How to be More Productive — 6 Ways to Improve your Productivity in 2021

Have you been thinking about starting a new business for years but can’t seem to find the time to get to it? Or perhaps you know an overachiever who always seems to get everything done quickly and would love to be like them?

Illustration of person sitting in front of the laptop

Whatever the reason for wanting to be more productive, productivity has become somewhat of a buzzword over the last few years, driven by brilliant minds and highly successful entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk or Larry Page.

But what is productivity exactly?

In simple economic terms, productivity is defined as "output you get per input given". For example, if someone gives you 10 Excel spreadsheets to fill out and you’re able to complete the task in two hours, your productivity will be two hours per 10 spreadsheets. However, if someone can fill these documents in one hour, their productivity will be one hour per 10 spreadsheets. As a result, they’ll be more productive than you.

In a fast-paced society where instant gratification is the new norm, productivity is becoming strategic to better our lifestyles. After all, regardless of whether you’re a stay-at-home mum or a CEO, learning new ways to be more productive is always an excellent strategy as it will help you optimize your days and ultimately allow you to increase your free time.

If you’re wondering how to increase your productivity, read on as we highlight below six ways to be more productive at work or at home.

Schedule Your Day

Highly productive people tend to establish a daily routine and stick to it. Indeed, planning out your day allows you to manage your time better and help you prioritize. It also enables you to create habits and turn these habits into automatic behaviors, which will eventually help you reach your goals. Therefore, if you want to know how to be more productive at work or at home, read and follow the steps listed below.

Set up a Morning Routine

Setting up a morning routine helps you start the day on the right foot. While there is no typical morning routine, and it all depends on you, your goals, and your needs, some key things you can do include:

You can dive deeper into this topic with our Habit tracking technique article.

Focus on a few tasks

Selecting a few specific and important tasks will allow you to focus and get things done. Indeed, having too many tasks to achieve in one day makes your to-do list seem unachievable, leading to demotivation. Therefore, you should make sure you select two or three important tasks you need to do and stick to these three tasks. We’ll discuss this point further below.

Take breaks

This might sound counter-intuitive but taking regular breaks has been proven to increase productivity. Indeed, according to a study published by Desk Time, the most productive people work for 52 minutes and take a 17-minute break. The idea is that concentration works exactly like a muscle and needs time off to be able to recover and function properly. This allows your brain to get out of the boredom linked to repetitive tasks and refocus. Therefore, the idea is to work less but in a smarter way.

While the 52/17 rule is very popular, over 2 million people have also used the Pomodoro Techniques to increase their productivity. The Pomodoro Technique is another simple time management tool based on a work/break approach. Define a task you want to do, set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes, work on the task, and stop when the timer rings as it is time for you to take a 5-minute break. Start again after 5 minutes and repeat four times before taking a bigger 15-30-minute break. There are many Pomodoro apps you can use to track your time, check out our separate article on Pomodoro techniques with the best timers overview.

Note that it’s also critical that you take some time for yourself during the day to reset and re-energize, whether it’s a 10-minute coffee break in the morning with some of your favorite colleagues or a yoga session during your lunch break.

Schedule calls and meetings in the afternoon

Our brains are more focused in the early hours of the day, and we’re therefore more productive in the morning. That’s why successful people tend to schedule challenging or creative tasks in the morning when their levels of energy are high and perform "soft tasks" such as meetings or client calls in the afternoon. In fact, a study has shown that mid-afternoon meetings are the best time to meet.

Delegate and follow-up

Delegating some of your tasks will help you focus on the important and urgent tasks only you can perform. While it can be difficult to let go, spreading the workload and concentrating on a few tasks is critical to increasing your productivity and reaching your goals. One simple system you can implement for each task you’d like to delegate is:

Get better at saying “no”

Knowing when to say "no" can help you significantly increase your productivity. Indeed, taking on projects you’re not 100% confident with and accepting responsibility for tasks that don’t have any added value or distract you from important tasks can be counter-productive. Besides, performing or accepting to perform tasks that aren’t on your to-do list for the day will only drain your time, overwhelm you, and hinder your productivity.

Create a Realistic To-do List

Do you often feel like there is more to do than you can possibly achieve in a day?

We’ve probably all been there! A great habit to get into is to write a small to-do list every day. Indeed, creating a small to-do list every day will help you plan and organize your day efficiently. While it might be tempting to jot onto paper all of the things you need to do that come to mind, it would be highly counter-productive. By creating an endless list, all you’ll manage to do is overwhelm yourself and create chaos in your mind. Instead, target a short to-do list, highlighting your priorities for the day, and make sure what you put on the list is achievable in one day.

Also, we tend to write down the easiest and least important tasks when we create a list of things to do. Therefore, make the conscious effort to list the most important and probably harder tasks first. Once you’ve achieved these big tasks, you’ll feel like you’ve been extremely productive and have a better sense of achievement, which can be gratifying and highly motivating.

To create your to-do list, you can either use a traditional to-do list notepad, a printable daily to-do planner, or to-do list apps such as Todoist, Habitica, or Google Keep.

It also might be helpful to use SMART technique while setting your goals.

Use color-coded lists

Color-coding your tasks can help enhance your productivity by making your brain instantly aware of what needs to be done. It will break the monotony in a sea of words, making key things you need to achieve today stand out on your list. Besides, using a color-coded system with specific colors depending on whether a task is personal, work-related, or study-related, for instance, can help easily identify what areas of your life or work you’re spending too much time on and which ones you are neglecting.

