A Guide to Increasing Your Productivity

Productivity Image

Let me start by saying that I am in no way a productivity guru or life coach (I’m a Lead QA Engineer).  What follows is a blog post about the steps I took to make myself more productive and the resulting benefits I found in my role as a QA Lead and personally.

This shouldn’t be used as a complete guide to being the most productive you can be. This is to start you on the journey, not get you across the finish line. The details of my productivity journey are what worked for me and may not be what works for you. But the ideas or framework might help you achieve your goals, which should make you feel happier in your work and personal life. Now, with all that out of the way…

Background

I, like I presume most people, often felt like I wasn’t doing enough to make the most out of my time. I’d have all these plans and ideas, and instead of acting on them I’d come home from work, sit in front of the TV and watch some awful procedural TV show about a young female detective/doctor/vampire and her older male unconventional author/consulting detective/literally The Devil (that one I never watched because the premise seemed too ridiculous) or play entirely too many video games.

For me, these unmet goals eventually turned from worries into full-blown anxiety.  Eventually, I decided that I had finally had enough of feeling like this and set about trying to improve my life so that when I was watching the aforementioned  TV shows it didn’t feel like such a waste…though if we’re being honest (this is a safe space), I should just cut them out altogether, but we all have our vices. You’ll never take my Switch though. You’ll have to pull it from my cold dead hands.

Productivity & Routines

The first thing I did when I decided to try and improve how I was utilising my time was to come up with a morning and evening routine, it looked something like this:

Morning

  • Wake at 03:50
  • Make a coffee
  • Do an hour personal development work
  • Take our dog on a long walk
  • Workout for 25 minutes
  • Eat something healthy
  • Shower
  • Leave the house
  • Arrive in work for 08:00

Evening

  • Take our dog on a shorter walk
  • Make the lunches for the next day
  • Tidy kitchen, wash and put away evening dishes
  • Chill with my wife
  • In bed for 20:00
  • Read on kindle for 30 minutes
  • Sleep

Now, I know that a lot of people will see the time I get out of bed and probably dismiss the rest of the content in this blog post. But as I said in the beginning, what works for me might not work for you. I like to get up at that time because I can get things done at that time. You, on the other hand, might not start your day until 10:00am. The contents of the above aren’t the thing to focus on, the fact that there is a routine is.

I do the above pretty much every day, even on weekends and holidays. Creating a plan and sticking to it is the primary way to achieve your goals.

Another thing, the number of activities in my routine may seem like a lot, but when you really look at it, it’s not that much. For instance, part of my routine is going to and getting out of bed and, unless you’re the undead, those are things you already do. What’s probably different from you and me, however, is I try to make sure I do both at the same time every day.

If you choose to do this, make sure your routine is small and focused at the start. Making it too big will almost ensure that you’ll miss things daily and make you feel rubbish. You can and should add to it over time. But for now, start small.

Habit tracking

What I did next was then take the above routine and add the individual elements of it to a habit tracking app. There are numerous out there but if you have an iPhone, I personally like Productive. It’s easy to use, and I like the aesthetics. But whatever you use, app, pen and paper, diary, calendar etc. the point is to write each part of your routine down and mark them off as you do them. For me, this turned my daily habits from something I should do to something I wanted to do to keep my streak going. Doing this allowed me to see how much progress I was making and gave me a shot of dopamine every time I checked one-off.

Forgive yourself

By now, you should have a morning and evening routine noted down and added to a habit tracking app of your choice. The next step is to start checking off those habits but wait, oh no….you missed one because you didn’t get to bed until late or you were feeling under the weather.

That’s okay.

There are going to be days when you can’t stick to the letter of your routine due to various reasons.

Say it with me now.

That’s okay.

When I started thinking about this stuff, I wasn’t trying to replace the anxiety of not improving myself with the stress of not improving myself enough. This isn’t about creating something that you must stick to every day. It’s about creating a new normal for yourself. If you miss going to bed on time one day, try the next day. It’s that simple. And trust me, before long you’ll find yourself doing your routine without even thinking about it.

The Benefits

So, I’ve answered the reason that I began this journey, what about the results? As I said, this is the beginning of my productivity journey. Still, I already see the positives from the lifestyle change. I feel healthier, I’ve targeted and completed some professional development courses, and my dog is happier than ever. I’m living proof that making a small change to how you approach your goals can help you achieve them. And it is not limited to purely personal gains. 

Before, like many of us, I would almost fall into work, have several cups of coffee, slowly wake up and eventually start my day some 45-60 minutes after arriving (it’s a safe place, be honest with yourself). Now however I’m ready to go before I even set foot in the office. By creating a plan and sticking to it, I arrive at work ready to start my day and help our team in delivering quality software. I’ve also begun to apply a similar system to my team members to ensure that they achieve their professional goals and progress in their career as QA Analysts.

Some Final Thoughts on Productivity

Like I said above, this isn’t the end of your productivity journey but the beginning. There are many other things that you can and should do that I’ll aim to cover in later blogs, such as how important exercise and mindfulness are in being productive and how to set short term and long term goals. But I’m conscious not to fire too much at once. Plus I’m still working on these things personally so there would be no point in me sharing something that I haven’t figured out myself first. Other than that, I’m currently reading Get Things Done by David Allen, and I enjoy watching Matt D’Avella and Ali Abdaal on the YouTube to continually improve my productivity.

Speaking about YouTube, it’s very easy to get dissuaded by looking at the various personalities on there or Instagram and feeling like other people have their life together more than you. Don’t. You’re not competing with them. They might as well not exist. The only person you’re competing with is you. It’s that simple.

Before I go, if you take one thing from all of this, it should be this: Go to bed and get up at the same time every single day. And get up as soon as you wake up. Don’t snooze your phone. Snooze is the devil. Wake up, get up and start your day.

Finally (no really this time), I’ll leave you with this: No amount of routines or habit tracking or whatever is going to help you be the best you unless you have the desire to change. You have to want to do this. If you don’t, you’ll give up. But if you really do want to change, I hope the above has helped in a small way.

Peace and love,

Ally