Productivity doesn't just happen - it's planned. And with our collective productivity increasing some 80% since the 70s, all of that planning is clearly working. Need some tips for squeezing a little more out of your day? Here are some of our failsafe ways to ensure that you're using your time as effectively as possible.
Time Batching for Fun & Profit
Time batching is a simple productivity hack that involves setting aside a block of time to work on a series of related tasks. Why is it so effective? It reduces the on-ramping and roll-off drain associated with switching tasks. It keeps you focused. And it encourages you to finish a task in one go rather than doing a bit here and a bit there.
Tasks that can be tackled through batching include emails, phone calls, reading, and planning - plus many others specific to your role.
To get started with batching, simply block out a section of time in your calendar devoted to the task at hand. For recurring or ongoing tasks, schedule the block for the same time each day, week or month. You can also try a visual aid such as the Time Blocking Cube to stay on top of your tasks.
Easy Does It
There's a mental payoff that comes with completing a task. Rather than focusing on the toughest tasks, to begin with, start with the simple ones you know you can knock off quickly. The rush of completing these will help you feel accomplished and will motivate you to continue working through your task list.
Get it in Writing
Keeping a written to-do list is one of the simplest productivity hacks around. Begin each day by jotting down the tasks that you need to do that day, plus a couple of "nice to complete" tasks that you may or may not get to. Crossing items off your list increase the feeling of accomplishment and also guides you neatly on to the next task.
Many people find that a simple notepad is ideal for to-do lists; the built-in "Tasks" functionality in Gmail is also a handy tool. Email can also function as a to-do list: just mark actionable emails as "unread" and then archive them once you've completed the task in question. Productivity tools like Asana can also help you monitor and manage your to-do items.
Get Your Priorities Straight
Every day means that a new slew of "urgent" tasks will fall in your lap. But which should you tackle first? Eisenhower's Productivity Matrix can help. This simple chart is indispensable for prioritizing your work.
The chart consists of four quadrants:
- Urgent and important
- Important but not urgent
- Urgent but not important
- Not urgent and not urgent
Assign each task to a quadrant on the matrix and complete them accordingly. Those in the first quadrant should be done first, while those in the last quadrant are typically little more than distractions. These could probably be delegated elsewhere or even ignored.
Be Alert AND Alarmed
There's nothing like a timer to keep you on task and focused. Whether you opt for the Pomodoro technique, the stopwatch on your phone or simply a recurring calendar event, the associated alarm is a great way to drive accountability.
Schedule Some Downtime
Doing as much as possible in as little time as possible doesn't always get results. We can only sustain a breakneck pace for so long. Keep it up any longer, and you'll start to lose focus or make mistakes.
Give yourself time to work at a sustainable pace, and ensure that you allocate some actual R&R. We're not robots, after all. You'll often find that working a little more slowly means that you can be more diligent and proactive. In addition, downtime is famously where great ideas and innovations happen - your brain is freed up to focus on making connections and solving bigger-picture problems.
So schedule in time for a walk, a chapter of a book or even a nap. You'll probably be more productive as a result.
Delegate Like A Pro
Delegating is a challenging but rewarding skill to master. To manage your time and focus your energies on growing your business, you need to be able to delegate. Doing so increases your productivity and focus, and extends overall staff capacity.
The tasks you should consider delegating are those that:
- are high-effort and low-value
- are repeatable and recurring
- can be done more effectively by others.
While there'll be an initial learning curve in training your staff to take on a given task, soon enough they'll be able to handle it for you - and even train up-and-coming staff as needed.