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According to CoSchedule’s Better Blogger survey, their audiences’ biggest challenges are:

  • 22% say it’s finding time to create content.
  • 20% say it’s planning content.
  • 16% say it’s creating really good content.
  • 11% say it’s creating consistent content.
  • 6% say it’s meeting blogging goals.
  • 6% say it’s proving blogging success.
  • 4% say it’s using new content formats.
  • 4% say it’s relying on team members to get things done.

It is interesting to note here that 7 out of the above 8 primary challenges are things that can be achieved if consistently high personal productivity is introduced in the mix.

Now I know it’s difficult to be productive all the time. It’s not a switch that can wishfully be toggled on or off. As a blogger myself, these are problems that even I face and know how annoying they can get when they regularly stop me from achieving my goals.

But I can’t afford to give up and neither can you.

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Fortunately, science and professional experience over the year has done us a solid by coming up with proven productivity tips that can help any person become more efficient and consistent at their work. All it requires is some self control and discipline.

With that in mind, here is a countdown to six of the best life tips that will boost your personal productivity (oh, and I’ve included some bonus life tips with each point so check them out, too)!

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6. Drop That Smartphone, Now

It’s interesting to know that director Christopher Nolan, who has helmed movies like Inception, Interstellar, and the Dark Knight Trilogy, does not own a smartphone because he feels that it distracts him. And research agrees with him.

The smartphone stress emanates from the need to constantly check your phone for any notifications or messages that people might send you.

The reason for such behavior is a social phenomena called the fear of missing out (FOMO). We fear that we might lose out on so many important social happenings and events and the company of friends around us. Since a smartphone is the quickest way to get access to such information, we spend time obsessively checking every “bleep” or “tin tin”, with social media fueling the angst even more.

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Professor Larry Rosen, from California State University, talks about a small experiment he conducted on this obsessiveness. He asked 100 of his students to install a custom app which would check how many times they unlocked their phones and the usage statistics, during their final exam week. What he found was quite astonishing.

Students unlocked the phone, on an average, 60 times a day for a total of 200 minutes. Which roughly translates to 3.3 minutes usage for three times an hour every day. Just enough time to check their social media (this, when they should be studying for the final exam).

In fact, after checking an email, it takes your mind 64 seconds to get back to whatever it is you were doing earlier.

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Now since we’re all different, I’m not going to share generic pointers to help you not check your phone constantly. Instead I’ll share tactics that have worked for me and it would be swell if you shared some of yours in the comments, too.

Here they are:

  • I’ve uninstalled all social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. I now only have WhatsApp (with all notification sounds and popups disabled).
  • I’ve made it a rule to never use my phone while driving. Luckily, in the last four months, I’ve just received two calls that actually deserved my immediate attention.
  • When I’m working, I keep my phone on vibration mode (I guess we all do).
  • I go on ‘no smartphone check’ marathons where I don’t check my phone for an hour, three to four times a day (this has helped me the most).
  • I don’t keep my phone in my hands or at the desk. It’s always where I can’t see it, which is mostly my pocket or my backpack.
Takeaway: Your smartphones are making you more stressed and hence, more incompetent at your job. Practice rigorous discipline to beat this addiction.
Bonus life tip: Play more video games because they improve reflexes, reasoning, problem solving, memory, multi-tasking, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and a lot more.

5. Save Time By Automating Routine Tasks

Tim Ferris, author of the highly successful blog fourhourworkweek.com deems automation as one of the pillars of his ground-breaking book The 4-Hour WorkWeek. In it, he describes how his preferred automation function is fulfilled by outsourcing. He outsources all non-work tasks to his virtual assistants who then get them done while Tim can concentrate on major work-related tasks.

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To add to the above—Randall Munroe, mathematician and creator of the webcomic XKCD—drew a cartoon which details how much time would you save if you learned how to automate routine work:

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So to lend some perspective from a blogger’s point of view, find tools and processes that enable automatic completion of repetitive tasks so that you can get the time to concentrate on your actual work objectives:

  • Send bulk emails with GetResponse.
  • Schedule content, blog posts, and social media with CoSchedule.
  • Automatically share updates and blogs with Buffer and CoSchedule.
  • Come up with ideas and topics in the beginning of every month with HubSpot Topic Generator (use this along with CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to review and create better headlines).
  • Use Keyboard shortcuts. Brainscape, a Web and Mobile study platform, did an interesting calculation and found that a person can save almost 8 complete days in an year if they didn’t have to switch one hand between a keyboard and a mouse.
  • Create Google Alerts around topics that you care about so that you’re automatically notified about any new updates related to them. Personally, I use Google Alerts to keep track of places where I’ve just been mentioned. I can then immediately head over to that community/comment/post and engage with the audience.