Prioritize Your Tasks the Night Before

One thing successful people have in common is that they start planning their day the night before. And the reason beyond this is simple: listing your priorities and the tasks you need to accomplish the next day will not only free your mind for the evening, knowing what you need to do is written on paper, but it’ll also allow you to spend the most productive hours of your day working rather than making a list.

Indeed, according to research, our minds are more productive in the morning, which explains why morning people are often more successful.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix to identify priorities

The Eisenhower Matrix is a powerful time FSet umanagement tool you can use to organize and prioritize your tasks and boost your productivity. It was implemented by former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower and will enable you to focus on important tasks and help you reach your daily, weekly, or monthly goals.

Indeed, this four-quadrant matrix framework allows you to organize your tasks by importance and urgency, helping you to decide what tasks are most important and urgent, so you know what to focus on and when. Using this powerful tool will help you boost your productivity by putting a logical system in place on paper and, more importantly, in your mind rather than allowing it to randomly perform tasks from your to-do list. The Eisenhower matrix will help you identify short-term and long-term priorities.

Limit Your Daily Goals

Multi-tasking is the enemy of productivity and having too many goals and juggling too many tasks will most likely set you up for failure. Indeed, not only are our brains not designed to handle multiple tasks at once, but studies have also revealed that multi-tasking actually weakens our memory and reduces our efficiency.

As a result, the best way to improve your productivity is to stick to a limited number of goals. Breaking down your big goals into smaller achievable daily goals will help turn massive and overstretched goals into manageable tasks. Having two or three clear smaller goals in mind that you want to achieve daily and breaking down these goals into tasks (or steps) you need to perform in order to reach your bigger goals will help you get clarity, stay consistent, improve your focus and keep you motivated.

As an example, say you wanted to lose 20 kilos in the next four months. This big goal is not achievable in one day or one week, so you’ll need to set achievable monthly targets or goals such as losing five kilos every month. You’ll then need to break this goal into smaller weekly goals that will contribute to your bigger goal, such as exercising 30 minutes at home every day for five days a week, prepare healthy meal plans every week and go for one long ride once a week. Finally, you can break these weekly goals down into daily goals to help you create new habits, track your progress, and ultimately achieve your bigger goals.

Limit Distractions

Ever started to work on a project before being interrupted by a text message from a friend or a notification about your favorite pair of shoes being on sale? In a digital and social era, where collaboration and communication are key, constant distractions and interruptions can significantly reduce productivity.

In fact, research has shown that the average worker gets interrupted or changes tasks every 3 minutes and 5 seconds. As a result, tracking how you spend your time and implementing a few key steps to prevent time thieves from stealing away precious productive minutes can be a powerful way to boost your efficiency.

Take it easy with emails and chats

According to a study published by McKinsey and Company, employees spend 28% of their time checking emails. More often than not, emails can wait, but we feel this urge to check them constantly, which can significantly alter our productivity. The best way to boost your efficiency is to only check your emails at specific times during the day and keep them closed while performing important tasks to prevent them from distracting you. The same thing applies to internal chats and collaborative tools. Stay offline while focusing on important and challenging tasks and only go back online when you’re finished and want to spend some time on collaborative tasks.

Note that when you write your emails, you should also try and use the five-sentence email rule. The five-sentence email rule consists of reducing your emails to five sentences or less and focusing on key information. This will help you save time, be concise and clear, avoid losing your reader’s attention, and increase the likelihood of receiving an answer.

Turn off phone notifications

Our phones are a great source of distraction. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that the use of smartphones reduces our attention span. One study even revealed that American employees check their phones 80 times a day on average. Therefore, putting your phone on airplane mode can be an easy way to immediately boost your productivity by improving your focus. If you’re expecting an important call, turn off other notifications to avoid unnecessary distractions.

Organize your distraction-free space

Finding a distraction-free space, may it be to perform your work-related tasks or work on a personal project, is paramount if you want to fully optimize your time. Therefore, pick a quiet corner in the office, use noise-canceling headphones, or simply work in a library to get things done more efficiently.

Ultimately, the idea is to find a space that works for you and monitor your time to assess your productivity and see what you can do to improve it. Using apps like Timing can also help you track your time and adjust your routine and approach if necessary.

Reward yourself

Rewarding yourself might not seem like a must-do to boost your efficiency. Yet, it is one of the most important strategies to use in order to supercharge your productivity! Indeed, knowing that a reward is waiting for you can help you stay focused and motivated. It can also allow you to associate a specific task with a positive feeling and therefore make the task more enjoyable.

Let’s say you don’t like waking up early to exercise. Knowing your reward for making an effort to wake up and exercise will be a delicious coffee can be extremely useful in making exercising more enjoyable for you. Note that, for it to work, it’s important that you don’t go to your favorite coffee place or make the coffee before you’ve exercised ;)

As you can see, the answer to the question of how to be more productive at home or at work doesn’t always have to be complex!

We hope these tips will help you increase your productivity at work and in your personal life. While there isn’t a "one-size-fits-all" approach when it comes to implementing strategies to jump-starting or improving your productivity, establishing a solid routine and being consistent can help you successfully boost your efficiency in the long run.