Ever wish you had more than 24 hours in a day to get more things done? I’m with you. In the struggle to be more productive amid so many distractions, we need tools and techniques that work to our advantage without us working ourselves to death.
While these may not involve the benefit of technology as a crutch to help add hours to your day, it involves something of even greater value — your ability to discipline your mind and create new mental habits to be efficient and productive. As you learn to train your brain and adapt these habits over time, you’ll notice a greater sense of control over your day.
1. Set specific and challenging goals.
Research by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that when people followed these two principles — setting specific and challenging goals — it led to higher performance 90 percent of the time. This means eliminating vagueness and getting clarity around your end goal. When you do this, your chances of hitting the mark increase dramatically. But beware: If your goals are too hard, you won’t hit them either. While it’s important to challenge yourself, nobody completes a goal when they are overwhelmed by facing a mountain they can’t climb.
2. Be committed to the end.
Super productive people have an internal compass that keeps them locked in until they reach the top of the mountain. It’s a belief system of “do whatever it takes” that comes from being intrinsically motivated at their core. If in your heart of hearts you’re just not that into it, it doesn’t matter how specific or challenging your goal is — you’re not going to reach it. So how badly do you want it? And in the end, will it be worth it?
3. Fit your short-term goals into your long-term goals.
Super productive people align their short- and long-term goals to the end. Research by psychologists Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser found that people who are mentally healthy and happy have a higher degree of ‘vertical coherence’ among their goals — their higher-level (long-term) goals and lower-level (immediate) goals all fit together well so that pursuing one’s short-term goals advances the pursuit of long-term goals.
4. Don’t multitask.
Productive people are successful in managing their time because they avoid juggling many things. Research says multi-tasking is a myth and can be damaging to our brains. You end up splitting your focus over many tasks, losing focus, lowering the quality of your work and taking longer to hit your goals.
5. Break your goals down into small chunks.
As you break the goal down into smaller chunks, each of those chunks should have their own deadlines. Amy Morin, psychotherapist and best-selling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, calls these “now deadlines”:
“Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach — like saving enough money for retirement — you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide ‘I will create a budget by Thursday,’ or ‘I will lose two pounds in seven days.'”
6. Practice the 52 and 17 Rule
That’s 52 minutes of work followed by 17 minutes of rest (more on that in a minute) or what is known as “interval training” in sports. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, co-authors of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive With the New Science of Success, found plenty of evidence that adopting an interval-based approach to productivity isn’t just for gifted jocks or Olympic athletes — it works well in the office. One study by The Draugiem Group found that its most productive employees preferred a work routine where they spent, on average, 52 minutes engrossed in their work, took a 17-minute break, and then returned to their work. The bottom line: The secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer–but working smarter with frequent breaks.