Productive days are satisfying, highly valued, and make you feel like you're on top of the world. Some people seem to have them down to a science, while others feel like they're always just out of reach. The difference between these two groups of people isn't skill or even motivation but careful planning.
You can learn how to be productive and hack your daily routine using tools and techniques that work well for you. Successful people all have different ways of working, but they typically share some common tactics for getting things done efficiently at the end of the day.
This guide explores what productivity is and what qualifies as a productive day before getting into some hacks to set yourself up for productivity. Ready to give your daily routine a makeover?
What is productivity?
Productivity can mean different things to different people, but it's usually defined by the ability to complete goals efficiently and effectively. It's less about what you do and more about what you accomplish and how you get there. And since everyone needs different things to stay productive for an entire day, productivity tends to be very personal.
For example, trying to be productive at home can require different strategies than working on-site. Regardless of how you work and what your preferences are, though, achieving a productive day usually involves:
- Time management
- Getting enough sleep
- A healthy morning routine
- A regular daily schedule
- Managing stress levels and avoiding burnout
- Working on one thing at a time
- Eliminating bad habits
- Maintaining energy levels with good habits
These tools can help you be mindful of your behavior and find systems that help you to efficiently complete important tasks. As you study your behavior, you'll begin to understand what steps you need to take to be more productive in your life. Soon, you'll find yourself enjoying increased productivity in your personal life and the office.
What qualifies as a productive day?
A productive day isn't just about checking off everything on your to-do list each workday (but you should still throw yourself a little dance party if you do). It's about how your day flows from when you wake up until you're getting ready for bed. It's making the most of your time, focusing on the right things, and finding the best moments for every action.
Above all else, productive days are about maintaining a work/life balance so you can enjoy the rewards of your hard work. And while it will require some hard work on your end, it's totally worth it (trust us).
So, what qualifies as a productive day? Here are some common markers of productivity to consider:
- Finding meaning, satisfaction, and flow in your workday, from beginning to end
- Taking care of your body with healthy diet and exercise habits
- Accomplishing necessary tasks in your work and personal life, giving each one your full attention
- Relaxing and enjoying downtime to lower your stress levels and prevent burnout
- Engaging with coworkers, friends, and family to fulfill your social needs
- Avoiding wasted time and mindless activities that don't add benefit to your life or workday
- Fulfilling family and personal responsibilities
Most productive days follow a schedule from beginning to end. Schedules give you a structure to work with, helping you be productive regardless of what life throws at you. And they help you make predictable parts of your life, like workdays, more efficient over time.
Don't worry, this doesn't mean enjoying life less — it means enjoying it more! Productive people have more time to do the things they love.
8 hacks for more productive days
Take a second to daydream and imagine a perfectly productive day. What does it look like for you? What would you get done, and how would you allocate your time?
Keep this image of a perfect, productive day in mind as you fine-tune your daily schedule. We say “fine-tune” because building new habits one at a time is more sustainable than a complete overhaul. One degree of change is all it takes to create meaningful change in your life.
Mastering even one of these hacks can make a big difference in your productivity levels.
1. Manage your time wisely
It's easy to lose track of time, even when you're working. Careful time management will help you prioritize your tasks and free up some extra time to do the things you love.
It can help to start by tracking how you spend your time without making changes for a week. Find a time-tracker online, or manually record how you spend every hour of your day, then look at the data at the end of the week. This can help you identify areas you want to improve, even if it’s hard to admit how many hours you really spend on social media or binging shows.
By mapping out your waking hours, you're also getting a big-picture perspective to create time frames that work for your daily responsibilities. It'll also make you intimately aware of how procrastination impacts your days (sorry not sorry), so you'll have more motivation to avoid it. You'll use this information to create a daily schedule (which we'll cover next), where you'll assign time limits for tasks and time between tasks.
To stay on-track, you'll also need time management for each task. The Pomodoro technique is a popular option — it involves breaking your day up into several 25-minute focus sessions and five-minute breaks.
To try the Pomodoro technique, set a timer for 25 minutes of focused work and another for a five-minute break at the end. Take a 15 to 30-minute break after four successful 25-minute rounds, then rinse and repeat! It sounds simple, but incentivizing your productivity and breaking up your work can be seriously effective.
2. Follow a daily schedule
Create a regular daily schedule that guides you from the beginning of your day to the end. A day planner or time management app can make this easier by giving you a visual representation of your schedule.
