12 Ways to Be More Productive

If you end each day wondering where the time went, why your “to-do” list never seems to get any shorter, or why you always seem to have too many things on your agenda, you may simply not be as productive as you could be. Follow these tips from our experts and you’ll get more accomplished—and have more time for yourself.

  1. Figure out exactly where all your time is going. "To be more productive, it's important to get a sense of how you are spending your time," says Gordon Strauss, MD, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "All the things you do can really add up to big chunks of time."

    Just keeping an accurate record of how you spend your time and adding up the precious minutes that you spend watching TV or talking on the phone may help you see just how much time you’re whiling away on activities that may not be worth it. You may even decide to cut back, leaving more room for other things.
  2. Write out a schedule of what your ideal week would look like. After you’ve done this, "Contrast your current schedule with your ideal schedule and find places to cut in order to move gradually in the direction of your desired schedule," advises Christy Wright, a certified business and life coach in Nashville. "Moving your life in the direction you want it to go starts with just identifying what that is."
  3. Break down tasks to make them seem less daunting and more manageable. "Chunk a large task into small, achievable goals," Strauss advises. "Some of the large chunks may even need to be broken down into smaller chunks." When you see that a task is more manageable, you’re less likely to get sidetracked.

    Say you want to quit smoking cigarettes, which can seem like a daunting proposition. "To help reduce anxiety and improve success, I advise patients to break down their 'quit attempt' into smaller, achievable goals," Strauss says. "For example, the first step might be to set a day you'd like to stop smoking in the next few weeks. Then you might want to get some medication from your doctor. You might also want to get support from a group like QuitGroups. You might want to speak with friends or family members about your intention to quit, so they will be able to encourage you."

    A further step might be to start meditating or take a yoga class to reduce the stress of quitting. Then you might want to prepare your home by throwing away things related to smoking. By the time your 'quit date' rolls around, you will be less overwhelmed and have a better chance of success, Strauss says.
  4. Avoid interruptions whenever possible. "It's easy to get so busy taking care of other people's needs that it can be hard to stick to your own schedule once you make it," Strauss says. "So you may need to be a little rigid."
  5. Delegate. When you are in high demand, the best use of your time is to do just the things that only you can do, and delegate or outsource the rest when possible, Wright suggests. "Sometimes you get so engrossed in putting out fires that you are spending way too much time on these things that someone else could, and in some cases should, be doing," she says. "Cleaning your house is a good example. You’re not the only person who can do this, so if your budget allows, outsource this weekly task so you have more time for the things that only you can do."
  6. Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t (or simply won’t) get to something. "As a friend of mine is fond of saying, sometimes it is okay to delay," says Kevin Berchelmann, CMC, CEO, of Triangle Performance, LLC, in Spring, Texas. "And if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute."
  7. Learn how to say no. This is a must-have skill for successful time management. And here’s the best part: you can say no without ever using the word. Wright suggests that to decline an invitation, for instance, you start by saying something affirmative, such as "Thank you so much for asking me." Then, you can say something like, "Unfortunately, Sunday night is the night my husband and I reserve for each other." Finally, end on a positive note: "But I really appreciate you thinking of me."
  8. Stop multitasking. It makes people incapable of concentrating, says Anne Grady, a Round Rock, Texas-based expert in personal and organizational transformation and the author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work. "Instead, focus on one task at a time." On an average day, people are bombarded with thousands of images and hundreds of thousands of pieces of new information, Grady says. "We hold all of this information in our subconscious, but our short-term memory can only store two to four items at once," she says. "When we are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it’s not necessarily because we have so much to do." Instead, the stress comes from trying to remember everything and keep it at the forefront of your brain.
  9. Give yourself a break! If you don't occasionally schedule some down time, your productivity can suffer, Strauss says. "Take some time away, even if it is just for a walk," he advises.
  10. Review your goals on a regular basis. A monthly check in may be a good idea, Strauss recommends. As you look at your goals, you may realize that some need to be given more attention, and others that you may be spending a lot of time on simply aren’t worth it.
  11. Be accountable to someone. Just talking with someone such as your manager, and telling her that you will be checking in with her the next day, or week, can increase your productivity, Strauss says.
  12. If you are consistently having trouble concentrating and focusing, check in with your doctor. You could be depressed or anxious, Strauss says, and this could be causing your productivity to dip. If your doctor finds that you are suffering from anxiety or depression, you may be advised to get some counseling or to consider an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.

Gordon Strauss, MD, reviewed this article.


Anne Grady

Gordon Strauss, MD.  

Christy Wright.  

D. Kevin Berchelmann.