Whether you’re working for yourself or on a campus of 10,000 people, there are countless ways for the creative (and perhaps a little undisciplined) mind to get off task. Sure, you lay your agenda out every day, but then that hilarious video pops up in your inbox, or you overhear a co-worker’s personal conversation and you can’t resist a comment, or there’s that box of cupcakes in the break room, and before you know it, it’s seven o’clock and you’re the only one left in the office. Sound familiar? If so, here are just a few small changes to that everyday work routine that can make a big difference to your productivity.
1. Track your time
You can’t solve a problem unless you know you’ve got one. And you can’t know you’ve got one unless, well, you know you’ve got one. The best way to do that: embrace all that data has to offer. Use a tool like Toggl to intelligently track use of your time, whether you’re in the office or on the go.
“But I know how I spend my time!” you say. “It’s all laid out on the aforementioned daily agenda!”
That may be, but Toggl will help you determine how much you may have been lying to yourself. Of course, you’ve got to be painfully honest to make this work. If you stop to stare out the window as you gather your thoughts, that’s fine. If that staring contest yawns into a twenty minute break in which you think more about what you’re making for dinner than the task at hand – stop the timer.
2. Develop an email management strategy
Let’s not kid ourselves: email is the bane of productivity. No matter how deeply we convince ourselves we can just flit back and forth between that boring spreadsheet and that juicy inbox, the fact is, even small breaks in our concentration have long-term, negative consequences for the task at hand. And we’re not even going to talk about what happens when something big and dramatic waltzes on through.
To master your inbox, you’ve got to get strategic. I suggest starting with this fantastic email productivity guide, which will help you diagnose your particular brand of email dysfunction and offers specifically tailored solutions. A few highlights include:
• Checking your email in batches twice a day. Email should be viewed as a task like any other — one that’s better completed when you’ve got all of your attention to give.
• Using a tool like Boomerang to schedule and delay the sending of your emails, so that clients and colleagues don’t develop unrealistic expectations for response times.
• Writing quick, information-rich, effective emails that get the job done without requiring a lot of back and forth.
3. Block out distractions
Look, I know you love all that the internet and its accompanying technology have to offer. And, most of the time, you probably have a healthy, fulfilling relationship. But too much of a good thing is a decidedly bad thing, and no one will think less of you for taking a few extra measures to resist temptation. When you know there’s nothing urgent on the docket, use a tool like Freedom to block the entire internet for up to eight hours at a time, or SelfControl to selectively block the most distracting websites. A Google search will turn up a host of other great internet blocking tools as well.
4. Get rid of redundancies and clunky procedures
Sure, you convinced yourself or your company that you’d be more productive with a laptop, a desktop, a smartphone and a tablet. And, hey, you may very well be, but not if you have to re-enter or transfer information between devices. Solution: get yourself onto the cloud and have all of your devices automatically sync. While you’re at it, turn on keyboard shortcuts, too, for email and all of your devices, so you can easily categorize and file things away. The clearer and more efficient your cross-platform procedures, the more time you can spend getting things done rather than getting things organized.
5. Give yourself a break already
With our culture’s Puritan workhorse mentality, we tend to think of breaks as being antithetical to productivity. Rather, countless studies have shown that they fuel both productivity and creativity. Your mind, despite how it sometimes may seem, is not a machine, and it needs time to rest, mull, and recover. So, that penchant for staring out windows we discussed earlier? Don’t get too down on yourself about it. Just build breaks into your schedule, making sure not to overstuff your day. Be honest with yourself about what’s actually accomplishable, get up out of your chair at regular intervals, and stop feeling guilty.
Though we may work in a linear production model, true human productivity is anything but. Take the time to analyze how you work best, strategize and experiment with the best solutions, and find what works right for you. No, really; turn off your email and put it on your schedule.