Frustrated by how long it takes to accomplish things? I’ve personally had such a struggle with this, defaulting daily to that miserable cycle of stress and disappointment.
I have gotten better over the years! That is, in changing the way I work to be more efficient, and in accepting that even trivial tasks can take time. But I’m always interested in new productivity strategies for knocking out more to-dos in a day.
Unfortunately, most of the advice out there is just the same stuff parroted over and over.
(Most recently, everybody’s been echoing the study about ambient noise improving creative work. You should absolutely try it out if you haven’t already, but I won’t add to the repetition any more than that!)
If you’re with me on wanting to be more productive– but sick of reading the same advice again and again– you’re going to love the following list of quirky little tricks I’ve put together for you today!
Of course, different things work for different people, so it’s always a matter of experimentation. But you never know what small thing might turn out to make a world of difference.
1. The uniform
It may sound silly for someone who’s self-employed, but I can tell you making the decision to dress the same way on most days has done wonders for me.
If you work from home, you know the dance. You wake up and dive into work. Next thing you know, it’s 1, 2, or 5pm, and you’re still in your pajamas. You swear to revert back to the morning routine you had while at your corporate job, but that lasts about a week.
As a result, you end up dressing at odd times every day, such that you never get into a real flow. And you feel kind of bad about yourself.
Enter: the uniform. You wake up, ready yourself, put on actual clothes. Make 0 decisions along the way. Easy.
You could opt for a literal uniform– a Steve Jobs-esque ensemble that becomes your routine go-to. Or you could have a short list of interchangeable tops and bottoms to grab each morning. All as casual or formal as you want to go.
No matter what method sounds best to you, you may find that like me, you can spend less energy feeling bad about yourself / struggling to change habits and more on your work.
And you can keep all your best outfits fresh for meetings or weekends!
2. The catch phrase
According to a great book I read recently by David Rock called Your Brain at Work, science has confirmed that mental energy really is a depletable resource, after all.
We all have had the feeling of being mentally exhausted or not being able to think straight at the end of a long work day. But because we haven’t understood how our brain works much at all until recently, we are in the habit of blaming ourselves for our lack of persistence, when in fact our brain is running low on glucose.
Most people are also in the habit of regularly wasting mental energy, since it isn’t thought of as something that can run out.
To clarify, the brain is taxed by tasks that require concentration– memorizing, writing, or problem solving, for instance. So any time we use our concentration on something unimportant, we’re taking away from what we could potentially accomplish on more important tasks.
One of the easiest ways to conserve mental energy is by changing your e-mail habits.
E-mail is a common drain on mental energy, but most e-mail activity is not the highest return kind of work one can be doing. So rather than concocting unique replies to each and every e-mail you receive, you might try adopting a typical response.
“Sounds good.” “Sure thing!” “Will do.”
Or hey, pick three of them, and alternate.
For e-mails that require information, have copy-and-pastable templates at hand.
When you don’t have to choose your every word, your average e-mail requires far less concentration, so you can conserve that energy for the more pressing work that needs to be done.
Freewriting is an incredible tool for powering through the psychological hang-ups that can hold us back from progressing with our work, like overwhelm, indecision, and writer’s block.
When you’re feeling stuck, freewriting can potentially save you hours of time.
To try it for yourself, just grab a big, lined notebook and start writing down whatever you think or feel– no editing. Just let the words flow freely.
A page or two in, you’ll likely have your answer, or at least a direction to go in.
I’ve personally used freewriting for prioritizing, decision-making, and even writing copy. I can’t speak more highly of it!
4. Polyphasic sleep
Lately, I have become really interested in alternative sleep patterns like biphasic, triphasic, and polyphasic.
Basically, instead of sleeping through the night, you can adapt to smaller chunks of sleep time throughout the day. One, two, three chunks, or more. Spaced evenly over a 24 hour period.
There are obvious hindrances to doing this– a zombie-like adaptation phase, inconvenience, etc. But some people with the flexibility to try it have found it to make them very productive.
The superpower-like productivity advantage of alternative sleeping comes from the way your body adapts to it.
Apparently, the less time you give yourself to sleep, the quicker your body falls asleep and into the most important stages of the REM cycle. So as your body adjusts to the smaller spurts of rest, every moment of sleep becomes higher and higher quality.
To quote Steve Pavlina, a blogger who took polyphasic sleep for a test run in 2006:
“The critical part of polyphasic adaptation is to reach the point where you can take a 20-minute nap and hit REM sleep. During typical nighttime sleep, you don’t normally hit your first REM cycle until after about 90 minutes. So when you first attempt polyphasic sleep, you’ll initially suffer from terrible sleep deprivation because you won’t be getting any REM sleep during your naps. You’ll awaken feeling even more tired, and you WILL feel like a zombie for many days, possibly weeks.
If you can withstand the sleep deprivation long enough, your body eventually adapts, and you begin experiencing REM sleep during your naps. Dreams occur during REM sleep, so you’ll know you’re getting there when you start having dreams during your naps. Once this starts happening, it may take a few more days to make up for the sleep deprivation and start feeling functional again. REM naps leave you feeling rested and rejuvenated.”
What’s really crazy is that the ability to hit REM sleep quickly may be permanent, even after reverting back to a regular routine.
5. Keepin’ it moving
Did you know that the room you’re sitting in affects your ability to do a certain type of work?
Small rooms are conducive to focused, drill-down tasks, whereas a high ceiling can facilitate a highly-successful brainstorming session. The color of a particular room can play a part as well.
Of course these effects can only go so far, but knowing about them means you can use your environment to your full advantage by migrating to the place that feels most appropriate for the type of work you’re doing.
Or better yet, you can just up and move to different work areas intermittently throughout the day. Place to place, room to room, couch to couch– whatever you’ve got to work with.
I’ve found that moving from room to room just generally shifts my perspective, so I can think about a problem differently than I was before. Also, when needed, it can provide an effective way to transition my brain from one task to another.
All-in-all, this results in more productive work time.
Anyways, that concludes my short list of quirky little productivity tips to try. Now I’m curious to know what you think! Perhaps you have a few of your own? If so, sound off in the comments below!