pro·duc·tiv·i·ty noun: “the state or quality of producing something, especially crops.”

Crops? Seriously, Google, why is that the first definition that pops up when you type “define productivity”? Of course I mean productivity in the good old David Allen sense of the word.

Speaking of David Allen, I read his book Getting Things Done several years ago and learned a lot from it. And one thing that I learned is that productivity is like contact lenses–there’s no one-size-fits-all. It’s a very personal thing. You have to adapt methods to your own career, personality, stage of life, etc. So this list of productivity tips might not help everyone. In fact, depending on what you do, they might be quite useless. Nevertheless, they are simple things that I, given my current stage of life, have found to be quite helpful.

Match your activity to the time of day.

I do my clearest and most creative thinking after I’ve had a good night’s sleep. In those early hours, my mind is like a calm lake. So I jealously guard my early mornings for writing and studying. Once the noise of the day has frothed up the surface of my mental lake, I like to move on to more active things–meetings, e-mails, etc. If I tried being creative in the afternoon, and having meetings in the mornings, I would certainly accomplish less; or what I did accomplish would be of a poorer quality. The point is this: it’s important to match my activity to the time of day. I do certain things better at certain times.

This is backed by research, of course.

Use a timer.

I’ve discovered that tasks tend to fill the time I give them, even if they don’t deserve that amount of time. For example, if I have all morning to research options for better customer management software, I’m likely to take all morning to do it, even if 90 minutes of work would yield all the results I really need. Failing to restrict the amount of time I devote to a particular task can be one of the biggest time-wasters. Here’s where the timer can dramatically improve focus and productivity. Simply estimate how much time you think you’ll need for a particular task, and set the timer for that amount of time (I use the timer on my phone). Determine to do nothing else but that task during that time until the timer rings. I’ve been surprised by how much more focused and productive I can be while that timer is running.

There’s another benefit to using the timer. It keeps me from spending inordinate amounts of time on the easy, pleasant tasks; and for the more difficult, unpleasant tasks, it keeps me focused, as I  try to accomplish them before the timer rings.

Ah, Lifehacker. You beat me to this technique by five years. But I have to give my wife real credit for winning me over to the timer technique.

Schedule time to reply to e-mails.

One destroyer of productivity is constantly checking e-mail, or other notifications that pop up on our phones and computer screens. This is a very bad habit to get into. Not only does it waste time, but it breaks that precious train of thought (which is indispensable to visionary, creative thinking). Unfortunately, we can become addicted to the constant stimulus of the new e-mail, notification, or text message. Of course, we can’t do away with these things. But there’s only one way to master them, instead of letting them master us: scheduling certain times to check notifications and reply to e-mails.

Walk around.

It sounds weird, I know. But sometimes my productivity slows the longer I’m sitting down. I have found that if I get up and walk around, my mind moves faster, and productivity speeds up again. It’s already been proven that sitting is killing us. There’s little wonder that it can kill productivity, too.

Once again, this is not original to me, as I just now discovered when I Googled, “walk around to increase productivity.” Greatist has a nice article on this one, too.

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