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.
How often should I take breaks?
Taking regular breaks during long periods of productivity may seem counterproductive to some, but it’s actually one of the best ways to boost performance and maximize output. There is no exact formula for how often someone should take breaks, but it’s generally thought that at least a few minutes “off” every hour—sometimes called a “micro-break”—is ideal; many people also like to incorporate one longer break into their period of productivity—whether their workday or a few hours spent running errands.
What should I do during breaks to help myself recharge?
Some of the activities many people gravitate toward on breaks—like scrolling through social media or venting about work to a colleague—may actually make the exercise counterproductive because they can worsen mental fatigue and do not allow the person to fully “detach” from the task at hand. Instead, going for a walk (or engaging in some other kind of physical activity), meditating, or briefly playing a fun, distracting game when taking a break will help the person take their mind off their work, mentally reset, and return to the task better rested and ready to re-engage.
How can I minimize distraction?
Avoiding distraction in a world that’s full of it requires looking at both internal and external sources of distraction. External sources—like noise, phone notifications, or an interrupting coworker—can be addressed with straightforward strategies such as wearing noise-canceling headphones or listening to instrumental music while working, putting a phone on Do Not Disturb or silencing email notifications, or shutting an office door. Internal sources—such as hunger, boredom, or stress—must be properly identified before they can be addressed.
Anyone who feels distracted but can’t identify an immediate external reason should take a moment to check in with themselves. Are they hungry? Restless? Tired? Have they been working for several hours without a break? Once the issue has been identified, strategies to address it can include eating a snack, taking a walk, engaging in a breathing exercise, or taking a short nap.
How can I stay focused on what I’m doing?
Reducing distractions—by silencing a phone or moving to a quiet space to work—can help someone stay focused on the task at hand. Prioritizing tasks and working only on one at a time can also be beneficial. If tasks are not prioritized, it can accelerate anxiety and may trigger the temptation to jump between them. Making use of a to-do list and relying on single-tasking (rather than multitasking) can all be effective ways to maintain focus. To learn more about attention and focus, visit the Attention page.
How can I make myself complete tasks I don’t enjoy?
Many tasks that must be done are difficult, boring, or unpleasant. Focusing one’s attention on the positive consequences of an unpleasant activity—visualizing the improved physical health that will come with a regular exercise routine, for instance, or how clean one’s house will look once all their chores are done—can be a powerful motivator. Similarly, adding a positive element to an unpleasant task (for example, listening to an upbeat playlist while mopping the floor) can help someone persevere when things get difficult. Researchers warn, however, that this approach works best for tasks that have a low cognitive load.
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.
Does mindfulness increase productivity?
Some research suggests that mindfulness and certain kinds of meditation might directly increase productivity, but the evidence is not yet definitive. In one study, for instance, participants who underwent a 6-week mindfulness training program reported better attention, higher job satisfaction, and a more positive attitude toward work than control participants. However, other research has found that mindfulness interventions reduced work-related motivation and lowered performance on tasks. Ultimately, though, mindfulness has been found to reduce stress when practiced consistently; thus, even if it itself does not engender greater productivity in the short-term, it may have long-term benefits by making individuals calmer, less emotionally reactive, and more accepting of day-to-day challenges.
Can regular exercise make me more productive?
Working out is often valued for its physical benefits. But its mental benefits—including improved productivity—shouldn’t be overlooked. Regular exercise is strongly associated with improved concentration, sharper memory, enhanced creativity, and greater mental stamina, all of which are closely tied to heightened productivity. Exercise during a period of productivity may even provide a near-immediate effect on performance. One study found that workers who took a break to exercise during the day were more productive, managed their time more effectively, and were able to collaborate better with their colleagues.