3 Underrated Productivity Improvement Tools

All things equal, why are we able to focus some days better than others? Howcome we see a productivity improvement at certain times only?

It doesn’t make sense. You’re not being distracted and you’re trying to be productive, but your mind is simply cloudy. The conventional productivity tips aren’t working and you’re getting frustrated. Lucky for you, there is an answer.

Could there be more to productivity than writing a list and executing it? Could there be some indirect factors that have a much greater effect on our ability to focus on tasks than we realize?

The answer is yes.

Tools for Productivity Improvement

I’m going to be brave and say that the following indirect productivity boosters in aggregate have a more dramatic effect on productivity than the commonly cited tips.

1. The Big 3: Exercise – Sleep – Nutrition

The other day, I went for a run. I was astonished at what happened during the run. I had ideas – good ideas – and lots of them. Unfortunately, I forgot most of them because I couldn’t write them down in the middle of a run.J

Maybe it was because of how lethargic I felt – physically and mentally – before the run, but on that run I became a true believer in what exercise can do for our minds.  I had as many ideas in that hour as in the past several days. In addition, I was extremely productive following the run.

But this isn’t some theory of mine – research shows that exercise increases productivity.

Is this knowledge enough? It wasn’t for me. Sometimes you won’t believe something until you can see real results in your own life. That’s just what happens to skeptical minds in a world full of snake-oil.

If you paid attention to how your exercise habits correlate with your productivity, I believe you too would come to believe in the power of exercise for mental health and the ensuing productivity boost. There is no better way to “supercharge” your mind (ok, maybe caffeine).

Sleep falls into the same category of making your mind (and body) healthier and alert. Did you know that sleep plays an integral role in learning and memory retention?How are you going to get things done if you’re forgetting what you need to do?

As for nutrition, the Internal Labour Organization (based in Geneva, Switzerland) stated in 2005 that poor nutrition was responsible for a loss of up to 20% in productivity in countries around the world.

Exercise, sleep, and nutrition can make or break your productivity. Sure, it’s possible to be healthy and unproductive, but the fact remains that being healthy enables us to be productive in the first place.

2. Walk Away

Have you ever been very frustrated with a problem while working? How did that affect your ability to perform?

Frustration is an emotion, and strong emotions can dramatically affect our ability to focus – one of the pillars of productivity. It isn’t any different than a nervous teenage boy fumbling over his words when he asks the pretty girl to the dance. Emotions cloud the mind.

I just experienced this with Microsoft Word. I could not find the H3 heading in the usual place and I started searching. I didn’t find it in the first ten places I looked – and while I have a receding hairline – I still wanted to pull my hair out. So I walked away.

I came back calm, with a determined problem-solving mindset. Instead of just “looking around” frustrated, I focused and solved the problem within a minute.

If you’re at work and frustrated, I recommend switching over to a different project until you can cool down. If you can’t escape that project, excuse yourself to the bathroom. If that is not an option, you’re doomed try to “refresh your mind” and tackle the issue from a different angle.

Walking away is more of a productivity saver than booster. If you let yourself get frustrated, you could negatively impact your productivity for the rest of the day! Don’t let it happen.

3. Separate Planning and Executing

Segregating planning and executing leads to productivity improvement. They require different mental tools. I’m sure you’ve been there before, tearing through a list you made because you’re “in the zone.” If you had to stop and plan the next 4 steps, you could lose that momentum or get distracted easily.

People plan ahead for vacations because they want to focus on executing (i.e. tanning on the beach – a difficult operation if you have fair skin). It’s comforting to know that you have a place to sleep when you visit Japan for the first time – so you make reservations. In the same way, it is helpful to know what you expect of yourself the next day – so you make a checklist the night before.

Now Imagine. . .

It’s 9 PM. You just finished a bleak day and you want tomorrow to be different. So. . .

You prepare a checklist of 12 items to accomplish the next day.

You get a big glass of water and a large carrot for a pre-bed snack.

You hit the sheets at 11 PM.

7 AM arrives and you spring out of bed (carrot energy?). You proceed to fix a healthy breakfast of white bread slathered with margarine yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs, and water/tea/coffee.

