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Activity Versus Productivity: 7 New Ways to Become Efficient With Your Time

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Many of us are familiar with the maxim “Don’t mistake activity for productivity.” It refers to people who juggle multiple tasks, under the guise of staying busy all the time, without ever inching towards their goal. Their time is completely wasted in thinking about what to do next—leaving no time for the actual job at hand. To bring a renewed sense of productivity to your work life, I offer this list of my 7 proven ways to use your time more wisely, incorporating insights from the neuroscience of motivation to help you become more efficient and productive.

1. Prioritize Your Projects

Prioritization is not only about completing more tasks within a stipulated time frame; it also refers to eliminating unnecessary tasks. Planning and prioritizing offer clarity of thought when you feel like procrastinating. When backed by strong reasoning, prioritization empowers you to focus on the most important target, while shelving unimportant work for later. Neuroscientific research shows that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and planning, is activated when we prioritize tasks, leading to more efficient time management.

2. Know Yourself—and Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others

It’s up to each individual to discover their most productive time of the day. For some, early mornings bring a rush of energy, while for others, late evenings prove best for tasks that demand concentration and mental agility. This self-awareness relieves the confusion of how and when to engage in focused work, helping you make the most of your time. Neuroscience reveals that aligning tasks with your circadian rhythms can significantly enhance productivity and efficiency.Work as though you’re running your own race. Your thoughts and efforts should be focused on completing the task at hand—not getting bogged down by others’ expectations or worrying about how they will meet their own deadlines. Do away with the urge to seek validation or compare yourself to others, and pour that time and energy back into your own work. The results of your work will be better, and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary stress along the way.

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Why are you always running behind?

3. Make Time for Your Passions

A clear-cut timetable that balances work with play is imperative to striking the right work-life balance. Irrespective of the task, everyone should engage in hobbies and sports occasionally to bring variety, excitement, and rejuvenation into their lives. Good hobbies are effective stress-busters, so make space for them in your daily or weekly timetable. Not only does it give you something to look forward to, but you’ll be more relaxed and prepared to tackle the day when you return to work. Engaging in enjoyable activities can boost dopamine levels, enhancing motivation and productivity.

4. Unlock the Power of Saying “No”

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. While proving one’s competence at work is always a concern nagging at even the most accomplished of us, it’s important to be firm in setting realistic boundaries about what you can and can’t deliver. We all have our limits, and if you think you’re going to burnout from work stress, learning to say NO to extra assignments will save you in the long run. Rather than spreading yourself thin across a variety of projects, you can dedicate yourself to excelling with your most important ones. This approach helps maintain cognitive resources, making you more efficient and productive.

5. Resist the Urge to Multitask

Doing one thing at a time is the secret behind improved productivity. When we’re in a race against the clock, we’re all tempted to indulge in multitasking, hoping to complete several jobs within a stipulated time. But none of us deliver our best work this way. The lack of focus and concentration impairs the quality of our creativity, our decision making, and our results. Errors could even lead to repeat work, which defeats the whole point of saving time in the first place.If you have several items to focus on within the same day, try segmenting your work time into short, focused bursts. I use a more neuroscientific version of the Pomodoro Method when working with my clients who feel like they are not being as efficient. My enhanced version of this strategy, where you spend 25 minutes working and 5 resting, is not as simplistic as the original method. However, once you begin to understand how our brains actually work, my clients get tremendous results in a very quick time frame. The outcome is that you’re still focusing when it counts, but also giving yourself the freedom to jump between different tasks. This method helps manage cognitive load and enhances productivity.

A man running on a clock
How much longer are you going to chase the time and allow your productivity to dwindle?

6. Use Reminders to Stay Motivated

The clock is ticking, and with every passing moment, you should be moving closer to meeting your deadlines. When every second counts, it’s critical to stay motivated. Staying motivated will help you push yourself and inspire you to reach ever further to accomplish your goals.What motivates you? Write it down, and take a moment to review whenever you feel yourself flagging. You might even bring photos to your workplace that remind you of what you’re trying to achieve. Maybe it’s photos of your family, a gorgeous vacation destination, or an aspirational business card. Having a tangible reminder of what motivates you can provide that last burst of energy you need to cross the finish line. Neuroscience shows that visual and emotional cues can trigger dopamine release, enhancing motivation and productivity.

