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Most people struggle with productivity, especially since a lot of us are forced to work from home all the time now. Managing your time and various responsibilities by yourself can be tough, but it gets easier when you know a few helpful tricks and methods. In this post, we’ll talk about 7 effective techniques for productivity improvement that you can apply to your own life and work.
For some extra inspiration, check out my selection of 100 best quotes about avoiding distraction and staying true to your life goals. Keeping yourself on a high vibe is great for performance and getting inspired with quotes is one of the easiest ways to do it!
Why productivity improvement is necessary
There are only 24 hours a day for each of us, and only so many years to live. By not managing our time efficiently we waste a big chunk of it on unimportant activities that bring us neither joy nor money. Productivity improvement lets us make more out of every day we have. It boosts our abilities and enhances the overall life experience.
Whether in the workplace or in personal life, better productivity leads to better achievements, which usually results in self-development and business growth. In turn, it helps you become a more confident and happy person. Research shows the direct correlation between achievement goals and life satisfaction, which means that productive high achievers are generally more inclined to enjoy day-to-day life.
Think about it: wouldn’t it be nice to fit more pleasant things into your day without feeling burnt out and drained all the time?
Factors that influence productivity
There are plenty of things that may affect your productivity both ways.
Positive factors include elaborate planning, prioritizing, and using productivity techniques we’ll discuss below.
To my opinion, here are 6 most important factors that affect productivity at home:
- Productive workplace setup
- Specific work schedule
- Using productivity tools
- Managing distractions
- Consistent routines
- Ability to motivate yourself
You can read more about each of these factors in my dedicated post.
Now, let’s look into each of the seven effective methods that can improve your productivity!
7 effective techniques for productivity improvement
1. Pomodoro technique
What is Pomodoro technique?
The Pomodoro technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and basically means working in fixed continuous 25-minute time periods. After each period like that, you should take a short break up to 5 minutes, which is meant to clear your head and avoid being blindly fixated on a current problem.
Then after every four 25-minute intervals (which is about two hours of work), take a longer break up to half an hour to switch the context, relax, and get a set of fresh eyes.
If you are wondering why it is called the Pomodoro technique, it’s from the Italian word “pomodoro” which means “tomato”. The creator of the method was inspired by tomato-shaped kitchen timers which can now be used for tracking both work and rest intervals. 25-minute chunks are called “pomodoros” so you need to carry out four pomodoros before each long break.
Traditionally, you were meant to put a checkmark on paper after finishing each pomodoro so it’s easy to track when it’s time for bigger breaks. Nowadays it’s a very popular technique and various web and mobile apps can count the pomodoros for you.
Is Pomodoro technique effective?
The Pomodoro technique will be very effective for you if you take it seriously. This means following the pattern of working-resting intervals and avoiding distractions during your pomodoros. You basically have little breaks every half-hour so everything that is not related to your current task can wait till then.
Sometimes it’s very tempting to quickly check your phone or go pour yourself a cup of coffee. But unless you wait for the break time, it destroys your pomodoro and the whole streak you may already have, which means you’ll be starting anew. That’s why many disorganized people claim that the Pomodoro technique is inefficient: they simply aren’t following the rules.
A nice perk of the Pomodoro method is that can be applied to absolutely anything! From household chores to work projects to creative tasks, every activity benefits from cutting it into shorter chunks.
Frequent breaks let you be more mindful while doing monotonous work, and the periods of deeply focused time without distractions increase your productivity. The Pomodoro method ensures that you work more quality hours than an average office worker.
Best Pomodoro timers
Best web solution for Pomodoro
The simplest free web-based solution for using the Pomodoro technique is called Pomodor app.
It’s a minimalistic one-page tracker that follows the rules described above. Basically, it just counts the time and notifies you when it’s time to have a break or to get back to work. You can also see the remaining time in the browser tab title, but this feature can be turned off in case it is distracting for you.
