Don’t you love the feeling of finishing your day with everything on your to-do list checked off?
Whether you’re a student with homework and tests to study for or a young professional with projects and deadlines to hit, it’s so much easier to enjoy your downtime when you don’t have overdue tasks nagging at your thoughts.
So, let’s get you more of those good days, shall we?
Here are five strategies you can use to be more consistently productive:
1. Avoid your phone while working.
Have you ever found yourself making progress on an important project when, suddenly, you pick up your phone to respond to one text, only to get lost on an hour-long Instagram safari?
You’re not alone. Phones can be a huge distraction.
So it’s no wonder that research says we’re less productive when our phones are nearby. We do a little better when we can’t see them, but, shockingly, simply being in the same room as your phone can make you less productive — even if your phone is turned off.
I believe this is especially true when we’re working on difficult or stressful projects. Our phones offer such an easy escape that the odds of us staying focused are not in our favor.
So, when you’re trying to be productive, put your phone in another room, if possible.
2. Play this trick on your brain.
Procrastination murders productivity. And in my own life, I’ve found that I tend to procrastinate on projects I find stressful. It might be because they’re hard or boring, because the pressure to do them well is high, or because I don’t really know what I’m doing and I’ll have to learn as I go along. Whatever the cause, this fear can send me into the tailspin of eating a snack, pacing the house, doing laundry, writing a new one-man show — you know the drill.
The funny thing I’ve found is once I start a project, most of the fear goes away. I end up remembering that I’m smart and capable and I can figure out what I don’t know — or simply ask for help. So to avoid procrastinating and have a more productive day, I really just need to get started.
Here’s the mind hack I use to help myself do that: instead of thinking about completing an entire project, I’ll simply focus on the first step. Login to the software, open the Google doc, get an answer to the question that’s been holding me back.
Focusing on a simple first step makes it easier for me to dive in and pick up some momentum, which often helps me keep going and finish projects in one sitting.
Sometimes, I’ll plan ahead by starting projects at the end of the day, so I can pick things up confidently in the following morning.
The big takeaway is if you can push through the scary beginning of a new task, you’ve often won half the battle and can avoid wasting hours on procrastination.
3. Make sleep a priority.
Starting your day rested gives you a huge advantage when it comes to productivity. It provides you with extra energy, better focus, and more willpower, which makes it easier to dive into hard projects like I mentioned earlier.
Sleep is the obvious solution, and it’s not just about the sleep you get the night before your busy day. It needs to be a habit.
Sleep coach Patty Tucker argues that binge sleeping on the weekends is not as effective as simply getting restful sleep on a nightly basis, saying:
“The harm of bingeing on sleep on Saturday and Sunday is that is makes it hard to get a full and well-constructed night of sleep on Sunday night, which then sends us off into the workweek on the wrong foot.”
If you need help falling asleep, here are a few strategies from “How To Get Out Of Bed In The Morning,” one of my recent posts here on the Odyssey:
- Stop drinking caffeine at least 6 hours before bed
- Limit exposure to light (especially blue light) before bed
- Cool your house down
- Get at least 150 minutes of exercise every week
4. Choose your food carefully.
Did you know what you eat affects your productivity?
It’s true. If you’re wondering whether you’ll finish your to-do list by the end of the day, the answer might be hiding in what you packed for lunch.
The reason? Author and psychologist Ron Friedman points out that our bodies process different foods at different rates.
“Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and BLTs) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.”
So what’s the solution? First, Dr. Friedman recommends grazing on energy-promoting foods throughout the day, to reduce the dips in energy that happen between larger meals.
And what foods should you be grazing on?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics champions a balanced approach, saying:
“A balanced meal includes whole grains, lean protein, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy and a small amount of healthy fats. Balance out your plate with all the food groups for sustained energy.”
If you don’t have time to pack a healthy lunch, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for the drive through or the vending machine. Food delivery apps like GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Bite Squad can multiply your options by giving you access to restaurants you might not have time to visit yourself.
To get a great deal on these food delivery services, take a look at “4 Clever Ways To Save Money On Food Delivery,” which I published recently here on the Odyssey.
5. Reverse engineer your most productive days.
The four strategies above will give you a great head-start as you try to make the most of your day. But if you want more customized ideas, one of the smartest things you can do is to simply take notice of your most productive days and try to identify what might have caused them.
Discovering what ingredients lead you to a productive day makes these days more repeatable. So the next time you’re laying in bed, proud of all you accomplished, take a minute to think about what you did differently, consider writing it down, and, if it makes sense, try it again when you wake up.