I’ve been learning a lot about productivity lately. I have a very busy life. As well as running this blog, I run a business and also a networking group. I spend one day a week travelling to and from a radio station on the coast, and on three days each week I try to stay away from my work as much as possible in order to spend quality time with S. That leaves me with three days in which to get a lot done. Here are some clever hacks I’ve learned along the way.
1. Make your to-do list the night before. I used to get up in the morning, sit at my desk with a cup of coffee, go through my diary, my notepad and the pile of crap on my desk and cobble together a list of what I needed to achieve. That would take about half an hour, after which I felt like I probably needed another coffee before I could really get going. And then I could think about maybe starting my day.
These days, I make my to-do list the night before, and stick it on the wall next to my work station before I go to bed. In the morning I wake up with an idea of what I need to do, and as soon as I’ve made my coffee I can sit down and get cracking. It’s a small thing, but it really makes a difference to my mindset and how I approach the day. It’s a simple but effective way of increasing your productivity.
2. Figure out when you’re most productive. This one sounds silly but it works, it’s one of those simple productivity hacks everyone needs to know. Try and look objectively at your day, and when you get most done. For a lot of people, we are most productive first thing. I know, for example, that I’m most productive first thing. If I can get myself sitting at my desk early on, I can get loads done. If I have a prior engagement and don’t get to my desk until lunch time, things don’t go so well. Other people are night owls or more productive mid-afternoon. Keep a note of what you get done and the time of day for a few days, and see if you can figure out when you’re most productive. Clue: it’s usually that time when you can just crack on and almost lose yourself in your work for a couple of hours.
3. Avoid burn-out. When you’re busy and trying to work on your productivity, it’s tempting to just plonk down at your desk and stay there until the work is done – but the work is never done, is it. You sit there, and you plough through endless emails and tasks and all sorts of everything, but you never quite get to the end of it. And it can really wear you down. No matter how busy you are, still take a break every couple of hours or so – even if it’s just to go and stand in the garden and eat an apple. Stretch your legs, get some air into your lungs. Longer term, it’ll work out better for you! And talking of apples: they’re more effective than coffee at waking you up when you’re starting to flag. Something about the effort involved in chewing them.
4. Buy a bigger diary. One of those ones with the time slots all laid out. Or you could just use the calendar app on your mobile or desktop. When I’m going through really busy periods, I don’t make a to-do list. Instead, I treat my work like appointments. From 9-10am, I’m writing this blog post; from 10-11 I’m researching copy for this client. 11-12 I’m doing this, 12-12:30 I’m having a break. And so on. This allows you to set out your day clearly so that you don’t end up over-committed. It also means you can race against the clock, bargaining with youself that if you finish before the end of the “appointment” you can have an extra cheeky break! This is not strictly speaking a productivity hack; it just stops you from getting bogged down. If it’s not in your schedule, don’t do it.
5. Employ the five minute rule. When you’re going through your endless list of jobs, look out for any that will take you five minutes or less. Don’t even hesitate on this; just get it done. Getting the little jobs done will give you a mental boost and make you feel more productive, so that you’re more inclined then to tackle the bigger jobs. It sounds odd, but it’s a weird psychological trick that works.
6. Make your bad habits hard to indulge in. I love this one; it’s something I’ve really been working on lately. If you have a habit of switching the TV on “just for five minutes” and losing an hour, put the remote in a different room. Or under the ironing pile. Somewhere it’ll be less convenient for you to reach. If you get distracted by Facebook, close the tab. If that doesn’t work, log out. By creating that extra step where you have to find the remote or login to Facebook, you give your brain half a chance to step up and tell your habit to get lost.