Decide when you need to wake up, when you want to go to bed, and how you will spend your waking hours. Here are some tips for designing a daily schedule that works:
- Group similar tasks together to make switching from one to the next easier.
- Include buffers that allow time to switch between tasks.
- Set time limits for tasks and stick to them.
- Give yourself enough time to wind down and sleep (more on this in the next section).
Follow your schedule as closely as possible when you can, but it’s okay to be flexible sometimes! If something takes a bit longer than expected, or a last-minute task comes up, your buffers should help keep things on schedule. And if you need more time for something crucial, rearrange as needed and get back on schedule the next day.
Pro tip: Try sitting down with your schedule each night to plan the next day, fine-tuning and customizing it as needed. This ensures you're prepared for the day every time you wake up.
3. Get enough sleep
Poor sleep means low productivity. You can't wish this fact away — that's just how it works.
A healthy adult needs a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night. So, block out at least seven hours to sleep every night, not including the time it takes to wind down and get ready for bed.
If you're one of those people who'd rather sleep when you're dead, check out some of the negative effects of not getting enough sleep:
- Poor performance and productivity
- Lethargy and other adverse physical health issues
- Lower social, emotional, and mental wellbeing
- Increased risk of dangerous mistakes
Bragging about how you only sleep four hours a night might be fun, but is it really worth the drawbacks? Instead, try getting seven or eight hours of sleep every night for three months and see how it changes your health, mood, and performance before writing it off.
4. Create a healthy morning routine
Following a healthy morning routine sets you up for a more productive day. Make sure you include a healthy breakfast to give yourself energy for the rest of the day. And consider including something like a morning run, meditation, or yoga session to motivate you not to hit the snooze button in the morning.
Your routine might include personal responsibilities, like walking the dog or getting the kiddos to school. But don't forget some personal time that's just for you.
5. Manage stress levels and burnout
Burnout refers to extreme work-related exhaustion, and it can kill your productivity. The higher your stress levels, the more likely you will deal with burnout.
Here are some ways you can prevent burnout:
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating a healthy diet
- Following a regular exercise schedule
- Including daily time for hobbies and activities you enjoy (e.g., yoga, meditation, or video games)
- Building a support system in your work and personal lives
- Making time to de-stress and do nothing
A lot of this is about self-care and self-respect, and it's essential if you want to create consistent productivity.
Pro tip: Making your workdays easier, delegating, and automating tasks like note-taking can also help prevent burnout. For example, Anchor AI can take notes for you during meetings so that you can share ideas without stressing about writing down each point.
6. Work on one thing at a time
Avoid the urge to multitask, even if you think you've mastered it. Just 2.5% of people can multitask efficiently — the rest of us tend not to perform as well when switching between tasks. After all, your brain can only focus on one thing at a time.
Multitasking is like asking your brain to run to multiple obstacle courses at once instead of completing one after another. If you do two at once, you'll be running between the courses every few obstacles and using more energy than if you did one at a time.
7. Eliminate bad habits
Identify your bad habits and make a plan to stop them. This doesn't mean deleting your social media accounts, canceling your streaming subscriptions, and living like a monk. Instead, it's about being intentional with your time and quitting the habits that hold you back.
When you identify a habit that you want to stop, set limits that gradually lower your time spent engaging with the activity. Start with a small adjustment, reducing your time by about 25% and continue every week or two until it reaches an acceptable level or is completely eliminated. It’s often best to work with one habit at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed by changing too much at once.
Look at how you spend your time each day and cut back on the things that don't benefit your life. For example, do you spend hours on social media every day? If so, consider cutting back to the recommended 30 minutes per day to improve your mental health and free up time.
8. Maintain energy levels with good habits
You need the energy to focus on your work and personal responsibilities every single day. We've mentioned several good habits that can help you maintain your energy levels. Pick at least one of these habits to get started:
- Get at least seven hours of sleep every night
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid burnout by making time for enjoyable activities
- Drink plenty of water (dehydration makes you tired)
These habits can help you build the foundation for a life with productive days along with more energy, less stress, and more time to spend on the things you love.
Break the cycle
Unproductive days tend to create a vicious cycle as task after task stacks up for the next day. Use these hacks to break the cycle, take control of your life, and enjoy your time like productive people everywhere.
One way to simplify your schedule is to get help taking notes during meetings. Anchor can help you capture everything that happens in meetings and lists action items. That way, you can focus your attention on the conversation at hand. Sign up for Anchor AI and get rid of unproductive meetings!