7 Simple Productivity Tips You Can Apply Today, Backed by Science

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simple productivity tipsIn case you haven’t noticed, we’ve started to cover a lot of heavily scientific articles recently here on the Buffer blog. And judging by the spread of them, they have been really well received.

One thing struck me though. What about simple things we can do? A friend recently told me she has added a 20 minute window in her day where she tries to go for the “quick wins”.

I thought that’s a brilliant idea! So I went ahead and looked up 7 simple things all of us can do today to get more productive, happier and successful. Of course, all backed up by science! So here 7 simple productivity tips you can put in place today:

1.) Help someone today – it will make you happier and more productive

Eric Barker, one of my favorite productivity writers recently interviewed Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant about his new book called “Give and Take”. What struck me the most was that the people who help others out consistently not only feel happier, but are actually more successful:

“Then I looked at the other end of the spectrum and said if Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top? Actually, I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.” 

There is only a slight problem. Helping others often seems like a huge task. How can we approach it in a way so it doesn’t eat up all of our team and leaves us overloaded or stressed. Adam has 2 great tips for exactly that too:

  • The “Five-Minute Favor”: The best tip Adam asks you to do something for a friend or even stranger, if it takes less than 5 minutes every day. “What if I just took a couple minutes every day to try to help someone in a way that it’s sort of a small commitment to me, but could be of large benefit to them?” That is a great way of thinking. Retweeting someone, helping them vote on something or similar takes virtually no time, but helps them a great deal.
  • The 100 hour rule:  In one year, Eric writes, we should be able to get to 100 hours that we’ve helped people. That’s roughly 2 hours per week. This “magical number of giving” helps you to both not be stressed and overloaded with helping, and yet giving a lot of your time to others.

I’ve found that splitting my time between helping someone with a small thing and working on Buffer are a great trade-off. The one gives me a huge boost to get my teeth stuck in for the next article, email or call. More on the unique power of helping from Eric, some incredible discoveries in there for me. 

2.) Develop a daily routine

The last and definitely not least important one on this list is to start with making a daily routine. Create an outline for how your day should look like for tomorrow and stick with it, just that one day. Nearly all of the most famous writers, thinkers, politicians and entrepreneurs out there stick to a daily routine. Researchers Shenk and Dweck put it this way:

“Relentless persistence is what makes us more intelligent, rewires our brains, and helps us succeed.”

simple productivity tips for your routine Creating and sticking to a daily routine, like the one above from Joel does wonders for your life and productivity. The 3 most important things to remember when creating your daily routine for the next day are these:

  • Set an alarm that goes off when each of your activities end. This is a great way I’ve found to stick to the routine I’ve set myself. The problem of inertia and wanting to keep going kicks in way to easily and this is a great way to rip you out of it and move on to the next task.
  • Schedule a few minutes to review the day: Here is something I’ve started to do recently after watching an amazing video from Jim Rohn where suggests this as one of the best ways to stick to your daily routine.
  • Don’t be angry with yourself when you fail: Whenever you write down your routine like above, it seems like its set in stone. Give yourself the leeway that you won’t be 100% on target and might miss 1 or 2 items. The key is to keep pushing forward every day.

There is an amazing article from Alan Henry over at Lifehacker about exactly this topic.

3.) Deal with something only once

Here is what happens a lot of times to most of us. We read an email and think “I’ll come back to that later”. We meet someone and say “let’s meet up for coffee soon!”. Or we get other requests via Twitter, Facebook or email that we read and think “I’ll do that later”. In a great story Leo Babauta explains how Zen Master Susan O’Connell taught him the “deal with it only once” in a real life example. When they briefly met and talked about getting tea sometime soon, she pulled out her notepad and set down a date right then and there:

“Deal with something once. Do it now. Then it’s off your mind, and you can fully focus on the next matter.”

