Getting the most out of your day? Most of us want to find a way to get a bit more done and combat distractions – have you tried these?
Time is our biggest resource, our biggest luxury – and the easiest thing to spend without thinking. Finding ways to manage your working time can make your jobs easier – and your time off more rewarding too. These are our best tips for getting more out of the hours in your day – what are yours? Let us know in the comments. Now, where’s that to-do list?
1. Know what your goals are
How to be productive, step one – set some goals. This is one of the most important tools at your disposal.
We tend to have 3 kinds of things to put on a to-do list:
- Ambitions – ‘I want to become Boston’s favourite wedding photographer’
- Daily habits – ‘get at least 30mins exercise every day’
- To-do tasks – ‘Send cost estimate to my new client’
So first up, you need to know which kind of goal you’re talking about – it’s going to be hard to put your ambition down on Monday and cross it off Tuesday. But breaking that down into smaller tasks each morning – posting on your blog, sharing your portfolio, preparing for events – can all help focus your productivity. That’ll give you a more manageable work list to start your week with.
Once you’ve got your goals, whether they’re just for today, one week or a whole year, write them down. It can be as simple as having a good, reliable diary and setting yourself some deadlines, but if you’re after something a little stronger, Bullet Journaling is a great way to bring your daily tasks into focus, and map your reminders and habits.
2. Break up the day
A big part of learning how to be productive is to stop looking at your day as one long block of eight hours, or even two half-day-long blocks. Psychologists tend to agree that the longest people can spend concentrating on one thing is about 45 minutes.
If you feel your goals for the day are too big, or too broad, it’ll be really hard to make them attainable. Take a tip from school-age you – take that to-do list and put it into a timetable, switching up the kind of task you’re doing every ‘period’. This is also a great way to keep regular jobs like email or admin to a set amount of time, rather than letting them spill over into your whole day.
Or, to keep it simpler, make like a tomato. The Pomodoro technique, invented by Italian developer Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, recommends working in 25-minute chunks with a 5-minute break in between each, then taking a longer break after 4 chunks. With those little breaks in between for your diversion of choice (take a walk, play with the dog, flick through Tinder…) your productivity will shine.
3. Make your distractions constructive
Reframe your distractions as research time! If, during productivity hours, you constantly feel the pull of your phone, or you long to pick up your book instead of focusing on the task at hand, turn those distractions into work tools. If Instagram or Reddit is your focus-puller of choice, schedule time to explore – but set a time limit on it. This way you’ll turn timesinks into positive motivation.
Going back to our photographer example, you might spend time to explore the most popular photography hashtags to check out what the competition’s doing, or to post a question on a message board about something in your industry. Things like this can really work as a break – and this kind of little-and-often observation of the rest of your industry can bring huge work life rewards. You never know what kind of ideas it might spark.
4. Get ranking
Planning your day out in the morning is all well and good, but we never quite get to the bottom of our to-do lists. No matter how high our motivation or productivity, there’s always more work we could do; another job to finish. So another crucial trick is to rank your tasks – always have a sense of what your priorities are and focus on those jobs first. There are a lot of people who also swear by picking off the most loathed tasks too. Need to do that filing, or dreading finishing your tax return? Getting that out of the way first will save you any further procrastination time – and also make for happier free time at the end of it too when that dreaded job is in the past.
There are a lot of people who also swear by picking off the most loathed tasks too. Need to do that filing, or dreading your tax return? Getting that out of the way first will save you any further procrastination time – and also make for happier free time at the end of it too when that productivity-sapping job is in the past.
5. Rethink your work-life balance
Everyone has a natural rhythm with peaks and troughs throughout the day. Thankfully, many modern workplaces are recognizing this and giving their staff more flexibility in their working day. If you work for yourself or you can set your own schedule, get a feel for when your productivity peaks. Got more motivation in a morning? Want to work all day Sunday and take Wednesdays off? Give it a try and see what works.
A lot of people keep doing things out of habit – so by following the wrong timetable or not being clear enough about what it is we’re trying to get done, we can miss some good opportunities. By making a few tweaks to your daily routine and keeping an open mind, you can start to see great changes. With those good habits racking up, you can learn how to be productive and, we hope, enjoy your work life a bit more too.
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