Your productivity is judged not by how much time you spent on something but by how you spent that time. In my own experience, I have found that sticking to a routine and prioritizing my day makes me more productive. This is a process I have refined for years, and I have changed over time (and so should my routine).
What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you may still take some adjusting to. Someone running their own business may need a more refined routine and daily plan than an employee who has less control over what and how they complete their work.
The following hacks should guide you in creating a routine that will improve your productivity and ultimately help you achieve your goals.
The following hacks are presented in a Good-Better-Best approach based on my experiences over the years. If you're new to formally organizing you day, start with the Good approaches and work your way up to something that works perfectly for you and your responsibilities.
- Hack #1: Plan & Prioritize
- Hack #2: Eliminate Distractions
- Hack #3: Get Organized
- Hack #4: Take Advantage of To-Do Lists
- Hack #5: Stay Motivated
Hack #1: Plan & Prioritize
I'm the type of person who needs a to-do list and a routine. Without either, I am overwhelmed by "traffic in the brain." By spending time planning and prioritizing my week, I'm far more productive than if I jump right into my day without a plan.
GOOD: Spend 10 Minutes On Sunday Planning Your Week
This should be a flexible plan, and you should expect and plan for a few changes. Sunday afternoon (Give yourself the evening to unwind.) is a great time to sit down and make a list of any appointments, scheduled activities, and deadlines that are unavoidable. These are your important and urgent tasks.
Using a planner or calendar app on your phone, schedule in all of these events.
BETTER: Glance At Your CALENDAR First Thing In The Morning
Every morning, look at your planner or calendar to remind yourself what needs to be achieved that day and what's coming up next. Too often do we make a list or a plan and fail to monitor our progress.
If you haven't crossed off your tasks from the day before, do it now. If you didn't complete something from yesterday, do it first. Checking your agenda every morning will help hold you accountable.
BEST: Spend 10 Minutes At The End of the Day Planning The Next Day
The ultimate goal is both to plan and prioritize your time. This trick has personally helped me manage my time and improve my productivity tremendously.
Every evening, I create a to-do list for the following day and prioritize it by blocking out my time. Here's how I block out my time on a typical day:
PERSONAL TIME (6:30 - 7:30 AM)
STUDY TIME (7:30 - 9:00 AM)
EMAILS + SOCIAL MEDIA (9:00 - 9:45 AM)
FOCUSED WORK TIME (10:00 AM - 1:00 PM)
BREAK (1:00 - 2:00 PM)
EMAILS + PHONE CALLS (2:00 - 3:00 PM)
FLEXIBLE WORK TIME (3:00 -6:00 PM)
EMAILS + PLANNING (6:00 - 7:00 PM)
DINNER (7:00 - 8:00 PM)
PERSONAL TIME (8:00 - 10:00 PM)
Every evening, I have time set aside to plan my next day. Since I use Asana as my task management tool and to-do list, I block my day out using sections under the My Task view and then drag tasks underneath the appropriate section. For example, I work on client projects during my Focused Work Time and most of my marketing projects during my Flexible Work Time.
Instead of trudging through a long daunting list of tasks, I plan and prioritize my tasks in less than ten minutes every night.
Hack #2: Eliminate Distractions
Cell phones can provide great tools for improving productivity. I don't know how I would manage my life without my calendar and Asana apps on my smartphone. I remember using a physical weekly planner in high school, but it's not the same as having a synced digital record that can be accessed anywhere. Misplacing my weekly planner meant losing all my information; misplacing my phone means I'll just have to access my to-list from another device or online until my phone is found (and there's an app for that too).
GOOD: Put Your Phone On Vibrate or Silent Mode
Cell phones can also pose a huge problem for productivity. There are notifications from apps to check, texts to read and respond to, calls to take and make, and the time to be checked (because who really wears a watch anymore?).
Silencing your phone is the first step to improving your productivity.
BETTER: Keep Your Phone In Your Purse Or Car
The temptation is always there whether your phone is silenced or not. The cell phone addiction is a serious problem and can only be relieved when your cell phone is out of reach. When you're in the workplace, keep your phone in your car or purse. If you are fortunate enough to work from home, keep your phone in another room.
If your productivity is suffering, start by removing the temptation and keeping your phone out of sight.
BEST: Use This app
In some situations, you can't just remove the problem. You may be on-call for family obligations, or maybe you use your phone for work. That's when a distraction-blocking app comes in handy for unplugging before bed or setting aside some focused work time.
There are a ton of distraction-blocking apps for Android and only a few for iOS phones. I personally love using (OFFTIME) for blocking notifications, calls, and texts when I need to focus.
(OFFTIME) will walk you through setting up a profile which indicates which contacts and apps you don't want to block during your "offtime." You can adjust how long you want your "offtime" to be but there are "moderate hurdles" you can also set to turn off the app if you need to. (For example: a long press on the screen and plugging in a charger)
Hack #3: Get Organized
Organization means something different to each person. While I believe I'm an organized person, you may disagree if you saw how cluttered my home could be. Since much of my day is online, digital organization is the priority. That being said, an organized workspace whether physical or digital can influence your productivity by eliminating distractions.
GOOD: Declutter Your Workspace
I can't operate well in clutter. If there is a stack of unopened mail on my desk or if my desk has become a dumping ground for receipts and other clutter, I just can't focus.
If this is your struggle as well, set aside time every week to declutter your workspace. Cleaning off, organizing, and dusting my desk on Fridays helps me start the following week off in a better mood. Try it.
