22 December 2021

Five techniques and tools to boost your productivity

Want to achieve more in less time? Who doesn’t! We look at some tried and tested tools and techniques to help you be more productive

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Lindsay Harriss

Lindsay Harriss

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Career development Performance

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Want to achieve more in less time? Who doesn’t! We look at some tried and tested tools and techniques to help you be more productive

We all lead busy lives and sometimes it can seem extremely challenging to tick off all the tasks on our to-do list each day. But, don’t despair: here are some simple tips and tricks to really boost your productivity and help you breeze through your workload.

1. Harness the power of nature

So much of our working lives and leisure now revolve around technology – Americans reportedly spending as much as 12 hours per day looking at screens – that we forget to satisfy our basic human need to connect with nature.

One simple way to bring nature into your workplace is to decorate it with indoor plants. In fact, 2014 research by the University of Exeter found that employee productivity improved by 15% when just a handful of plants were introduced into a workplace. In a separate 2018 study, 70% of US workers said that natural light and access to outdoor views improved their work performance.

2. Take time out

When you have a pressing deadline, it may seem as if the best course of action is to just keep going without taking time out, but regular breaks are vital to sustained productivity and prime performance. Opinions vary on the optimum length and frequency of breaks, but scheduling short periods of down time to suit you will increase your productivity and creativity. For example, researchers at Florida State University found that ‘elite performers’ – such as athletes, chess players and musicians – who work in spurts of no more than 90 minutes, are more productive than those who work for longer than 90 minutes. Interestingly, the researchers also found that top performers tend to work for no more than 4.5 hours a day – perhaps just a pipe dream for most of us.

3. Try productivity techniques

To really pump up your productivity, you might like to try some of the popular hacks that claim to help you achieve more in less time, such as:

  • The Eat the Frog technique, which recommends you tackle your most dreaded task first each day, giving you a strong sense of achievement and boosting your energy to fully focus on more enjoyable projects later
  • The Pomodoro Technique, which aims to instil a sense of urgency to complete your tasks. It proposes dividing your time into 25-minute chunks of work, separated by five-minute breaks, and, after four of these ‘pomodoros’, taking a longer break of 15–20 minutes
  • The Getting Things Done (GTD) technique, which advocates using trusted tools and a consistent routine to help you keep track of ideas and tasks. It has five steps – capture, clarify, organise, reflect and engage – to help you become more efficient and attain your goals
  • The Zen to Done approach which comprises 10 habits that include regularly processing your ‘inbox’ of tasks (whether virtual or physical), and determining three most important tasks (MITs) that you want to complete each day

4. Make use of digital tools

While all these techniques should help you ramp up your productivity, you would be missing a trick if you didn’t also employ digital tools that have been designed with maximum productivity in mind. For example, it’s hard to operate as an efficient and effective HR department without a high-quality HR system to streamline your administrative tasks, and free you up to deal with more strategic duties.

There is also a whole host of tools and apps aimed at helping you work smarter, not harder, including:

  • Electronic to-do lists, such as Wunderlist and Evernote
  • Communication and collaboration tools, such as Slack and Trello
  • Web blockers such as Freedom, which block apps and web access so you don’t get distracted by social media
  • Meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace, which can help you to de-stress and refocus

5. Look after yourself

Finally, if you want to be as productive as possible, it is important to look after yourself. You won’t do your best work if you’re running on empty, so eating well is vital. Indeed, certain superfoods can seriously supercharge your productivity. For example, fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, is said to help to boost your mental performance. And, while it would be wise to steer clear of sugary snacks, dark chocolate is said to boost your energy and help you focus.

You’ll also need to drink plenty of water if you want to be on top form. In fact, one study suggested that having a drink of water can actually increase your productivity by 14% because it “ up attentional resources that were otherwise occupied with processing the sensation of thirst.” As well as drinking enough water throughout the day – the NHS recommends between six and eight glasses of fluid a day – you must also be sure to get enough good-quality sleep: the Sleep Council recommends aiming to get between seven and nine hours a night.

This article was first published in June 2013. It was updated in September 2019 for freshness, clarity and accuracy.