7 tips to bring your productivity to the next level

Elle Kaplan, Contributor
David Ramos | Getty Images

You want to make the most of your time. The most successful people you admire always seem to know exactly what to do and when. How can you reach this state of optimum productivity?

Whether you find yourself in a constant rush to complete the day's tasks, have a habit of re-tracing your steps, or just feel like there's something else you could be doing to improve your overall work flow, take a look at these seven tips. They will be sure to give you the tools you need to take on the challenges of the day with renewed vigor and efficiency.

1. Understand the art of the to-do list

The tried-and-true method of recording the day's tasks on a small paper card remains an essential tool of many of the world's most successful business people. Shivani Siroya, CEO of Tala, an innovative microloan startup, writes: "I've figured out how to make all these digital systems work for me, but I have to admit, at the end of the day, a list on paper still feels the most useful."

Try adhering to the 1-3-5 rule, used by the COO of The Muse, Alex Cavoulacos. Narrow your tasks down to nine items: one big one, three medium ones, and five smaller ones.

As you accomplish your tasks, including the smaller ones, cross them out. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Write time estimates beside the medium and smaller tasks to better pace yourself. Also, circle any tasks if you've begun them but need to finish later.

If you have not completed your to-do list within a day or two, throw it away, even if that means rewriting some tasks on a new card. This small action will keep you focused on your priorities.

Don't be in a rush to write your to-do list. Careful planning saves time in the long-run. Remember that the final goal you've imagined will never appear all at once. Focus on completing each step, trusting in the larger outcome.

This is how Tesla CEO Elon Musk stays productive
This is how Tesla CEO Elon Musk stays productive

2. Know when to say "no"

"Every time you say 'yes' to something you don't want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be used up, burned up, a smoke signal to the future saying, 'I did it again,'" says James Altucher, author of "Choose Yourself."

Don't just know your priorities, protect them. Saying "no" to anything that is not in line with what you really want is essential. Often, if you are feeling unproductive, it's because you weren't working on a central task in the first place.

3. And when to say "yes"

"Without an open-minded mind, you can never be a great success." —Martha Stewart

While saying "no" will allow you to focus all of your energy on your priorities, there will always be stages in your career when being open to new ideas is important for fine-tuning or upgrading them. Many successful and innovative marketing campaigns have been developed with the principle of 'no bad idea'. So, while you need to limit distractions in your work life, an openness to creative solutions is a tool worth holding on to.

4. Keep a daily journal

Successful vlogger Casey Neistat has kept a daily journal going for many years. If you haven't journaled recently, you may remember it as an idle activity, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Some of history's most successful women and men have kept a daily journal and the reasons behind it are clear. The act of writing clarifies and articulates your thoughts. Hidden solutions will present themselves. Even taking the time to describe distractions will help you to overcome them.

Don't know what to write? Set a timer for five minutes and free write. You'll soon find yourself being drawn to what's most important to you.

5. "Get started"

Niki Papadopoulos, senior editor at Penguin Random House, describes the learning experience of pitching ideas to her editor. "My editor always says: 'Okay, well, try writing it then.' In other words, she means 'Get started.' She usually says this right after you explain some big sweeping idea you have for a book or a chapter or an article."

While you should never neglect planning, once you have an idea that you're interested in, begin however you can. Productive people don't just theorize, they take action.

How to be more productive
How to be more productive

6. Separate work life from home life

Try to avoid spending time at work working on your outside interests or anticipating what you'll do later. Likewise, don't bring your work back home. Your outside life should keep you energized to perform as well as you can when you're at work. In most cases, if you are productive at work, you won't have to use your home time to fill in the gaps.

Learn to unplug at home. Research shows that you will be more relaxed and creative. This is good for you, whether you are at home or at work.

7. Learn about learning

In our fast-paced, technology driven society, adaptability is becoming a more and more important trait for success. Productivity depends on our smart utilization of technology for efficiency.

The best way to prepare yourself for change is to equip your brain with meta-learning tools. Read books and blogs on ways to simplify and develop your approach. Studying speed-reading and memorization with mnemonics will upgrade your productivity for almost any task you face.

Use these seven tips to upgrade your productivity level. If you strive to think clearly, be aware of your choices and priorities, and stay smart about organization, you will be bound to succeed.

Elle Kaplan is the founder and CEO of LexION Capital, a fiduciary wealth management firm in New York City serving high-net-worth individuals. She is also the Chief Investment Officer at LexION Alpha, her systematic hedge fund. It is one of the only women-owned and run hedge funds in the nation.

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