Like above, there are hundreds of tools that you can use to automate boring grunt work. Not only will this save time, it will help you stay productive by keeping your mind free of the clutter. In fact, you can even save up to 10+ hours a week if such menial tasks were off your hands.

Takeaway: Wherever possible, save time by using applications to automate repetitive tasks.
Bonus Life Tip: Listening to music can make boring tasks enjoyable and increase on-task concentration.

4. Visualizing Success Is Actually Counterproductive

We’ve all done it because we borrow some of that future “after completion of task satisfaction”, for right now. This positive feeling in turn motivates us more to actually get the job done. However, science says otherwise.

In their study “The motivating function of thinking about the future: Expectations versus fantasies”, researchers Oettingen and Mayer ran a group of tests around four scenarios to examine the effects of fantasizing a positive outcome on participants. They write:

As positive expectations reflect past successes, they signal that investment in the future will pay off. Positive fantasies, to the contrary, lead people to mentally enjoy the desired future in the here and now, and thus curb investment and future success.

This behavior stems psychologically from self-efficacy which refers to your trust in yourself capability to reach your goal.

So what’s happening? Basically once you’ve visualized that next blog post or that next profitable venture, your mind experiences some of that satisfaction and then tells your body to cool down. Your mental state becomes lethargic (of the goal having been achieved) as opposed to vigilant (of the goal has yet to be achieved).

In fact, sharing your goals with your friends makes it even likelier that you’re going to give up—a research study involving college students found that the participants’ commitment to complete goals wavered once they publicly shared it with their colleagues.  This happens because sharing goals triggers a “premature sense of of completeness”.

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So now onwards the name of the game is to just “zip it”:

Takeaway: Keep your goals to yourself. Expect a positive outcome but don’t visualize or fantasize about it. Actually make it happen.
Bonus life tip: Eye strain? Flex every muscle in your face and then hold. Relax. Repeat for a few more minutes. This muscle relaxation technique is called ‘Tense and Release’.

3. Don’t Stress Over ‘Originality’

The one problem that writers face regularly is how to come up with original hard hitting ideas and topics that will excite or astonish their users. Those who effortlessly get original ideas regularly are considered to be lucky or having a gift, but this could not be further than the truth.

Bloggers who get new ideas don’t just get them because they’re lucky but because they are experienced. Ideas and news have surrounded us left and right, and these bloggers just know how to connect different dots to make a completely new idea.

Remember—nothing is original.

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In his critically acclaimed book ‘Steal Like An Artist’, author Austin Kleon opines that:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

In fact, Josh shared the following illustration to explain simply good theft versus bad theft:

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So if you’re not supposed to force yourself to be original all the time, then how do you come up with original ideas in the long run that hook readers to your content and provide new valuable insights in your niche?

The answer is, you don’t. Originality is not a result of finding ideas but connecting dots.

Finding ideas stems from your knowledge of the field or subject that you write about. It is a result of theoretical learning but not practical application.

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Connecting dots, on the other hand, comes from experience in the field and seeing trends and things happen firsthand. The more you read and experience things, the greater you develop your ability to connect different things and build a new idea out of them (e.g. my comprehensive post on why you need eye-tracking testing for your website).

The core idea might not be original per se,* but how you present it is what makes it original.

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Blogger extraordinaire Maria Popova of BrainPickings.org sums it up best in her quote:

The idea that in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.

Takeaway: Read more and read wide. The more you read, talk to new people or experience new things, the better you’ll become at connecting pieces of information together to spawn an original idea.

Bonus Life Tip: You can remember lists of things more easily if you create a story or mental palace around them in your environment.

2. Stop Overanalyzing And Commit To A Decision

It’s no secret that in any environment that you reside in, there is an information overload. Starting with unrestricted access to the Internet to the number of same fruit juices, but different brand options, at the local grocery mart. So many options and decisions eventually immobilize the brain’s capability to take the effort to stick to a single decision as a result of analysis paralysis.

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Now as a blogger, I can totally relate to this when you’re stuck between deciding which task to be given more importance. Should I finish that blog post due tomorrow evening? Should I send this week’s email newsletter first? Should I set up and A/B test on the new landing page? The questions are countless, and not to mention that I haven’t yet gotten to the domestic and personal decisions that you have to make which, arguably, might affect your life more seriously.

