When people first begin exploring the world of personal productivity and task management, they either don’t know where to start or can’t seem to find their footing when they do. If you’re one of these people, I’ve assembled 35 quick and simple tips for better productivity – ones you can use right away and start to see results in your work and in your life. You don’t need to take on all 35 (in fact, I’d recommend taking on far less and returning to this piece as you feel comfortable taking on more), but each of them can be used to provide you with a sample of what improved productivity feels like.
Let’s get started…
- Don’t use email as a task manager. Email is meant as a form of communication, not as a task manager. The reason we got lost in our email inboxes is because we use them for more than what they were intended to be used for. You don’t spend hours listening to your voicemail or waiting for the postman to drop off a letter, nor do you slap sticky notes on your phone to represent every task associated with every phone call you receive. Use you email app for email; use a task management app for managing your tasks.
- Capture some things, but not everything. It’s a great idea to capture your thoughts, ideas and potential tasks as they come up, but if you can do something in the moment then don’t bother writing it down. Sure, it always feels good to check off a box, but if you don’t need to create the box to check off because you can do it right now – then why waste your time? It’s a false sense of accomplishment when you do that.
- Ritualize regularly. By building rituals for your morning, evening, your commute to work, and other regular times, you create a habit that is easier to stick with. You also end up freeing upi your mind to do heavier lifting, because it already knows what it needs to do as part of a ritual. Ritualize what you can reasonably ritualize. It’s a great time-saver.
- Keep a pen and paper with you at all times. It might be a pain, but when you need to capture something an your electronic device fails you, you’ll be glad you’ve got ’em.
- Don’t multitask. Work on one task at a time. Multitasking is a myth, and trying to do it only splits your focus.
- Close the door. If you need to eliminate both diruptions and distractions, close the door to your work area. If you don’t have a door, then put on some headphones and create that quietude instead.
- Open the window. This may seem counter-intuitive considering the last tip, but fresh air is never a bad thing. As long as you can stay focused and productive, give yourself some outdoor air to breathe in as you work.
- Go for a walk. Going for a walk (without earbuds clamped to your ears) is a great way to clear your head and regain focus so you can get back at it. Use a treadmill if the weather isn’t cooperating – but getting outdoors is always preferable.
- Take breaks. While i’m not a fan of The Pomodoro Technique, I am a fan of taking breaks. Your brain and body need to rest and recharge so you can get the most out of them on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter how you choose to spend your breaks, but make sure to take them every few hours. It will show in your work if you do – and if you don’t.
- Eat lunch away from your work area. Never eat at your workstation. Not only does it keep you from that time off I just mentioned, but it also invites coworkers the opportuntiy to distract you and possibly even heap more work your way. Go to the lunchroom area or get out of the office.
- Drink plenty of water. Your mind and body need water more than it needs the breaks. Just as water is refreshing to drink, it refreshes the mind and body so it can continue to perform at a high level. Drink the recommended amount per day – which can vary depending on the person, according to this article at The Mayo Clinic.
- Focus on tasks, not on time. There is a big difference between task management and time management. When you focus on time, the number of hours you have in the day seem small by comparison to what you have to accomplish. But if you focus on tasks, then you look at the stuff you need to do and prioritize it accordingly, and time becomes less of a factor – esppecially if you avoid getting caught in “deadline debt”. You’ll also end up doing the most important stuff more often when you focus on the tasks at hand instead of the time on hand.
- Use a meaningful object to keep you on track. I have a metal plaque that I received in my limited edition “Do The Work” book by Steven Pressfield in plain view as I write this. I also have my Vision bobblehead next to it and wear my Green Lantern ring on my finger – which I only wear when I write – all because they have meaning to me and add meaning to the tasks and projects I work on as a writer and “productivityist”. Sure, my choices of objects may be incredibly geeky, but they are mine and they work for me. Find one(s) that work for you and they may very well play a role in boosting your productivity.
- Be nimble. Rigidity is the enemy of productivity. You have to be able to go with the flow. Otherwise, you’ll end up miserable – because not everything will go according to plan.
- Don’t fight your body clock. Don’t try to become and early riser if you have a history of being a night owl. And don’t stay up late to get stuff done if you know your mind and body shuts down early so that you can get up as the sun rises. Just like you need to be nimble with what life throws at you, you need to be able to work with the way you are. I’m a night owl. I tried to become an early riser (especially now that I have kids) and it didn’t work out so well. Play to your strengths and listen to your body clock. It knows you pretty well.