BETTER: Create Simple Email Filters
A few weeks ago, I would check my emails in the morning and be overwhelmed. Why I didn't organize my folders and create simple email filters and rules before, I do not know. Most email providers like Gmail and Outlook allow a hierarchy of folders and sub-folders to organize and store your email. By creating rules and filters, my email provider does the organizing for me.
- Newsletters are automatically marked as read and placed in a Newsletters folder.
- When my contractors email me, they are starred/flagged and automatically sorted into the appropriate sub-folder ("Their Name") within my Team folder.
- Any email that is important for me to respond to but not urgent gets starred/flagged. Later in the afternoon or before I wrap up my day, I check and respond to my starred/flagged emails which are easily accessed by that auto-generated folder.
- So what's left? The remaining emails are likely both important and urgent, so they are addressed immediately.
Instead of spending 30 minutes sorting through and responding to or moving every email to its appropriate folder, I spent 10 minutes checking and responding to email.
BEST: Organize Your Files or Bookmarks
Nothing can be more detrimental to productivity than not know where something is located. Organizing your files saved to your computer or cloud-based storage drive can save you so much time in the long run.
Since I rely on Google Drive to store all of my files, I recently reorganized my folders to make locating files quicker. Rather than having one folder per client to store all of their documents, I have a client folder with an All Intake Files sub-folder, a Final Documents sub-folder, and a Targeted Cover Letters sub-folder. Instead of one folder for all of my social media graphics (and there are a lot!), I have a Social Media folder with a sub-folder for each platform (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) and additional sub-folders within each platform sub-folder identifying the purpose of that graphic (Blog Posts, Promotions, Behind-the-scenes, Motivational Quotes, etc.).
I also use Google Chrome and bookmarks for all of the online tools I use on a weekly basis. In the last six months, I switched from Bookmarks Manager to a Chrome extension called Speed Dial 2.
This extension allows me to create a customized New Tab page with visual buttons for each of my bookmarks. They are organized by sub-pages such as Work Tools, Social Media, Creative Tools, etc. Making your bookmarks quick and easy to find will also improve your productivity over time.
Hack #4: Take Advantage of To-Do Lists
If planners and calendars keep you organized, take another step forward and start utilizing detailed to-do lists. Having one master to-do list isn't always effective, so breaking up your tasks in weekly and daily lists will make it easier for you to track your progress and ultimately achieve your goals.
GOOD: Use A Post-It Note To Identify Your Top 3 Priorities
While we already discussed planning and prioritizing as a productivity hack, actually making and using actionable lists will make the greatest difference. If you're new to to-do lists or find them overwhelming, grab a Post-It notepad. Within that small square, you should identify the three things that you wish to accomplish in that day (or the next day).
How many to-do lists have discouraged you when you only completed 2-3 items on that list? A long, overwhelming to-do list is less likely to be conquered. When you start small, you're more likely to accomplish your list and stay motivated.
BETTER: actually Use A Planner
Planners are not intended to just be glanced at. Actively using a daily planner takes diligence, but it is so rewarding to track your progress. To take full advantage of a daily planner:
- Keep it with you and accessible always.
- Block out your time every day to create a routine.
- Plan and prioritize your tasks for each day the night before.
- Mark off every task you complete as you complete them.
- Add any task not completed that day to the next day.
- Check your planner before making any additional plans to avoid oversight or over-booking yourself.
BEST: Download ASANA Today (I swear by this app!)
If a physical planner is frustrating to keep track of, sign up with Asana and download the mobile app now. I don't know how I lived without Asana before. For personal use, you can add projects to sort and categorize your tasks.
I have a project designated for my school work. Each course that I have to take is listed as a task, and each chapter to study or activity to complete becomes a sub-task.
I also have a project specifically for household projects. Each room in the house is a task, and each chore is a repeated sub-task that I assign to myself during the week.
I also use Asana to manage my client projects, my marketing and administrative tasks, and as a communication tool with my contractors. The best part is... Asana is completely free for both business and personal use!
Hack #5: Stay Motivated
When tackling your day-to-day responsibilities, your outlook is key to influencing your productivity. A poor attitude can prevent you from not only achieving goals bu also from pursuing them.
GOOD: Keep Your Health A Top Priority
When you don't take care of yourself, your productivity will suffer. Even if you're not a breakfast person, eating healthy snacks frequently throughout the day will help keep you focused. Drinking water constantly throughout the day is another easy way to keep your health a top priority.
I'm not a huge fan of working out, but taking a short mid-day walk helps clear my head and recharges me for the rest of the day. Healthy living doesn't have to be a chore, but being mindful of what your body is needing will improve your productivity.
BETTER: Acknowledge Your Win(s) For The Day, Every Day
Nothing hurts productivity more than a negative attitude. Negativity can preoccupy your mind and make you feel stuck. One way to beat negativity is to identify three wins for the day (as little as they may be) and do this every day.
This is something you can do in your planner or on a Post-It note. Come up with three things you accomplished. Maybe you didn't complete a prioritized task, but you woke up early enough to do a load of laundry before work. That's still a win in my book!
BEST: Create A Reward System
Instead of punishing yourself with negativity, change your perspective and start rewarding yourself for even the little wins. A reward for a little win may be treating yourself to a movie night with your "guilty pleasure" movies, cooking your favorite meal, taking a nap on the weekend, or inviting your friends over for dinner or a game night.
Whatever you do to reward yourself, the focus should be on something that you enjoy.