To beat this conundrum, you have to practice to think less and do more. In a recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that fast learners don’t overthink. And why does this occur? Lead author of the study Danielle Bassett, replies:

Sometimes your brain can actually get in the way when the information is actually already in your motor memory. If you stop thinking so hard, then you actually perform better.

This is also the reason why children have a higher and faster learning rate because they don’t possess the high level cognitive process that adults have. Which means that a child is incapable to overthink and is instead concentrating on quick information intake and its dissemination.

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In an interview over at Barking Up The Wrong Tree, James Waters, ex Deputy Director of Scheduling at the White House and former NAVY Seal platoon commander reminisces:

Wherever possible avoid paralysis by analysis. I think analysis and data are super important. No matter what organization you’re working in you’ve got to get things right and know the data that backs it up. But too many organizations get paralyzed because they analyze for too long and they haven’t developed the instincts to make decisions. They end up postponing things in favor of more and more analysis. That’s frustrating for everyone in the organization. Being able to make decisions when you know you have imperfect data is so critical.

But how do you use this knowledge to commit to decisions?

Further into his post, author Eric Barker contacted Duke professor Dan Ariely, writer of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, to ask for his solution on taking critical decisions instantly. Dan advised that in such situations, the best thing is to look at the decision from an “outsider’s perspective”, in other words, “What would you do if you made the recommendation for another person?

This works because you give a recommendation dispassionately, minus your current emotional state. The decision in such a case is almost always a better one because we’re taking it from a distance.

So the next time you find yourself taking more than a minute to decide which is a better header image for your new post, just take the plunge and move on to the next thing.

Takeaway: Do not waste valuable working memory over analyzing decisions or options. Commit to a decision and then later on optimize, if the need arises.
Bonus Life Tip: If you don’t overthink about the future, you will get better at everything.

1. Just Smile (To Yourself)

Smile to yourself or even to others. I’m not saying you go out of your way to smile at everyone because people, on an average, can easily spot a fake smile.

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I’m not asking you to smile for or at someone. Think of it on the lines of a holistic approach. Smile generally when you’re listening to a song, or writing, or even while taking a bath. Radio and television writer Andy Rooney put it eloquently when he said:

If you smile when you are alone, then you really mean it.

Speaking from personal experience, smiling is the single most effective and powerful tool in my mental inventory to boost my personal productivity.

Smiling increases confidence level and helps generate and maintain positive emotions. These positive emotions then have a trickle down effect on your work given that you’ll become more positive about reaching your goals and not stress so much even when things don’t go your way. Research has also shown that smiling can release endorphins (natural pain reliever) and even serotonin (natural antidepressant).

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It is interesting to note that doctors have proven and recommend that you should strive for a Duchenne smile rather than a fake “Say Cheese” smile. The former is controlled by the limbic system (emotional center of the brain, hence the smile is triggered by a genuine emotion) and the latter is controlled by the motor cortex (the smile is asymmetrical and fake).

But sometimes, if the need arises, even faking a smile can lead to a better mood, lower your heart rate and facilitate faster cardiovascular stress recovery.

Even Will Ferrell nailed it as an adorable elf with his viral quote:

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But I have trouble forcing a real smile!

Well luckily, Marcia Purse from About Health, put together an amazing list just to help you smile. It involves:

  • Jump on the bed
  • Make faces at yourself in the mirror
  • Bake cookies
  • Dance
  • Find a playground and swing on the swingset (I find this one wonderful)
  • Look at your baby pictures
  • Hug someone you love
  • Take a walk in the sun—or the rain
  • Watch cartoons you loved as a kid
  • Imitate a celebrity—with exaggeration
  • Visit a pet store
  • Sing a happy song
  • Blow bubbles and watch them (works for me every time)
  • Watch children playing and laughing
  • Eat a bit of your favorite junk food—slowly, savoring it
Takeaway: Smiling is the single most powerful exercise you can do anywhere, anytime, and it will positively affect your mental and biophysical functions and increase your personal productivity.
Bonus Life Tip: Exercise. It can uplift your mood for up to 12 hours afterwards.

Finally, wrapping up with a tl;dr recap

  • Drop that smartphone. Now.
  • Save time by automating routine tasks.
  • Visualizing success is actually counterproductive.
  • Don’t stress over ‘originality’.
  • Stop overanalyzing and commit to a decision.
  • Just smile (to yourself).

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If you’re reading this then I’m sure you’re dying to share your own personal productivity tips too. Please, do share them with us in the comments below.