Everyone gets that feeling at the end of the workday, where you feel like you could’ve done more. You started early and you worked throughout your lunch break. Yet still, that to-do list doesn’t look any shorter than it did at the beginning of the day. As a result, you feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled as you feel like you haven’t accomplished a great deal.
Naturally, everyone turns to the told tried-and-test productivity tactics to save time wherever possible. The problem? The productivity tactics are usually old and, in some cases, they don’t really work anymore. Rather than sticking with tips that don’t work, here are some of the best, proven productivity hacks that actually work.
Chop the tech stack
There’s a lot of software out there now, all designed to save you time while making you more productive and efficient. That can be a downside, too. Maybe there’s too much software out there that it’s all you rely on. Setting them all up, making sure they work to your needs — the last thing you want is to end up overly depending on productivity software.
Sure, use the tools that get you good results. But don’t stuff your iPhone with 30 different productivity apps and spend valuable time analyzing the data or gamifying it all. It’ll hold you back. The amount of time you spend analyzing insights, the three hours you did save might go to waste as well.
Use the Pomodoro technique
The pomodoro technique is perhaps the number one time management technique used by people worldwide. It encourages you to work with the time have, so you break your day into 25-minute chunks — each one separated by five-minute breaks. These chunks are the pomodoros and after four pomodoros, you can treat yourself to a longer break of around 15 to 20 minutes.
This technique is all about giving you a sense of urgency. Rather than feeling like you have eight or so hours at your disposal to complete your work, you only have 25 minutes to make as much progress on your tasks as possible.
The added benefit is that you won’t feel burnt out as you won’t have sat at your desk all day. When you earn these breaks, you can take a breather and come back with a fresh mind.
Learn to say no
It probably doesn’t sound like a hack, but the next time you’re at work, count how often you actually say no to work requests. Saying no is something a lot of people struggle with. Whether it’s colleagues or clients, taking on too much not only compromises the quality of your work but also means you simply can’t get through it all in one day.
It takes a lot of discipline, though. You have to overcome that awkward feeling in your stomach. However, it requires a mindset shift, too. If you say no and fall into distractions, you aren’t really being productive. Achieve a higher level of priority by taking on a realistic amount and staying focused.
Ignore (most) of your emails
If there’s one major distraction that takes your focus away from your tasks, it’s our inbox filling up with countless emails. In some cases, it can feel like a full-time job reading through them and offering responses where relevant. Instead, inform your team that if they need to tell you something important, they can say it to you in person.
If you work remotely, then you can use your email application to filter which emails are essential, such as when a client or your boss emails you, and ignore the rest until you’re free to read and reply.
Be strategic with the music you listen to
There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there regarding music and concentration levels. If music helps you be more productive, then don’t stop. However, for most, music is a productivity hindrance.
That’s because as you try to work, you have voices around you, you’ll naturally sing along to the lyrics and high-tempo music isn’t the best for when you’re trying to get your head down and plow through your tasks. White noise and lo-fi beats are common if you need something, as they’re mellow with no lyrics involved.
Limit your meetings
Meetings are another distraction that kills productivity, especially if you’re in multiple meetings per day. A productivity hack here is to limit your meetings. Not only the number of meetings you have by implementing a no-meeting policy for certain times but also how long they last.
If you struggle to get any work done around your meetings, reduce the time down to 15 minutes. Shortening the length means everybody gets straight to the point and you achieve the goal quicker, rather than wasting time talking about things not related to work or the task at hand.
Adopt true flexible working
There are a lot of companies out there that allow their workforce to work from wherever they want. This is great, especially if you’re more productive at home and not as much in the office — or vice versa. However, you can adopt true flexibility by changing your working hours, too.
Of course, this depends on your company policy. But if you have the freedom, either start early or finish late. If you work best in the mornings, wake up earlier to get started and work through your jobs. If you feel most productive at night, alter your shift patterns and complete your working hours later than usual.
If you have a lot on your plate, the worst thing you can do is try to tackle each job simultaneously, thinking you’ll make progress on multiple items. In reality, that will slow you down. You won’t make much progress as each task only gets 5% of your attention, so they don’t end up going anywhere other than moving to the next day and then the next.
To fix that, focus on single goals. Although to-do lists help a lot of people, seeing a page full of jobs can be overwhelming. When everything seems like a priority, you naturally fall into a sense of desperation and try to tackle multiple jobs at once. Instead, write one thing down on your list and work on it. Once you finish, add another.