You head to work in a fantastic mood – full of caffeine and/or legitimate energy. You begin to work through your list and enter into the zone. You’re filing documents without looking, typing with one hand, and presenting a new idea to the board of directors all at the same time (actually don’t, as multi-tasking is unproductive).

As you’re flying through the checklist, you hit a snag. You’re wrestling with Microsoft Word’s list function again. It’s automatically creating lists where you don’t want them and you can’t seem to get it to do anything correctly!

As frustration builds, you remember reading this article and quickly switch to a different task on the list.

So you resume your superhuman productivity (and snack on baby carrots. . . you really like carrots, huh?) and you finish the list before lunch – with the exception of the MS Word project. At lunch, you eat salad and discuss this annoyance with your coworkers to vent a little bit. Jeff from accounting tells you about this article.

Upon return, you turn off the automatic list function and finish the project. You’re finished with your goals and have 3.5 hours left!

This example is fictional, but it isn’t unrealistic. Apply these tips immediately and relish the results.

Do you agree? What other tips do you think deliver great results?

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Stephen Guise writes thought-provoking text at Deep Existence – a personal development blog about deep thinking. Humor is included in most articles. There are rumors of a free digital book called Stress Management Redefined.


  1. Amy C. Teeple on the 1st August

    When I get a good idea during a run, I repeat it to myself a few times so I have a better time remembering it. An added bonus is that many times this method sparks additional ideas. This is a great savior from writer’s block!

    Great article. Thanks.

    • Stephen Guise on the 1st August

      Hey Amy,

      Ah, brilliant. I wish I would have done that with the best idea I had. I think I was overwhelmed with how many I had and figured I’d remember them or something. If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that good ideas need to be written down!

      Thanks for your insight Amy. I’ll definitely take your advice on the next run. 😀

  2. Kubulai on the 1st August

    I carry a 10 cent notebook in my hip pocket. Problem solved.

    • Stephen Guise on the 3rd August

      Good idea. I think I did that at one point. You can also use a smartphone to jot things down and keep track of your schedule.

  3. Andrew on the 2nd August

    I cam across these the other month:


    Love them! Don’t know what it is about water but I often have breakthrough ideas in the shower in the morning or after exercise – maybe it’s the constant stream of water hitting my head ;-p

    There’s nothing like leaving the shower clutching a piece of paper with the idea you’ve been waiting on for weeks –

    • Stephen Guise on the 3rd August

      That is a really great product idea! There is something about showering that gets the mind thinking. I suppose there isn’t much else to do but think and the water is somewhat calming.

  4. Chung Nguyen-Le on the 2nd August

    I completely agree with the exercise/ and always start my day with an early morning run. Its the perfect way to go through my plan for the day.

    I hear so many people say they are too busy and don’t have time to exercise – all I can say is that you don’t have time NOT to exercise. It makes you feel sharper, it gets the brain going, and most importantly, it starts momentum (http://cnlifeasitis.com/momentum-in-a-moment.html).

    • Stephen Guise on the 3rd August

      I with you on the exercise. Saying you don’t have time to exercise is no different than saying you don’t have time to take care of yourself. I don’t understand how some people believe exercise is optional!

  5. Amy Putkonen on the 4th August

    Whoa, some awesome ideas here – love the aquapad and these comments want me to take up running. Good thing I can pant and think at the same time? (I certainly know that I can’t pant and talk at the same time.) Very inspiring post!

    • Stephen Guise on the 4th August

      Running is great exercise (if your joints can take the pounding). I always feel amazing after running.

      I’m happy you liked the post Amy. Have fun on your run!

  6. Jeff on the 10th August

    I believe that 5 minutes a day of focused planning creates a tremendous time savings each week. You’re spot-on in saying that once you’re “in the zone” you don’t want to have to plan your next step. It’s a total momentum killer. Great post!

  7. Terry Byrne on the 10th August

    Sadly, I always have my phone on me. On the up side I use one of a couple of tools to take notes while exercising (or other stuff). The least hi tech is calling my phone and leaving a message. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just enough to remind you and bring your thought process back.

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