5 Secrets for Improved Productivity

Life comes packaged with only so many minutes, around 40 million of them. Making the most of each one will help you to become more productive and, ultimately, achieve your goals.

There are many different ingredients that combine to determine your productivity including the time of day, physical environment, your level of motivation, as well as your innate ability to stay focused.

You may be a born dreamer with your head in the clouds, or a practical no-nonsense time and motion expert.  You may be a night owl, or an early riser.  Whatever your natural tendencies, there are a number of common sense strategies that can help you be as productive as possible.

This post surveys five factors that affect your productivity, and provides suggestions for managing them to your advantage.

1. Embrace Your Chronotype

People are predisposed to be more or less productive at different times of day. The terms early bird and night owl don’t just describe behavior, but innate biological differences in preferences that people have for mornings versus nighttime. This preference is also referred to as a chronotype, which means an inclination toward periods of activity and rest at certain times of the day.

This can be a confusing concept. You might logically assume that energy reserves are cultivated with sleep at night, in the same way that you charge a cell phone battery. If this were true, your energy would gradually diminish over the course of a day as it was used up. However, some people find their spark at night. Understanding your particular productivity schedule is critical to maximizing your potential each day. Instead of forcing yourself to write a paper at three in the afternoon when you might have the urge to nap, let your brain do the same task at ten in the morning or ten at night, or whenever you find yourself routinely awake and ready to work.

2. Drown Out Distracting Sounds

Are you the one in the office plugged into headphones listening to Pandora hour after hour? You may want to stop and reconsider. Silence can be productivity’s best friend.

There are two main types of background noise that often occur in the workplace: white noise and intermittent talking. The first is similar to the hustle and bustle of a city with its traffic, pedestrians, and the murmur of strangers that all blend together. This type of noise can be easy to ignore and does not seem to negatively impact performance. In fact, research suggests that a moderate level of white noise actually boosts creativity for most people. In contrast, intermittent talking occurs when conversations between colleagues stop and start, diverting our attention from the task at hand. Many people become severely distracted by this pattern of interruption.

Sound affects different personalities differently.  Introverts, people who tend to be more sensitive and easily over stimulated, are more susceptible [pdf] to distractions from sound. Extroverts are slightly better at tuning out the noise around them, as are people with skilled working memories.

Cultivate a space free from distracting noise, and see how much you can accomplish.  You may benefit from downloading a free white noise app like Rain Rain or White Noise, which provide the right kind of background noise that won’t break your flow of concentration.  Alternatively, you can try drowning out distracting noise with the soothing sounds of Ludovico Einaudi.

3. Paint It … Blue?

Being surrounded by appropriate colors is a severely underutilized strategy for increasing productivity. Red, yellow, blue, and green have profoundly different effects on our emotions and can affect your level of productivity.

Red is a stimulating colour that can energise you to take action, which is why stop signs are red, and why the Email Sign Up Form for Tom’s blog has a red subscribe button.

In contrast, blue is a more soothing colour. The calming effect of having your office walls painted light blue may be just what you need to create a more relaxed atmosphere, helping you to concentrate and think more clearly.

Understanding your personality and what you need in order to stay productive is central to choosing suitable colors for your workplace.

4. Stay Organised

Research conducted by Princeton University has found that a chaotic environment has a negative impact on productivity. Keeping your computer files digitally organized can have an enormously positive effect as digital clutter can simultaneously consume time and produce stress.

At the office, utilizing the right tools can help to streamline routine tasks. Take time to figure out which tasks eat up your hours at work, and then figure out ways to automate, expedite, outsource, or eliminate them. This may mean changing your schedule, adopting a new technology, or even engaging outside consultants.

5. Take Responsibility

Motivation is often driven by a sense of responsibility. The pace at which you work, the amount of material you get through, and the quality of the work that you complete are all affected by your sense of responsibility for the work.

Taking responsibility can lead you to claim ownership of the work. When you are emotionally attached to a task, you tend to make a bigger effort. Unsurprisingly, research found that almost 80% of people feel that a sense of responsibility stimulates productivity. Deadlines are a great way to increase productivity by creating a sense of responsibility to plan, prioritise, and work efficiently.

Final Thoughts

Chronotypes, the work environment, technology, and a sense of responsibility all play a role in determining how productive you can be. Understanding what time of day suits you best, what distracts you, which technologies can streamline your work, and how to take responsibility will help you to reach your potential.

Stay focused, utilize your resources, and enjoy the results!

Ashley Wilson is a freelance writer interested in business, marketing, and tech topics. She has been known to reference Harry Potter quotes in casual conversation and enjoys baking homemade treats for her husband and their two felines, Lady and Gaga. You can reach Ashley on Twitter @ashleygwilson.

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