Pomodor timer gives you the flexibility to set up your own intervals. By default, everything is set according to the traditional metrics: 4 rounds of 25+5 minutes and then a 20-minute break. You can use it as is or tweak the numbers to something that works better for you.
As a bonus, you can see your statistics after a few completed sessions which helps you understand your day-to-day productivity.
Best mobile solution for Pomodoro technique
There are lots of different apps available around the concept of Pomodoro, but for me personally, the best one is definitely the Forest app.
I’ve been using it for years and it really helps me stay focused while I’m working.
I described everything I like about Forest app in my other post about getting into a productive mood. I don’t want to be repetitive so go read it there if you are interested in the mobile Pomodoro solution.
The main idea is that you build a plant or a tree every time you finish the interval. This way you can see your productivity streaks in a form of a beautifully designed forest. But if you let yourself get distracted and leave the app (for example, to open a social media application or a messenger), your plant dies.
It reminds me a bit about Tamagotchi toys we had back in the 90s. Although that addiction was merely a time-waster while this one can be a tool to actually boost your performance!
Physical Pomodoro timer options
If digital solutions are still too distracting for you, there are always physical timers you can use!
They don’t give you extra features like tracking pomodoros or gathering your stats, but they work perfectly for the main idea of Pomodoro method, which is to be focused for a set amount of time.
Here are a few options of physical timers you can use for Pomodoro:
2. Getting Things Done technique (GTD)
What is GTD in time management?
GTD stands for Getting Things Done which is a personal organization technique that was introduced by David Allen in his dedicated book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. It consists of five stages for organizing your workflow that are meant to help you actually Get Things Done.
There is also a supportive workbook for implementing the steps described in a book right away to improve your productivity. As with any good book about productivity, it only makes sense when you apply the techniques to your life. Even the most effective book on the planet will do nothing for your productivity if you just read it and don’t do what it says.
What are the stages of the GTD method?
Getting Things Done approach is based on understanding the importance of different tasks and organizing them in a way that you never miss or forget anything critical.
There are five steps to achieving this, according to David Allen:
- Capture. Clear your mind by putting all the important stuff on paper or in a dedicated app.
- Clarify. Analyze each item on your list for actual importance and define the detailed step-by-step action plan to get it done if it’s not a one-bite task already.
- Organize. Categorize everything, fill your calendar, set the reminders.
- Reflect. Keep things under control by frequent reviews of the whole scope.
- Engage. Pick the tasks and start getting them done one by one.
A lot of the time we get so overwhelmed by the amount of things we have on our minds that we either get super busy doing unnecessary tasks or get anxious and not do anything at all.
Here is a great lecture by David Allen himself that may be interesting to you:
If his approach intrigues you, the Getting Things Done book is available on Amazon for reading or listening. Lots of readers call it life-changing and eye-opening.
3. Kaizen technique
What is Kaizen technique?
Kaizen is a Japanese methodology for improving productivity. It literally means “change for the better” and is based on the principles of continuous improvement. It’s more known in the business circles and gets used a lot in manufacturing to set up processes in the most efficient and improvement-friendly way.
How to use Kaizen technique for personal improvement?
While teamwork is traditionally a big part of Kaizen philosophy, it recently started to gain popularity in the self-development space as well.
The main idea of the Kaizen technique in terms of personal productivity is to minimize stress and pressure on yourself by breaking everything down into as small steps as possible. This means approaching things one at a time and defining one tiny task that can be done to reach the goal. And when it’s done, define the next tiny task and so on.
In the long run, the little-by-little approach takes you much farther than the all-or-nothing approach many of us (myself included) are drawn to. If you never finish your projects because you put too much on your plate, get overwhelmed, push further, and eventually get burnt out and quit, there is a good chance that the Kaizen method will bring you better results.
I didn’t know the name of this method until recently but I was always emphasizing this idea anyway (for example, here).
While it may seem like a linear approach to reach your goals, it’s actually more of an exponential curve, if you think about it. You base every next step on top of the result of the previous one and accumulate more and more experience over time which helps you make the processes more efficient.
