"You've got to be more productive!"
Whether at work or home, that undeniable pressure to be productive surrounds us from all sides.
And how many times have you used this pressure to scold yourself when you weren't happy with what was coming out of your hands?
For many, being more productive simply means doing more. You know the stereotypes. Productive people work harder. They work longer. They force themselves to get more done.
And that's one way to look at it. But what if there's more to being productive than meets the eye? Extra dimensions that, once you understand them, will help you be consistently productive without the burnout and stress of whipping yourself into a frenzy?
This article will unravel the mystery of how to really be more productive — that is, how to do it in a smart, direct, no-nonsense way that'll help you get the most out of everything you do.
What is productivity, anyway?
Glad you asked! Let's start with a description.
The notion of productivity arose over a century ago as an economic concept — think, the Industrial Revolution and its accompanying mass production processes.
Businesses became focused on measuring individual and team output against fixed parameters, such as the number of pieces produced per hour or minute. This allowed them to optimize their production processes and turn a profit in the marketplace.
And that's how most modern businesses still look at it. They measure the productivity of an individual or team against a set of valuables, such as the number of items (cars, cans of soup, paperclips, microchips, emails, Facebook ads, you name it) produced within a given time frame.
The personal productivity idea
As industrialization conquered the world, the notion of productivity spilled over from people's work environments into their private lives.
Like it or not, we now assess our success in life — at least, to a large extent — through the lens of how productive we are both at work and in our home environment.
This productivity drive helps us get a lot out of life. But it can also make us feel like we're never going to reach the end of our to-do list.
That's where productivity tools and techniques come in. Mastering productivity hacks and using them at both home and work can help you carve out quality time and make your life a whole lot more enjoyable.
Productivity skills and techniques
Here's a dirty little secret: we're not as productive as we think, especially at work.
One study found that, across all job areas, workers are only productive for 60% of each day, on average. And office workers experience the worst distractions: They're productive for only two hours and 23 minutes daily. Ouch!
So let's roll up our sleeves and try out some new productivity skills.
Below you'll find eight skill sets and 37 practical tips and techniques that'll help get you organized and your productivity humming.
And then, we'll share the "secret sauce" that is the key to productivity — it'll turn productivity at home and work from a chore into a rewarding experience.
Critical thinking skills
Critical thinking skills give you the ability to objectively evaluate situations. They help you consider different perspectives and analyze information accurately.
With these skills, you can gain a holistic view of your projects or tasks, identify potential obstacles, anticipate challenges, and make informed decisions.
Ultimately, critical thinking skills improve your productivity because you can work faster and in a more focused way when you have a holistic view of your project or task.
Top productivity tips
- Ask relevant questions to gain a comprehensive understanding of the task at hand. Think of questions like "What is the ultimate goal of this project?" or "What are the main elements and supportive components of this project?" Answering these questions will uncover key details and requirements that are necessary for successful task completion.
- Collect background information so you can see the project's context. This, in turn, will enable informed decision-making and help you align your efforts with your overarching goals.
- Think through a task in its entirety before starting it. This allows for better planning and organization, reduces potential setbacks, and increases efficiency.
- Consider alternatives that could get the job done better or faster. Discuss them with your project supervisor before starting on the task.
- Discuss the project with a superior while it's still in the conceptual stage. Be proactive if you see a possible problem down the road to avoid complications later in the process.
- Periodically analyze the project's outcomes and results before taking the next steps. Use your experiences with the current phase of the project to streamline future actions.
Problem-solving skills are a subset of critical thinking skills. They focus especially on finding solutions to a spectrum of problems.
Honing these skills can help you identify and analyze problems, come up with innovative solutions, and implement effective new strategies.
Problem-solving skills help improve your productivity because they guide you in dealing effectively and in a timely manner with problems that could have otherwise derailed your productivity.
- Listen actively to people who report problems. Try to understand their perspectives and capture important information.
- Research all aspects of a given problem before you attempt a solution. This will prevent time from being lost to unsuccessful trial-and-error solutions.
- Evaluate all potential solutions. Note their pros and cons, and select the solution that'll solve the most aspects within an acceptable time frame.
- Be creative and think outside of the box. Ask "What if…" questions, and give yourself permission to explore problems from different angles.
- Approach problems as opportunities rather than obstacles. It's easy to get upset by problems, but just have a good laugh and treat them as stepping stones to new skill development.
Planning skills build on critical thinking skills. They're important for mapping out every aspect and phase of a project or task.
They help you become more productive because they give you a roadmap to the end goal, and you won't be thrown off course or slowed down if unforeseen issues pop up.
- Understand a project thoroughly before starting it. Make sure you grasp its purpose, scope, and objectives. Ask questions, conduct research, and clarify uncertainties.
- Choose a planning tool tailored to your thinking style, whether it's a spreadsheet, a whiteboard, a mind map, or another method that organizes your thoughts well.
- Break down large tasks into smaller, manageable pieces. Take the time to map them out in project management software. Tackle each component individually to avoid getting overwhelmed.
- Set realistic, achievable milestones to maintain your motivation and track your progress. Celebrate each accomplishment, however minor, as a step toward your ultimate goal.
Did you know that workers are interrupted about every three minutes, on average, and that it can take 23 minutes to pick up from where you left off?
That's why you need concentration skills — skills that help you stay focused on the task at hand.
Concentration skills will help improve your productivity because you'll be able to shut out distractions for focused periods.
- Use the Pomodoro Technique. Work in 25-minute intervals with short breaks in between.
- Stop multitasking. Concentrate on one assignment at a time to boost your productivity and enhance the quality of your work.
