Your to-do lists at work and at home seem like they’re miles long. You complete one task, only for five more to pop up. No matter how much time and effort you spend accomplishing things, the list seems never-ending. Instead of letting your to-do list overwhelm you, use these tips and tricks to become more productive every day. Implement these tactics, and soon, you’ll be crossing off task after task, conquering that to-do list and feeling more accomplished at the end of the day.
How to be more productive
1. Get motivated.
How you spend your time could be the difference between dreaming about the life you want and actually getting it. Big or small, you should push yourself to do the things that bring you one step closer to greatness—even when you don’t feel like doing anything at all.
The big picture of success, the glamorous snapshot that everyone sees from the outside looking in, is actually made up of small daily actions. That’s why getting things done is so important.
So don’t wait for inspiration to get started—do it now!
2. Start Sunday.
We’ve all had that Monday: the one when you sleep past your alarm and leave the house wearing two different shoes. When, even if you’d had time for breakfast, your only option would be milk with a questionable expiration date. When you left your bus pass on the kitchen counter and hold up the line frantically looking for spare change. It’s the Monday when you’re greeted by a dozen Olivia Pope-level fires to put out at work, and find yourself counting down the hours to the weekend.
A few months ago, I noticed I was having a lot of those Mondays. And although I thoroughly enjoy my job, a nagging feeling of impending doom began to creep up on Sunday afternoons like clockwork. I would tense up, muscle by muscle, readying myself for the potential irritations of the week ahead rather than enjoying the remaining few precious hours of my weekend.
One particularly angst-ridden morning, I realized I was in need of a privilege check. I reminded myself that I’m beyond lucky to have a job I enjoy, a job that allows me to pay for things like rent, food and shoes and still have enough spare change for the bus—and I was taking it for granted.
From that day forward, I resolved to never let Monday kick my ass again. This depended largely on adjusting my Sunday routine, making habits of all the good advice I’d received over the years from family, teachers and bosses (plus the lessons I’d learned the hard way on my own).
3. Wake up early to be more productive.
I’ve never been one to wake up early. Even on Christmas morning, I was the child who dragged her feet to the tree, rubbing her eyes as we opened presents. However, as more influential entrepreneurs, CEOs and other public figures tout the benefits gained by waking early, more people are following in their footsteps and reaping the rewards. According to a 2019 study published in Sleep Medicine, when night owls began to consistently shift their “sleep/wake timings” by two hours, they showed “significant improvements to self-reported depression and stress, as well as improved cognitive… performance measures,” among other benefits.
Like most night owls, I’ve always dismissed these findings, because they challenge my comfortable routine. But as a young adult trying to build better habits, I figured I would try to transform myself into an early bird.
So for the past 30 days, I’ve been waking up earlier and incorporating some self-care habits into my routine. Although I can’t say that I’ve reached complete early bird status, I can say that my mornings are much more productive and enjoyable.
4. Hack your morning routine.
It’s Monday and you’re scrambling. You had a really fun weekend and it feels like it went too fast (as per usual), which made it that much harder to get up when you’d wanted to. So because you pressed the snooze button one time too many, you’re rushing around trying not to forget anything before you run out the door. You want to kick yourself for not preparing for the week last night, but it’s too late now. The week already feels stressful.
If this is you, it doesn’t have to be. You can take control of your days—make them happier, less stressful and more productive—just by hacking your morning routine.
5. Get organized.
I set aside an hour or so every Sunday night to map out my week ahead. What will I focus on first thing Monday? Then on to Tuesday, and so on. Whom do I contact and why? What are my top priorities—no more than three—for the week, and what activities could distract me? The more detailed my calendar, the more prepared and focused I am. Committing my priorities to words focuses me mentally.
Despite that, distractions can still derail you. I often find myself pulled in too many directions, reacting to phone calls, email and other stuff that pops up. This triage method—touching things only once and then moving on—keeps me from being overwhelmed.
