carb-filled, and fatty. My go-to breakfast options are protein shake with extras, fresh fruit salad, or oatmeal, blueberries, and almonds. A healthy breakfast gives you energy and helps you concentrate more intensely and for longer periods.
There are also many other morning routine ideas you can try, for example:
- Make your bed (Here’s why?)
- Do a short exercise session
- Write down 3 things you’re grateful for in your gratitude journal
- Read books
- Plan out your day
- Go outside for a walk
- Water the plants
- Watch a motivational video
- Listen to upbeat music
- Meditate for at least 5-10 minutes
- Say positive affirmations
- Practice visualization
- Take a cold shower
Need more? Check out The Miracle Morning book by Hal Elrod.
Besides developing good habits, you should avoid bad habits like checking emails, social media, and news first thing in the morning. Most experts agree that it’s a bad habit, making you unable to prioritize tasks and feel already behind in your day.
Note that what works for me might not work for you. That’s why it’s important to pick the activities that resonate most with you, the ones that push you to become the best version of yourself.
“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day—Mother Nature’s best.”—Matthew Walker
For a very long time, I underestimated the importance and the power of sleep.
I always thought losing an hour or two of sleep was nothing. A cup of coffee and I could get back to work easily.
But there was a problem.
Coffee was the only cure for my sleep deprivation. Without coffee, I just could not get myself focused on work. I ended up drinking too much coffee, which then causes terrible sleep at night.
Most of the time, I woke up so tired.
My productivity decreased over time. Stuck in the rut!
I lose, and life wins.
Not until I read Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. In this book, she showed shocking data about the connection between sleep deprivation and productivity:
“We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but, ironically, our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we put in at work, adds up to more than eleven days of lost productivity per year per worker, or about $2,280.”
[…] This results in a total annual cost of sleep deprivation to the US economy of more than $63 billion, in the form of absenteeism and presenteeism (when employees are present at work physically but not really mentally focused).”
I dug deeper into the power of sleep and found another great book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, written by Matthew Walker. Here is what Walker found after thirty years of intensive research on sleep:
“[…] we can now answer many of the questions posed earlier. The recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours. Three full nights of recovery sleep (i.e., more nights than a weekend) are insufficient to restore performance back to normal levels after a week of short sleeping. Finally, the human mind cannot accurately sense how sleep-deprived it is when sleep-deprived.”
See? Sleep is soooo important to our health and productivity.
The question is how to sleep better?
I’m not an expert on sleep, but I can share with you a few tips that work for me:
- First, aim to get enough sleep. Most adults need 6-8 hours of good sleep every night. For me, I spend 6,5-7 hours sleeping.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. In other words, go to bed at the same time every night. I try to make it around 10:30 pm.
- Limit daytime nap to no longer than 30 minutes.
- Avoid drinking coffee after 12 pm. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10-12 hours.
- Avoid heavy meals within 2-3 hours of bedtime.
- Exercise daily. Move your body. Physical activity improves sleep quality and increases sleep duration.
- Get a comfortable bed, mattress, and pillow.
- No screens one hour before you go to sleep. Blue light from electronic device screens like computers, tablets, or phones is bad for sleep.
- Read a book or listen to soft, relaxing music before sleep.
- Meditate. If you have a hard time falling asleep, try out meditation. It’s a great way to quiet your mind and body.
“Every time you say you’re busy, you’re actually saying that you can’t prioritize your life.”—Darius Foroux
Doing nothing from time to time isn’t bad. But being (or trying to be) busy all the time isn’t good at all.
In the past, whenever someone asked me, “How are you?” my answer was, “Busy!”
I was busy with all kinds of things—work, events, parties, holidays, friends, etc.
Every day, I was the first person to come to the office and the last person leaving.
The word “weekend” wasn’t in my dictionary.
I should be proud of myself, right?
Not at all.
I ended up forgetting many important things in my life.
I didn’t go to the gym, draw, listen to music, etc., which were my favorite hobbies.
I ate a lot of junk food.
I slept only 3 hours a day.
I forgot about my birthday.
I visited my parents, from every two weeks to only a few times a year.
And the WORST: Whenever I visited them, the first thing I did was go up to my room and sleep for hours. I didn’t talk to my parents much as before.
I know they were worried about me. They were also sad.
I decided to change it. How on earth can I be too busy to ignore these most important things in my life? That doesn’t make any sense.
Stopping being busy says a lot about us.
It says we make priorities and manage our time effectively. We slow down to reflect and live in the present. We work to live, not live to work.
So I need to create a work-life balance?
The answer is No. You don’t have to do that because somehow it’s impossible. But you need to make time to do what you love, besides working for a living. Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of the world’s largest business networking organization BNI, puts it best:
Yes, you read correctly. Balance assumes that we spend equal amounts of time in each area of our life, which realistically, is impossible. I believe in harmony, in finding ways to create synergy between the things you love to do and the things you’re paid to do (if you’re lucky, they’re one in the same!).”
