To all knowledge workers and desk criminals who want to increase their productivity: What would it be worth to you to be 150% more productive? Would you know how to improve productivity at work with some simple tactics?  It doesn't cost you any money, but you'll have to part with a lie you found to be true! So put the pen in action and take notes!🙂

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TL;DR How to improve productivity at work with some tactics sounds easy, but you have to manage your energy wisely.

What prevents us from being productive

You probably ended up here looking for ways to increase your productivity. You searched how to improve productivity at work with some tips. Maybe you’ve read other productivity articles that introduced you to 10, 20, or even 50 productivity tips.

Forget these tactics! They have their justification, but you won’t be able to implement them successfully yet. If you really want to increase your productivity, you don’t need tactics (not many of them), but a paradigm shift. What do I mean by that?

There is only one measure with which you can be much more productive in the future.

First of all: The measure I will introduce to you in a moment doesn’t work in all jobs. The decisive prerequisite is that you can largely manage your own time. In particular students, self-employed, freelancers and entrepreneurs can profit.

Who wants to profit, must recognize an untruth, which nearly all humans consider true, and leave behind itself. What am I talking about?

We have all internalized the fact that a full working day includes (at least) eight hours of work. Since our first day at school, we have been told that being productive means working hard.

That is wrong!

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The vast majority of professionals strive to work eight hours a day. They regularly experience that it is difficult for them to be focused and concentrated.

Again and again, they waste time because they…

  • constantly check your emails or the timeline on Facebook and Co
  • gossip with colleagues
  • are daydreaming
  • are being Angry about daydreaming
  • are being Angry about being angry

You get the point… 🙂

Please don’t get me wrong: Breaks are good, but wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have a guilty conscience during the breaks, because we think we should be working right now?

  • How often are we distracted at work by unpleasant thoughts about these unfinished private matters?
  • How much energy do we waste pretending superiors, colleagues and ourselves to be productive when we’re out of line?

If you have recognized yourself on these points, you may now think that it is only you who can be productive, while your colleagues can be productive for eight hours a day. You are wrong! Everyone is like you. The problem will not disappear one day by itself. Stop it! The truth can no longer be denied:

Nobody can work eight hours a day productively with his head!

The facts are condensing. There is growing evidence that people should work significantly less than eight hours a day with their heads. By this, I do not mean that it would be more pleasant if we worked less, but that we could even do more with less time! (Definitely in the medium and long term, maybe even tomorrow.) How is that supposed to work?

We’ll get to the details in a moment. First of all, I would like to prove my assertion.

There is a negative correlation between the number of hours worked per person in a European country and the contribution to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) from each hour worked. To put it plainly:

In countries where there is more work, less is done

10 Ways How to Improve Productivity at Work with a 150% Growth Rate - Workin Hour

The productivity of a country increases with decreasing working hours | The figures (source of the figures) date from 2005.

It is simply not true that we are more productive when we work more. The opposite is the case:

The more we work, the lower our productivity.

This realization is not really new. As early as the 1980s, the well-known Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson found out that high performers from a wide variety of disciplines can work a maximum of four hours a day [s]. More is simply not possible.

There are dozens of examples of ultra-successful people who have achieved a lot with little time:

  • Nobel Prize winner James Watson was known for working less than his colleagues to play tennis and meet up with girls instead.
  • Charles Darwin, perhaps the most successful scientist ever, didn’t write three hours a day and still wrote 19 books (and countless letters).
  • The mathematician Henri Poincaré brought it up to four hours a day.
  • Thomas Mann, one of the most important storytellers of the 20th century, wrote only four to five hours a day.
  • Charles Dickens: 5 hours.

If you now think they were all geniuses who just didn’t have to work long, you’re wrong! Many of them had tried to work longer, but their results deteriorated.

By the way: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang describes many other examples in his highly recommended book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (*)

More and more innovative companies allow less to work - with full salary!

There are two different models:

  • 5 days per week à 5-6 hours (total 25 to 30 hours)
  • 4 days per week à 8-10 hours (32 to 40 hours total)

Here, the models of a total of eight companies, are presented in detail. (German)

Professor Morten Hansen (a management theorist) expresses it as follows:

We have to get away from the false conviction that performance has something to do with the amount of work.Click To Tweet

Every habit is different

There are simple habits, such as putting cutlery on an empty plate after a meal, and there are more complicated habits, such as parking a car backward.

