Let’s focus on techniques and habitual changes that make a real difference to productivity rather than just the tools. These are backed by science and geared towards the needs of modern digital workers and the unique challenges that come with working in this connected age.
Changing Habits is the Key to Productivity
To maximize productivity, you have to change working habits. Changing the habits of one person isn’t enough; you have to reprogram the group (if you have one) because most people are resistant to widespread change.
One of the biggest problems we all struggle with is the emphasis on being busy. The kind of thinking that, if you’ve completed your to-do list then you clearly don’t have enough on your workload – but where does this mentality end?
The following list of productivity hacks are actually habits that we need to form. We need to break some established working practices and retrain the way your mind operates in the workplace (or at your home workplace as the case may be).
So let’s get started.
Productivity has become a top priority for businesses and individuals, especially with so many of us becoming “Solopreneurs” and “Entrepreneurs”. Performance metrics are getting more attention today and therefore there is a boom in productivity apps, books and philosophies that help us.
#1: Stop multitasking
The first thing you need to do before you can maximize productivity is to stop multitasking. This is a big habit that busy people who are desperate to save time by doing more than one thing at once or switch between tasks.
Sadly, multitasking is a false efficiency that ends up costing you more time than it saves. And, to make matters worse, studies have shown that multitasking has a wide range of negative impacts on the human mind.
“For nearly all people, in nearly all situations, multitasking is impossible. When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing two things at once – but instead, individual actions in rapid succession.” – Cleveland Clinic academic centre
Personally, I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for multitasking and thinking it’s going to save me time. But I can quite clearly see that it takes me longer to complete each task if I try to handle more than one thing at a time so my own experience backs up the countless studies that say multitasking doesn’t work.
This one is huge! Think about your brain-switching back and forth between tasks…it is such a fallacy to think we are doing it all, instead just focus on one task at a time.
Understanding that it’s a false efficiency and that there are tools to help you focus on individual tasks is the key to being productive.
#2: Set a single goal for each day
To forget about multitasking, you have to retrain your mind to concentrate on single tasks. This goes against everything our busy, digital daily lives. However, the solution to this problem also lies in the same digital tech that exacerbates it.
There are productivity apps like Serene, Monday, Trello, and Asana to help organize your workflow and keep you focused on the task at hand. The tools encourage you to set a single goal for each working day, which constantly reinforces the idea of focusing on individual tasks. You can break daily goals into multiple tasks or work sessions, where you’ll only work on that specific task (and nothing else) for the allocated time. There’s no time left for multitasking.
#3: Work in short bursts
The human mind can only concentrate on the same task for so long although scientific studies haven’t been able to provide a conclusive number. Some studies have suggested people start to lose focus after 10-20 minutes while others are slightly more generous Some people can focus for 45 minutes and need a break and others can go 90 minutes-like a diet, they all work its just what works for you. The point is to work in short bursts. One of the most popular productivity principles is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in 25-minute sessions followed by a five-minute break.
I like to break my day into two-hour slots and then take a 5-10 minute break to go to the bathroom, make coffee or tea or even go outside for some fresh air. I must admit I have tried making personal calls but that can be tricky if the other person isn’t in the right space for you.
#4: Take regular breaks
Regularly taking breaks gives your mind a chance to recover from intense focus but you have to smart about how you spend your downtime. This doesn’t mean scrolling the gram. To get the most benefit of each break, avoid anything that’s mentally taxing. This holds true for short breaks as well, where you’re going to have to get back to work in a matter of minutes. For a 5 minute break to actually count, you’re going to want to avoid anything that divides your attention, involves any decision-making or requires concentration.
Your mind is hard at work during each session and now you want to focus as little as possible. The best thing you could do is zone out completely, think of nothing, meditate, go outside and breathe to relax your mind and body. Another good option is to do some yoga or stretches while keeping your mind clear, giving yourself a cognitive break but also an important physical break from sitting down.
#5: Block distracting apps/websites
According to research carried out by RescueTime, the average digital worker can’t go more than 6 minutes without checking their social media, emails, texts or dm’s.
There are several app blocker tools like Serene, Harvest or even your own phone to block pop-ups to get your work done. By blocking time during work sessions, or simply prevent notifications coming through during work hours you will get more s**t done.
#6: Create a dedicated workspace
This one is crucial if you work from home or remotely. Don’t just sit on the couch or at the dinner table; create a dedicated workspace where you can go to work and then leave it once you’re done. I’ve spent a lot of my time working from home for the past several years and by simply creating dedicated spaces for work, meditation, journaling and even filming for videos (and I have separate areas depending on the type of videos that I create) will help you be more productive. In short, if you’re working from home, take advantage of the space you have to create a home office dedicated for work and nothing else.
#7: Choose the right project/task management tools
There are tons of productivity apps out there to help you get more done but you need to find the one that works for you. The first thing you’re going to want is a good project/task management platform and, again, there are plenty of options available. Serene, Monday and Asana are great options for project management platforms and there are dozens of task management tools like to-do list makers.
#8: Create shared goals with teams
The answer here lies in creating a strong team spirit based around shared goals, achievements and rewards. To make this happen, you need the right person or team that are in alignment with your goals to collaborate and execute tasks.
#9: Choose the right collaboration tools
Collaboration tools help teams communicate more effectively and work together on joint tasks or projects. The tools you or your team is going to need depends on how you want to work together. Slack is as good as any team communication tool on the market, turning instant messaging into a genuine productivity tool. For basic document sharing and collaboration, Google Drive may offer everything you need. While InVision is a powerful collaboration tool for design teams and Spark makes collaborative email a reality.