- Recharge with brief, regular breaks to rejuvenate your mind and refocus your attention. Use these moments to stretch, relax, get yourself a cup of coffee, or engage in a quick, enjoyable activity.
- Minimize potential disruptions by silencing email notifications and activating the "Do Not Disturb" mode on your phone. Create a calm, organized workspace to foster productivity and concentration.
- Follow the five-minute rule. Commit to spending only five minutes on tempting distractions or tasks that trigger procrastination. This'll help you to stay on track and keep going.
Time management skills
Time management skills enable you to make the most efficient use of the time you have available for a project.
Research has found that fewer than 20% of workers use a time management system. However, a good system combined with project management software can make you more productive because it'll help you devote concentrated blocks of time to a given task.
- Use time blocking. For consistent progress, allocate specific blocks of time in your schedule for dedicated work on predetermined tasks or projects. This method will help increase productivity and ensure consistent progress.
- Try time boxing. Set limits for the amount of time you'll spend on each task. This technique can help keep you from investing excessive time in one activity, and it also encourages efficient use of your available hours.
- Delegate responsibilities that don't require your personal attention. This will free up valuable time and allow you to concentrate on more critical tasks.
- Prioritize your to-do list. Organize your tasks by level of urgency for a clear overview of pressing responsibilities so that you can stay focused and on track.
- Tackle least-preferred tasks first. Start your day by addressing the repetitive tasks you dislike, and get them out of the way before diving into more enjoyable activities.
A quick word about that to-do list…
Time management is often associated with to-do lists. You may have your own to-do list in the form of a spreadsheet or online planning tool.
Yet, traditional to-do lists, even 7 ones, often don't work well. They're linear and static, and you may even resent them because they always seem to get longer and longer without an end in sight.
To solve that problem, we at Motion have developed a planning tool that's as flexible as you are — and, as a bonus, fun to use! Plus, our app can save you two hours per day!
Start your 7-day free trial here.
Communication skills reflect the ability to communicate your thoughts clearly, succinctly, and effectively.
They help you become more productive because they prevent time wasted on confusion, misunderstandings, and wrong assumptions.
In fact, effective communication in the workplace can generate a 25% increase in productivity. On the flip side, about 70% of corporate mistakes can be attributed to poor communication!
- Tailor your communications to the desired outcomes. Identify the goals you hope to achieve through each interaction and adjust your spoken or written communication accordingly for clarity and effectiveness.
- Organize your thoughts and plan your key messages before speaking or writing. This promotes concise communication and aids in comprehension.
- Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Imagine yourself as the recipient of your own message, and ask yourself whether you would understand what you're being asked about or told to do. (You'll be amazed at how much you assume…) Then, refine your communication accordingly.
- Be professional in your communication. Use a courteous and respectful tone in your spoken and written interactions. Professionalism fosters credibility and promotes a positive work environment in which things simply flow more smoothly.
- Pay attention to your communication's emotional and intellectual dimensions. Share accurate, relevant information, and don't make assumptions — ask clarifying questions instead. Display empathy and consider the impact of your words on others. And always make sure your body language matches your words.
Well-honed decision-making skills allow you to make accurate, timely decisions that cut through on issues and tasks. They enable you to analyze options and weigh the pros and cons.
Decision-making skills are a valuable skill set to have; however, one study found that only 20% of respondents believed their companies were good at decision-making, and many considered the decision-making processes in their workplace ineffective.
So, make sure to hone these skills. They'll help you be more productive because you won't waste time due to indecisiveness, half-hearted decisions, unclear solutions, or fear of making a mistake.
- Be clear about the precise issue that requires a decision, and collect all the pertinent information. A comprehensive understanding lays the foundation for well-informed choices.
- Distinguish facts from subjective opinions — including your own. Recognize that opinions may stem from incomplete information or biases and can hinder optimal decision-making. Always go for the facts!
- Evaluate alternatives and weigh the pros and cons. List all possible options and objectively assess the advantages and disadvantages of each. This systematic approach facilitates sound, balanced decision-making and reduces bias and error.
- Communicate decisions clearly to the affected parties. Once a decision is made, convey it unambiguously to everyone impacted by it. It's often best to do this in writing. Clear communication provides understanding and leads to better collaboration and implementation of decisions.
And now, time for the secret sauce: a healthy dose of heart!
As you can see, the right skills and techniques can significantly boost your productivity at both work and home. However, even the best skills won't help if you're not motivated to use them.
That's where the secret sauce comes in.
Here it is: pour your heart into everything you do. That'll give you the intrinsic motivation to consistently produce at your very best.
How exactly do you do this? It's simple. When starting a task, ask yourself, "What do I love most about this? What makes me happy?"
Here's one more cold hard fact: happiness makes people about 12% more productive!
Assume your best positive attitude and look for the aspects of the task that most inspire you. A helpful way to do this is to visualize the end result and the people who'll be positively impacted by what you do.
As you work on a task or project, keep those beneficiaries in mind. This will help you stay motivated, feel happier, and become your most productive self — whether you're in the office or at home.
Ready to be more productive?
Increasing your productivity at work or at home doesn't have to be overwhelming or unattainable.
Start with identifying specific skill sets in which you could use some fine-tuning, such as communication skills, critical thinking skills, or any of the other skills discussed in this article.
Then, select productivity tips and techniques for the skill sets you want to work on and start practicing them, whether in the workplace or in your private projects at home. Even small changes will make a big difference in how well you use your time and energy.
Plus, to keep track of your productivity in an organic, fun way, consider Motion's AI-powered time and project management platform, the better alternative to to-do list apps that'll save you two hours each day — so you can do more of your favorite, productive things!
If you'd like to give Motion a try, grab a 7-day free trial here.