How to Increase Productivity, Stop Wasting Time, and Get Things Done

Americans love the hustle. We put a high value on what – and how much – we get done in a day, especially as it relates to our work or the goals we’ve set for ourselves. This constant quest for productivity isn’t easy, and it may not be that good for us. Still, sometimes we just need to get shit done. For those moments, we’ve rounded up a few suggestions for how to increase productivity and use your time well – without burning yourself out along the way.

Our #1 tip to increase productivity: get more sleep.

Working all hours of the day and night is counterproductive. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep every single night, and missing out can take a huge toll on our cognitive abilities. Most affected are our attention and our “working memory,” the part of our brain that allows us to remember things that are important right now. That often includes our to-do list.
Coffee and other energy boosters might help us get through a day or two, but they’re no match for a long night of solid Z’s. To sleep well, keep to a consistent schedule. Establish a nightly routine, and turn off your devices before bedtime to let your mind settle.


Sometimes the secret to “getting it all done” is being really selective with that “all.” Prioritize the things that matter, and say no to things that don’t.
Make a list of the things you need or want to do, and then categorize them. Think about what’s important because it’s meaningful to you (and why), what’s important because it’s non-negotiable (taxes, meals, etc.), and what you feel like you should do. The first two categories are your priorities; the last group needs to be re-evaluated. If you don’t have a good reason to do something, it may not be worthy of your time.

Do the hards things first.

We all have to do things that we don’t like and don’t want to do. Instead of pushing them to the bottom of the list, try doing them first.
Some people call this “eating the frog”, thanks to a quip by author Mark Twain. If the first thing you do each day is to eat a frog, then there’s not a lot that can happen throughout the day that would be worse. Yes, it’s gross, but that makes the analogy work. If you start with the hard or unpleasant things, nothing else will seem so bad.

Create space for your goals.

Doing nothing is like air – it expands to fill the space we give it. To increase productivity and accomplish your goals, give them room on the calendar. Find a time that works for your schedule and your energy cycles so you show up as your best self. Protect that time and approach it thoughtfully and intentionally. (And, for more on going after your goals, see How to Get What You Want.)


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Break tasks into smaller chunks.

When you have big tasks that need to be accomplished, break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Sub-tasks are specific and focused. They give you a starting point, direction, and the satisfaction of clear progress toward your bigger goals as you mark each one done.
Even if you can’t break up the work, you can break up the time with the Pomodoro Technique. To use this time-management method, work for 25-30 minutes, take a short 5-10 minute break, and repeat the cycle. After about 4 “pomodoros,” take a longer break to refresh your focus.

Put exercise at the top of your to-do list.

When we’re busy, our workouts are often the first thing to go. However, exercise has been proven to boost blood flow to the brain, increasing our overall energy and attention. When you need a clear head (not to mention improved physical and mental health), physical activity should be at the top of your list.


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Figure out why you’re wasting time.

Maybe you’ve tried all the apps, all the hacks, and the tips, and you’re still wasting time. The first thing to do is to figure out why. For a lot of us, procrastination and avoidance come from a place of fear. For others, it may be a lack of clarity on your goals and intentions. Figure out what you’re working toward and why, and then get comfortable with the possibility and reality of failure on the way to success.

Finally, don’t give in to the myth: your value doesn’t increase when you increase productivity.

Your value is no different when you are productive than when you aren’t. Yes, you do have the same number of hours in a day as Beyoncé. She also has millions of dollars and, very likely, an entire team around her to get shit done.
Don’t burn yourself out in the name of productivity. Make regular self-care and breaks, whether a long vacation or just a proper lunch hour, an essential part of your schedule. Allow yourself to rest and restore your energy, and don’t waste any of it on impossible comparisons.
Girls may run the world (thanks Bey), but nobody said it has to be a full-time job.