Although not highly scientific, these are some highly trustworthy ideas from one of the most famous Zen masters. Here are the 3 most important points to apply the “deal with it only once” today:

  • Email
  • Meetings
  • Help requests

Dealing with these 3 things immediately has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

4.) Take a nap

From Leonardo Da Vinci to Ronald Reagan, there is a huge number of “nap” celebrities. And yet, the power nap is probably the most effective way to rejuvenate your brain. As a recent Harvard study concluded:

There is, in fact, a biological clock located in a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus of the brain. Those cells orchestrate the circadian (that is, daily) ups and downs of many physiological processes (body temperature, blood pressure, secretion of digestive juices), including sleep. […] It’s also common to have a little “hump” of midafternoon sleepiness programmed into the circadian schedule. An afternoon nap is one way to accommodate that hump. 

The optimal nap time, according to the study is 20-30 minutes, so that you only reach sleep phase 2, but not the sleep phase 3 (deep sleep), which leaves you groggy and exhausted. The key to a great nap is probably best illustrated in the graphic below. To sum up in a few lines:

  • Darken the room as much as you can
  • Set an alarm clock to sleep no longer than 30 min
  • Use a light blanket as your temperature drops slightly
  • Talk to your boss/co-workers beforehand to have them onboard

simple productivity tips More about how much sleep we actually need.

5.) Keep a journal with you at all times

Here is one, that is probably most underestimated. Keeping a daily journal of what you got done, of what worries you and what inspired you, is one of the best productivity tools there is. Some of the most famous writers of all time, including Franz Kafka, Virginia Wolf and others, strictly kept to daily journals. And Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile even wrote a whole book about it:

“One of the big reasons to keep a diary is to record small wins that otherwise might slip through your memory. You can leverage the progress principle and allow yourself to get that boost from realizing you are making progress. And it’s also helpful to record major setbacks – or minor ones that recur – so you can think about how to get rid of inhibitors blocking your progress.”

And journaling, fortunately is also one of the easiest ways to start writing consistently. To make keeping a daily journal even easier, here are 3 tools that make it a no-brainer:

  • Day One app – beautiful iOS and Mac apps for journaling
  • Moleskine – I’ve found that spending more money on a simple notebook, helps you to value your notes more too.
  • OhLife – Get a daily email asking about how your day went.

 

6.) Learn to use the word “no” more effectively

We all have good intentions when we wake up in the morning. But somehow, we get sidetracked and lured into distractions that jump at us from all corners of daily life. Being able to say “no” in an effective way, that doesn’t take up too much of our will-power is crucial. In an incredibly interesting study about saying no, they had this experiment:

One group was told that each time they were faced with a temptation, they would tell themselves “I can’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I can’t eat ice cream.” When the second group was faced with a temptation, they were told to say “I don’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I don’t eat ice cream.”

And here is what happened:

The students who told themselves “I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.

Pretty awesome right? Switching to “I don’t” whenever you want to say no, has shown to be one of the best ways to say no. Two of the most important things when it comes to saying no for me, where these points:

  • Decide a lot of things beforehand on whether you do them or not. Some examples are: “I don’t drink”, “I don’t check email in the morning”, “I don’t go to bed after 11pm”. This makes any potential temptations much easier to avoid.
  • Hold yourself accountable with these points. Write them down, share them with your family and friends or put them over your bed on a poster. Being held accountable has worked wonders for me.

 

7.) Avoiding the snooze button once and for all

One of the world’s most unfortunate popular inventions is the snooze button. We all love to just go back to sleep for another 10 minutes, because then we’ll be much less tired. Or will we? In a great video ASAPscience uncovers that that’s not true at all:

“Fragmented sleep [that happens if we snooze] is much less restorative and leads to sleepiness related daytime impairment. By breaking up those last 30 minutes of sleep, you are more likely to feel tired and perform poorly during the day.”

simple productivity tips   The solution:

  • Try and set your alarm a little later than you normally would, if you consistently hit the snooze button. You will be able to make sure to not interrupt your sleep cycle and consistently get better sleep.
  • Another options is to grab a JawBone UP band (we’ve recently bought bands for the whole Buffer team). The band makes sure to wake you up, exactly when you are in light sleep, so you aren’t tempted to hit the snooze button again.

