Doesn't it seem like everyone is trying to be more productive? Seeking productivity hacks is the equivalent of the quest for the fountain of youth--everyone wants to find that magical place of blissful workflow. The reality, though, is that life pulls us in many directions and sometimes we get off course (if we were even on a course to begin with). Finding that place of productive flow comes down to being disciplined about a handful of simple things. Unfortunately, simple doesn't always mean easy. But, with a focused dedication to making improvements, you can make great strides in increasing your productivity.
1. Delegate everything that does not have to be done by you.
Many of us get into the mindset that it’ll be too difficult to train someone else to do our daily tasks, or that only we are capable of doing certain things the way we like them. We constantly underestimate the abilities of those around us. There’s no reason to spend your time doing tasks that someone else is better equipped to handle, whether that means that you give it to someone with more time and availability for the particular duty, or to someone whose skills are more adept to the assignment.
Try handing off the task of organizing your schedule or writing for your website to another person on your team. This way, you can focus on your particular strengths.
2. Schedule your work on your calendar.
Know what you’re going to do for the day before you’re thrown into routine. Getting caught off guard by a forgotten assignment or scheduling too much into one day because you hadn’t put everything into your schedule is a productivity deterrent.
At the end of your day block off just 10 minutes to look at what’s coming up the next day. Make a list of priorities and put them in whatever order you prefer. Some like to get the hardest thing done first, while others knock the easy stuff out right away. Decide whatever works for you, and stick with it.
3. "Theme" your days.
Completing a thousand tasks in one day can overwhelm even the most experienced multi-tasker. Try separating big projects into smaller categories, from “writing needs” to “creativity work,” et cetera. Then, only focus on one “theme” a day. This will serve to allow you to both focus on only one concentration a day and keep you from getting bored halfway throughout the week from lack of variation.
Look at your current to-do list. See some themes? Test this idea and spend half your day focused on a theme of tasks. If it works well for you try a whole day.
4. Try "No Meeting" days.
It’s hard to concentrate on a particular job when you’re constantly stopping and starting throughout the day. Weekly or biweekly, assign a “No Meeting” day. On these designated dates, be sure to avoid scheduling any meetings that could interrupt your creative flow. Take advantage of the consistency throughout the day to crank out difficult or complex assignments.
If you haven’t done this before, it will likely feel very foreign and hard to do. The best way to get started is just do it. Block off one day where you don’t have any meetings on the calendar and focus. Our client, SpinWeb, implemented these days, and they couldn't be happier with the results.
5. Schedule checking your inbox at specific times throughout the day.
Constantly checking your inbox for incoming messages can disrupt your flow easily. Limit yourself to checking your email only a few times a day when you’ve designated for it. Try times like once in the morning upon arrival at the workday, at lunchtime or when you’re closing shop for the evening. It’s proven that getting out of a productive, creative flow takes around 20 minutes to get back into when interrupted. So protect yourself from that loss.
This will be a tough one to try; just close your email app, set a timer for a few hours, and don’t touch your email. You can do it.
6. Limit interruptions.
There’s no question that our current culture of relentless notifications has taken a negative toll on our attention span. The ability to concentrate is essential to our productivity. If you can’t stay focused on what you’re working on, you’re never going to finish in a timely manner without having to cram it all in at the last moment.
Shut off the stream of bings and buzzes when you’re ready to get in the zone and start working. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone and flip it over on your desk. Turn off all your social media notifications and click out of your inbox for a designated amount of time, whether it be for half an hour or the full workday, until you’re ready to check your notifications because you want to, not because it’s distracting you.
In addition, you may want to try an app like Focus@Will. This app plays lyric-free music that is proven to help you focus. We use this app here at Inbound Back Office and it's seriously increased our productivity.
7. Make meetings more efficient.
In America, our meeting culture is usually that of no productivity. There’s a reason the phrase “meeting for meeting’s sake” is heard in disgruntled conversations in nearly every workplace. People are late, it takes a while to get down to business, egos divert the conversation, too many people are invited to the meeting, and starch-heavy foods bog down the minds and bodies of those in attendance. Oh, and they’re usually too long for what’s actually needed to get done. Protect your time as well as the time of your fellow workers.
This is actually really simple to fix, but usually hard to execute because the norm for meeting culture is very ingrained. Don’t allow meetings to run longer than they need to be, invite only those critical to what’s being discussed, and have a specific agenda set for what will be discussed. If you want to boost energy and creativity, try having a walking meeting – which is exactly like it sounds, a meeting where you discuss everything you want to discuss but are walking outside (weather permitting).
8. Schedule time for yourself.
Packing a lot into a day can seem like a good idea in the morning, but by lunch you might be craving a moment of personal time. By taking a simple walk or checking Facebook for twenty minutes, we feel like we have to rush the rest of the day to regain that precious time. Rather than cramming our day or week with an inhuman amount of tasks, we need to remember our humanity and take time for ourselves.
Instead of trying to turn into Superman to churn out an impossible amount of work all at once, anticipate that you’re going to be itching for a break at some point. There’s a good reason that Superman gives himself Clark Kent time: we’re only capable of so much work before we’re ready to get back in that phone booth and catch our breath for a moment.
Be sure that you’re getting done what needs to be completed by its due date. While you might want to work on the projects that you’re more excited about right away, it’s important that we consider urgency when it comes to scheduling our work time. Sit down and look at your “big picture” of everything you need to be doing, short term as well as long term. We aren’t always going to want to work on what needs to be done, but it’s essential that we are extremely aware of what should be prioritized and what must wait until next week.
Take a look at your current to-do list and see what’s critical or closest to it's due date – put that first, and go from there. This takes some self-awareness to understand your own work style and ability to focus, so prioritize however works best for you.
10. Know the difference between productivity and being busy.
Here’s where you have to get very honest with yourself. Productivity is doing tasks that help you move closer toward your goal. The project due date, the release of your next product, publishing a book – whatever it is that you’re working on has stuff that needs to be done. Let’s say you’re writing a book. Bet you’ve thought about promoting that book on social media. Great idea. But if your book isn’t done is that absolutely critical right now? Nope. Trying to promote your book (in this example) is busy work because it’s not getting you closer to your goal. That’s the difference. Busy work is anything that isn’t helping you get closer to your goal.
The list above plays a big part in understanding what can sometimes be a subtle difference between busy work and productive work. Keep numbers 1 through 10 in mind and do the work that’s most critical. If it’s distracting or not tied to your current or short-term goals, don’t do it. Or, at the very least, don’t make it a priority.
If this is all brand new to you, pick one thing and start there. Try it for a week and build off of it. In time, you’ll see a massive shift in your daily productivity.
*This post contains affiliate links.