And, when you stop being busy, you care about your health and personal life too.
Like your phone and your car, you need to recharge yourself.
Even if you love what you do so much that you can’t stop thinking about it, you’re not a superman.
You still have a life. And I’m not even talking about all the responsibilities you may have. Your parents, wife, kids, friends, you name it.
So, stop making your life even more challenging. It’s time to plan your vacation to recover your energy.
By vacations, I mean wonderful trips to your favorite beaches or resorts. I don’t mean some days off at home where you do more work than relax.
Need some sciences? Here’re yours:
- Working more hours generally means less productivity.
- Employees gain focus and energy after stepping away from their desks (mean: go on vacations).
- A vacation helps decrease perceived job stress and burnout.
- A vacation adds more joy and relaxation to your work life.
I plan a vacation for myself every two months. Whenever I come back, I’m always full of energy.
Take time to do nothing, in the true sense of the word, and you’ll see your life changes, perhaps, forever.
People refuse to take naps because they think naps are only for children and the elders; for adults, naps seem like a waste of time. After finishing lunch, they go straight to their desk and work.
However, just because you work long hours doesn’t mean you’re more productive.
The National Sleep Foundation stated that “naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.”
In another study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that participants who took a 30-minute nap between tests stopped the deterioration in performance. Those who took a 60-minute nap even reversed it.
Did you know Leonardo da Vinci or President John F. Kennedy both took naps?
Tell me—do you still think a nap is a waste of time?
Now I always take a 20-minute nap every day.
You can do more or less, but most studies show that taking a 10- to 30-minute nap is ideal.
The National Sleep Foundation wrote that “naps can leave people with sleep inertia, especially when they last more than 10-20 minutes.”
The question is, what time should you take a nap?
According to The Mayo Clinic, you should take naps in the early afternoon and avoid napping after 3pm because it can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Choose a time to nap that suits you and enjoys being more productive in the afternoon.
I don’t train to impress girls or look good.
I train because I know a healthy body helps increase productivity. And I want to be more productive in my work and life.
In case you don’t know why doing exercise helps productivity, read this:
- It reduces your stress levels and clears your mind. That means you’ll feel much more creative after an intense workout or a 20-minute run.
- Physical activities release endorphins, which then give you an energy boost and improves your overall wellbeing.
- Exercises help you sleep better at night and feel much more rested in the morning.
That’s enough to convince you, right?
Okay, so how can you start if you don’t have any motivation?
For me, it wasn’t that easy. But I tried, and eventually, I did it.
Here are some tips for you:
- Try all exercises and find what works for you. For me, I ran, jogged, played tennis, went to the gym, and more. I did almost everything until I realized that gym workouts best suit me.
- Start small. If you kill yourself in the beginning, you’ll eventually quit. Make it as easy as possible.
- Exercise daily, at the same time. At first, I went to the gym three times a week, but it soon began once a week. It didn’t work. After that, I committed to the gym after 5pm every single day. Consistency wins.
Take your exercises seriously, and you’ll see your productivity increases. If I can do it, you can too.
Up to this point, I assume you already have some good routines. In the fourth part of this post, I’ll share with you some hacks to add to your productivity systems. Believe me, if you apply them right, your performance will rock!
You may think your goal is to become more productive.
Nope. It’s not a goal.
You need a SMART goal. In other words, it should be:
- Specific: What exactly will you want to achieve? Who will you want to become?
- Measureable: How will you know you’ve achieved your goal?
- Achievable: Are your goals feasible to accomplish?
- Results-based: What are your expected results?
- Time-bound: When will you accomplish your goal?
Instead of “I want to make a lot of money by the end of 2021,” say, “I’ll write an ebook and make $30,000 from selling it by the end of next year.”
It’s a SMART goal.
But that’s not enough.
When creating your goal, remember two other things.
First, break down your goal into smaller ones. Try to set yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals.
Ask yourself, what are you going to do today that will bring you closer to achieving your bigger goals?
By knowing what you need to accomplish every day, you’re sure that you make daily progress towards your most ambitious goal.
No matter how little your progress is, it’s still a win. Best-selling author James Clear put this best, “if you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”
When I break down my goal, I try to make it visual.
I use Upbase’s Kanban boards and cards to visualize my goal. If you don’t know Kanban, (please) google it.
Of course, you can do it with your favorite pen and paper. But I found it much more convenient to use a tool because I can update my goals on the go, either with my laptop or smartphone.
Second, focus on one goal at a time.
Again, the “avoid multitasking” principle applies.
Too many people start with too many goals at once and try to do too much.