Here is more about energy levels and sleep patterns to keep you in sync with everything. These are some of my 7 most cherished and simple productivity tips that make both more productive and happier at the same time whilst working away on Buffer every day. I’d love your thoughts and addition. What is your most cherished productivity tip?

About the Author

Leo Widrich

Co-founder and CMO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about lifehacks, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • http://twitter.com/andreagoulet Andrea Goulet Ford

    Awesome list, Leo! I love that you put so much about sleep in there. I’m curious what time Joel goes to bed if he’s able to wake up at 4am every day. :)

    My biggest productivity secret is that if my ideas or writing feels blocked, I use physical activity to push through. I’ll go for a run, bake some bread, or swiffer the floors — all while still thinking about the problem. It’s amazing how many times I’ll get a spark and when I come back to my desk, the work seems much easier.

    • LeoWid

      Hi Andrea,

      Great to hear from you and that’s a good question. Joel goes to sleep at around 8pm, so very early! :)

      Love the tip on physical productivity!

  • http://angelabooth.com/ Angela Booth

    Love the tips, especially the “journalling” one. Whenever I pay attention to my journal, I’m much more productive, and relaxed, as well.

    • LeoWid

      so glad you enjoyed that one Angela! :)

  • AlMacartney

    Very awesome list. I plan to use a few of these productivity tips. Thanks for the research and input. Very valuable.

    • LeoWid

      no worries, so glad it was helpful! :)

  • http://blog.writethat.name/ Brad Patterson @ Kwaga

    Brilliant list! Thank you

    • LeoWid

      thanks Brad!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.berney Rachel Berney

    no more ‘snooze button’… :-(

    • LeoWid

      hehe, unfortunately not :)

  • Susan M Edwards

    Hi Buffer Team, I want to take this time to say. “Thank You”, for a fantastic Buffer blog, it as been extremely enlightening. I have walk away with a wealth of tools and tips. God bless you all!

    • LeoWid

      Hi Susan, thanks so much for stopping by and really appreciate you found it helpful!

  • http://www.lastfm.ru/user/AntonioKidult Anton Gorodetsky

    Leo, thank you so much for this list! Especially for OhLife – started using immediately and already love it! Again, thanks!

    • LeoWid

      Hi Anton, awesome, so glad I could help out there!

  • marswolf

    Thank you Joel for the idea of second breakfast. I’m adding second lunch! Feels more productive already!

    • LeoWid

      haha, totally cracked me up! :)

  • http://twitter.com/KatLoughrey Kat Loughrey

    Great list Leo, will start putting these in action! :) The only one that I can’t work out how to achieve is the nap. I’d kill for a nap everyday at work but my work situation that is not conducive to it – I work in an open plan office and there’s nowhere to go that is quiet/dark to take a short nap. Only option is to go outside to the grounds but I can’t lay down out there! Any suggestions?

    • TP

      I used my car. I would move to a shady spot, throw on some glasses and set my phone to alarm. Except for an occasional ambulance, it worked like a charm.

  • http://www.organiclifeproducts.com/ Montina Portis

    This has to be one of the best blog posts I’ve read in a LONG time! Real simple tips with amazing results! Leo, keep sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/papawar Juan García

    Nice post Leo, from a snooze button victim : ) You people do a great job with the blog, keep it up!

    P.S.: Waking up at 4:30 : O What time does Joel go to bed?

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

    I tried the no-snooze thing. But kept forgetting at 5AM. :)

  • Cody Stevenson

    Great post Leo! i can defiantly be more efficient. I need to implement a lot of these strategies.

