It is not enough to be busy…
The question is: What are you busy doing?
I’ve always been someone driven to excel and make the most out of this wild ride called life.
So when I read Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek, a new world of possibilities opened up to me. After discovering his personal productivity tips, I knew the way I worked was never going to be the same.
Over the ensuing 18 months I diligently applied Ferriss’ strategies, from utilizing Parkinson’s Law to following the 80/20 Principle, to eliminating distractions and batching tasks. And I saw solid results.
But always looking to optimize, I decided to take it a step further. I decided to see if I could “out-Tim Ferriss” Tim Ferriss.
So I spent some additional time studying the habits of other successful people – reading their books, blogs, etc. to see what was working for them. And then I started experimenting with a variety of these strategies also to see just how productive I could get.
Some of my experiments failed, but many were resounding successes. Today, I want to share 12 unconventional productivity strategies that worked well for me. As I built habits around each of them, my daily efforts became noticeably more efficient. And I’m confident they can do the same for you.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard about all the wonderful health and cognitive benefits meditation offers. But did you know Stanford University researchers consider it the #1 way to boost willpower? Regular meditation increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, which governs decision-making. Over time, you’ll greatly improve your ability to avoid distractions and stay focused on the task at hand. To learn how to start meditating, check out this article.
2. Optimize Your Morning Ritual
How you spend your first waking hour sets the tone for the rest of your day. In his program Get the Edge, peak performance coach Tony Robbins strongly encourages taking at least 15 minutes every morning to get your body and mind in an optimal state. This can be done through meditation, visualization, physical activity, prayer, reading, practicing gratitude, yoga, journaling, or even taking a walk around the block.
3. Visualize Your Ideal Day
It is common practice among elite athletes to visualize their performance before game-time. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus once said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my mind.” You can use the same strategy to increase your productivity. First, get clear on what you want to accomplish during the day, then visualize yourself going through the different activities swiftly and efficiently. Once you open your eyes, you’ll be ready to make your own day a masterful performance.
4. Rest Before You’re Tired
One of the keys to optimal productivity is to stay mentally fresh through the day. Productivity expert Tony Schwartz, author of the book The Power of Full Engagement, tells us, “Human beings are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. That’s how we operate at our best.” In other words, a great way to avoid fatigue is to take one or two small breaks every hour. I personally use the app Time Out which basically blocks me out of my computer for 10 minutes every 50 minutes. By resting regularly, you’ll keep your energy up and get more done over the course of a day.
5. Get Active During Your Breaks
What should you do to optimize your 10-minute break? While it may be tempting to head straight to Facebook, that’s not your best bet. What I’ve found to be optimal is 5 minutes of physical activity (50 jumping jacks, 20 push-ups and 20 squats) which increases blood flow to the brain, followed by 5 minutes of meditation that calms down the mind and helps you get clarity over what needs to get done next.
6. Work with Intention
The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it’s also the greatest time-waster in history. To avoid falling prey to its endless distractions, make sure that whenever you sit down at your computer, you are intentional about your work. Get crystal clear on what you’re about to do and write it down. Once that’s done, get straight to work. Don’t waste 1 minute. Even checking Facebook or your email once is bound to throw you off track.
In a world that’s constantly connected, we forget how taxing this is to our cognitive system. Try to take 1 day a week to unplug and do a technology detox. Put your computer aside and seek out nature, spend time with your loved ones, read a book, paint, journal, lay in a hammock, call a friend, volunteer, etc. If you’re courageous, why not put your phone on airplane mode for a few hours too? I promise, the next day, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and refocused.
8. Optimize Your Work Set-Up
When working on a laptop, it’s easy to get a very bad posture. The laptop is too low relative to your eye level, which gets you to slouch or look down at an awkward angle. This is not only bad for your neck and back, but it’s also detrimental to your productivity. A good posture energizes us, while a bad posture makes us more lethargic. Consider buying a laptop stand (with an external keyboard and mouse) or setting up a standing desk. Check this video to see my own work set-up.
9. Learn to Speed Read
Reading is an essential part of daily life, in both personal and professional environments. Learning to speed-read is a great (and easier than you think) way to improve productivity, but it holds one caveat. It’s really hard to do on a computer screen. So instead, you can use a neat web application called Spreeder. It allows you to paste the text into a box and it then flashes the words across your screen at the speed you choose. It makes speed-reading on the computer almost effortless and is sure to save you time and energy.
10. Be Grateful
In his excellent TED Talk The Secret to Happy Work, Shawn Anchor reveals that our brain performs up to 30% better when we’re feeling happy. A simple way to boost your happiness level is to take a few seconds every hour to think about the things you’re grateful for. This can be anything, from your health, to your access to food, the internet, your family, your friends, the beautiful weather, etc. Really feel the gratitude and you’ll be both happier and more productive.
11. Practice Optimal Breathing
Take a second to notice your breath right now. It is deep and full, or short and shallow? If you’re like the majority of people, it’s probably the latter. When we’re working, it’s easy to get so caught up in what we do that we forget to breathe properly. Taking a few deep mindful breaths regularly will help you relax, get present, and oxygenate your brain.
12. Ask for Help
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re the type of person who takes pride in doing things all by yourself. For the longest time, I did the same. But recently, I’ve realized that asking for help not only makes my life a LOT easier, it also gives other people a chance to share their gifts and feel more accomplished. Win-win! Next time you’re stuck or unsure what to do next, don’t bang your head against the wall, just ask for help.
I’ve shared a lot of strategies with you, and you can’t apply all of them at once, so I invite you to take a few seconds right now and decide which ONE you’re going to consciously implement this week.
When you feel like you’ve got that one down, come back to this post and choose one more, and so forth. Within a few weeks, I guarantee your productivity will reach new heights.
Phil Drolet is a Peak Performance Coach and runs a blog called The Feel Good Lifestyle where he helps people optimize their lifestyle and take bold action towards their dreams. He also created an online course where he teaches students how to become (nearly) superhuman.
Photo by: Anthony Sigalas