For time-strapped busy professionals, the workload can seem like it will never end; as you complete one task, two more pop up in its place.
Improving productivity can be the key to completing more work, faster so you can start getting ahead of tasks, instead of racing to keep up with them. Productivity can help alleviate stress and help you regain work-life balance.
However, improving your productivity isn’t always an easy feat. You’ve likely read many articles about tips and tricks to becoming more productive, and that was likely good advice! But you ultimately need to find things that work for you.
For example, if making big behavioral changes makes you a little nervous, then try making some small, manageable changes in your day-to-day. On the flipside, if you know that you’ll lose sight of small changes, focus on making one substantial shift in the way you work.
The first step to improving productivity is understanding what you will respond to. Here are 10 tips for improving your personal productivity.
1. Organize Your Day
Organizing the moving parts of your workload can help clear your mind and get you focused on completing the task at hand. I know organization in itself can seem like a big thing, especially for those of us for whom organization does not come naturally, but focus on organizing one piece at a time.
For example, if you sit down at your desk in the morning and you have papers and notes all over the place, it can be challenging to find that great idea you wrote on a sticky note three days earlier. The same can be said for your computer filing system or your email inbox.
Choose one of those areas to organize (or all of them if you’re feeling brave!) and pick a system that makes sense on which to reorganize. For tasks and notes, it can be helpful to use organizational tools like Evernote, Trello, or even spreadsheets — whatever works the best for you.
2. Prioritize Your Tasks
Once you’ve built a strong organizational system, you can more effectively prioritize your workload. Prioritization is all about taking some time now to better set yourself up for tomorrow.
At the end of every day, take just 15-minutes to look at what is on your to-do list for the next day. What has to be done that day and what can wait? How long will everything take?
Once you have an idea of what work needs to be completed and in what order, put blocks in your schedule to hold yourself accountable to each task. An added bonus of blocking the time means people will think twice before sending you last-minute meeting invites
3. Focus On Product Tasks
Focusing your attention on your work may not sound that difficult, but think about all the distractions you face in your day-to-day: email, calls, meetings, text messages, even just people swinging by your desk to say hello.
Fighting off these distractions can help you retain your focus on the task-at-hand to complete it more quickly (and at higher quality). Try some techniques to eliminate distractions like turning off notifications on your phone, closing out of your email inbox, blocking distracting websites like social media, or if you work in an office, book a conference room for a few hours.
4. Take Frequent Breaks
Breaks are necessary for any profession you're in. But the problem is most business owners and managers frown upon the idea of taking more than one break per work day.
Little do they know it's hurting the productivity of their workers. And the same goes for you. If you're working in 3-4 hour stretches without any breaks, then you'll quickly burn yourself out.
The idea is to get up and stretch, take your eyes off the screen, and settle your mind. One way to do this is to use the Pomodoro technique. This is when you work without distractions for 25 minutes straight (not so bad right?).
And then you take a five-minute break (that's considered one Pomodoro). Once that time is up, you work for another 25 minutes straight. And you repeat this three times before taking a longer 15 to 30-minute break.
You can schedule your days around these Pomodoros. For example, you can agree to do 8 to 10 Pomodoros per day. You'll be surprised at how much work you can accomplish daily in just a few hours of high-concentration.
This may be in part due to it being difficult to snap back into the zone after a distraction. Research shows it takes most people up to 23 minutes to refocus after being distracted.
5. Don't Multitask
Multitasking is one of those myths that needs to be debunked forever. Sure, in concept it seems multitasking would enable you to get a lot done. But the reality is that it holds you back from completing any one task.
Look at it this way -- if you're always putting in 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, and 10 minutes elsewhere, then it'll take you days to get a project done that could otherwise be completed within an hour or two.
So you're better off kicking this bad habit and instead focusing wholeheartedly on a single task.
There's also evidence to support this. Research shows most people's minds are only able to handle two major tasks at once.
