How to Improve Productivity By 375%: A Case Study On Getting Shit Done

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Two weeks ago I had a brainstorm with my team to think of how to improve productivity; the 4 ideas we came up with increased my output by 375% and ensured that I no longer resort to 70 hour work weeks. Obviously, this was just too good to keep to the Process Street team alone, so stick around if you want to find out how I did it!

‘Being more productive can have an awesome positive effect on the rest of your life as you start to feel generally more positive due to lower stress levels and more free time to do what you really love to do.’ – Dr Jones

We’ve all been there; you have 2 weeks to work on a project which should only require about 3 days. You’ve got all the time in the world for that essay, blog post, bug fix or book design! “I’ll start on it tomorrow, then I can just do an hour a day”, you may kid yourself into believing.

Then, two days before the deadline, your brain finally realizes that there aren’t enough remaining hours in the day to complete it and the panic sprint begins. You work yourself half to death during those final hours, running far into what any sane human being would call “bedtime”, only to submit the project at the last second. Most people learn from that experience, in that they will avoid working themself into a corner from then on.

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I did not.

Now, to clarify, I’ve never shied away from working to a deadline, but the great beast that is procrastination is a hell of a tempting apple. It’s so tempting, in fact, that this was something that I almost came to accept as my routine. I would work without a great deal of focus for hours, going off on research tangents, breaking my train of thought with unnecessary image edits and over-complicating the slightest task, all because I felt that I had the time. I was wrong.

So, how do you make up for working to deadlines whilst not staying focused? Why, you work double the hours of course! Just after Christmas I found myself pulling roughly 70 hour work weeks to keep up with what should have been a laughably easy workload; one month to write 8 templates and a blog post. This just doesn’t work, as your mind can only take so much – despite the fact that you’re working double shifts, your brain becomes even less focused than normal due to fatigue. It had to stop.

I tried listing to various types of music, but only ended up humming along to the tunes. My use of Pomello became laughably infrequent and the old fall-back of coffee only served to scatter my attention more.

How I Increased My Writing Productivity With 4 Easy Steps

Then something changed. Around the same time we covered productivity at work I spoke to my colleagues about the issue and, from their suggestions, worked out a routine for how to improve productivity. After all, what I had tried certainly wasn’t doing the trick, and many successful individuals have their own daily routine or methods; this also helped me get over the fact that yes, you sometimes need to be brutally honest with yourself, or reach out and ask for help to find the best productivity hacks.

The result? Well, if a 375% increase in work output doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

Prioritizing Tasks

how to improve productivity - calendar events Sometimes the easiest fixes are the best, and by far the most effective measure I’ve taken is to prioritize my work day. What do I mean by this? Well, first off, you’ll need to work out what the most productive time of day is for you and you alone.

In my case, I tend to get the most done from 9-12am. I used to spend this time clearing out the smaller tasks of the day, such as answering questions, doing minor edits, etc., so that I could focus down on my one important task during the afternoon. This was a huge mistake.

Not only did I end up spending far more time and effort than was required on my smaller tasks, but I was halfway to mental exhaustion by the time I started to write templates or blog posts. This meant that I would often work until 8, 9 or even 10pm, as I knew that I hadn’t done enough by the time 5pm rolled around. I was inefficient as all hell, and to be honest, it started to take its toll on my mental health. Nothing too serious, but I could feel myself teetering on the edge of the great pit of self-pity, which isn’t a nice place to be.

To solve this problem, Google Calendar has been truly wondrous. Until two weeks ago, my only use for this was to remind myself of company calls and public holidays; a veritable barren wasteland of opportunities. Now, I have events set up every day to do two 2 hour sprints on large projects from 9am until 1pm; slap-bang in the middle of my most productive hours. In the afternoon I now do 2 hours of editing on the previous day’s work, then spend the rest of my time on the smaller cleanup tasks.


how to improve productivity - music Remember what I said about music being distracting? Well, it turns out that I was listening to entirely the wrong kind of music. Songs that you like (hell, even songs that you know at all) are a big no-no, and my 4-hour mix of Swing and Electro Swing did nothing to keep my butt still and in my writing chair (I’d highly recommend it whilst cooking though).

Focus@Will, on the other hand, is fantastic. Another case point in how useful technology can be in keeping up productivity, this little doozy lets you select a genre of background music which has been specifically chosen to help your mind focus on the task at hand. Although I tend to just switch between the Classical and Focus Spa channels (depending on how much my brain decides to rebel that day), there are a total of 22 to choose from, including those in Beta.

Another advantage of Focus is that you can set a timer until your next break or just press play and go, whatever floats your boat! Personally, I like to mix it up – if I feel that I’m on a roll, I’ll let it play until I stop.

Whether you’re using an app or not, find the music that helps you focus; the only solid rule is to avoid anything with lyrics. You can listen to your favorite jam in your own time, but for work hours, it’s focus or nothing.

Yes, that means The Avalanches are out.

Feed (and Water) the Body, Feed the Mind

Although I’m not sure about other writers, I never used to eat breakfast. A thermos full of strong black coffee and a brisk morning taking the dogs out was more than enough to set me on my way. In fact, food wouldn’t touch my lips until around 2pm, when a sandwich and refill of coffee was in order.

Guess what? Another big missed-steak (I’m so sorry).

Having breakfast and a constant supply of water is an absolute must for anyone wondering how to improve productivity. Not only are you less distracted by hunger pains, but it’s shockingly easy to become dehydrated if you’re not careful. I don’t mean that working without water will cause you to die of thirst (at least, not immediately), but it will start to hinder your performance; this is especially true of any field requiring you to use your noggin.

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Trust me, I know how tempting it is to just skip the grub. I convinced myself that I was better without it anyway, on account of my general lack of exercise (stupid, I know). For around three years I kept the fast until early afternoon, powered by coffee and a haze of self-assured delusion. Now I’m still powered by coffee, but at least I’m not deluded.

The Results

Earlier, I banded about a figure when claiming that my travels have resulted in productivity going up 375%, and this is no lie. The week before these measures, I had managed to produce a whopping two drafts of what would become the Git Workflow and User Story Template. Part of me wants to defend that with the fact that they needed re-writing twice, but if I’m honest, those schoolboy errors should not have happened in the first place.

After sorting myself out and getting my arse in gear, I completed five templates, three drafts and the Software Development Processes post in one week. No, that wasn’t a typo; I went from two incomplete templates to (the equivalent of) around seven and a half instantly.

Now, I could mention that my Grammarly weekly word count rose to 840% of my previous count, but I somehow doubt that’s terribly accurate. After all, when a program reports that you’ve written over 200,000 words in one of your less productive weeks, alarm bells start to ring pretty prominently.

How To Improve Productivity

In short, even the smallest changes can reap a world of rewards. By altering four seemingly insignificant aspects of my working life, I almost quadrupled my output the very next day. Not only this, but I’ve even been working fewer hours than previously; I’ve come to rather enjoy these things called “evenings”.

how to improve productivity - relax If you find yourself struggling with deadlines or just plain knowing that you can do more, give these steps a try. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Tried our tips and have feedback, or perhaps have your own tricks on how to improve productivity? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Ben Mulholland

Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing. Find him on Twitter here.

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