I’m not sure when it was that I became really focused on productivity. Maybe when I left my full-time job and it really sunk in that I could work as many (or as few) hours as I wanted as long as I got my work done and moved my business forward. Or maybe it was when I became a mom and suddenly I had a baby who didn’t care that I had one more blog article to write or landing page to finalize. Nap time was over and so was my work time!
Regardless, I think it stands without reason that a lot of us waste a considerable amount of time during the day – myself included. It’s the reason I’ve been reading The Productivity Project. I wanted to share with you seven favorite productivity tips from the book:
Schedule designated times for checking email.
Okay, so I’d heard this one before and I’m sure you have too. However, I had never thought of it in these terms before: how many times during the day do you LOOK at your email? Or even just glance over at your tabs to see if the number of new emails has increased?
I hate to admit this, but when I’m working and NOT in a Word Doc that covers my whole screen, I glance at that email tab ALL DAY LONG. Probably every 10 minutes realistically. It wouldn’t be out of the question to say I check my email (or at least glance at it) 50+ times per day.
Even just glancing over to see if I have anything new is breaking my focus and taking away from the task at hand. Hypothetically, if I’m looking at my email every 10 minutes, that means I’m having to RE-FOCUS 6 times an hour.
The problem is that we – I – have trained our brains to think of our email THAT OFTEN. And it’s going to take a lot of work to train our brains to focus.
I recommend scheduling specific times to check email. One other tip is to not look at email unless you have time to respond to messages on the spot. Because otherwise what’s the point in knowing what’s in there?
Bonus tip: if you want certain people to be able to get ahold of you more quickly (like clients, for example), have a separate email address that only a few select people know about that you check more often.
If you need some help focusing, John Lee Dumas recommends using Focus at Will to keep yourself on task.
So we all know that batching your work is a great way to improve your productivity. Putting off accounting tasks or social media scheduling until you can do it all at once is a great way to maximize on your time.
However, I would take batching one step further and batch EVERYTHING.
Keep an ongoing list of all your activities during the week.
Which ones can you get rid of? Which are essential? Which ones are maintenance and support tasks? If you have the means to do so, I recommend hiring a virtual assistant (VA) to get rid of as many of your maintenance and support tasks as possible. I use onlinejobs.ph to find VAs in the Philippines. Check out this post from Classy Career Girl for more help with hiring someone overseas.
With the remaining tasks, group them together by activity. Schedule all of your social media posts at one time. Check social media and respond to people at only certain times of the day (Facebook can be such a time suck if you don’t allocate certain times for it).
You can even batch together activities outside of work, like cleaning or food prep. These support tasks are essential but not exactly going to impact your ability to move your business forward.
And when it comes to maintenance tasks, don’t be a perfectionist. Remember: “good enough” really is good enough.
Figure out when you’re most productive.
Figure out the time of day when you are MOST PRODUCTIVE and plan to do all of your most important tasks then. Have a sales letter to write? A landing page to build? Plan to complete them during the time of day when you feel most focused and energized.
Now, I know you’ve going to think I’m crazy with this next suggestion… and it’s entirely up to you if you want to do this experiment.
Cut out caffeine for a few days and THEN monitor when you feel most productive. We use coffee and energy drinks to get us going (and sometimes keep us going) during the day. However, they make it hard to tell when we’re biologically wired to have the most energy.
That said, even if you decide to stick with your caffeine habit, chances are you’ll be able to figure out when you’re most “on” and make the most of it.
Stop working and let your mind wander.
You’re probably thinking, “what???! Are you crazy?”
Last week after my routine noon workout, I met a friend at a beach park to chat about a new venture. When we were finished, I headed out to get some stuff done and he stayed to do some reading and just THINK.
Why? Because it helps him to come up with more ideas and be better focused when he sits down to work.
You see, when you make time for your mind to wander, you actually have time to process what you’re working on. You’ll be better able to see the big picture, focus, and see solutions to any problems that you’re struggling with.
One of the great problems we face today is that we are just too over-stimulated.
When we’re working, the internet can actually be one of our greatest downfalls. Research shows that the internet overwhelms our brains by engaging all of our senses.
Our hands are moving over the keyboard. Our eyes are taking in the images on the screen. And our ears are hearing the hum of the computer and tapping of the keys.
When we’re connected to the internet we actually waste more time, are more easily distracted and are less capable of focusing on the task at hand.
And think about when you aren’t online. When was the last time you just sat and THOUGHT? If you’re at home, the television may be on, you may be cruising Facebook on your phone, responding to text messages, dealing with kids running around the house…It’s a LOT of stimulation.
There’s a reason so many of us get our best ideas in the shower. It’s one of the only moments when our senses aren’t being over-stimulated and our brains actually have time to wander.
As Chris Bailey explains, “Rest assured that when you take a break from your work, your brain will continue working in the background even though you might not be—and if you’re trying to tackle a particularly creative or complex problem, it may even do a better job than your conscious prefrontal cortex will.”
Make to-do lists.
I always recommend making your to-do list the night before, and for two reasons: 1) you may be tired when you start working and having a hard time remembering everything you need to get done, and 2) you are more likely to put those annoying tasks on the list (because you’re less likely to try to avoid them when they’re a day away, still).
And if you want to really plan ahead, try making both a daily and weekly to-do list. On your weekly to-do list, put three things that you want to accomplish before the week is over. Things that, if you get them done, you’ll feel productive and accomplished.
You can actually do the same with your daily to-do list. If you’re like me, there are a million things that could go on your daily to-do list. But what top three things could you accomplish that would make you feel productive and move your business forward?
Write everything down.
If you’re an entrepreneur, your mind is probably going 100 miles an hour most of the day. This means that thoughts can fly into your head at any moment that can derail what you’re trying to focus on. (“Squirrel!”)
I suggest keeping paper and pen next to you at all times so you can write down those passing thoughts and not have them take up space in your brain as you TRY to remember them.
Set time limits.
I used to have a copywriting client that paid me for a certain amount of work every month. And every month I would set aside a day to get the work done. A day. And let me tell you, I could make that work last all day.
Then I started setting time limits for myself. I would focus on it for two hours and try to get as far through the work as I could, then I would switch to something else. I found that by limiting the amount of time I worked I could get most of the work complete during those two hours. Talk about a huge time savings!
Look, there are a million productivity hacks out there. These are just a few of my favorites. I would suggest continually re-assessing your routine and trying out new things. Don’t feel like you need to get up at 5:30 in the morning to be productive if you absolutely loathe mornings. Figure out what works for YOU and run with it.