6. Take Breaks Away from the Computer
When you go on your break, you may be tempted to do the things you weren't able to while working. Such as checking your email, sharing posts on social media, or reading up on recent news from your favorite blog.
While this is alright to do, you don't want to spend your entire break in front of your computer (mainly if your work is performed here).
It's critical to step away from your computer regularly to allow your eyes to adjust. The strain of staring at computer screens can turn problematic over the long term.
So create healthy habits that involve walking away from your desk (and your mobile device) while on break. This way, your eyes and mind get a rest.
It's also good practice to stretch, walk, and stand during your breaks. Some folks take a walk with their dog (if they work from home) or do a few rounds of going up and down the stairs (if they work in an office).
7. Get Rid of Unnecessary Distractions
It's bad enough that you have to work long hours to get things done. If you factor in the countless distractions you get throughout the day, then your work days will extend beyond regular business hours.
This is why you'll find many freelancers and business owners struggling with creating a healthy work-life balance. One way around this is to eliminate the distractions that commonly occur throughout the day.
There are various apps and tools you can use to assist with this. For example, you can add an extension that blocks your emails, certain websites, and other notifications until a specific time.
This will keep you from accessing your social media accounts and other sites that distract you throughout the day. Sometimes, we're not strong enough to stop ourselves from creating unnecessary distractions. So if you have to use a tool to help you out, then do so.
It's also a good idea to pick a location to work that doesn't have many distractions. For instance, you should work in a space that doesn't have a TV, and that's not close to noise.
If you have children, then working upstairs while they're playing downstairs is ideal. You can also work in a local coffee shop if there's no place inside your home you can find refuge.
8. Plan Your Tasks in Advance
If you're working on a project that requires research, then why not do it the night before? This way, all you have to do is execute the assignment.
You can also plan your projects, so you have days to work on it without rushing (and no stress). For instance, you can research on day one, complete the assignment on day two, and then edit/rework it on the third day.
By the fourth day, you're ready to submit it. Try creating a schedule that allows this amount of space for all of your tasks, so there's no need to race to reach your goals.
Knowing you can take your time can take the edge off of work each day. And it can allow you to improve your work performance.
9. Create a Daily/Weekly Checklist
Scheduling your goals for months can be tough. So at the bare minimum, you should have a daily or weekly to-do list for task management.
This way, you can see what needs to be done to reach your long-term goals and short-term goals. Plus, you'll feel satisfaction each time you check something off your list. It's a psychological trick you can use to organize your day, be productive, and feel productive.
There are online tools you can use to create to-do lists, such as Trello, Asana, and Basecamp. Or you can do it the old school way and use a Day Planner.
Another top -- try to break up your tasks over the week, so you don't have more than 5 tasks on your to-do list per day. If you're sitting there staring at a long list of 10+ tasks to do, then it's going to overwhelm you before you even begin.
You may also find that organizing your days with to-do lists will help to make you better at project and time management.
10. Know When to Delegate
Delegating tasks to another person or team is maybe one of the easiest ways to improve productivity and reach goals faster. Sharing your workload means that the tasks you keep on your plate can be completed with your full focus and without overworking. Meanwhile, the jobs you delegate are receiving the same treatment.
Finding a qualified person to delegate work to may seem daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. Virtual assistants are easy to hire and more cost-effective than hiring an employee because you can choose the number of hours they work and have no overhead costs associated.
Try working with a virtual assistant to delegate tasks like data entry, research projects, social media management, or almost anything else that can be done over a computer.
Making some of those changes one-by-one will help to improve your productivity for the long-run. The more you complete these actions, the more they will become natural to you, easing your way into increase your productivity.
Once you’ve started making some of these changes and improving your productivity to save time, try making some additional changes to focus on improving the quality of your work as well. This next step is how to achieve personal efficiency, versus productivity.
Let us know in the comments which tactics you use to make your days more productive!