#10: Know when to work alone
While collaborations are constantly mentioned in productivity discussions, working together doesn’t always mean we get more s**t done. It just isn’t always helpful for productivity. There are times when we’re better off working alone.
The key is to know when collaboration is beneficial and when it’s time to work alone. People need to understand that some people respond better to working alone than others. We’re all different and we all work differently. Recognize it, embrace it and you will be productive.
#11: Know when to say “no”
While I’m getting better at saying “no” I often still struggle with this one. We all need to be realistic with our time since we are all so time poor these days.
By learning to say “no” to projects or tasks or even favors that do not move the needle for us either personally or professionally, others will learn to respect our time and boundaries and we in turn will learn to respect ourselves more. By simply changing our way of thinking we will learn to be more productive with our time.
All the books, tools, tricks, tips and techniques will help but you really have to change yourself and your way of thinking to break old habits and achieve a higher level of productivity.
#12: Prevent interruptions
Notifications are a real issue here as well as and the constant emails and text notifications. Learn to leave your phone in another room or put it on airplane mode. Working in short bursts may maximize productivity but this isn’t going to happen if you’re constantly being interrupted. You can also create a status alert in apps like Slack or Status Hero so everyone can see who is busy and avoid interruptions.
#13: Track tasks
While providing a status update to say what you are working on, you can also list “blockers” which are issues preventing you from completing specific tasks. Awareness is everything and time awareness will help you identify what is holding you back from getting s**t done. If you don’t know what is holding you back or creating you to lose track of time, start by writing down all of the tasks you do in a day and how long each task takes. If for example, you spend 15 minutes deciding what to wear that day, perhaps you can plan out your weeks wardrobe on Sunday evening, saving you or giving back 1 hour and 45 minutes of your time for the week.
#14: Tame your email inbox
Email is one of the most powerful communication platforms for businesses and teams (text messages too). I’m sure you are aware that it is also a huge time suck when it comes to being productive. Pro Tip: keep your emails unopened and check off all the ones that look unimportant. Then check off and delete them without ever opening them. Find ones that are important. Leave them unopened so that you will know what you need to address during your work day.
Alternatively, Spark can help you by automatically categorizing your emails from every account assigned to it, allowing you to filter out the emails that don’t matter and prioritize the ones that do.
You can also snooze specific emails for later, assign emails to team members, chat with team members, share drafts, set reminders for follow-ups and schedule emails to send them later.
#15: Use a scheduling app for meetings
Organizing meetings and group work sessions can be a nightmare for digital teams. If you’ve got a bunch of remote workers in your team, this task is made even more difficult and worse still if you’ve got team members spread out across different time zones. I may be old school, but I like to use ZOOM for all of my meetings, scheduled and iunscheduled. This helps me if I need to share my screen, while alos helping me to practice being on camera. It also helps to see if the other person(s) are happy with facial expressions or if they are otherwise occupied and not paying attention (assuming their camera is on).
Of course there is always another app for you to load up to your phone, like Doodle but there are several options you’ve got for this task.
#16: Make meetings productive
When you do have meetings, make sure they’re also productive. A common problem I’ve experienced as a remote worker is being part of teams that seem to have meetings every week for the sake of it with the same people attending when they don’t really need to be there.
The meetings I’ve found to be most productive are the ones where we’ve used the time to discuss and solve problems that are getting in the way of progress. This is where group ideas can really shine.
#17: Schedule notifications
When I first started working remotely, I told my clients that “I’m only a text message away” but, in practice, it doesn’t always work when I am blocking out time or distractions (like when my phone is off or in another room so that I can finish an article like this one). The best thing for everyone (myself included) is to focus on the task at hand.
So, if you are time blocking, you can check your notifications, emails, texts, dm’s or whatever during your breaks just make sure they are longer than 5-10 minutes so that you rest your head to recharge. Alternatively, you can schedule “office hours” so that your family, friends and clients know when they are able to reach you should the need arise and therefore avoid unplanned interruptions.
#18: Switch off after work
For me, this is one is easy since my husband gets really annoyed if my phone is even within my eyesight when we are home from work and getting ready to have dinner and wind down for the evening. I try to never schedule evening calls or meetings.
I find this to be helpful for a better work like balance.
Of course this comes back to knowing when to say “no”. It’s a personal battle that has more to do with you than your clients, team or employer (if it’s not, then they have a major problem).
If you find this difficult to do, there is an app that blocks notifications until 8am, Monday-Friday, called Daywise.
#19: Don’t get bogged down in too much tech
While I have mentioned a lot of tools and apps, its not for everyone and sometimes a good old fashioned pen to paper routine helps just as well. If you are choosing to use tools you need but make sure they are actually improving your productivity. For example, you don’t want to spend 5 hours every week looking at analytics on your productivity performance if the tools are only saving you 3 hours.
Finally Make 2023 more productive for YOU
Last word, forming productive habits and simply choosing the tools that will help you focus on achieving your targets will help you move forward in your business and your life. To become more productive, you have to be willing to change the way you think about organizing and completing tasks, but you’re also going to need the right kind of people to surround yourself with to make that happen. So pick as many of the 19 points I’ve mentioned above and make 2023 your most productive year yet. That’s it.
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