- Get plenty of rest. This goes hand in hand with the above tip. If you are hitting the sack at 1 a.m., don’t get up at 5 or 6 a.m. the next day. Get your sleep, however you can and whenver you can. Your mind and body needs it to thrive.
- Be social. Get out and be around people regularly. They’ll offer you some great ideas and insights, you’ll have a great time, and it can be a form of relaxation.
- Exercise and eat right. If you want your mind and body to work hard, you have to prepare it as such. Exercise regularly and eat right and your mind and body will reward you for it.
- Laugh. Laughter relieves stress and can actually boost productivity, according to this article from AOL Jobs. Funny, isn’t it?
- Explore. Learn new things and explore them and yourself. Look around, Pay attention. IT not only will give you a break from that task list, but it may provide you with some insight into your work that you hadn’t come up with yourself.
- Read often. Not just blogs like Lifehack, but books. (Maybe even ones made of paper.) Fiction and non-fiction, read a variety of material. It expands the mind and you’ll grow as a person. And it also is a great thing to do while taking one of those breaks I mentioned.
- Write often. Capture your thoughts at the end of the day or week. Keep a journal. Just as reading promotes growth, so does writing.
- Use a system. You need to have a system or structure in place to be at your most productive. It gives you a touchstone – something you can go back to when you go off track. There are numerous methods out there, but pick one (or a hybrid of several) that works for you and stick with it. Aaron Mahnke and Dave Caolo talked about productivity systems on a recent episode of their podcast Home Work – give it a listen for ideas that may help you build a system and structure of your own.
- Spend time alone. There’s going to be no better opportunity for focus, clarity and quiet for you then when you go it alone. Spend time with yourself and your thoughts. It’ll help you get in touch with what you really want – and how to get there in a way that works best for you.
- Get away. This would be a big break – a vacation. Get out of your city or town and go somewhere that you’ll enjoy to recharge your batteries. Then you’ll be fired up and ready to go when you return.
- Visualize where you want to be. You won’t get to where you want to be without knowing what that is. Working at being more productive just for productivity’s sake isn’t the point; you need to have an overarching vision in mind. Put that in your mind first and work from there and you’ll put yourself in a far better position to get to where you really want to be.
- Plan ahead. In order to avoid managing time and managing tasks instead, every date must be a “do date”. The only way that can happen is through planning ahead. Take the time to do this (ideally after nailing down the vision you’re looking to aspire toward) and you’ll not only be able to produce with less stress in your life, but you’ll be able to be far more nimble than if you don’t.
- Curate your notifications. Take a good look at what notifications you’re getting and figure out what ones are really important. Then look at them again and evaluate once more. Then turn off those that don’t need your immediate attention in order to minimize disruption and maximize productivity.
- Check email less often. The postman only shows up once per day to deliver your mail, right? I’m not saying you should check email only once per day, but 3 times is what you should shoot for. Remind those that are using email as an instant messenger or (gasp!) ap hone that they should use those platforms instead since you’re not checking email as often. A service like AwayFind is perfect to make sure you don’t miss out on important emails while not allowing your email inbox to rule you in the process.
- Set things up rather than setting things aside.When you’ve installed a new app that is supposed to make things more efficient and effective or have read about a new strategy that would do the same, don’t start using it without setting it up properly first. By setting aside the setup process, you’re doing yourself more harm than good. Spend the time on the initial setup process now so that you can save even more time later.
- Digest some podcasts. Much like reading books, there are some really informative podcasts out there. Listen to them during your commute or while you’re doing some mundane task like mowing the lawn or washing dishes 9like i do). You’ll likely learn something and be entertained at the same time.
- Embrace downtime. Doing nothing can often make the next time you’re doing something that much better. When you have downtime, embrace it. Don’t try to fill it.
- Develop a budget. Do this for your money and your mind. Be honest with what your mind can take on over a month (or even a year) and budget the mental space accordingly. This is a great way to stave off overwhelm and get the best results out of what you actually end up doing.
- Stick with it, despite all other thinking to the contrary. There are times when you’re going to think that using a task manager is a waste of time, that doing a regular review isn’t worhtwhile and you’ll even foll yourself into thinking that you’re not getting any more done than you were before. That’s nonsense. Others will try to convince you of this as well from time to time. Keep those thoughts at bay. Stick with it and you will reap the rewards of better productivity over the short and long term.
- Keep track. Use lists and review them. You need to keep track of where you’ve been and where you are so that you can have a bette sense of how to get where you want to go.
(Photo credit: Productivity Road Sign via Shutterstock)
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