When it comes to personal finances, most people concentrate on saving and investing money. This can be a problem because issues that may not first appear to have much to do with personal finances can often have a dramatic affect on them. Productivity is just one of these.
The more productive you are, the more that you can accomplish in a day. Increasing your productivity can give you the time to implement personal finance strategies (or any other important goal you have) that you may have wanted to, but simply could not find the time. If you take the time to learn and actively pursue increasing your productivity, you’ll be amazed at how this can help your finances. Here are some of the simple ways I have improved my productivity over the last couple of years:
I watch very little TV. One of the biggest lifestyle changes I made a few years ago was to virtually stop watching TV. I still watch on occasion, but not nearly as much as I once did. This change freed up a couple of hours a day that used to be wasted. It’s amazing the amount of time I was able to gain with this move and I haven’t missed it one bit.
I walk: Walking may not at first to be something that would be productive, but for me it is an excellent time each day for me to think. There is something about a walk that helps me see problems I’ve been trying to solve in a new light and to get a different perspective that I do while sitting at the computer. It’s important to refresh my mind and body, and a short walk is a great way of doing this. When I return, I’m in a much better condition to work and get more done.
I always bring a pocket notebook everywhere I go: Ideas can come at any time and if I don’t have something to quickly jot the idea down on, I would forget it. To make sure I don’t forget these, I carry a small pocket notebook and pen in my pocket. When an idea comes to me no matter where I am, I jot it down. I even take it to bed with me. I place it on the desk by my pillow. Carrying the pocket notebook ensures I don’t forget good ideas which I would certainly do if I didn’t have it with me.
I eat breakfast: Until a few years ago, I never ate proper breakfasts. I was always too busy and on the run and ended up grabbing whatever I could to shove into my mouth. Sometimes I simply skipped breakfast. I decided to listen to the literature and give eating a proper breakfast a try for a month and I’ve never looked back. Eating breakfast every morning greatly increases my concentration on the computer and I’m much more productive.
I (try to) get a good night’s sleep: I do not sleep well so this one has been a huge challenge. The problem is that when I don’t sleep well, I wake up the next day without energy I need to work efficiently which greatly reduces my productivity. I now have a set time to go to bed even if I don’t feel tired. It doesn’t work every time, but it has helped reduce those days when I feel too tired to concentrate.
I write lists: If you are like I was, I thought lists were a joke until I actually began using the effectively. I had tried to use lists in the past and I would create them, but then they would sit there without me ever going through and accomplishing what was on them. Through experimentation, I found a system that worked for me. I actually make two lists. One is my master list with all the things that I want to get done and the other is my daily list with only three items that I must accomplish that day. If it takes me all day to get those three done, that is all I do, but if I finish early, then I can cherry pick items off the master list to also do. While this system may not be right for you, if you can find a list system your productivity will soar.
I listen to music: I know some people need quiet, but I work best with some background noise. I also have a few CDs that I call my “work music.” This is the music that I only play when I really need to work hard to get something done. Since I only play this music when I know I have to work, it has become self motivating just by the sound. I hear it and I automatically go into work mode.
I take short breaks: Taking breaks doesn’t sound like it improves productivity but taking a 15 minute break every 1 – 2 hours from the computer helps me to rejuvenate so that I’m more productive when I get back to the computer. I used to try and work hours on end, but I noticed that after a few hours, my productivity rate fell off quite a bit. These small breaks have helped me quite a bit so that I’m productive throughout the entire day rather than just in the morning hours.
I don’t take breaks at the computer: One of the worst things I did in the past was when I got tired and needed a break, I would look take the break by continuing to sit in front of the computer and surf the Internet. While this gave me a break from writing, it failed to rejuvenate me like breaks away from the computer do. When it’s time for a break, I now physically move away from my computer. It took a long time to break that habit, but once I did my productivity increased dramatically.
I set specific times to do daily work: I set times when I do the things that need to be done each day. For example, I get a lot of email, so I set 3 times a day to check it. I used to check it throughout the day and found that doing so would end up taking me on tangents all over the Internet. Setting a specific time to read and respond each day makes me get through it all much quicker and more efficiently since I know I only have a certain amount of time to get it done.
I stretch: Sitting in front of the computer all day is tiring – much more so than I imagined it would be. The problem is that this can often be gradual during the day so I didn’t notice it happening. I do a small set of stretches that takes about 5 minutes every few hours to keep my body feeling better which has helped me work more efficiently.
I have a place void of interruptions: This was a hard one to accomplish working at home, but I finally initiated a system where I won’t be disturbed while I’m working. Those little disruptions end up taking a lot of time and can ruin your productivity, so doing whatever you can to eliminate them is worth the effort.
I have a set work time: Since my work is writing, I have a set writing time each morning for about 3 hours where all I do is write. Even when I have writer’s block, I still spend this time writing even when it ends up being nonsense that I never use. Setting a specific time to write helps me get a lot more done overall. I used to wander off when I was having trouble writing, but sometimes you just need to force yourself to work through the block to get it down.
