If you’re like most people, you often wish you had more hours to work with during the day. Until the moment when robot assistants (or personal clones) become commonplace, you’ll need to rely on good old time management, resourcefulness, and these helpful productivity hacks.1) Learn to brainstorm. Got writer’s block? Rather than going through the frustrating process of writing, deleting, and rewriting a paragraph, allow yourself to free-associate. Write down all the things you would like to say, even if you have to word it in the most simplistic terms. Don’t try to be eloquent; just jot down the gist of the idea and let it flow. One idea will likely lead to another, until you’ll have enough content to write at least a paragraph, if not more. Then all you need to do is “polish” your short sentences and expand on them if necessary.
2) Take breaks. Unless you find yourself in the zone or on a productivity “roll,” work in 30-minute intervals and then take a 5-minute break, preferably outside where you can get some fresh air. The longer you work, the more challenging it becomes to stay focused. Taking regular short breaks allows you to calm your mind, collect your thoughts, and refocus. This will not only help you be more productive, but you’ll often find that you’re better able to come up with good ideas and solutions when you are in a “fresher” and more relaxed state of mind.
3) Make your own deadline. Create an artificial deadline for a project that is at least a couple of days before the actual deadline. This will allow you to create a buffer in case something goes wrong, and gives you extra time to polish a project and tie up any loose ends.
4) Figure out when you are most productive. If possible, schedule more mentally demanding tasks for the time of day when you are the most focused. Some people prefer to tackle intense tasks in the morning and reserve more mundane ones, like answering emails or doing paperwork, for the afternoon. Others prefer to ease into their day with simpler tasks, then once they’re in the groove (and their stomach is full), they switch to more difficult work. Find an arrangement that works for you.
5) Track your time. Wondering where all your time goes? Keep a log of your tasks for two weeks. Include the following information:
- Each task you need to complete
- How often each task needs to be completed
- How long it takes you to complete each task
- Interruptions that prevented you from completing a task and what can be done about it.
- Distractions that sidetracked you from completing the task and what can be done about it.
Once you’ve completed it, analyze it carefully and discuss it with your colleagues. You may be surprised to discover tasks that could be done more efficiently, clustered together or delegated to someone else.
6) Streamline your meetings. This means knowing the difference between information that has to be discussed face-to-face vs. information that can be communicated in other ways. If there’s a major problem or delay in a project, organizing a group meeting would be the work-smart choice. Status updates for projects, on the other hand, can be communicated through email or, if you want to get hi-tech, through a Project Management software to keep track of everyone’s updates. The bottom line: If you do not have an issue that needs everyone’s expertise, you do not have to have a meeting … at least not with everyone involved in the project.
7) Avoid multi-tasking as much as possible. Research has shown that when people take on more than one task at a time, they tend to become less efficient, particularly when it involves difficult, creative or unfamiliar tasks. If working on one task at a time until you complete it is not possible in your line of work, use a software that allows you to keep track of schedules, deadlines, and any other information that could potentially be forgotten as you switch from one task to another. And remember, you don’t have to answer every email or instant message as it arrives. Try setting aside a block of time every hour to respond to all your emails.
8) Try the "Be here now" mantra. This deceptively simple strategy can be very effective. When you notice your thoughts wandering, say to yourself "Be here now" and gently bring your attention back to where you want it. For example, you're in a meeting and your attention strays to that error you made yesterday. As you say to yourself, "Be here now," focus back on the task at hand and keep your attention there as long as possible. If your mind wanders again, repeat it again. You can also set aside half an hour a day to think about all the things that are worrying you. Sounds counter-intuitive, but research has shown that people who do this end up worrying less over time.
9) Know what conditions you need in order to focus. Can't get anything done when there's any kind of background noise? Use earplugs or headphones. Can't seem to stop people watching out of the window? Turn your desk around and face the wall. Although there may be things that disturb you in your environment, don't use them as an excuse not to get things done - come up with solutions! It's also an extremely valuable skill to be able to block out the things happening around you in order to focus on a task. One way to develop this ability is to desensitize yourself by working on things in a busy, noisy place, like the park, a restaurant, or on the subway. Read an article or do a crossword puzzle in a public place and focus your full attention on it. It will get easier with time.
10) Reorganize your workspace. It has been demonstrated that "L" and "U" shaped desks make the most efficient work spaces. In keeping with this concept, try to have everything you need within arm's reach. Keep your phone on the opposite side of your writing hand so that you can take notes. Keep part of the desk free for writing and spreading out documents, and the other side for equipment (phone, computer, etc.) Avoid cluttering your workspace with personal items - pictures can be hung on the wall and knickknacks put onto shelves. When you’re finished with a document or tool, train yourself to put it away immediately so that it doesn’t take up space.
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