The hours you work and productivity are two different things. One of my favorite mantras is to focus on ‘output not hours’, though this is easier said than done. You might sit at your desk for several hours, but you may not actually accomplish much. On the other hand, you could spend an hour or 2 on high priority tasks and accomplish more for your business than 10 hours of busywork tasks! If you time how many hours you actually work in the day on high priority items you will probably be surprised. The number will likely be a lot lower than you thought!
Personally I don’t have a problem with putting in the hours and getting things done. I am a self-confessed workaholic and don’t have a problem with self-motivating as some people do – especially when they work for themselves. However, I do sometimes have a problem with productivity. And by that I mean focusing on the important tasks and not getting lost in tasks that don’t earn me revenue, won’t push my business forward and frankly, I should probably outsource.
In this article, I share 15 great ways to boost your productivity!
1) Start Tracking Your Hours
I began tracking my hours several months ago using Time Doctor. This is a simple online time tracker that you can download to your computer, iPad or phone and every time you are working hit start on the tracker and every time you stop working hit stop. Every time. If you get up for the bathroom, to make some toast, to chat with a friend on the phone then stop the tracker. What you will find at the end of the day is all those minutes you stepped away from your desk add up, and in fact, the 3 hours you thought you spent working was actually just over an hour.
You might be asking why do this? By tracking your time you will automatically stay focused on one task at a time – you can set the timer to track projects and specific tasks and that way you won’t jump between several tasks at once.
The other benefit is that you will then be able to look at the end of the month where all your time is going. Are you spending too much time on emails and social media and not enough time on writing content for your blog? Once you know where your time is really going you can begin to reallocate time to the tasks that actually will drive your business forward and outsource the ones that need to be done but are taking too many of your hours away from the things you should be doing to progress your business.
2) Use An Online Project Management Tool
Even if you are a team of one, and don’t have anyone else working for you or in your team, using a project management system is key to getting things done. I use both Asana and Trello. They are similar style platforms, but I use Asana for managing my team my at We Are Travel Girls and I use Trello for this business as my husband prefers it!
3) Make Several Lists
Ok, I can hear you say – well, of course, I have lists! Who doesn’t have lists, I need to a list to track all of my other lists! But what I mean by this is to have targeted lists to keep you focused and boost your productivity. By using a Project Management system like Trello or Asana you can create longer-term lists and projects. Then have a daily list with 3-5 things or even just one thing that you want to do that day. By having shorter more manageable lists and tasks you are less likely to become overwhelmed and more likely to stay focused and concentrate on the must-do items.
Personally I am not someone who likes to meditate, although I am sure I should. My husband typically starts his day with a 10 minute morning meditation before he makes coffee and begins his workday. He finds this sets himself up for success. Getting into meditating can be hard, so start with an app such as Headspace which is guided meditation. Over time you will find that you don’t necessarily need a guided meditation.
5) Take Breaks
Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help maintain and boost your productivity. However, try and schedule these breaks rather than taking them randomly. A study by Gloria Mark (who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine) found the time it takes to refocus your brain after an interruption is 23 minutes and 15 seconds! So, set some times to take breaks throughout the day, this might be every 30 minute or one hour depending on your own preference.
6) Use Pomodoro Timers
Following on from the above, Pomodoro timers can help you to maintain that focus and set yourself specific amounts of time you will work before taking a break. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique was simple: use a timer to break your work into 25-minute intervals and then take a short break. If you get distracted from your task during the 25 minutes, you need to start the timer over. Each interval is referred to as a ‘Pomodoro’ which came from the Italian word for tomato, since a tomato-shaped kitchen timer was the method Cirillo used to time himself.
There lots of apps built on the idea of this method of maintaining concentration and focus offering different rewards for every 25 minutes completed with no interruption. The plus side of an app is that it prevents you from picking up and browsing on your phone as you will interrupt the timer! If you want to give back then use an app like Forest where your coins collected from time spent working actually lead to the purchase of trees to be planted. But if you want to keep it simple, a plain old egg or phone timer will do!
7) Hide Your Mobile Phone
Seriously, hide it. Nowadays we are so used to casually picking up our phone and scrolling through an app aimlessly that if is within our immediate view it is quite likely we will pick it up for no specific reason whilst we are working. Try leaving your phone in another room, or simply placing it behind your laptop screen and see what happens. You will probably find you didn’t miss it or even think about it in that time period because you couldn’t actually see it.
8) Use Apps To Control Time Spent
Download apps such as Self Control that will block websites or social media platforms after a specified maximum period of time has been spent on them. You can even block the whole internet, although for that you could simply switch off your wifi if you are trying to focus on writing for example. Another app called Anti-Social (by the makers of Freedom App) blocks all your social media networks for periods of 15 minutes up to 8 hours. StayFocusd is a chrome extension that you can add to your browser to restrict your time on websites that are just time-wasting.
