The Search for Unusual Productivity Tips
I'd probably improve my productivity simply by spending less time reading articles on how to improve my productivity. Most articles on the topic repeat familiar tips, such as taking breaks, saying no to meetings, and not multitasking. And tips like delegating appropriately and creating to-do lists are good advice, but it's advice that's been around for as long as work has been around.
So it caught my attention to see the suggestion to improve productivity by working less. This doesn't mean cutting a forty-hour workweek down to twenty, nice as that might be (assuming salary and benefits remain unchanged, of course). It means stopping short of so overloading your brain that you accomplish less and less. Good idea!
A variation of working less is to care less about your job. It's commendable to have such passion for your job that you give it your all, and then some. But if that “then some” wipes you out—and, furthermore, isn't noticed or appreciated by those who do the noticing and appreciating in your organization—a smidgeon less caring could actually improve your productivity.
On a practical level, if you use a to-do list, you might gain a productivity boost by organizing it in an unconventional way. One way, for example, is to follow a 1-3-5 rule. This rule acknowledges that you can't do it all by encouraging you to list one big thing, three medium things, and five small things. This approach seems much more realistic than listing only the biggies and then feeling overwhelmed because you can’t get to them all.
Speaking of to-do lists, one of my favorite productivity ideas is the not-to-do list: a list of things that you know from experience will clobber any productivity you might otherwise have achieved. This list might include such things as not being dragged into conversations with people you don't trust, not doing yourself what you could easily delegate, or not buying sweet munchies on the way in to work that you know will make you unproductively ravenous before lunch.
All kinds of external stimuli can have a productivity-boosting effect. Music is one, provided that you can listen to the music you like and not be distracted by the head-splitting cacophony that your teammate considers to be music. For some people, being surrounded by certain colors aids productivity, or certain scents, or being able to work in ergonomically appropriate workspaces. And don't get me started on how open-plan office designs impair productivity.
As to the view held by many time management gurus that you shouldn't check your email first thing in the morning, all I can say is, “Not I!” If I didn’t check my email first thing, I’d be so distracted wondering what’s in that inbox that my ability to concentrate—i.e., to be productive—would plummet. In any case, how can you wait till 11:00 to find out what your boss (or clients or teammates in other time zones) needed from you at 9:00? This tip goes on my to-ignore list.