3 Tips for Increasing Productivity

Staying energized and productive during the winter months can sometimes feel like an upward battle. When daylight dwindles and temperatures drop, the desire to curl up and get cozy can be hard to resist.

As tempting as this urge to hibernate can be, I know that the happiness it will bring will only be temporary. And although periodically indulging in some relaxing moments is great for balance and self-care, I would hate if it got in the way of my productivity goals. So this November, I’ve put in a little extra effort and tried out some new systems — and the results have been really gratifying! 

Here are 3 techniques to try for maintaining motivation and maximizing productivity.

1. Keep a “Bullet Journal”

Bullet journaling combines the concept of a to-do list, calendar, diary, and sketchbook into a simple organizational system. The technique is forgiving and customizable, and since starting my own bullet journal back in late September, I’m hooked.

The part of the system that has been most helpful for my goal-setting and productivity is called daily rapid logging, and it goes like this:

  1. Each day, you start a new entry with that day’s date.
    • You create a very basic list of that day’s tasks (• marked with a circle bullet). This is like your daily to do list.
    • Within the same daily log, you can also track events (○ marked with an empty bullet). This is like your daily calendar.
    • You can also add reminders, thoughts, and other miscellaneous notes (— marked with a  dash). In this way, your bullet journal also serves as a brief diary.
    • If something is really important (e.g. Pay rent!), you can add a “signifier” (* like an asterisk) to the left of the bullet to make it stand out from the rest of your log.
    • If you have an artistic side, it can also be fun to work on your handwriting by embellishing the date or doodling around your log. This is the sketchbook aspect.
  2. At the end of the day, you mark finished tasks by drawing an X over the bullet.
  3. Unfinished tasks can be crossed out (if they are deemed no longer important), or marked with a forward-facing arrow (>) and then “migrated” to your next daily log.

bulletjournalIn addition to the DAILY LOG, bullet journaling includes a few other important “modules”: the INDEX, the FUTURE LOG, and the MONTHLY LOG — but I won’t get into those details here. To learn more about the ins and outs of bullet journaling, head on over to the Bullet Journal website.

It’s a lot to take in at first, but once it clicks, Bullet Journaling is an awesome, simple, organic way to stay organized and boost productivity.

2. Schedule Your Tasks

While my bullet journal has been awesome for keeping up with personal goals, I’ve made a point to keep it separate from my work goals. So, when my friend Jessica told me about a new “life-changing” productivity technique for her work day that she’d discovered from a colleague, I was eager to learn more.

The technique is called “time blocking”: assigning specific blocks of time into your calendar to accomplish a task in a scheduled, pre-determined amount of time. Sure, you need to dedicate a few extra minutes to planning at the beginning of your day, but then all of your decision-making is done, and your roadmap for the day is totally clear. You schedule everything, from going through your email inbox (I do this first for about 15 minutes), to your little executional task (30 minutes), to a planning for a meeting (15 minutes), to your lunch (one hour), to your creative flow time (2 hours). And if something ended up arising that you weren’t expecting, it’s okay. You’re allowed to adjust as the day goes on.

I decided to try it out this month, and I’ve already noticed a few things:

  • Having mini-goals ignites my competitive side — even if I’m competing with myself. If I estimate something is going to take me 25 minutes, then I want to try to do it in 20. Then I get a 5 minute break! Whether it’s a snack break, a bathroom break, a water break, or an email-checking break, it’s motivating.
  • I don’t have to deal with decision fatigue. It can be exhausting, considering when to start the most annoying task on my list. But with time blocking, I’ve already made the decision to do it at a certain time, so when the time comes, I just DO IT. No need to deliberate about whether I feel like it — I’ve already decided. It helps me be accountable to myself and stay disciplined.
  • After finishing a task, I get a little extra hit of dopamine. Even if I haven’t finished a complete task, I’ve finished a time block, which feels almost as rewarding!

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-28-26-pmAlthough my time blocks vary depending on the task, I’ve noticed myself scheduling a lot of half-hour time blocks. It’s possible that I have a lot of 30-minute tasks, but interestingly, I’ve also recently learned that 30 minutes is an ideal length of time for focus and that taking frequent breaks helps with mental agility. This is known as the “pomodoro technique”: a time-management method of working in 25-minute chunks of focused time, with 5-minute breaks. But that’s a topic for another blog post!

3. Gamify Your Goals

I recently learned about the idea of The Great Game of Business (GGOB)— a business strategy that promotes the education, engagement, and empowerment of employees using open-book management and the idea of gamifying business goals.

Anyway, this got me thinking — if turning workplace goals into games helps increase engagement and productivity, why am I not implementing this in my personal life? It turns out there are a ton of productivity apps & websites out there to help gamify your personal goals, such as Habitica, Fitocracy, or Chore Wars.

This month, my boyfriend Eric and I came up with our own game, as a way to motivate ourselves to cement a consistent workout habit. We’re calling it “Project Workout Takeout”.

Using a Google Doc we created, we are tracking daily points, which we can accrue by working out (we tend to do high-intensity body-weight workouts in our apartment). Here’s how our point system works:

  • On weekdays, we need to work out for a minimum of 8 minutes before we can start accruing points. If we skip a workout, we lose those 8 points from our running total.
  • After surpassing the 8-minute minimum, we accrue 1 point for every minute we work out.
  • Since I bike-commute to work, I can earn a “biking bonus”: 1 point for every 15 minutes biking. If we go for a run, we can earn a “running bonus”: 1 point for every 2 minutes running.
  • On the weekends, there is no minimum workout time — we can just start accruing points right away!

Now, here’s the best part — every 1 point we accrue equals $0.20 that we can spend towards ordering takeout. We don’t order food often, so now it’s become a treat that we can “earn” by working out more.

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 9.07.30 PM.png

Project Workout Takeout has taught me this: injecting small rewards and a little competition into your tasks can turn something that once felt like a chore into something really fun.

I started all three of these techniques this month as an experiment, but now that December is here, I have no doubt that I am going to continue them. My bullet journal has become a soothing daily habit, time blocking has redefined how I go about my workday, and Project Workout Takeout helped me get in better shape.

Do you use any of these productivity techniques? Or, do you want to hear more about any of them as I continue them into December? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “3 Tips for Increasing Productivity

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