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Finding your own Productivity


Productivity, the twelve-letter word PhD students the world over find all too familiar. With countless books, apps, social media influencers, and software like Teams promising us “the secret to boosting your productivity!” – and not forgetting having a thesis to write – it’s not surprising we have productivity on the brain. Virtually all of us have ever-growing responsibilities and only so many hours in the day, so how can we be more productive?

By Riss Muller.

Productivity is dependent on many variables but getting the most out of yourself boils down to one core theme which will determine the success of any “hack”. Knowing yourself.

What hours of the day do you prefer to work? Do you like sitting at a desk or somewhere else? Is a social or environment your thing or a silent one? Everyone will answer these differently, for me its 10am-6pm, the floor or a standing desk, and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones in a social area so I can body-double without distraction. The more you know your preferences, the more effectively you’ll use your time. With this in mind, let’s go through some tips (with proven results!) on how to cultivate and enhance productivity. 

Tip 1 – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Let’s face it, the work we do as researchers, even just checking emails, is high intensity. It requires a lot of mental energy – critical thinking, problem solving, data analysis, networking – so it’s important to reduce your energy expenditure elsewhere.  This could be decluttering the area immediately around you, having a dedicated workspace, or finding physical stillness whilst working. Whatever it is, the aim is to conserve your energy reservoir by shutting off the leaky faucets.  Next, reuse anything you’ve found helpful in the past. Maybe you have a playlist that helps you focus or enjoy using “do not disturb” mode on your phone. If it helped, keep doing it. Lastly, recycle tips other people find helpful. The trick here isn’t to just simply copy but to alter things so they best suit you.

Tip 2 – Be Deliberate

Do you often find yourself quickly switching between tasks or trying to do everything at once? Me too. Similar to mindfulness, the idea is to enter and exit not only each task but each workday with intention and awareness. It takes some practice, but studies have shown multitasking makes us more susceptible to environmental distraction, reduces the brain’s processing capacity reducing efficiency, and that being mindful increases productivity and general wellbeing.  It’s a win-win situation.

Image credit: S Migaj.

Tip 3 – Reconsider the to-do list

Reminders and to-do lists are undeniably helpful, after all, who can remember everything on their calendar? But sometimes an arm-length list of tasks can lead to overwhelm and procrastination. The trick? At the end of the workday, write your list for the following day. Then, when you’re ready to start working (and, ideally, have followed Tip 1), don’t look at it. Trust yourself, you’ll know what’s most urgent. And if you don’t, the list is always there.

Tip 4 – Take Breaks (that’s right, plural)

Taking a break can often feel like a waste of time but studies show that short occasional breaks aid focus, creative problem solving, and long-term planning upon returning to work. Whilst it feels unproductive, breaks help in the long run. To reap the rewards, deliberately separate yourself from your work, for 10-15 minutes, a few times a day. Get coffee with a friend, have a snack, play with a pet – get your mind off work. Want to make your break even more effective? Walk. Walking has been shown to increase productivity in several different studies, especially in green spaces (fortunately, Warwick has plenty).

Productivity isn’t just about doing the most. It’s also doing things like learning our workstyles, adapting our environment, and looking after ourselves. So, tomorrow morning when you’re facing down the to-do list, why not give something on here a try? What do you have to lose?


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