Work like this without worrying about other tasks and you’ll be surprised at how much more productive you become.
Batch similar tasks
Another reason your productivity suffers is because of the range of tasks you have. Jumping from one to another is essential, but it can slow you down, especially if they’re wildly different. Read through your tasks and group the most important ones together once you know what you’ll work on for the day.
That means you’ll tackle similar jobs one after another. This is a great productivity hack as you don’t need to have a big mindset switch or change your processes. Similar tasks allow you to get your head down and work through them much quicker as they feel repeatable.
Set time limits for quick tasks
Any tasks that are quick to get through, don’t fall into the habit of saying you’ll save them for later. This is where you need to be critical. If you see a bunch of tasks that you know will only take a couple of minutes each, work through them right away. Saving them for later only delays the inevitable — you never get around to them.
When you tick off a handful of smaller jobs, you feel a sense of accomplishment and be more motivated to crack on with the rest of your day.
Block distracting websites
With the internet at your fingertips, visiting Twitter or Facebook for five minutes can turn into hours of wasted time watching random videos on YouTube. A simple way to overcome this is to be harsh with yourself and block distracting websites. There are a lot of great extensions that allow you to set time limits and restrictions on which websites you can visit — and when.
If you try to access them, it won’t let you. Of course, you can override it and visit the website when you want, so you need to have some discipline if you’re serious about becoming more productive.
Start with the most challenging or easiest task
This is personal preference, but what you do at the start of your day will dictate how the rest of your day goes. Rather than randomly selecting which task to begin with, either start with the most challenging or the most straightforward job.
Starting with the most challenging task is a great productivity hack, as it means you get the most complex thing out of the way first and everything else you do seems easy in comparison. But starting easy is great, too. It means you ease yourself in the day without procrastinating.
Plan ahead of time
One way productivity suffers is when you sit down to start the day and then plan your day. Slowly, it eats away at the actual amount of time you have available to finish your jobs. To be more productive, plan ahead of time.
Whether it’s getting to the office a little earlier or planning tomorrow’s day before you head home, it’s more productive and efficient when you come to the office knowing exactly what you need to be doing.
Work near natural light
Spending eight hours inside of a box-sized room in pure darkness isn’t going to make you productive. An excellent productivity hack is to work near natural light as much as you can. With exposure to sunlight, your sleep will improve, as will your wellbeing and productivity levels. Where possible, sit near an open window and breathe in that fresh air.
Take walking meetings
Similar to working natural light, if there are some meetings you just cannot miss, make them walking meetings instead. If the weather is great, go ahead and feel the warm sun on your face and breathe in some fresh air. You can just walk a few blocks, discuss the topics and return to your desk feeling refreshed and energized — ready to dive back into work.
As busy as you might be, always make time for yourself, as self-care is integral to being productive. Take some time to yourself throughout the day or whenever you feel maxed out, and get away from your desk to reduce work-related stress. Doing this and practicing mindfulness will make you less stressed as you can stop focusing on work for a short while.
When you feel better after some breathing exercises and stretches, you’ll feel refreshed to carry on rather than being sluggish for the remainder of the day.
Do you regularly receive requests or questions that you’ve answered time and time again? One way to boost productivity here is to use templates for routine tasks. It can work in any scenario, too. Whether it’s for presentations or spreadsheets, create one master template beforehand and use it in the future, without always starting from scratch.
By doing this, you’ll reduce distractions and save a lot of valuable time.
The important/urgent matrix
It’s easy to assume every job on your list is urgent. That isn’t the case. Instead, separate your tasks into four categories from the Eisenhower decision-making matrix:
- Important and urgent
- Important and not urgent
- Not important and urgent
- Not important and not urgent
For every task you have, place it in one of these categories. The idea is to only work on the most critical jobs that contribute to goals, rather than something that seems urgent on paper, but in reality, it isn’t even that important.
Keep your workspace clutter-free
Your work environment plays a massive role in how productive you are. You might not realize it, but your surroundings will determine how focused or distracted you are. It’s simple — the more of a mess your workspace is in, the less productive you’ll be.
Studies show employees waste over four hours looking for things on their desks. Being productive is a challenge with all of your files, documents and personal items scattered around. Instead, clean your workspace and remove the clutter to increase your creativity and mood levels.