If I were to put this in the modern world context, this is why millionaires multiply their millions so easily whereas it’s such a struggle to grow a business from scratch. It’s easier for a social media influencer with 1 million followers to get to 2 million than for a newcomer to get to their first 100k subscribers. Their small daily steps are completely different.
It’s also called a snowball effect. The more you are doing it, the better you get at it, and your small step on day 100 doesn’t compare to your small step on day 1.
That’s why everyone talks so much about building habits: consistency takes you a long way.
Best Kaizen books to read
If you’d like to know more about this technique and how it applies to real-life situations, here are a few good books on a subject:
- One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
- The Spirit of Kaizen: Creating Lasting Excellence One Small Step at a Time
- Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time
What is monotasking?
Monotasking is a self-management approach based on handling the workload one task at a time. It’s also called single-tasking and means completely focusing on the current task without switching the context until it’s done. To apply monotasking, it’s important to eliminate interruptions and stay concentrated on one job.
Monotasking vs multitasking: which is better?
It may seem counterintuitive, but monotasking gets you better results in the long run. Studies show that the human brain is not designed for multitasking, which is why monotasking is better for work performance and personal productivity.
Constantly switching between different activities makes your brain tired and less attentive to details. This leads to an increased amount of mistakes which means more time to fix them and get good quality results.
Research shows that it takes more than twenty minutes to get back into a deep focus state after you got interrupted. With that said, practicing multitasking prevents you from even entering that level of concentration. At the same time, monotasking makes sure you are focused most of the time and work productively to get results.
That’s why task batching is such a popular productivity technique. Combining all tasks of the same context or repeatedly engaging in similar activities helps the brain to reach the flow state where the work goes smoothly and brings better results faster.
Benefits of monotasking
There are many benefits that come with focusing on one task at a time. Here are the main ones:
- You are able to focus more deeply on the job. When most of the brain resources are dedicated to one activity, you’ll likely come up with better or more efficient solutions. Plus, you can more effortlessly come up with creative ideas when your mind is not cluttered by twenty other things at the same time.
- You get more tasks actually finished. Although you may see multitasking as a way to get more things done, it doesn’t work like that. Science proves that monotasking is a more efficient approach when it comes to finishing stuff. With multitasking, it’s very common to start many things at once and hardly finish anything at all.
- Your brain doesn’t get fatigued from switching context. The less you jump from one task to another, the less brainpower is wasted on unnecessary switching and adapting to the new context. Focusing on a single activity allows you to save mental energy for what’s really important.
- You define your priorities more clearly when monotasking. As you are required to choose one thing to work on until it’s done, it pushes you to be more mindful about prioritizing the workload. Many people get extremely busy with daily tasks but are not growing in any way because they aren’t focusing on the important ones.
Monotasking supports the principle of working smarter, not harder, by doing important things instead of more things.
How to practice monotasking for productivity improvement
Monotasking goes well together with Getting Things Done technique. Make a list of everything that requires your attention, prioritize it by urgency and importance, and start working on the first task. Forget about everything else until you check it off your list and then focus exclusively on the next task.
You can also notice that you don’t get as tired at the end of the day, especially if you take breaks between different tasks (when you are switching context anyway), and not in the middle of focused work.
5. Seinfeld method
What is the Seinfeld strategy?
Jerry Seinfeld is a world known comedian who earns tens of millions of dollars every year. How does he get to be so successful? According to various interviews, his secret is simply in his consistency.
The Seinfeld approach to getting things done and achieving success is based on continuously practicing your skills on a daily basis. Originally, it meant putting a big calendar on the wall and crossing each day of practice with a prominent red marker. The goal is to keep the streak going as long as possible and not break it.
For a comedian, the practice is to write jokes every day. For me, it’s working on the new content for my blog every day. Whether you are acquiring a new skill or just want to be more efficient with your current activities, dedicate at least some time for doing it every single day.
