Eight Ideas on Improving Your Productivity

Eight tips to increase your productivity:

  1. Important stuff first.
  2. Boot up routine.
  3. Shut down routine.
  4. Three items to-do list.
  5. Strive for productive not efficient.
  6. Set work schedule.
  7. State your intent.
  8. Do the difficult stuff first.


Today bakers, writers, and rock stars, this week’s vlog is all about improving your productivity. So, here are 8 different ideas that you can do or apply to try and improve your productivity. They are not intended to be used in any particular order. You can put them all together. You can keep them separate. You can add a bunch together. It doesn’t really matter. But yeah, these are 8 different ideas.

The first is to do important stuff first. So, research shows that we tend to do the easier or urgent tasks first in our task list. So, instead think about doing the important stuff first. So, what’s the most important thing and do that first for the day whatever it might be.

The next activity to try and improve your productivity is to have a boot up routine. So, other research shows that routine helps create structure. Structure helps create predictability. Predictability improves our performance. So, the routine doesn’t need to be anything specific. So, back pre-COVID-19 times I guess, part of your boot up routine might be the commute to work. So, particularly if you don’t have a commute or when you get to work it’s a bit raggedy, and you don’t really have a set routine. Creating a routine in that moment might be useful. I think those kinds of boot up routines shouldn’t include email checking. There should be something else. I don’t know whether that’s creating a list of things to do for the day. Or whether that is a coffee and reading an article. Or whether that’s I don’t know, eating a snack. Whatever it might be, having a boot up routine is useful. It might be doing a few push-ups, and a few sit-ups for example, as a way of getting you going for the day. Athletes use these kinds of routines often to create a sense of calm and a sense of order before they say, “Take a shot at goal”. Musicians do the same thing before they have an important performance piece.

So, I think as academics, as elite thinkers I definitely think you should think about a consistent daily boot up routine, and of course to improve your productivity definitely around creating good schedule is I would have a shutdown routine. So, what is the end of day routine. Cal Newport, who is a master of these kind of start-up, and shutdown routines talks a lot about shutdown routines. And what he does you know, in terms of checking the task list. Checking things off that you’ve done during the day. Creating a list for tomorrow’s activities, and then that is notionally the end of the day. Cal Newport even has an affirmation. That is that’s the end of the day essentially. So, that might be useful for you. Particularly, if you want to finish on time. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make as researchers is that to become more productive, we allocate more work hours. I don’t think that that’s necessary. So, boot up, and shut down routines help us bookend the start, and the finish of the day; and the start and the finish of the week which I also think is important.

The 4th tip is a technique that I’ve applied with a lot of clients is to make a list of what you need to do for the day. But the heading on the list is “Today Will Be Successful If”, and then there are only 3 items on that list. And now, I like to have a holistic approach to these things. So, those 3 items could be work, and non-work related. So, I think that’s really important. With clients who’ve used this really really well, and it’s helped them think about what is a priority. Ultimately, what would make the day successful? Because I think sometimes, we don’t think deeply enough about that. We can get caught up in what we think is important which isn’t, and then when we reflect on what we got done for the day. Actually, we’ve got a whole lot of little things done or that were meaningless. So, a task list that says, “Today Will Be Successful If” really brings to the front of your mind what’s important for the day, and how you should get that done. So, that’s another thing. Lots of people struggle with this at first because the rules are there can only be 3 items on the list, but you can add them some tracks. So, let’s say you start the day, your boot up routine is to create this list, and then you’ve ticked the first item off. Then you go and check your email and something urgent and important comes in. Basically, something that requires a response not just this week or perhaps today or even right now. So, what that means is today will be successful. This has now changed. It’s got to include that response to that email. So, then something else has got to come off that list, and that really helps people think about what really is important you know. Originally, I thought this email was the most important thing because I was going to do it straight away. But now it’s not really that important because I look at my other things and going, “No, no today will be successful if I have a run, I do that experiment, and I read that article”. Those 3 things are all more important than responding to that email. So, I think that’s a useful tool to use.

