Is it just me, or are we all waking up wishing there were a few more minutes in the day to get through our to-dos? The goal, of course, is to complete as many of them as possible without feeling completely stressed out. Since time’s one thing we can’t get more of, we’ve got to use our minutes as efficiently as possible.
Productivity is a tricky thing, though. How do our minds work? How can we control when we feel ready to get our jobs done and when we inevitably end up slacking off? Our approach to each new work day can be unpredictable.
It takes a lot of research to really understand what’s going on in the human brain. We work in cycles that go with how our energy and work flow, as David Horsager, CEO of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute notes in FastCompany. Sometimes we’re interested in tackling really meaty projects, while other times we prefer rote busywork. On some days, we’re ready to be productive, but on others we’re derailed simply because social media is distracting or the temperature drops by a few degrees.
Every day when I get in to the office, I am faced with a number of these distractions. Fortunately, I have developed a number of productivity hacks I use to ensure I remain as efficient as possible. You can try them as well, and they just might make you better at tackling your job each day.
Track everything you need to accomplish in a list and check them off as you get them done. There are many free online tools that you can use such as One Note, TeuxDeux, Trello and Asana which work great for individuals or team. Personally, I prefer old-fashioned pen and paper because I remember things better when I write them down. If you choose this method, it’s important to have a system to keep your notebook organized as your notes and to-do lists will easily mix together and become difficult to track. Bullet Journal is a great example of an effective paper-based list management system.
At the end of each week, I bullet out the main things I accomplished “This Week” and the tasks I plan to accomplish “Next Week” and send it to my boss along with a list of anything I need from them. I also ask my team members to do the same. It’s a quick way to summarize what’s been done and to build yourself a plan for next week so that you can hit the ground running Monday morning – it’s also an easy way to ensure you and senior leadership are aligned. A great web-based option for managing this process with your team is 15Five.
To blaze through your to-do lists, mark time in your calendar to accomplish a task, just as you would book time for a meeting. Once you’ve found dedicated time to complete your work, use a timer to count down 20- or 30-minute blocks of focused work time. I saved this free 30-minute timer to my Favorites toolbar and use it to help stay focused – you can also use the timers on your smartphone.
There are plenty of small changes you can make that can have a big impact. Make playlists of your favorite “work music” – I love Spotify and 8Tracks for this. Put your phone in airplane mode or away in a safe place so it doesn’t distract. Pick certain times to check on email and social media, such as once an hour (or less frequently if you can get away with it!). Even the smallest improvement can have a profound effect on your productivity each day.
Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself! Getting enough sleep and exercising regularly give you the mental energy you need to tackle your day. That mental energy you need to complete tasks can also be recovered when you take regular breaks. As Work Rules! author Laszlo Bock notes, don’t resist a true need to take a break. “Recognize that your body or mind is trying to tell you it’s overwhelmed, and go take a walk.” Breaks – even short ones – have a positive impact. According to this infographic on LifeHack.org, even a 30-second to five-minute “microbreak” can increase your mental acuity by an average of 13%.