This “don’t break the chain” approach is well-known these days thanks to various books about habits. For example, in his book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear emphasizes a lot the necessity of tracking your progress and keeping the streak going. He says: “You don’t realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad or busy days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.”
Seinfeld’s strategy implies the same. Show up for yourself every day, even it’s just one minute of reading or meditating to put a check mark in your calendar. Most of the days it will be more than that if you keep the chain growing, so don’t beat yourself up if not every day’s result is up to your expectations. You showed up, and this is what matters in the long run.
How to use Seinfeld method to improve productivity
Using a Seinfeld method for your personal productivity simply means tracking your progress on a daily basis. Instead of an old-school wall calendar, you can hang a reusable dry-erase board, print a tracker, draw your own in your planner (although good productivity planners usually include it), or use a dedicated app on your smartphone.
Seeing your progress in front of your eyes at all times helps you stay motivated and beat the procrastination when it tries to take over.
Where to buy a wall calendar for Seinfeld technique
If you like the idea of seeing your long streaks on a wall, here are a couple of dry-erase wall planner options to consider:
6. Jay Shirley technique
What is Jay Shirley Technique about?
Jay Shirley, the creator of The Daily Practice habit tracker web tool, has his own method for approaching daily workload.
Every day, grab your journal and ask yourself three specific questions that help you set the intention for the day and prioritize the tasks. According to Jay Shirley, this will take you closer to your long-term goals every day while still including some activities that bring you joy.
Here are the three questions to answer each day:
- What must I do to create the most impact today?
- What should I do to build a better future?
- What do I want to do so that I may enjoy today and life more completely?
Responding to these questions will give you more clarity about your vision which will result in better daily productivity. This is also a good way to kickstart your day when you feel a bit lazy.
Another important part of this process is to review the answers from the previous day and analyze if you succeeded with the intentional work. Did you dedicate time yesterday to all three points or maybe you got stuck with only one? What can you do to catch up today and fulfill all the areas? And what are the next steps?
Sticking to Jay Shirley’s technique will surely bring more balance into your life.
7. Anti todo list method
What is a done list?
A done list is a reverse approach to a typical to-do list way of staying productive. Instead of overwhelming yourself with the long list of things that need to be done, you keep a list of things you already did. This feeling of achievement repeatedly triggers neural pathways that motivate you to aim for more, so you can get more done with less effort.
Done list vs to do list: which is better?
Both done and to-do lists can work for different people. It depends on your workload, your ability to manage your tasks, and even your mood for the day. When you have a very busy schedule, a to-do list may work better for you as it keeps you organized. But if you are feeling down, a done list is better for motivating you with your own achievements.
You can totally use different lists on different days, or have one big prioritized list with all your tasks and also a daily done list. Whichever works better for your personal productivity, use it! What works for one person, doesn’t necessarily mean improvement for another. Nobody can tell you what is best for you! Try both techniques and tweak everything that doesn’t feel right.
Best apps for keeping a done list
Compared to a traditional to-do list way, there aren’t as many tools for keeping a done list. Maybe this technique is not yet very popular, or perhaps it’s so simple that a paper notepad is the best way to do it without overcomplicating things.
Nevertheless, I was able to find a couple of digital solutions you can check out:
- I done this.
Web-based software for tracking team progress and celebrating collective results.
A mobile app for Apple devices that uses done lists as a way to track habits.
- Daily Done List.
A simple yet effective Android app that shows emojis in your calendar based on your progress.
Conclusion on productivity improvement techniques
These were my seven techniques that help improve productivity in the workplace. Each of them is effective by itself if taken seriously, and combining two or more may bring you even better results.
But don’t overwhelm yourself with applying too many productivity methods at once! It’s one of the most common causes of procrastination which is the opposite of what we want. Try no more than one or two new things at a time and see if you get an improvement after a period of using it. And don’t hesitate to tweak little things if something is not working for your personal workflow!