6. Become more productive by prioritizing.
Priorities are things that are important—I know that, you know that. But a lot of us are guilty of the habit of reacting to the urgent things on—and off—our to-do list, rather than responding to the important ones.
Think about this: Important activities should be of high priority because they are the things that contribute most significantly to our objectives. They have more long-term impact, and they should help us the most in reaching our goals. Urgent activities are usually more short-term in nature and may or may not relate to our big-picture objectives. Plus, they do not usually make significant contributions. Instead, by pressuring us daily, they make endless demands on our time.
There is a constant tension between the urgent and the important. And because the important things seldom need to be done today—and the urgent almost always do—there is a critical need to learn how to set proper priorities so that our visions, goals and desires can be met more effectively.
Focus doesn’t come naturally for most people. It’s a productivity skill that must be learned, polished and practiced. There is a process you can follow to acquire it as a skill:
- Become aware of the need to improve your focusing skills.
- Make a conscious decision to invest the time and energy needed to improve.
- Practice and train your mind to concentrate.
- Implement your new skills and make them routine.
8. Develop discipline to be more productive.
Discipline is the difference between being in control of your future and letting your environment dictate your destiny. Discipline means freedom and happiness. It gives you the ability to do what you want because you know you can learn how to achieve any dream you set your mind to. Discipline not only teaches you how to control your thoughts, but how to be happy in any situation, to visualize positive emotions and trigger an optimistic mood. Discipline builds self-confidence, mental and physical strength, and inspires you to grow as a human being. And with that growth comes the ability to enjoy life in deeper, more meaningful ways.
Anyone can develop discipline. It’s a skill and it’s not complicated—you just have to train yourself for it.
9. Stop procrastinating.
Before I started studying productivity and goal setting, I thought all procrastination was created equal. I thought it was simply what you did when you were avoiding something else. But as I picked apart my own procrastination techniques and spoke with dozens of my clients about what was getting them off track, I realized that all procrastination is not created equal. And before you can eradicate or circumvent your delaying tactics, you must understand where they’re coming from.
10. Work smarter, not harder, to be more productive.
You can accomplish anything with hard work, they say. You can make your business a success, earn a promotion, master virtually any skill… if you just work hard.
Except working your butt off is not always enough. Need proof? You can’t inflate a flat car tire by blowing into it as hard as you can, the same way you can’t effectively mow a lawn with a pair of household scissors. No, you need the right tools and strategies for the right tasks. You need to work smarter, not harder.
How, though? By finding shortcuts.
11. Maximize the day.
Successful people make the most of every moment throughout the day—even when they feel they have nothing left to give. The good news is that doesn’t mean you have to run yourself into the ground or work at full pelt until you collapse. Instead, it means recognizing the flow of your energy and making the best use of what you have when you have it.
This particularly comes into play around the end of the workday. You owe it to yourself to maximize the day. But it’s no use trying to sprout new ideas or hold important meetings when your best energy is spent and your mind is numb. Instead, there are a number of more productive ways to spend these moments, such as tidying up loose ends of the day gone by and preparing a stellar plan for tomorrow.
12. Keep your energy high.
People are more overworked than ever. According to a 2022 Microsoft survey, nearly 50% of employees—and just over 50% of managers—say that they’re feeling burned out at work, at a time when people are already working more hours than in years past.
It can be easy and convenient to grab an energy drink or large soda when you’re feeling tired. But cheap and quick energy sources may leave you feeling even more fatigued than you initially were once they wear off. Try searching for natural, clean and easy methods for increasing your energy and be more productive.
13. Don’t lose hope.
Do you ever feel like you have nothing left to give to a project or task? Maybe you’ve been working on a book, a new business or even a relationship, but the motivation to keep pushing through the struggle seems to have disappeared.
We’ve all been there. It’s part of the process. Often, it’s what creatives and makers feel just before finding greatness.
A tried-and-true method for rediscovering motivation is repeating a mantra designed to inspire and rejuvenate you when you need it most.
This article was published in August 2017 and has been updated. Photo by Lordn/Shutterstock