I drink water and eat fruit/vegetables: Writing takes a lot of energy and especially when I am having trouble writing something down, I crave sweets. When I cave into these cravings, I find that I am a lot less productive. While it does give an initial high, that energy quickly disappears and I crave more sugar. Having fruit/vegetables instead doesn’t always suppress this craving, but it does a good amount of the time. Over the long term, it makes me feel a lot more healthy and helps me to get more done.
I keep my water and fruit/vegetable snacks by my desk: I found that my snack craving was a good excuse for me to leave my writing when I found I was stuck. I’d wander into the kitchen and look through the drawers for sweets, go back to the computer and start the process all over again 20 minutes later when I was craving sweets again. Instead, I make sure that I have plenty of water and fruit by my desk and when I have the cravings, I eat this and there is no need for me to go wandering off.
I do small chores during my breaks: My wife would never go for the excuse that I didn’t have to help out around the house, so I do have a list of chores that are mine to do each day. When I take my short breaks from the computer, I do the chores that need to get done around the house. Things like doing the laundry, hanging out the clothes, washing the dishes, etc. This means that they aren’t all piled up at the end of the day and they are activities that are really different from writing which gives me a clean break that I need.
I leave messaging off until the afternoon: I leave all my computer messengers off in the morning and won’t turn them on until I have accomplished the things that need to be done that day. There is nothing that ruins the flow of writing than having people constantly asking questions when I’m trying to concentrate.
I do a daily 10 minute clean-up Since it never seems that I have enough hours in the day to get everything I want to get done, my desk used to get quite messy over time as things piled up. I take 10 minutes to clean my office each day. While it is not perfect, it keeps it from becoming overwhelming and enables me to know where everything is. I simply set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and start cleaning whatever seems to need cleaning most in the room and then stop for the day when it rings.
I (try) the one touch method: I still have a long way to go on this, but it does work. Only touch things once. I’m terrible at looking at things multiple times, but I have started to embrace the one touch system because it does work. I’m much better at it some days than others, but I am working on making this a habit to increase my productivity further.
I exercise: When I started working on the computer full time, I gained about 20 pounds over a short period of time because I sat in front of the computer most of the day. The extra pounds made me feel unhealthy and affected my productivity. I decided to implement a weekly exercise routine that has greatly helped the way I feel and has improved my productivity.
I get up at 7:00 am each morning: Even when I don’t sleep well, I get up at 7:00 am each morning. If I don’t, I can waste the entire morning sleeping. If I didn’t sleep well and am really exhausted, I will take a small nap, but usually I can make it through the day and then sleep well the next evening. While it is easy to slack off in this area when you are working at home, when I don’t get up in the mornings, my productivity plummets.
I don’t multi-task (usually): I find that while in theory multi-tasking should save time, it ends up making me less productive. The reason is that it takes me time to adjust to the new task each time I change to get into my optimal work mode. I find concentrating on a single task is much more efficient for me. The one exception to this is when I’m doing lazy activities such as watching TV. When I am watching TV, I always try to do something else at the same time that doesn’t require a lot of detailed attention (folding laundry, sorting stuff, etc).
I dance: Okay, this is a bit embarrassing to admit, but sometimes when I hear one of my favorite songs, I will spontaneously get up and dance. If anyone ever places cameras in my office, I’ll never be able to live it down. My wife has walked in on a couple of occasions basically thought I had lost it (now she just rolls her eyes). There is something about getting up and dancing once a day that is completely refreshing for me and afterward, I am ready to get work done.
I get out into the sun: This is part of the reason that I walk, but when you work from home, it’s easy to stay inside all day. It’s amazing what a short walk in the fresh air with the sun shining down can do to re-energize you. I try to get out a minimum of 2 times a day and doing so helps my concentration and productivity.
I only spend 30 minutes reading news: I love reading and gaining new information, but this love can make me highly unproductive. I can spend hours reading the latest news if I don’t limit this activity to 30 minutes a day. I leave news reading for my days off which has given me a lot more time to do the things I need to get done.
I take vacation days: When you work for yourself, not only is it easy to get lazy and not do enough, it’s also easy to spend too much time doing it (especially if you enjoy what you’re doing). I find that I need vacation days from time to time, but I really do have to force myself to take them. While I’m always glad that I do after the fact, it can be difficult to pry myself away even when I do realize I need the break.
I travel On my days off, I take a lot of short trips. These are a great way for me to get away from writing for a day or two and completely refresh. They also give me a chance to see things from a new perspective and look for new and interesting subjects to write about.
I’ve learned the signs of when I need to take a break: While this may not seem like much, this was actually one of my biggest productivity increases. I have slowly learned the signs that indicate that I need a break. I used to ignore these and continued to work, but I now know that when these signs appear, it’s time to take a break and do something else for a bit. My big signs are that I’ll begin yawning and I’ll open new windows on my computer without a specific purpose. When either of these two things begin to happen, it’s time for me to take a break.
