Whether you’re in school, at work or even at home, productivity is a form of good stewardship. This life on earth is temporary and our time can be used to glorify God! But laziness and distraction are always on hand to tempt us, and our productivity is tossed to the wayside far too easily.
If you need some quick tips to stay on track, look no further! Productivity is largely a mind game: training your brain to do the hard thing and, once you’re in that momentum, maintaining the habit. Try the following seven methods and watch your productivity soar!
1. Keep Your To-Do List to Five Items: Five items might not seem like a lot, but that’s the point. When we make to-do lists that are 20 items long—even if all 20 things do need to get done—all we do is overwhelm ourselves. Five to-dos, however, are far easier to handle. If you finish the five tasks, move on to five more. But if all you achieve for one day are the five most important tasks, you’ve had a successful day.
I usually write down my five items the night before, when I have finished my tasks for that day. Anything pressing on my mind goes immediately on tomorrow’s list. This way I don’t waste time figuring out what I “need” to do—I already know!
2. Use the Pomodoro Method: The Pomodoro method is based on the common kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”). Basically it works like this: Set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on one task for the entire time. When the timer goes off, take a three- to five-minute break. After the break, do another 25-minute period of focused work (on the same task, or on another one if that’s finished). After four 25-minute periods, take a longer (15-minute or so) break. I use this method—it works wonders!
3. Use the Same Playlist for Certain Tasks: Teach your brain to associate work with certain things by playing the same music every time you study, write or focus on a difficult task. Over time, you’ll associate that music with focus and automatically go into work mode when you hear those songs. Many people like to listen to electronica or classical music because there are no lyrics to distract them. I like to listen to music in foreign languages, because the songs are still upbeat, but I don’t understand the words, so I’m not distracted.
4. Have a Routine: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of morning and evening routines. These set you up for success throughout your day! You can also create a pre-work routine: a pattern of behaviors you consistently do right before focusing on your work (or starting the Pomodoro method!).
For me, this routine includes making iced coffee, heading upstairs to my attic office, reviewing my task list and starting my music. Once this is set up, I set my 25-minute timer and begin.
5. Know Your Best Time to Work: Not everyone works best during the same hours. Many people do well in the early or mid-morning. But if you’re a night owl, that won’t be you! Know when you do your best work and attempt to schedule homework (particularly big projects) or work tasks during those hours for optimum efficiency.
6. Eat the Frog: Did your parents ever force you to eat foods you didn’t like? If so, you’re probably familiar with “eating the frog”: eating the yuckiest thing first to get it out of the way. It’s the same concept with productivity. When you save your least favorite task for last, it hangs over you much longer than necessary. It impedes productivity and encourages procrastination. Instead, do the hardest, worst task first—and everything else feels like a breeze.
7. Reward Yourself: This should be used on rarer occasions, since too many rewards actually damage productivity. We need to be willing to do hard things without a reward. But sometimes a reward system motivates us to finish a hard task with greater efficiency. Rewards can look like your favorite coffee drink, a date with a friend or a new book you’ve been wanting to read. Set a goal for work or school, and when you hit it—reward yourself!
Productivity is an act of discipline. It won’t always feel good or come naturally (rarely will it do so!). But as you teach yourself to do the hard thing and train your mind to see the benefits of productivity, you’ll live with less stress, more joy and much greater efficiency.