Ever wondered how to be more productive? Or what are things to improve on at work? You’ve probably seen life hack articles that give tips for answering emails, creating multiple to-do lists, or multitasking. But are those actions guaranteed to increase productivity?

If you are struggling with productivity, you’ve most likely tried numerous simple productivity tips that have resulted in the opposite.

To spare you further pain and wasted time, we’ve evaluated the best and worst productivity tips. Read on to find out why the best work, why the worst don’t, and what tips are the best of the batch.

The best productivity tips

1. Prioritize your tasks

Prioritization is one of the best productivity tips out there because you are first identifying the importance and urgency of each task. Then categorizing them based on the level of urgency—such as low, medium, and high. Finally, after seeing what needs to be done in order of priority, you divide your time for each task and are able to finish without getting overwhelmed. 

Consider using the Civil Action Group’s 3 D’s of prioritizing to get you started:

  • Do It

  • Defer It

  • Delegate It

So if you can do a task in less than two minutes, then do it. If it takes longer than two minutes, then defer it with a deadline or reminder to do it. And if there is a task that you need help with, then ask for help or delegate it to someone else.

Why this works

Learning to prioritize your tasks allows you to take action on each item on your to-do list, even if it’s simply to delegate a task to someone else or defer it to a different day. That’s more mental space you’ve freed up for yourself.

2. Use time blocking

Cal Newport, the author of the book Deep Work, popularized time blocking as an effective method for managing one’s time. The concept behind this technique involves using a calendar to block out chunks of time reserved for specific tasks. 

Time blocking example by ToDoist

Time blocking example by ToDoist

Scheduling an appointment with yourself to work on specific tasks at certain times and throughout the day means you will always know what you are meant to be working on.

When distractions arise, you look at your schedule, see what tasks/projects you are currently supposed to be working on, and refocus your attention accordingly. 

Time Blocking with Google Calendar (Tutorial & Tips) by Simpltivity

Why this works

Dividing your tasks into manageable pieces and assigning them to a specific time slot creates clarity about what you should be doing throughout the day.

3. Take breaks

Continuously working can lead to stress and burnout. According to one study published by the American Psychological Association, the benefits of taking breaks include decreases in stress, emotional exhaustion, cognitive irritation, and sleeping problems that one would otherwise experience. It’s during these precious breaks that you have time for personal needs, like getting your groceries delivered right at your door. No more rushing to the grocery store in between work tasks. This not only saves you time but helps in maintaining stress levels, allowing you to focus more on your work and less on everyday tasks. The convenience of having necessities delivered frees you to prioritize restfulness during your down times.

The following image reveals how you can schedule your breaks for maximum effectiveness.

A visual aid of how to take breaks, Deprocrastination

A visual aid of how to take breaks, Deprocrastination

If you need help to time your breaks, try the Pomodoro technique.

Here are the overall steps:

  1. Identify tasks.

  2. Set a timer.

  3. Work on the tasks.

  4. Take a short break.

  5. Repeat.

  6. Take a longer break.

The Pomodoro Technique by Med School Insiders

Why this works

Taking breaks is not a waste of time. Effective breaks—such as brewing coffee or tea, stretching, or taking a quick nature walk—allows your brain to recharge, process information, and reduce mental fatigue. Thus, increasing your ability to focus and improving your productivity!

4. Use biophilic design

Biophilic design is a combination of modern architecture and nature. 

Some ways to incorporate biophilic designs in your office space include the following ideas. 

  • Use natural light.

  • Add plants.

  • Use natural materials.

  • Prioritize ventilation.

  • Have natural color schemes.

  • Add biophilic artwork.

Read some articles on how to introduce biophilic designs to your office space.

Why this works

Many studies indicate that incorporating a biophilic design can improve health and productivity in the workplace. For example, a 2019 study done by Topgül showed that natural elements in the work environment can increase your work productivity by 8%.

5. Use apps and software

Apps help you organize your physical space by digitizing your stacks and stacks of paper clutter. 

For instance, Shoeboxed can turn piles of paper receipts into digital data, helping you organize your receipts into a manageable system

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With digitized copies of your receipts and important documents, you can search for a single word or number in a fraction of the time it would take you to shuffle through a box of the same physical data. 

Another popular app to become more productive and organized is Notion—a management and note-taking software that helps users organize their life digitally. This can help with managing projects, organizing office documents, and so much more.

Notion also has integration tools that allow you to connect to other apps, such as Google Drive and Microsoft Outlook, helping you create a productivity system that works for you.