Another tactic is to keep yourself logged out of social media apps. This means that when you instinctively open the app you will have to login, and this minor inconvenience is often enough to prevent you from mindlessly wasting time. You can also move social media apps to the last page on your phone so you have to scroll to get to it. These sound like small changes, but can actually dramatically reduce your use by providing a small barrier to entry!
9) Download Moment
My cousin introduced me to the Moment app, which is quickly frankly a great way of scaring yourself into using your phone less! The app simply tracks the time spent actively using your phone and on which app, it then gives you tips on how to reduce your time. The first day I used the app I spent 5.5 hours on my phone! That’s 5.5 hours that I could have spent more productively, on other tasks, on seeing friends, on frankly anything that was not casually browsing the Daily Mail (yep, guilty – I do that!) or Instagram.
Of course, for many businesses spending time on social media is part of your work, but by seeing these cold hard numbers it helped me to try and think about the time spent on the phone. I aimed to reduce the time spent simply browsing with no real purpose and also to be more productive when I am using social media on the phone for work.
10) Read Emails At A Specific Time
Set yourself a time of day that you will go through all of your emails and respond to the urgent ones and then close up your email account. If you have this open on your desktop you are likely to be tempted to switch over and glance to see if anything new has come in, completely derailing any progress you are making on a task that needs completing. One of my old bosses in banking told me this, he would read email at 9 am and then again at 4 pm so he was not distracted by it. Of course, this really depends on your exact business, this would not have worked for me when I was a banker since I had to take trading instructions from clients and they would not have been happy if we missed a market price at a certain time! But this strategy could work for you.
11) Organise Your Email Inbox
Having an overflowing email inbox can be overwhelming and lead to a lack of productivity and time spent on the wrong things. To counter this I created an Inbox Folder in Gmail called ‘1 Inbox’ so that it appears above all my other email folders. Then I created three labels ‘Low,’ ‘Medium’ and ‘Urgent,’ and coloured these Yellow, Green and Red respectively.
As I read through my emails I categorise them into these folders according to the most important clearing my inbox entirely so that it is emptied every day. Then I go through and reply to the emails that I have placed in the Urgent folder first, before moving to the Medium and Low folders. This ensures that even if I get into other tasks and distracted in the day I know that all the urgent emails have been responded to in a timely fashion.
12) Set Time Limits
Following on from Organising Your Inbox, another productivity method I have just started is to set myself time limits on certain tasks that I can easily get lost in and spend too much time on. For example, I now set myself the time limit to spend one hour on my emails. I always read and respond to emails first thing in the morning before doing anything else and since I have my inbox organised by most Urgent I can then make sure all the most important emails are dealt with in this one hour. Setting time limits forces you to focus on the highest priority items without getting caught up in lower priority tasks.
Now, I am not saying stop at 1 hour if there are more urgent emails to respond to, but by setting yourself a target to complete those urgent emails in that time period you are more likely to stay focused and get them done. Very often I can spend 3+ hours on emails per day, so by focusing and organising my inbox I am trying to minimise the time spent here and maximise my time spent in other areas of the business.
13) Set Goal Hours For Specific Tasks
On my daily task list, I set myself goal hours I want to spend on specific tasks that day – often these apply to the tasks I am less interested in doing and might very well put off another day. For example, at any given time I will have some project priorities that must be done – such as accounting or updating content. So I will set myself the goal of doing 2 hours of work on my accounting and 2 hours of work updating content.
Since these are the two things I need (but don’t necessarily want) to work on I will do these first before I begin any of the work that I think is more fun, such as playing around with new design ideas or creating pretty documents. Rewarding yourself with a task you would rather be doing (Pinterest covers!) once you finish a less desirable task (Accounting…) is a good brain hack to keep you from ignoring less fun but necessary items. Breaking up these less fun tasks into more manageable bitesize time periods makes it less overwhelming as well.
14) Turn Off Notifications – Especially On Your Desktop
We all know that having notifications on your phone and desktop is a big distraction. The ping of a text message or email alert will quickly pull you away from the task in hand. Turn your mobile to silent, and as mentioned earlier go so far as to hide it from yourself and make sure you have all desktop notifications turned off so you are not interrupted. I promise if you don’t see who commented on your latest Instagram photo until you are done with work you will survive and they will still want to be friends with you.
15) Just Start!
If you are someone who has problems with productivity or getting things done, then the best advice is to just start! This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to procrastinate about that thing you should be doing. If you just simply set yourself the goal to simply start the task, you will suddenly find yourself 3 hours in and still motivated to continue!
Further Reading: My Favorite Books On Productivity
Some of my favorite books on productivity that go deeper into the topics I talked about in this article are:
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- The ONE Thing
- Atomic Habits
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
- The 80/20 Principle
I hope that you found this article helpful for boosting your own productivity. These are the methods that I have found helped me to focus on specific tasks and be my most productive. Please share tips that have worked for you in the comments. I would love to hear what works for you!
What methods do you use to keep productive?
Please share your own tips and any questions in the comments below!
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