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Three unexpected ways to be more productive

Tips from a former Minister to increase your productivity and regain your motivation. You only need five minutes to get started today!

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Photo by Noel Nichols on Unsplash
Photo by Noel Nichols on Unsplash

By Sandra Naranjo Bautista

It’s 2021, by now you’ve earned your juggler’s badge! If you are unsure whether you are working from home or living at work, I’m with you.

Working remotely full-time while also home-schooling, taking care of the kids and household work hasn’t been easy. There’s hardly time to plan, to think or… to stop, even for a moment.

In this article, I share three tricks to increase your productivity and regain your motivation. To complement this blog, I’ve created a step-by-step guide for actions you can start taking today!

1. Do less

Let’s think for a moment about time as you would think about another scarce resource: money.

When you plan your budget, yearly or monthly, you decide how to spend your money given that you probably can’t afford everything you want (at least not yet). Money is scarce. Something similar happens with our time. We have to prioritize what we do given that there are only 24 hours a day. The problem is that we aren’t always as intentional about how we spend our time.

I’ve found that the more intentional you are at allocating your time, the more effective you are at your work. Start by planning your week and writing down the things you need to get done. I don’t always do it, but when I do it makes a difference. Downloading your intentions from your mind onto paper can be powerful.

Once you have your weekly priorities, use that to guide your daily activities. I like to plan my next day the night before. It helps me to reduce the anxiety of having too many things to do. My personal favorite is crossing out what I’ve done. The feeling of accomplishment increases your motivation, too.

A change that I’ve recently implemented and has worked out really well for me is Michael Hyatt’s big three. The idea is that you identify the three ‘big things’ you’ll do that week or day. When I first heard of it, it sounded impossible to reduce my list to only three, I had a lot more. However, in essence, this strategy forces you to prioritize the three most important things on your to-do list. Which is why it is effective. Even if you don’t do anything else, you would’ve already completed the most important tasks.

(You can download my notes from Hyatt’s book Free to Focus here).

2. Schedule an appointment with yourself

You need some time to work alone. No meetings, no interruptions AND no distractions. Yes, this includes your phone and social media. The only way to get things done is to have time to focus. Think of it as an appointment with yourself, add it to your calendar.

Different things have worked for me at different stages of my career. When I worked at the President’s office that was late at night. As a Minister, the best time was between 4 and 7 am. It wasn’t ideal, but it allowed me to have some time to get things done before even getting to the office. Doing it so early also meant everyone in my team had my replies by the time they started their day. As a mom, the best time is when my daughter sleeps. Find out what works well for you and your family situation.

3. Take care of yourself, five minutes at a time

To be honest, I wasn’t very good at this, which is why I hope you can do it better. My average work-day was 16 hours and I could easily stretch it up to 20 hours when needed. As you can imagine, it isn’t great or sustainable in the long run. I wish someone had said it earlier to me, but for some reason, we don’t necessarily talk about our health as a ‘productivity tip’.

If you are thinking I don’t have time, I found something close to the ‘magic formula’. I wish I knew about it when I was in office. I would’ve used it because it’s doable.

Feel Better in Five by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee (If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it) is based on two principles:

  1. For change to happen you have to plan to do it at your lowest level of motivation, not at your highest.
  2. A person needs to be well in their mind, body and heart. I love this idea of the person as a whole. Otherwise, we are more like robots or machines. Which, we are not. With the pandemic, talking about these issues is more important than ever.

What is this magic formula?

The idea is to have five-minute ‘health snacks’. The book gives you a series of exercises to help you calm your mind, exercise your body, and strengthen your connections with others. For each of the three pillars – mind, body and heart – there are five-minute exercises to choose from. You can start with one pillar and increase it gradually to three. I found it pretty hard to say I don’t have five minutes for yourself. Do you? (You can download my notes from the book here)

Final thoughts

My career has been on the public sector. Working in the public service is very demanding. It’s also very rewarding because you can feel very tangibly the impact you can make on people’s lives.

I’ll remind you, even if the public sector is not your field, what I always say to my team: your country needs the best version of you. You want to be productive, to do more and to make things happen: take care of yourself. We need you for the long haul.


Sandra Naranjo Bautista is a public policy expert. She is the former acting Vice President and Minister of Planning and Development of Ecuador. She is the CEO of Better Govs, a platform that helps public servants implement projects that transform lives. Sign up here to get her five secrets for effective policy implementation.

A version of this article was first published at Better Govs

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