How to Build the Ultimate Productivity System by Ali Abdaal

Why this works

Apps and software can streamline your physical processes, providing you with the effectiveness of digital systems. For instance, simply by digitizing expense and receipt tracking, you are able to forward expense reports to your accountant with 1-click, analyze spending data on excel, and pinpoint areas where you might be over-budget. 

Since many apps also integrate with other tools and devices, you’re able to do everything through your computer and phone!

The worst productivity tips

1. Answering emails

While answering emails may feel productive, you may be wasting time that you could be using for other tasks. 

Emails can be a distraction. Researchers at the University of California at Irving found that the average worker checks their email 74 times a day. When individuals in the study worked with their inboxes closed, they were found to switch tasks less often and were better able to focus.  

What to try instead

Set up filters and categories so that your inbox will prioritize and organize your bosses’, coworkers’, and other important or urgent emails to show up at the top.

How to categorize your emails in Outlook, CustomGuide

How to categorize your emails in Outlook, CustomGuide

By limiting your email checks, turning off notifications, and reducing unnecessary replies, you will reduce stress and increase focus, since you won’t be switching back and forth between work and your inbox.

2. Making to-do lists

Productivity experts Nir Eyal, a former Stanford lecturer and author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, as well as Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better and Pulitzer-winning journalist for The New York Times, both assert that people make to-do lists wrong.

According to Nir Eyal, the reason why to-do lists are bad is because people will often write the easiest tasks first. By ignoring the more urgent or complex tasks, you set yourself up for failure and disappointment. Also, to-do lists cut into your personal time because uncompleted tasks will always be at the back of your mind making you worry about them.

What to try instead

Charles Duhigg suggests the following process:

  1. Think of your stretch goal for the day.

    • Anything from coming up with a new promotion strategy to contacting your business partners, or reevaluating your brand identity with a branding agency.

    • Your written stretch goal will help you never lose sight of your priorities.

  2. Write your goal at the top of your page.

  3. Break your goal down into actionable/measurable steps.

    • Seeing a large goal is intimidating. So, breaking down your goals to manageable tasks makes progress easier.

Build a Better To-Do List by Random House

Nir Eyal suggests the time-blocking calendar method. As mentioned in “Use time-blocking,” use your calendar to block out chunks of time for specific tasks. This gives you a time frame of when tasks need to be completed as well as being able to schedule your breaks as well.

3. Multitasking

According to a study done by Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein in 1997, multitasking reduces your overall productivity by 40%. This results from having to review where you left off. Thus, wasting time when you switch to a different task. As a result, switching tasks lowers your efficiency and makes you more prone to mistakes because your brain can only focus on one task at a time. 

What to try instead

To avoid multitasking, try mono- or single-tasking. Focusing on one task at a time allows you to concentrate on a complex task, eliminate other distractions, minimize interruptions as well as increase your ability to be productive.

4. Constantly working

We’ve all heard the phrase “success never sleeps,” but that is the worst tip to put into action. 

While in theory constantly working means you will finish everything faster, this is a hindrance to your productivity performance. You become overworked, fatigued, and overwhelmed by the constant amount of tasks that need to be done.

Researchers at Harvard Business School saw that when people have predictable and consistent time off, they are more productive because they are mentally rested, which increases motivation and work enjoyment. 

What to try instead

Set boundaries and schedule breaks to allow your brain to recharge. Read the “Take breaks” tip. 

Maintaining a work-life balance also helps manage your stress, improve your overall health, and find time for yourself. All of which will increase your productivity! 

Check out this list of apps to help you stay healthy, engaged, and happy despite your busy schedule.

Frequently asked questions

Are there certain rules on how to be productive?

Generally, there are no rules. Other productivity tips suggest that you do the hardest task or most important tasks first. But, it’s necessary to find what works for you since everyone has their own way of doing things. Of course, going back to our best productivity tips, prioritize what’s urgent, track your time, schedule breaks, and use apps to help you along the way.

How can I be motivated while being productive?

It’s best to create small, bite-size goals and allow yourself frequent breaks. This way, you won’t become overwhelmed with the tasks you need to do. If you ever feel overwhelmed trying to be productive or organized, see “How to Get Organized When Feeling Overwhelmed.”

Final thoughts

Out of all the best and worst productivity tips, the most important takeaway is learning to prioritize your tasks and divide your time wisely. It might take some time to figure out what works for you—whether time blocking, apps, or some other productivity tips.

Start small and be persistent. And you’ll find yourself developing productive habits that will help you take on big projects and difficult tasks.

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