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12 Surprising Productivity Tips

We all know we’d be more productive if we got more sleep (and yet we don’t). Maybe these counterintuitive productivity tips will be easier to follow.

1. Never check email first thing in the morning. Instead, devote the first hour of your day to a high-priority task requiring uninterrupted focus—one that, when you finish, you’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something. Honestly, this tip is on the list because so many productivity experts endorse the idea. Personal development trainer Sid Savara offers seven reasons not to check email first thing.

2. Do less, more strategically. 20% of what you do will drive 80% of your outcomes, according to the Pareto Principle. What can you eliminate from your to-do list to focus on the 20% that truly matter? (If you keep moving something to tomorrow’s list, maybe you really don’t need to do it.)

3. Schedule less time than you think you’ll need. Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time available”? If you think you’ll need an hour for a meeting, schedule half an hour. The constraint forces you to focus.

4. Schedule unscheduled time. Back-to-back meetings and deadlines might sound efficient, but you need buffer time to recharge your brain and deal with phone calls, emergencies and the unforeseen. Aim to leave one-third of your day unscheduled.

5. Procrastinate creatively. Just admit it: we’re definitely going to spend some portion of our time procrastinating. It’s inevitable. Transform the guilt to satisfaction by using the time to complete 10 less important but quicker tasks (maybe something from that other 80% of your to-do list).

6. Crowdsource it. If you start stalling on something you normally do yourself—say, writing proposals—try hauling someone in to help you. You’ll get new ideas and, with others involved, being accountable to others will keep you going.

7. Gamify it. Set a timer and try to finish a task in 10 or 20 minutes. (It works to get kids to clean their rooms, so why not you?) Reward yourself when you finish.

8. Limit decisions. Every decision you make during the day uses brainpower, which is one reason we feel more tired as the day progresses. Save energy for important decisions by routinizing small ones, like what you wear. (There’s a reason Steve’s Jobs wore a black turtleneck all the time).

9. Get Zen. Stop giving yourself pep talks when you don’t want to tackle an important task. Instead, acknowledge how much you don’t want to do it; take a moment to fully feel the fear and dread; then just plunge in.

10. Go somewhere noisy. If you’re stalled, head to the local coffeehouse. According to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research, the amount of noise in a coffeehouse is just enough to stimulate creativity.

11. Check out Cuteoverload.com. A Japanese study found looking at pictures of cute baby animals for a few minutes improved subjects’ focus and concentration on difficult tasks.

12. Ignore tips 1-11. Just kidding, but you know best what works for you. If you are most productive between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., who are we to judge? Recognize your own rhythm, and work with it as best you can.

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Contributor at Fundera
Rieva Lesonsky is a small business contributor for Fundera and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.
Rieva Lesonsky