That doesn’t work because we don’t have enough energy and motivation to cover many things at once.
You have to choose one goal, focus on it completely, and get it done before moving to another.
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”— Warren Buffett
I was a sucker for saying yes.
Sometimes I even found myself thinking, “No, No, No,” and then I blurted out, “Yes, I’ll do it for you.”
I couldn’t say the word “No,” because I was afraid of being judged, being rejected, and being thought, “He isn’t capable of doing something.”
On top of that, I wanted to please everyone around me so I could be seen as an agreeable colleague and friend.
Eventually, I felt so stressed and resentful because of it. I spent so much time doing other jobs that I didn’t have time doing mine.
That bad habit stopped when I learned about the Pareto principle: 20% of the effort produces 80% of the results, and 20% of the results consume 80% of the effort.
Instead of trying to do everything I think I can do, I need to focus primarily on the tasks that produce the majority of the results I want to achieve.
It means I need to say No more often. Not only say No to the things people ask but I don’t want to do, but also say No to my tasks that yield little or no result.
If you find it hard to say No more often to others, you can follow these tips:
- Be polite, say thanks before saying no.
- Be direct, such as “No, I can’t” or “No, I don’t want to do it.” Sometimes it’s better to get to the point quickly rather than beating around the bush or saying, “I’ll think about it,” while you definitely never want to do that (I learned it the hard way.)
- Don’t lie. If you don’t have enough time to do something, say it.
At some point in my career, I was prideful! I didn’t like to ask for help on things I felt like I should be able to do.
I thought I’d rather take more time to create a perfect PowerPoint presentation than asking an expert in my team.
I was wrong, wrong, wrong!
I burnt out and ended up asking for help. Of course, she did a better job than I could have ever done on my own.
There are two options you can choose when things aren’t going well. You can either battle it out on your own or get help from someone more experienced.
Successful people never do everything on their own. In fact, they can’t.
Without an amazing team behind them, whether it’s their spouse or employees, they wouldn’t be where they are today.
Remember this, it’s impossible to do everything yourself. And it’s better to share the work with others so you can have more time to focus on the most important task.
Instead of overloading yourself or trying to do it alone, why not let others join you and share the burden?
Most of the time, two are better than one.
“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”—Dave Barry
When I worked for corporates, I hated meetings, especially unscheduled meetings.
There were times when I enjoyed doing a task, and out of nowhere, I was called to come to the meeting room, just for listening to “nonsense” things which had nothing to do with my job.
And you know what happened then. I couldn’t get my focus back on the task, so I ended up staying late to finish it!
That’s why when I built my own startup, I swore to never put my team into “meeting madness.”
Okay, what if a meeting is mandatory? How can you get out of it?
Try these tips:
- Set a boundary. Explain to your boss that you can do an X-minute meeting at maximum. Remember to give him a convincing reason. Show him how much more you could accomplish by not being there (or by leaving early).
- Request a clear agenda before the meeting. Doing that, you can know what will be discussed and what’s the expected outcome. Perhaps you can prepare some questions to take benefits from the meeting, so you don’t feel like you’ll waste time.
- Leave quietly. I did that a lot after being too tired of meetings. I always tried to stand near the door, and when I knew it was time to leave, I just left. No one even noticed my leaving because they were distracted by “the meeting.”
“I probably wouldn’t do anything differently if I had to do it again. Every little thing that happens to you, good and bad, becomes a little piece of the puzzle of who you become. Every successful person you read about – Warren Buffett, Bill Gates – they all say pretty much the same thing. ‘Do what you love.’ I know I did.—David Foster
Okay, it sounds cliché, but thinks this way: if you do something you’re not passionate about, how can you do it best?
I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s tough. I’ll want to stop halfway and move to the thing I want to work like hell to get it done.
Ask yourself: What do you really want to do right now? What do you love doing? What motivates you to get out of your bed at 5am every single morning?
If you already have it, that’s awesome. If not, go find it.
Productivity shouldn’t be a goal.
Instead, it should be a path that leads you to your desired goals.
If there is anything you take away from this post, it’s to focus on using them over time. Slowly.
I’ve been on this journey for over two years. Not everything I’ve learned or achieved happens overnight. It took me a lot of time, energy, and even money to find out what works for me and build my own productivity system.
My advice for you is to try all of these 21 productivity tips and find out what works best for you.
I suggest that you begin with the following 3 tips:
- Write down the 3 most important tasks (MITs) every day. You can use just a pen and paper, or a productivity tool like Upbase (Tip No. 1)
- Eliminate distractions. Block distracting apps and websites when you need to focus on your work (Tip No. 2)
- Deep work with the Pomodoro method (Tip No. 7)
I strongly believe that, if you could only apply these 3 tips, you would at least 2x your productivity!