  • http://www.business-writers.co.uk Huw Sayer

    Thank you – I particularly like #1 – I posted something related to this back in May 2011 http://huwsayer.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/i-am-at-my-best-when-i-help-others-and-at-my-worst-when-i-help-myself/ – enjoy.

  • Sameer Patil

    Amazing list. Being backed by scientific data makes it even more appealing to start following. Keep posting.

  • Mars

    Thank you very much for sharing your list.
    Reading it was very helpful to me. I’ve got some ideas now, all I have to do is to start realizing them.
    I’m beginning tomorrow – with a daily routine and a journal.

  • http://www.scienceofpeople.org/ Vanessa Van Edwards

    Love this–especially tip 6 on saying no. Saying no is super important also to avoid Choice Paralysis–the ultimate productivity blocker. I have started to make a “not to do list” because i notice if I have too many things on my list I don’t do any of them.

    The study on the burden of choice is here if your interested!
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-van-edwards/resolutions_b_2332922.html

  • http://twitter.com/Okuryzr Okuryazar’ın Defteri

    I didn’t know about the number 6 and 7. Thanks for sharing.

  • Debahis Moharana

    the tips are awesome specially the snooze one. really snooze button is the worst innovation.

  • Steve

    Great advice man. Will definatelly use some tips

  • http://www.sawcreatives.com Stephen Weber

    Leo,

    Awesome, awesome article. As someone who geeks out to productivity (especially when it comes to meetings), I really appreciate a lot of your points.

    I work for a meeting productivity company called Less Meeting (http://www.lessmeeting.com ) and your points on keeping a journal, saying no, and developing a routine oddly coincide strongly with the meeting world.

    Thanks for the great tips and please let me know if you have any feedback on our productivity tool as well!

  • Jessica Jones

    While your snooze button point made me very very sad — the routine point was fabulous! As a parent I believe this is KEY to raising children. Not sure why it’s not common in the workplace but I love it!

  • tamuka

    I wil definitely use a couple of these. ..they shld work for a student too

  • JoseLuis Torres

    Excellent post Leo, if you allow me I would add, planning your day with 3-6 more important things, breaking them down in priority, grab a cup of coffee, start your work, mark whatever is done from your to-do list. I use pomodoro technique, using 25 mins to work on something then exercise for 5 mins and start or continue what was left. It works for me specially if I have different subjects to cover to mix them so I’m more motivated in working in interesting things rather than just regular work stuff.

    • http://brandonrubin.me/ steelsouls

      Thanks for the specifics! I got a timer to try something like this but I didn’t stick with it. I think it’s because I didn’t have a clear idea of how long each section should be. I’m going to try this tomorrow.

  • http://coachingpositiveperformance.com/ Carthage Buckley

    Great tips. The importance of proper rest in productivity is too often ignored. If you find that you are consistently perfroming poorly, rest is a good place to start.

  • http://www.johnrmeese.com/p/about-me.html John R. Meese

    Leo, I started using Zenflow immediately after I first read this post, but I can’t access the site now. Do you know the story? Is the project over? I linked to Zenflow in a guide that’s about to publish and I need to revise that, if so.

    • LeoWid

      Hi John, so sorry for the hassles here! Yes, unfortunately Zenflow was discontinued as I wasn’t able to find the time to keep working on it, greatly apologize and thanks for stopping by! :)

      • http://www.johnrmeese.com/p/about-me.html John R. Meese

        Thanks for getting back to me and letting me know, Leo. I appreciate it! I totally understand that sometimes a project has to go. Do you know of any good alternatives for daily routine management?

  • http://jadlimcaco.com/ Jad Limcaco

    Really great list Leo. The hardest thing for me is to discipline myself to go to sleep at night. I do like your tip about changing how you say “no.” I will start doing that from now on :) Keep up the great work! Buffer is awesome!

  • Gustavo Orrego

    Hi, Jim Rohn’s video is not working. Thanks for those fantastic ideas.

  • Limogi

    Does cooking and washing up and doing laundry for my family and me count towards helping others?