8 productivity tips to work smarter, not harder, and decimate your to-do list
If you feel like your to-do list is never done, you’re not alone.
There’s an immense pressure to perform, in work, life and in your family. In a culture that fetishises ‘busy,’ it’s hard to prioritise time to just be... at least until your to-do list is done anyway.
The good news is that if you’re not as productive as you want to be, there are ways to help you get more work done in less time. It’s all about working smarter, not harder.
Here are eight productivity tips to help you on your way.
1. Set realistic goals
The pressure to be ultra-productive can often encourage overscheduling and overreaching. With this in mind, it may be a good idea (before you get out your planner or diary to write that list) to stop for a moment.
Take a breath and ask yourself whether the amount of work you’re setting yourself is a realistic goal. Have you left any wiggle room for life to happen? If the answer is ‘no’, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
So the first productivity hack you should try if you really want to smash that to-do list is to put less on it.
One thing that will help you to set realistic goals is to ‘timetable’ your day. Break the time you’re awake up into chunks, and assign each task to a ‘period’.
Of course, to do this, you’re going to need to know how long things take you. While you’re coming up with your timetable system, try timing your recurring tasks. Keep notes – either on paper or in an app – to get a clear idea of how long each task takes.
You may be surprised to find that your hour-long gym class actually eats up two hours of your day between travelling there, doing the class, having a chat afterwards and then heading back home.
3. Identify your distractions and avoid them
We all know that social media is a huge time-suck, but it’s not the only one. Whether your distractions are online or offline, it’s easy to let them side-track you.
If email or social media are your main problems, consider installing an app on your phone or computer that blocks them during certain times of the day. If chatting at school drop-off eats into your morning - try the ‘kiss and drop’ technique.
The only way to avoid distractions is to identify them first. Then, when you know what they are, you can hatch a plan to prevent them.
4. Avoid multitasking
Multitasking is a great skill – right? Wrong.
Sure, it’s fine to unload the dishwasher while waiting for the kettle to boil, but research has shown that we may not be as good at multitasking as we think. In fact, studies have found that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%.
Concerning, right? Doing one thing at a time and paying mindful attention to it may seem more time-intensive, but it’ll make you more focused and productive in the long run.
5. Know your productive times
Everyone has certain times of the day when they feel most energetic and productive. So it’s a great idea to identify yours. Once you know them, schedule your most challenging tasks during those times, and keep the fun activities or menial tasks for less energetic times.
On the other hand, if you feel like you have no productive times at all, maybe it’s a good idea to look at lifestyle factors. Try eating more of the ‘better foods’ that may help to boost your energy, and consider cutting back on alcohol.
6. Explore proven methods
There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the best productivity hacks. Experts have already identified many theories and techniques that help at least some people to improve their productivity.
For example, the Pomodoro Technique involves breaking your work up into small segments with breaks between each one. Meanwhile, the Pareto Principle involves identifying the 20% of your tasks that create 80% of your results.
Many people find that brain-healthy foods or physical exercise help to get them hustling. Of course, no one technique works for everyone, but we recommend scheduling in some time (see tip 2) to explore and find what works for you.
If you feel like emails are eating your day, but you don’t have time to tackle all of them at once, schedule a regular block of time to deal with them. That block might be ten minutes, half an hour, half a day – whatever you can do.
Then, use the search tool in your inbox to find all messages with the word ‘unsubscribe’ in them. This will help you to identify what mailing lists you're on (and need to get off). And depending on your browser, it might even highlight the ‘unsubscribe’ button for easy location when you open the message.
8. Say ‘no’
Saying ‘no’ is one of the best tips for productivity out there. It will help you to get more work done and decimate your to-do list, because saying ‘no’ gives you more time in your day and more space in your mind.
So use this magic word wisely, and watch your productivity soar.
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Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021