7. Be Honest About Your Progress

Did your work today bring you closer to your goals, or did you just have a busy day? Honest introspection should become a daily practice as you find out which productivity methods work best for you. Take a few moments at the end of each day to meditate on what went well and what didn’t. Consider taking notes so you can tweak your methods as you go along. This reflective practice engages the brain’s default mode network, which is crucial for self-assessment and planning, leading to more efficient time management. There’s much pleasure to be had in this time-bound journey called life, and it’s important to live each moment to the best of your ability. Discipline and repetition form the key to transforming your habits. I hope these tips help you enjoy more productive and fulfilling days.

Advanced Techniques to Boost Productivity Using Neuroscience

Implement Sensory Cues for Focus

An intriguing approach to enhancing productivity involves using sensory cues, such as a favorite drink, to signal to your brain that it’s time to concentrate. This technique operates on the principle of associative learning, where our brains link certain stimuli with specific responses. For instance, consistently drinking your favorite beverage during focus time can train your brain to enter a productive state more quickly.

Incorporate Physical Exercise

Incorporating physical exercise into your routine can increase neurogenesis, improving memory and cognitive flexibility, essential for productivity. Regular exercise has been shown to enhance brain function, reduce stress, and improve overall mental health, making it a powerful tool for boosting productivity.

Practice Meditation

Meditation is a potent, often overlooked productivity technique. Carving out as little as 10 minutes from your schedule to meditate can result in remarkable benefits for your cognitive function and overall productivity. Meditation helps clear your mind, enhance focus, and foster clear thinking, all of which are crucial for maintaining high productivity levels.

How Emotional Intelligence Improves Time Management Skills

Enhance Self-Awareness

Emotional intelligence (EI) involves the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions. By enhancing self-awareness, you can better manage your time by identifying when you are most productive and when you need breaks. This self-knowledge allows you to structure your day in a way that maximizes efficiency.

Improve Interpersonal Relationships

High EI helps improve interpersonal relationships, which can lead to more effective collaboration and communication. When team members understand and manage their emotions, they can work together more efficiently, reducing misunderstandings and conflicts that can waste time.

Boost Motivation

Emotional intelligence is closely linked to intrinsic motivation. By understanding what drives you and your team, you can set more meaningful goals and maintain high levels of motivation. This focus on intrinsic rewards can lead to sustained productivity and better time management.

Manage Stress Effectively

Effective stress management is a key component of emotional intelligence. By recognizing and addressing stressors, you can prevent burnout and maintain a steady level of productivity. Techniques such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises can help manage stress and improve overall time management.

Implementing Productivity Strategies

To truly boost your efficiency, it’s essential to implement these neuroscience-based strategies consistently. Start by assessing your current work habits and identifying areas for improvement. Gradually incorporate these techniques into your daily routine, allowing your brain to adapt and form new, more productive neural pathways.

Remember that productivity is not about constant activity, but rather about making meaningful progress towards your goals. By aligning your work habits with your brain’s natural tendencies and leveraging neuroscientific insights, you can significantly enhance your efficiency and achieve more in less time.As you apply these strategies, pay attention to how your brain responds and be willing to adjust your approach as needed. Everyone’s brain is unique, so what works best for you may differ slightly from others. The key is to remain consistent and patient as you develop new, more productive habits.

In Other Words

By embracing these neuroscience-based productivity techniques, you’ll not only boost your efficiency but also experience reduced stress and greater satisfaction in your work. Remember, the goal is not just to be busy, but to be productively engaged in activities that truly matter and move you closer to your objectives. When you have a solid understanding of the neuroscience of motivation, you can improve your time management skills, making you more productive and efficient in your daily tasks.

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Dr. Sydney Ceruto

A Pioneer in Neuroscience-Based Coaching

As the founder of MindLAB Neuroscience, Dr. Sydney Ceruto has been a leading force in integrating neuroscience into coaching and counseling for over two decades. With three master's degrees in psychology and two PhDs in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, she is widely considered a top expert in her field.

Harnessing the power of neuroscience-based coaching, Dr. Ceruto's innovative approach focuses on neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and neural pathway rewiring to foster lasting positive change in mental health.

Dr. Ceruto holds esteemed memberships in the Forbes Executive Council, Positive Performance Alliance, Wharton Executive Education Program, the International Society of Female Professionals, and executive writing positions for Alternatives Watch, Brainz Magazine, and TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.

Dr. Ceruto's accomplishments include:

  • The 2022 CREA Award.
  • A lead research position at NYU Steinhardt.
  • Volunteer work with Covenant House and the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI).

Her science-backed method of Neural Rewiring has successfully guided thousands of clients toward happier, more productive, and more resilient lives.