The 5th idea is strived to be productive but not efficient. So, one of the things that I used to do was try to do as many things as I could. Not necessarily at once in a multitasking sense of activity, but more around, “Right, I’m gonna go for a run”, “I’d like to listen to a podcast and learn some new stuff”. So, I’d run and listen to the podcast at the same time, and the result I was being efficient in terms of my use and my time. I was you know, doing those kind of doing those two things at once. But I realized that I wasn’t doing either thing well. It wasn’t that I was running and not going quick. I was going quick enough. I was happy with my intensity and duration, But I wasn’t fully listening to what was going on. I wasn’t fully conscious of what was happening in the podcast. So, that was important. So, instead now what I do is go look. I’m not going to actually do both. I’m going to run, and that’s going to create a different kind of environment for me. What I’ve learned is that I’m far more relaxed during the run and after the run. My times aren’t that different, but I feel different. I also have to do a lot of thinking while I’m running. So, it allowed me to think more rather than have my head filled with ideas around podcasts, etc. So, certainly this idea of you know, being productive rather than efficient, I think would be useful. If you don’t run, then maybe it’s walking or maybe it’s even in the in the lab you might be always listening to music or always listening to a podcast in your head. I definitely felt in the research lab having music on in the background was useful, but never anything in my ears or on my head. I find it really hard. That doesn’t equate to white noise for me. So, I would strongly encourage you to think about changing those kinds of things in order to allow space for your thoughts to percolate. Because I think that this can be a lot of mindfulness that you can happen in a lab when you’re doing what might be mundane tasks. But allow muscle memory to take over, and your thoughts to drift into other areas of the life that might be more important.

The next thing is definitely, I already talked about startup with boot up and shut down routines. So, I think definitely having a designated start and finish time to your day is really really important. You know, there’s a meme out there that the technician starts at 9 and finishes at 5. Gets things more done at a better quality than a postdoc or a PhD student. I think there’s an element of truth to that in terms of how well-trained a technician might be. You know, they arguably are better trained than a PhD student, and perhaps more focused than a postdoc. Particularly, doing the same activity multiple times in a row. But I also think the technician has a different view on the role of research in their life. It’s a part of it, but it’s not the only thing. Whereas, for a postdoc can become everything, and as a result you know, research becomes your life. Which is fine. I’m okay with that that you love it so much that you want to do it all the time, but it doesn’t create an opportunity for other things to grow. Which is definitely a diverse life is definitely going to be a more productive one than a life that is has a single focus. Particularly, when you think about when and if things fail or don’t go your way. A negative result in your research means that you know, if research occupies 80% of your life, then your life might be 80% negative. So, definitely worth thinking about having set work times including set workdays, set what a work week looks like, and then even making sure that you take you know, in some parts of the world you might not get paid leave. But certainly, trying to take 2 weeks of leave every year.

The next thing you do is write down your designated work times and work hours. That’s really useful. So, we might in our head think we should be having 10 minutes. So, not 10 minutes off. We might be starting at 9 and finishing at 5. But writing that down creates a lot more power. Certainly, in terms of our habits, and I’ve talked more previously about habits, have a creation stating your intent is a really useful way of sticking to the habit.

You could also try. So, we talked earlier about trying to do the important stuff first. Other research shows that when you do the difficult stuff first, you’re more productive. One of the reasons for that is that one, difficult tasks can occupy our mental space for a long time. So, you might be doing an easy task but you’re thinking about the difficult task. So, you’re not doing it as well or as productively as you should be. So, doing the difficult task first can help with that. There’s also a sense of achievement that comes with doing the difficult task first.

So, just in summary, 8 things. So, we’re talking about important stuff first, a boot up routine, a shutdown routine, a three-item to-do list, striving to be productive not efficient, set your work schedule, state your intent, and do the difficult stuff first.

Hope some of those help, and if you’re watching or listening to this, comment below. I’d love to know what kind of things you do to help you be more productive. Take care!