“Productivity” and “work” are synonymous, because there’s absolutely nothing important going on outside of The Job. At least, that’s what the majority of these “How to Be More Productive!” lists would have you believe.
The truth is, getting things done in real life is just as rewarding as in work life—if not more so (side note: maybe don’t share this article with your boss).
Think of it this way: The more job tasks you complete, the more room you’ve freed up on your desk for another pile of job tasks. On the other hand, being more efficient and productive off the clock means more time for you to just do you.
It’s a nice place to be—here are 10 daily habits to adopt to help you get there (they can also benefit your productivity back at the office, FYI).
1. Set a Regular Bedtime
“A Better Tomorrow Starts Tonight” should be embroidered on a pillow. A good night’s sleep depends on setting a consistent bedtime, which won’t be the same for everyone.
Experiment by counting backwards from your natural (no alarm clock) waking hour, then adjust your sleep schedule accordingly.
Environment is also important: Is the room cool and light-free? Is your mattress optimal? When well-rested, you’ll be more focused and less prone to distraction, as well as simply being in a better mood to face the day.
2. Establish a Morning Ritual
That regular bedtime pairs nicely with a regular wake-up time—which, sorry to break this to you, should probably be earlier than when you’re getting up right now.
Even on the weekends, productive CEO-types religiously rise anywhere between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. to get in their daily prep.
Most morning rituals include the basics: breakfast (kept simple and similar every day; choices eat time and brain power), exercise (you’re more likely to get moving in the morning) and a game plan for the new day (more on this, and the other basics, coming right up).
3. Make a List
Most of us organize what needs to be done on any given day in our heads, rarely writing anything down because we think, “If it’s important, I’ll remember it.”
Maybe you will, but you’re far more likely to follow through if you have a visual reminder, and the satisfaction of a box to check off—carrot, stick, etc.
Whether it’s through a phone app (and there are plenty of them), a daily email to your own inbox (surprisingly effective—who ignores an email from themselves?) or a simple sticky note, lists are a productivity staple. Hey, you’re reading one right now.
4. Eat More Healthily
Not to play the “you are what you eat” card, but it’s pertinent: what you eat affects your mental alertness and focus, not to mention your mood. Carb-rich foods (like grains, fruit and legumes) are metabolized into glucose, which your brain uses to keep you sharp—problem solving, concentration, learning and memory all rely on glucose.
For energy, don’t forget proteins (chicken, tuna, eggs, lean meat, tofu, nuts or Greek yogurt), and fruits and veggies can provide needed vitamins and antioxidants. And hydrate—always, always hydrate.
5. Exercise Your Body and Mind
Not only is regular exercise good for keeping off the pounds and amping the cardiovascular system, but it can also boost blood flow to the brain while curbing feelings of anxiety, depression and stress that we all know aren’t exclusive to the office.
When you exercise, your brain releases serotonin, which makes you feel better and improves your mental state. That, in turn, makes the stresses of life easier to deal with.
As for the mind, try learning something new every day, read a book, study a second language—anything to make the brain work up a sweat.
6. Limit Your TV Time
A tough one, living in the age of peak TV and all. Watching TV is a passive exercise, no matter how much you tell yourself that you’re actually getting things done while Property Brothers flickers in the background.
Eventually, your attention will be drawn exclusively to the screen, because that’s how television is designed (and quite effectively—think of how you recoil in horror when an acquaintance utters the dreaded “I don’t even own a TV” line).
No need for anything that drastic; just try cutting down to 7-8 hours a week and gauge the results.
7. Limit Your News and Sports Intake
“Less TV, now this? What did I do to deserve such punishment?” you may be asking yourself. But think about it: the news is mostly bad and, even worse, made up of opinionated fluff that has little bearing on your life; multiply that by 150% when it comes to sports. “I have no control over the outcome,” writes Larry Kim in Inc. “What I can do is focus on the stuff that I know I can have an impact on. I don’t lose hours out of my week discussing, reading about, thinking about, or watching the big game. If something is important enough, it will become known.”
8. Focus, Don’t Multitask
With “multi” and “tasking” right there in the name, multi-tasking certainly sounds like the way to get more done. Your brain knows otherwise: you’re not doing several things at once—you’re switching between them hastily, which ultimately leads to more mistakes and extra stress you really don’t need.
One way to train your brain to focus on a single task (like reaching the next level of Ghost Recon, even) is the Pomodoro technique, where you do nothing else but your chosen project for 15-30 minutes, followed by a break of 5-15 minutes, then repeat.
9. Learn to Say “No”
Don’t feel obligated to take on more than you have bandwidth for—also, don’t feel obligated to use the phrase “bandwidth,” as it’s just silly.
Saying “yes” to everything and everyone is so ingrained in our people-pleasing minds that a simple “no” is considered an “extreme hack.” “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything,” business titan Warren Buffett once said, and the sentiment also applies to non-bajillionaires: politely cut the distractions and finish the important stuff.
10. Don’t Expect Perfection
Even following a comprehensive list like this one won’t guarantee productivity perfection (spoiler: this list isn’t perfect, either). That’s OK.
Don’t let the minutiae slow down forward movement—in most, if not all, cases, completed now is better than finished at some undetermined point in the future.
Once you realize this simple fact, there are ways to get over chronic perfectionism. Believe it or not, tasks can be fun, or at least less paralyzing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get it right, but you’d be right to expect some wrongs.