We're all trying to find the magic solution for getting more done in the small amount of hours available to us each day.
I don't have the answer. No one does. Only you can solve your own struggle with productivity. Only you can decide if you're going to blame social media or your as-yet undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder for your productivity woes.
But I can provide a few tricks that may help.
So right now you can either stop reading this article and get your work done, or take a look at my 10 best tips for boosting productivity (I know what I'd do...).
- Don't think it, start it.
If your problem with productivity starts with the very matter of starting, lie to yourself and pretend you're only going to spend five minutes creating an imperfect outline of the task at hand. Once the ice is broken you'll inevitably end up doing a lot more work on it. Overthinking the project leads to the idea that it needs to be perfect, which leads to anxiety, and then potentially to a fear of failure and never starting it at all.
- Learn to work offline (and use 'enforcer' tools if necessary).
You're placing unrealistic expectations on yourself if you expect to be able to follow your Twitter feed, listen to the US Presidential debate and receive pop-up email notifications WHILE trying to get a large chunk of that project out of the way. The first step to productivity is learning to work offline. Disconnect yourself from the Internet for an hour, or at least close any programs that have the potential to offer unwanted (or perhaps wanted) distractions. Internet blocking tools like Freedom can help, as will browser-based plug-ins like Stay Focused (Chrome) that limit how many minutes a day you can spend on particular websites. Alternatively, grab a pen and paper and do some old-school long-hand.
- If it takes less than two minutes, do it immediately.
Get the small stuff out of the way (thank you David Allen). That mobile phone bill? Pay it now. That email from your Mum you've been meaning to respond to? Reply immediately (it may save a follow-up call later this afternoon). The less-than-two-minute stuff's easy to tick off the to-list, making you feel instantly more productive and able to move on to the bigger tasks.
- Learn to use "power hours".
These are particularly useful for dealing with emails (10 to 11am and 4 to 5pm for me) and delegating (11am to 12pm). Replying to an email may prevent an unnecessary follow-up phone call, and prioritising the delegation of tasks to your team will ensure your staff are on track to get their own work done. Ultimately, you'll get more from the hours outside of your "power hours" if you commit to making the most of the power time every day.
- Get up an hour earlier each day.
What else are you going to do, sleep? This is the perfect time to crack that writing project or get started on that proposal. It's quiet, it's the most optimistic you'll feel all day, and there's not all that much else to do before the rest of the world wakes up. Even your social media accounts will be relatively silent at this time (unless you're deeply hooked into the United States). Just remember, getting up earlier means you need to compensate at the other end: Don't bother with the television and get to bed.
- Get these killer productivity apps on your phone:
Evernote. I highly recommend Evernote. It's basically an online notebook that stores everything – notes, photos, to-do-lists, articles, emails and even audio files. Best of all, it's free.
Clear. If you'd like your to-do list to look fancy, then grab this $1.99 app. It's simple, elegant and it's satisfying. List your tasks, then swipe them away.
- Quit the nine-to-five thinking.
So you're useless at 3pm in the afternoon. By that point you're sitting at your desk, checking Pinterest and looking up tips on "how to be productive". Clearly, the mid-afternoon is not your best time for getting stuff done and that's ok. Start building your day around your low points. Take a late lunch break, or use the low point to grab a coffee and think through your to-do items. The key is to understand that what works for you may not work for anyone else, and to where possible block out people distractions from what you know are your more productive periods.
- Give those you trust your Skype details for instant messaging.
They'll know that if something's urgent they can instantly message you and get a rough response or short answer from you straight away. Be cautious about who you hand this out to – you don't want to end up in meaningless chatter, or being forced to drop everything to respond to a constant line of questioning.
- Evaluate your productivity on a daily basis.
Spend five minutes prior to clocking off for the day going through your to-do list. What did you not get done and why? This is your chance to determine your productivity problem areas and figure out what's interrupting your ability to focus, or where certain tasks, meetings or competing priorities have gone overtime. Have a think about how you might be able to improve on it the next day, then start a new list, write down what you need to continue with tomorrow, and go off and relax.
- Consider this:
Are you trying to be more productive than what's actually possible? Is your to-do list completely unworkable? Have you thought about how many hours are in each day and what you're actually hoping to achieve? Look at the to-do list you've written today, assign the amount of time you expect to complete each item in and then tally it up. If your to-do list beat you before you even got close to tackling the first five items then you need to readjust your expectations. You're not superhuman. Back up, slow down, and make your next to-do item to tell those who're waiting on you that they'll have to wait a little longer.
Agree? Disagree? Care to berate me? Leave some productivity tips below.
Meredith is a contributing writer to Women's Agenda. She is is not a consultant, or a management guru. She's not even a published author. Just someone who's made plenty of mistakes, and learnt a few lessons along the way.