Ergonomics are just as important. Buy a comfortable desk to work on and a supportive chair, especially if you’ll spend long hours in front of a computer. Put your unnecessary belongings in the drawers and eliminate the noise to create the perfect productive workspace.
Stand up more
If you feel like your productivity suffers as the day goes on, leave the desk and stand up. It’s great for your posture, health and keeps you feeling a little more energized as you’ll be more focused rather than slumped at the desk.
If you’re in a senior position, it’s easy to think you can complete tasks quickly and to the correct standard. That thought process will quickly add too much to your plate and you’ll never accomplish your goals. With a talented team around you, identify their skills and what they could help you with.
It gives them opportunities, but it also frees up more time on your schedule. Delegating means you get the work done while focusing on your own tasks and being more efficient as a team.
Protect your time
Jumping from meeting to meeting is another giant productivity killer where you feel like you have no time to be at your desk working through your to-do list. When the day ends, you realize you didn’t accomplish much and it’s a considerable workload added on to the following day.
To be more productive, protect enough time in your schedule to focus on what you need to do without unnecessary meetings and people pulling you in different directions. Learning to say no is a good start, but you can use your calendar to block out your time and set it, so it automatically rejects any meetings in your protected time.
Doing this means you can focus, concentrate and get real work done.
Phones, social media, distracting colleagues — it’s down to you to identify what your biggest distractions are and eliminate them. If you don’t, you’ll continue to feel unproductive. If your phone has you constantly checking for notifications, place it inside a drawer and set a time limit of when you can use it. The same applies to social media.
If you find your colleagues are distracting you, find another desk or sit in a quieter corner so you can concentrate.
Use a project management system
Although too much software can be a bad thing, an essential piece of software you should use to keep you productive is a project management system. Working in larger teams in multiple departments where you collaborate can require a lot of conversations. Just imagine how many conversations you need to have when asking where a piece of work is up to.
You can eliminate redundant conversations that pile up by using a project management system. This will give you an overview of where a project is up to without constantly leaving your desk to speak to others about the information you have at your fingertips.
Utilize your commuting time effectively
Although a healthy work-life balance is essential, you can get a lot done if you commute to and from work. By using it effectively, you can save a lot of time in the office by completing the easier tasks before you even arrive. For example, if you’re on the bus or train, why not check and respond to emails? Or, if you planned some learning time for self-development, why not listen to an audiobook in the car?
This might not apply to every task, but you’re probably wasting a lot of time being unproductive by getting hung up on the small details that don’t matter a great deal to the outcome of a project. In most cases, it’s better and more productive to complete a task than it is to be 100% perfect.
Plus, true perfection might be impossible. Rather than constantly tweaking something until you’re happy with it, if the job is complete, move on to another task to stay productive.
Switch off after work
This can be difficult if you work from home, especially since studies show switching off after work is the most challenging aspect of working remotely. However, you need to be critical of yourself and realize that failing to switch off will only make you less productive the following day.
You won’t be in a great mood; you’ll be tired and less energized. To be productive, know when to work and let your personal life take its deserved precedence.
It can be tempting to quickly check in on Slack or Google Chat to see what the rest of the company is laughing about. It’s natural to not want to miss out, but constantly checking in on these platforms takes your focus away from the task at hand. Some even say when you leave a deep state of work and are distracted, it can take 25 minutes to refocus.
To maximize your productivity, block notifications for as long as you plan to work. You can utilize multiple productivity hacks here, too. For example, if you’re using the pomodoro technique, block notifications for those 25 minutes so you can focus. Plus, setting yourself as busy also shows colleagues you aren’t to be distracted for a while.
Set small and realistic goals
Seeing a big goal on your to-do list can seem overwhelming. The last thing you need for your productivity is seeing a handful of major projects, so why not break it down into smaller chunks instead?
With smaller goals, they feel more realistic and you maintain a sense of control. This combination will make you much more productive as you’ll feel like you have achieved more. They need to be realistic, too. For example, rather than have ‘finish project’ on your list, why not write down the five things you need to do to see that project over the line?
Different productivity techniques work for different people. In some cases, a combination might work, too. However, it all starts with self-discipline. Searching for productivity acks is the first step as it shows you want to be productive. But to genuinely make the switch, you need to be critical of yourself, so you can eliminate distractions and adopt the technique into your working life.
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