5 Proven Techniques to Increase Productivity

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Do you get caught up in “busy work?” 

Are you focusing on creating long-term creative assets for your future? 

Thanks to what I learned from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast, Mark McGuinness’s book, Productivity for Creative People, as well as the much needed accountability provided by my co-author Doreen Rankin, 2016 was my most productive year yet. However, I still have a long, long way to go. That’s why I have resolved to become more productive in 2017. No more getting caught up in “busy work.” Instead, I intend to focus more on creating assets for the long term.

To make this happen, I’ve spent a lot of time studying how best to accomplish this. Below are the five main techniques I will be focusing on, and why they are so important. I hope this information helps you, too. These techniques are not listed in any specific order, but when applied together, you may just see your most productive year yet! 

1. Determine Your Most Productive Time of Day 

Are you a Lark or an Owl? Did you know that there is a time of day when you are most creative and productive? For some people, it’s the hours just before lunch. These people are called Larks (or early chronotype). They’re usually up early and ready to the start the day with gusto. We often refer to them as morning people. If this describes you, try to arrange your schedule to work on your creative projects during this time as you will find this is when you'll be the most productive.  

Some people, though, are their brightest in the evening, often able to stay up until 3:00 in the morning. These people are sometimes referred to as night owls, or late chronotypes. They are not early risers, and usually fight the alarm clock each morning. They are generally not productive before 10:00 in the morning, and find their most productive and creative time of day is in the evening. If this describes you, then arranging to work on your creative projects in the evening will most likely yield the best results. 

Use your internal clock to your advantage and (if possible) schedule your creative time when it’s most optimal for you. 

2. Develop a Successful Mindset

Mindset is important as it helps us to maintain focus and take control of our creative time. Begin by knowing what you want. I know this sounds simple, but it’s easy to get caught up in “busy work” and lose sight of what we’re actually working toward.

In his article, Forget the Career Ladder: Start Building Assets, Mark McGuinness talks about the difference between the people who struggle and the people who prosper. People who struggle tend to work with a project-to-project mindset, making it feel as if they’re starting over with each new project. They are often too busy to focus on the work they really want to do and they don’t keep the big picture in mind.

But those who prosper tend to have a long-term mindset. They are focused and they dedicate time to building creative assets that result in making things better for their future, because they understand that their creative assets are their security. 

3. Use Goals and Systems

As James Clear says, “…goals are good for planning your progress, but systems are good for actually making progress.” In his blog post titled Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead, James clearly delineates the difference between goals and systems.

As it pertains to writing, he says this, “If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.” In other words, it’s more important to focus on the systems rather than the goal itself, because it’s the system that is going to get you there. 

4. Avoid Multitasking

It is impossible for our brains to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. We can perform two tasks at a time, but our attention is only focused on one of those tasks, leaving the other lacking.

As John Medina states in Brain Rules, “The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research shows that it clearly reduces productivity and increases mistakes.”

Recent research studies have shown that multitasking can reduce your ability to that of a drunk. If that’s the case, why would anyone choose to multitask?

When you are creating your long-term body of work, which is the foundation of your creative career, it’s important to give it 100% of your attention. Quality and quantity will be detrimentally impacted otherwise.

While it’s true you can do something completely mindless and mundane in the background of another task, such as listening to music while running, it is impossible to focus on both tasks simultaneously.

Think of it this way: when people multitask, it takes 50% longer to accomplish a task and they make 50% more mistakes. So in the end, multitasking just hurts your productivity. 

5. Make Time for Regular Exercise

Face it, we’re writers and tend to sit - A LOT. And aside from the negative health effects from not exercising, there are also negative brain effects. Exercise boosts the brain’s ability to function; therefore, increasing creativity and productivity.

Researchers did a study on a group of elderly people who weren’t very active. They measured their brain power to get a baseline, then put them on an exercise program. After the exercise program, the researchers found that “…all sorts of mental abilities began to come back online.” - John Medina, Brain Rules.  There are many studies showing the same results.

Try setting aside even a few minutes each day for exercise and you will reap the benefits. Last year I bought a treadmill desk and it is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I can get work done while I exercise. Others have taken on dictation and “write” their books as they walk through the park.

The top performers in any field share one common trait: they are all consistent with their productivity. They show up everyday, no matter what. They develop patterns and stick with them for the long haul. Use the 5 tips above to become more productive and develop systems that work for you. 

I hope this information helps you as much as it has helped me. Cheers to 2017 being our most productive year yet! 

I'd love to hear from you!

What are some ways you have increased your productivity? 

How do you balance “busy work” and creativity?