Some habits are performed several times an hour, while others occur only once a day or less.

How to Change the Habit You Feel Bad About (4 Steps) - green grass near the gray road

Why do you do more with less work?

Man is not a machine. Permanent productivity is a multidimensional problem, which is unfortunately all too often considered one-dimensionally. We believe that more time would automatically mean more productivity, but that is wrong!

Of course, if we only had one day available, we should make the most of the 24 hours. We could recover in the days after that. However, if every working day is followed by another working day, it no longer works.

Stephen Covey’s story about the sawyer shows what it’s all about:

A walker passes a man who is cutting up a tree. The saw is sawing and sawing and sawing. The walker immediately sees that the saw is blunt. He speaks to the saw:

“Your saw is a mess!”

Then the sawyer:

“Yes, I know, but I have to finish and I don’t have time to sharpen the saw!”

For me, the story of the sawyer doesn’t go far enough. We need the time off not only to recover, i.e. to maintain the status quo but also to develop further.

In a week off, our sawyer could develop a chainsaw that could help him significantly increase his future productivity. The best ideas come to us not during working hours, but while we are busy with something completely different.

We can use every minute of our time for just one activity. For each minute that we work longer, we miss that minute in a different place.

According to a study, people over 40 should not work more than 25 hours a week in order not to lose cognitive performance. To put it in a nutshell: at a certain age, too much work makes you stupid. (The study is controversial because it lumped all the people into one pot. The 25-hour limit probably does not apply to all occupations.)

Many people believe that productivity and creativity are something like character traits. A person is either productive or creative or he is not. That’s not true!

Creativity and productivity are the same for everyone – provided the conditions are right. The worst conceivable place for creative ideas is the office. The worst conceivable condition is coercion. If we only work, we have no more creative ideas. Our productivity collapses. A vicious circle.

The 8-hour working day is an outdated relic from times when people still worked mainly with hands and feet. Studies have shown that productivity for light physical work only drops from around 50 hours a week, i.e. the 8-hour working day fitted in at that time.

Today, the traditional 8-hour working day is often only maintained because people have always worked eight hours a day and/or because most other people also work eight hours a day.

So just go home two to three hours earlier and enjoy your free time? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

As I said, we have internalized the 8-hour working day, i.e. we have adapted our working habits to it. Those who want to work only 5 to 6 hours a day from now on, without having done less at the end of the day, have to relearn a few things.

The whole thing is not witchcraft – and it’s worth it! (In the companies mentioned above, the switch to a 6-hour workday or 4-day week only worked because the corresponding processes were adopted.

Anyone who wants to do the work from eight hours to five to six hours has to concentrate and focus better. To achieve this, it is no longer necessary to make an effort but to take forward-looking measures that act as levers on productivity. Motto:

“Work smart, not hard!

  • Maximizing the energy available for work
  • Avoid distractions in advance
  • Optimal use of recovery breaks
  • Increase motivation and determination
  • Work-life integration

Work-Life-Integration instead of Work-Life-Balance

Work-Life-Balance is a balanced state in which job and private life are in harmony but separated from each other: There is a large time block of work per working day.

In work-life integration, job and private life are intertwined. There is no longer a single time block of work per day, but any number of blocks that can be interrupted by private blocks in which, for example, children can be picked up from school, shopping is done, playing sports or having a longer siesta.

The whole thing has advantages and disadvantages, of course. One advantage of work-life integration is that you can use dead times in your professional and private life.

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9 tactics to increase productivity

Only now that we have discarded the belief that “a lot of work helps a lot” does it make sense to talk about tactics to increase productivity (productivity hacks).

9 Ways How to Improve Productivity at Work with a 150% Growth Rate - selective focus photography of Productivity printed book

#1 | Care for good eustress through standing work!

There is good stress (Eustress) and bad stress (Disstress). While the latter reduces productivity, eustress has a positive effect. The easiest and best way to use eustress is to work standing up. A study of call center employees found that the productivity of standing employees was 45% higher. The results of another study suggest up to 20% higher mental performance when working standing.

#2 |Sleep late!

Those who reduce their daily working time by a few hours should use part of this time to sleep more. Those who indulge in healthy sleep in sufficient quantities benefit several times over.