I get ahead: Pressure to produce in one of the things that makes me less productive. When I initially began writing, I would put up every article I wrote the minute that I finished it which meant that I would produce a lot over a short period of time, but then have spells where I wouldn’t produce much at all and would have a lot of pressure to write something. I have since learned to space out my writing and try to have a week’s worth of content that I can use if I happen to have writer’s block or an emergency happens that takes me away for a few days. Having this cushion makes me more relaxed and helps me be more productive.
I don’t have a cell phone: It would certainly be convenient to have one, especially when meeting up with friends in a new location, but I found that letting people have access to me 24/7 ended up creating a lot of wasted time. My life has become a lot more simplified without a cell phone and I get a lot more done as well without the interruptions.
I don’t eat meals at my computer: I used to do this thinking that it made me more productive (the multi-task thing), but when looking at it closely, realized that it hurt my productivity. When eating, I can’t concentrate as hard, so I found that I would end up reading and surfing the INternet instead of working. While I convinced myself I was doing so to find new and interesting topics to write about, I rarely did this. Then when I was finished, I was not refreshed at all since I had been reading the entire time and found it hard to get back to work. I now eat my meals away from the computer as one of my break times which makes me much more productive than before.
I compliment tasks: When there are several things that I need to do, I try to complement them when possible. For example, instead of going to the gym and working out and driving to the store to grocery shop, I will walk to the store instead. I get exercise and shopping done taking less overall time (and saving money at the same time)
I keep things simple A lot of the computer programs that are supposed to make me more productive end up wasting my time. I keep things really simple. For example, I do not make my lists on any of the list sites. This is because I always have my pocket notebook with me where I list it all – even when I’m away from the computer.
I question my habits: We all get into habits and stop thinking about the way we do things. I’m much better at asking myself if the way I’m doing something is the most efficient way and if there is another way I could do it more productively. This is an area that I still need improvement, but I am getting better at this.
I ask for help: I used to be the type of person that would try and do everything myself. It’s been a difficult task letting go of many of the things I used to do and have others help out, but many times it’s just more efficient to let others do it. Even better, they usually can do it better than me.
I explore: I find that having curiosity and actually acting upon it (something that is often difficult for me since I’m an introvert) makes me much more productive. It gives me a lot of new ideas that I would have never come up with on my own. Some of my most popular writing have been from conversations with others that I would have never had if I had not been curious and acted upon it.
I try to do something good every day: Okay, I know this sounds kind of corny and doesn’t seem to have much to do with productivity, but I find that I get a huge boost of energy when I do something nice for another person. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It can be as simple as holding open the door for someone whose hands are full. Doing something nice for someone each day gives me a pick-up and that feeling good about myself helps me be more productive. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. You’ll be surprised.
I limit time on the computer: This is another one of those things that doesn’t look like it would actually make me more productive, but once implemented has greatly increase my productivity. I have a rule that I can only spend seven hours a day on the computer and I break these hours into specific times of the day. I know I must work much harder to get things done during a specific time and therefore I’m more focused during these times. Before I just spent the entire day on the computer and in doing so wasted a great deal of time
I get dressed in the morning: It would seem that it would make no difference whether or not I changed out of my pajamas as I made my way to the computer, but it makes a huge difference in my productivity. In fact, I won’t even allow myself to wear grubby clothes. I put on jeans and a T-shirt at the minimum. It has to be something I could go outside in on a moment’s notice. While it’s definitely not company work attire, it does make a huge difference letting me know that it’s time to work.
I take naps: I used to think that naps were for people that didn’t have enough energy for the entire day, but I have learned that strategic naps can greatly increase my productivity. I have to make sure that they are quick naps, however, because anything over 20 minutes will mean that I’ll have much trouble sleeping that night.
I don’t drink caffeine: I used to be a huge caffeine junkie because I needed it to keep my energy level up at the end of the day, but I have learned that while it may give me a short burst of activity, it makes me less productive in the long run. In the process, I quit drinking soda that also saved me over $1000 a year.
I take baths: This was kind of forced upon me living in Japan since I’d always been a shower person before coming here. There is something very relaxing about a bath that helps me to think about everything that happened throughout the day. Like my walks, it’s a time when I come up with solutions and ideas much better than in front of the computer.
I’m punctual: This is another thing I’ve learned to be in Japan. Things run on time and if you’re late you miss your train or bus and have to wait. This extends to other parts of my life and being punctual means a lot less wasted time. I never thought being a minute late would mean a 30 minute wait before I began living in Japan
I place a value on my time: I place a value on my time and I use this to decide whether I should do things myself or have someone else do them. I simply take the hours of work each week and divide that by the amount that I make each week to come up with my time value. This helps me make sure I’m spending the time doing things that give me the most return for the time I spend on them.
I would not expect that each of these would make you more productive, but there may be a few on the list that would be worth trying. The key is to constantly keep an eye open of ways to do things more efficiently that work for you and how to keep your energy level up. It’s a never ending process, but pursuing it on a constant basis will help you to get more done in the limited time you do have which will greatly benefit your personal finances.
Finally, if you are interested in learning more about how you can improve your personal productivity, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. The author is David Allen, who is a popular personal productivity guru. The book is available for about 12 bucks on Amazon.com.
Image courtesy of monkeyc.net