This is my advice:
1. Don’t read articles
I stumble upon interesting articles all the time. I have learned to quickly distinguish valuable content from crap (that’s not a problem anymore). The issue that remains is: Even good articles take away the time and focus you need for work.
What I learned is to immediately Pocket each article and read it later – when the time is right.
For me it’s usually tea time, when I am at home patting the dog, or while I travel (on a train or a bus – I thought that needed some explanation).
For those who don’t know Pocket, it’s a great combo of a mobile app (that also works offline!) and a browser plugin you use to save articles.
2. Stay focused
Social media can truly be black hole for productivity. Even if you don’t consider yourself a heavy user, you might find yourself opening LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter way too often during the day. It’s this shifting of focus from one thing to another that hurts your productivity.
The answer is a browser plugin called StayFocusd. This plugin allows you to list websites which you don’t want to spend a lot of time on – it will then prevent you from opening them at all after you’ve run out of your daily time allowance.
3. Try single-tasking
Now we all think that a perfect employee, a perfect wife, a perfect human being is a multitasker. Someone who can do it all and do it all at the same time.
I don’t want to get too much into details, but I have read enough of articles that prove that the opposite is to be true (e.g. this one). Real productivity lies in doing one thing at a time. So next time you are going to answer an email while talking to a colleague, while having 10 tabs open in a browser, stop. Do one thing. Then another. Then another.
4. Turn off email notifications
I thought I was happy to have a tool that was immediately notifying me about every new email in my Inbox (whether it was Gmail or Outlook). I was wrong.
The world won’t go down if you don’t reply to an email right away. Emails can wait until you are ready to do them in a bulk. Really!
And all those notifications are just constant distractions that occupy a part of your brain – you have always on the back of your mind the question “what is that email about” even though you’re doing something completely different at the time.
5. Keep files organized
Being clutter-free is as important when it comes to digital presence as it is in real-life. I cannot even say how glad I am I know exactly where to find a document my colleague is asking for (notice there’s a difference between knowing where to look for it and knowing with certainty where something really is). Declutter your files and folders, create a structure and keep it as you go. At first it can be a bit tedious, but very quickly it will become a second nature to you.
6. Wear headphones
I love music. I listen to it whenever I walk alone. But I don’t always enjoy music at work. Mostly because my mind can’t process my thoughts and song lyrics at the same time. But you wouldn’t suspect this had you seen me – I wear headphones as a rule. And most of the time I am not listening to music at all. Why?
Headphones help regulate the office noise and they prevent other people from disturbing you – when people see headphones they assume you can’t hear them so they think twice before they ask you any questions. This may sound a bit harsh, but you don’t want your work-flow be interrupted by unimportant chatter.
And if the office noise gets out of control and you do want to listen to something to disguise it, I recommend: SimplyNoice, Rainy Mood and Coffitivity.
7. Have a routine
Routines get often looked down upon as being something old-fashioned, not hip, not something a modern flexible creative person would have. But routines help you be efficient.
By routinizing your activities, you’re training you brain to work on auto-pilot for unimportant tasks, therefore freeing up space for when it needs to work hard on something that requires great deal of thinking.
I have implemented quite a few routines into my life: I have a scheduled morning routine, a scheduled time for meals, a scheduled day of the week to call my mom… Routines help me be calm, not forgetful and creative when I need to be.
8. Focus on one goal a day
One of my morning routines is to get to work, start my computer, make myself a cup of tea and open up my daily planner to write in one goal for the day. Now it can be as simple as writing a blog post or creating a new landing page. The goal here is to have one thing you know you are going to get accomplished by the end of the day. Do this because, as soon as the emails start pouring in, the colleagues start discussing things, the new ideas start popping into your brain, it’s going to be hard to keep an overview of what is really going on.
I often found myself coming from work exhausted, thinking I have accomplished so much, but then when someone asked what I did that today, it was one big blur. That’s because many things we do are reactive – we react to things and people around us – and not many things are proactive. And it’s those proactive things that you want to focus on because they have the power to make the difference in the long run.
9. Say no
Learn to say no to people. Especially at work. Oftentimes things that seem important are not really that big of a deal. I got recently asked for an input on a design of chocolate packaging we were giving away at our conference. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of an unimportant task this is. One person can handle it just fine.
You don’t need to get involved in everything, even though it seems as something you can engage in. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
10. Take breaks
Work. Then stop. Get up and do something else (talk to colleagues, grab a bite, take a walk, browse the net..). Then work again. Recharged.
There are numerous studies on importance of breaks (just google the phrase and see for yourself). All pretty much say something down the line: Breaks help you be productive by allowing your brain to take things in and recharge.
Breaks don’t necessary mean not working: For example I also like to mix up creative work (writing) with mundane tasks (such as maintenance of the CRM database).
11. Limit meetings
Meetings. Those pleasurable, sociable events that have the power to bring in new ideas and new perspectives on things. Sure, meetings are good – to an extent. But I have sat on many to be able to say: Most meetings are time wasters.
Either they are held to distribute information that could have been distributed simply via email, or they turn into unorganized discussion that strays from its original purpose, or … (insert situation that occurred most often in meetings you’ve been in),
If you do have to be in a meeting and have the power to change something, make sure to make it quick (30 minutes per meeting is in most cases sufficient), have a clear agenda and steer the conversation.
12. Leave work on time
I used to be one of those people who stayed longer at work, who wanted to get things done today, not tomorrow. Guess what? Work never gets done!
Of course there are projects with tight deadlines, in which case you need to pull through. But on a day-to-day operation, you are never going to be finished with everything. Learn to accept that. Learn to give it your all during business hours and relax during your free time. There’s so much to life than just work. You need to learn to let go, relax, enjoy your free time, so you can rejuvenate your brain for next challenges.
Wish you all the luck!
PS: I am definitely going to build on my hacks, routines, structures (call it as you wish). Let me know what techniques work for you – I am going to try them out.