On the one hand, you are more concentrated in a well-rested state and less prone to procrastination, and on the other hand, you become less ill, which has a strong positive effect on long-term productivity. (One of the reasons why you procrastinate less when you are well-rested is that you need willpower in order not to procrastinate, and exhausted willpower is regenerated during sleep.)

#3 | Don't let digital distractions happen in the first place!

Most people would be surprised if they knew how much precious time they lose to digital distractions like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Co. Several hours a day is not uncommon, but the rule.

According to a study, it gets even worse because our brain performance is significantly reduced whenever our smartphone is within range.

(The cause is not some radiation. The mechanism works as follows: Unconscious processes in the brain permanently suppress the impulse to pick up the smartphone and play around with it. These processes consume part of the brain’s resources.)

There is a solution: The brain is not interested in the smartphone itself, but in the seductive apps and websites we can access it. With the help of apps like Stay Focused, these apps and websites can be temporarily blocked. This means that more brain resources are available for the current task, which significantly increases productivity.

(On the PC/Mac, tempting websites can be blocked with the Freedom tool.)

#4 | Don't leave breaks to chance!

Knowing that regular breaks are useful and actually taking regular breaks are two pairs of shoes. Often we do not take a break, especially in the moments when we need it most.

The solution: Plan breaks from the outset, for example with the Pomodoro technique.

#5 |Combine stress reduction, exercise, and creativity!

As I said before, the office is the worst imaginable place for creative ideas. The office is also a “bad” place in the sense that you sit there far too much.

The solution: Creative walks in the woods, where you talk to yourself aloud about a pre-determined topic or problem. It’s best to take a dictation machine with you so that you don’t forget your ideas.

I personally always(!) think of more useful things in the forest in an hour than in a whole week in front of the computer. I also reduce stress and do something for my health.

#6 | Never work without a goal in your head!

The second way in Stephen Covey’s world bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (*) is “Having the end in mind from the beginning”. In other words:

Never work without a goal.

The goal should not (only) be on a sheet of paper but in your own head. One should visualize the goal, i.e. play through the path to the goal in concrete thoughts.

One method that has been proven to work is the so-called WOOP technique by Gabriele Oettingen from the book Rethinking Positive Thinking. (*)

The WOOP technology

The effectiveness of the WOOP technique is due to the fact that it does not only deal with the desirable objectives, but also with possible obstacles and with a concrete plan for the achievement of the objectives.

The WOOP technique consists of a total of 4 steps, which must be performed in the correct order:

Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan

Wish: What do I really want? The wish should be in the realm of possibility, but it should also be a challenge. A wish could be, for example, to write a book within three months.

Outcome/Result: In this step, you imagine the result in its full splendor before your mind’s eye. How does it feel to hold the finished book in your hands? How does it feel to be praised by others? This step is about creating as positive a feeling as possible. It must feel really good. Motivation is a purely emotional matter.

Obstacle: This step is about imagining the obstacles that lie between the actual and desired state as precisely and in as much detail as possible. This is about finding the true core of the problem. Recognizing the obstacles in combination with the desire will change one’s perception of the situation. The process is called “mental contrasting”. In terms of writing, for example, the obstacle could be to remove certain distractions.

Plan: Finally you have to develop a if … then …-plan, with which the biggest obstacles can be avoided.

You should go through these four steps again and again. In this way you get a realistic view of your own goals and opportunities and the motivation you need to achieve them.

I’m not a big fan of filling every dead time with work, but the WOOP technique is an exception. Using waiting times to visualize is a good idea.

#7 | Automate recurring tasks!

If you save just one minute three times a day, you’ll save more than an entire working day over the year. Conversely, it’s worth spending up to one working day setting up an automation that saves you three minutes a day.

Of course, you first have to find out which automatable routine tasks you regularly perform. It is best to keep a task diary for two weeks.

#8 | Use a NOT-To-Do list!

The sense and function of a to-do list should be familiar to most people. What most people don’t know, let alone use, is a NOT-To-Do list. Instead of things you want to do, it contains all the things you don’t want to do (anymore). For example: call Facebook, snack sweets while you work, etc.

Having these things on a NOT-To-Do list makes it easy not to do them.

# 9 | Use time management methods!

Consider using time management methods such as the Eisenhower method, ABC analysis or Pomodoro technique. You will find an overview of the most important time management techniques in this overview article on the subject of time management.


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