Productivity Guide: How to Do More with Less


What is Productivity?

I come from a software engineering background. In software, we are praised by our colleagues when we are able to achieve lots of results with a small amount of elegant code. It has always been amazing to me when a unit of input seems to multiply the output. So naturally, productivity is a topic that draws my attention.

Productivity measures your effectiveness at completing important tasks consistently. Increased productivity does not simply mean you are doing more things. It means that you are taking care of the most important things first.

Being productive means being choosy with your most limited resource: time. The first step is figuring out which tasks are the most important to your overall vision of your life, and eliminate everything else.

Why this Matters to You

In an age where we are swarmed by productivity tools and apps, it always feels like we are falling short. Most people are overwhelmed with their day-to-day lives. Most people fail to raise their standards through goal setting. We often fail at prioritizing tasks that contribute to our long-term productivity. We spend more time worrying about the future than we do focusing in the moment. Becoming more productive is a journey that can start with something as easy as starting with a todo list.

Here are some productivity tips on how to start achieving more and becoming more productive:

1. Be the most prepared person in every room.

Failing to plan is as good as planning to fail. If I'm planning to program an app, 5 hours of preparation (writing down specs, talking to users, etc.) might save me 100 hours of rework down the road. For every situation, always prepare yourself as much as possible to produce maximum productivity.

2. Know yourself.

When are your most optimal hours? If you are an early riser and know that 6 AM - 10 AM are your hours of peak productivity, set up your life to hit all the most important things during that period of time. Use time blocking as a way to prevent distractions during that period. Learn to schedule productivity time for yourself, so you can do more with less.

3. Power posture.

Most of our communication is nonverbal. If I asked you to think about someone who looks defeated, you quickly imagine a person with their shoulders slouched down and their gaze averted. According to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, just two minutes of standing with your back straight, arms in a "v" shape can dramatically increase your confidence. Use this as a way to overcome your own personal objections when you need to get something done. Remember, the enemy within you is more dangerous than any enemy you'll ever come across.

4. Creating strong routines.

Your routines and habits determine where your life goes. Most of the time, we are controlled by the routines that we don't even think twice about. We know that flicking the light switch illuminates a room. We know that turning the knob opens the door. Start by creating a strong morning routine for yourself to get you into the right state of mind for work, play, or exercise. Routines push you through those days that you lack the motivation to move. Do this and you will see your personal productivity level start to change over time.

5. Eliminate distractions.

Count the number of times that you touch your phone every day. The average person touches their phone once every 12 minutes - that's over 80 times a day! Moving your phone to a different room helps you stay focused on the tasks ahead while preventing you from breaking your focus. Recent research shows that it takes about 23 minutes to get back on track after a distraction. By removing distractions, you give yourself the best gift of all: the ability to focus.

How to See Productivity Improvement in Your Life

Start with a measurement for your productivity. Sometimes referred to as a key performance indicator, it should be used to help you compare your performance over time. Maybe you are working in a sales role, your workplace productivity measurement might be the number of sales closed in a month. Or if you are training for a marathon, you might measure productivity based on the miles you ran in training every week. No matter what the definitions of productivity are for you, use those measures to examine yourself over time. Once you start examining those numbers, it'll become quickly apparent whether you are progressing or stagnant in your productivity indexes.

Pat Riley famously implemented the Career Best Ever Program to help players measure against their historical performances and avoid complacency. By raising their living standards, they were able to win back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988.

Quantifying your productivity will help you understand how you are progressing and where your opportunities are. You'll never be perfect, but nothing feels as good as progress.

All Productivity Articles

Here is a complete list of articles I have written on productivity. Enjoy!