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How to Increase Productivity

Productivity draws on a combination of mental energy, physical energy, and motivation derived from meaningful work. Simple strategies can support these primary needs, improve focus, and boost efficiency, regardless of the domain (work, school, or home) in which someone is trying to be productive.

Productivity over the long-term also relies on maintaining physical and mental health. Though many people don’t always consider how self-care, regular sleep, and consistent exercise could contribute to their work performance or ability to complete tasks at home, in reality, all these things are critical for improving cognitive functioning and ensuring that one has the stamina to complete necessary tasks. They also often boost mood, which can further improve productivity as well as promote greater well-being.

Simple Productivity Strategies

In many ways, promoting productivity is a straightforward process, though that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Identifying one's priorities, and completing projects or tasks that are most important or meaningful, can lead to a productive period. Creating a schedule for decisions that need to be made and jobs that need to be completed is also useful.

When one faces responsibilities that seem particularly onerous, breaking them into small, incremental steps tends to be beneficial. This can help alleviate feelings of stress and inspire a sense of fulfillment that enables one to take on the next task. Perhaps most important is focusing intently for a period of time and then taking a break. People typically focus best for periods of 50 to 120 minutes. After that window, a short respite, such as taking a walk or chatting with a colleague, can deliver another spurt of productivity.

How can I become more productive?

Understanding one’s “productivity style” is the first step to increasing productivity. Most people, for instance, have specific times of the day when they are naturally more alert that are tied to their circadian rhythm. Planning important work during high-energy periods, while saving less important tasks (or rest) for low-energy periods, can help someone optimize their productivity. Other straightforward strategies include breaking larger projects into smaller steps, focusing on a single discrete task at a time (rather than multitasking), and taking regular breaks to give the brain and body a chance to recharge.

How can I increase my productivity while working from home?

Working from home can lead to increased productivity and improved well-being when done correctly, but it often takes some getting used to—especially for those who are forced to work at home due to circumstances beyond their control, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the most important strategies for boosting productivity while working from home is to have a defined schedule and stick to it, as letting “work” and “life” blend together too much can drain energy and reduce motivation. Physical boundaries and a designated workspace can also be helpful—even if it’s just one specific corner of a studio apartment. Working to minimize distractions—by wearing noise-cancelling headphones, making use of Do Not Disturb functionality, or asking partners or children to give you privacy for a few hours a day—can help someone find and maintain flow while working from home.

Everyday Lifestyle Changes to Improve Productivity

Though perfect physical health is certainly not a prerequisite for productivity, evidence does consistently show that taking care of the mind and body can lead to an improved ability to complete necessary tasks, stay focused, and keep priorities straight. Focusing on health can have myriad benefits that come alongside productivity, too, and efforts don’t need to be extreme in order to see results. Instead, aiming to meet basic needs for sleep, nutrition, stress reduction, and physical activity can improve mood, cognitive function, and stamina, the effects of which will likely show up on the job, at home, and throughout day-to-day life.

Why is sleep important for productivity?

Sleep—and indeed, rest more generally—are critical for maintaining productivity over the long-term. Just one night of inadequate sleep makes it more difficult for the brain to learn, concentrate, and retain new information the next day; it can also lead to moodiness, irritability, or emotional instability, which can harm interpersonal relationships and make it more difficult for groups to work effectively together. In the long run, poor sleep can damage physical and mental health, harming productivity as well as overall well-being and morale. By contrast, restful sleep improves focus, minimizes distractibility, and improves mood, making it significantly easier to get work done and remain productive across domains.

Is self-care good for productivity?

Yes. Self-care, broadly defined, is any task deliberately undertaken to improve mental, emotional, or physical well-being. Though individual strategies vary, self-care usually involves prioritizing sleep, eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, meditating, or making use of other relaxation techniques. All of these activities have the potential to improve productivity by lifting mood, strengthening cognitive skills like focus and problem-solving, and perhaps even boosting creativity. By contrast, neglecting self-care can itself hinder success—working without rest and prioritizing the completion of tasks above all else is a recipe for stress, errors, and ultimately burnout.

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