13 Ways to Improve Daily Productivity

Executing on Plans / November 16, 2015 / Kristie

Feel like you’re not getting enough out of your time? Here are some ideas for increasing your productivity. Whether you’re running your own business, freelancing it, or just want to make the most of your time at the office, these tips and tricks will give you an extra boost.

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer



1. Keep an organized desk

If your workspace looks like a bomb went off, it’s a red flag for a cluttered mind. Clutter kills productivity. Whether it’s clutter on your desk, around the house (if you’re working at home), or clutter in your mind about when to pick up the kids–clutter is not friends with productivity. It takes more effort to focus when you’re surrounded by a sea of papers in improper places. Not to mention all the extra time it takes to find things or the stress of looking around at everything you need to clean up later. Start with an organized workspace and your mind will also feel more organized. You don’t have to go OCD on your desk or home office (this is near impossible, especially if you have little kids), but wherever it is that you spend your time doing work, try to keep it tidy for your own peace of mind.

It also helps to have something nice to look at. Create an inspiration board in front of your desk, or keep photos of your family, maybe even a picture of Arnold if that’s what gets you ramped up. Having nice things to look at makes working happier. Something as simple as getting a plant actually helped me feel happier about working– that was before it died. Orchids are high maintenance flowers, I suggest opting for a more “easy-care” type of plant. But before it died, that orchid on my desk made me smile every time I looked at it and made me happier about working. Which brings us to tip #2.

2. Smile

The happier you are, the more work you’ll get done because being happy makes your work easier and more pleasurable to do. Don’t believe me? Here’s 7 Ways Smiling Will Make You More Productive. Not sure what to smile about? Well, life for one. And if you need something here and there to remind you to smile, read the tip about surrounding yourself with things that make you happy. Even moving to an office with a window can make a big difference. It will help remind you that there’s a whole world out there, so whatever you’re stressing about at work seems less important and easier to deal with. Still need something to smile about? Visit a hospital or shelter. It will remind you just how lucky you are to be where you are, even if you’re dealing with struggles. May as well be happy while you’re getting through it.

3. Stop trying to multitask

You may think you’re getting more done by doing multiple things at once, but a Stanford study reveals that multitasking actually decreases your performance and damages your brain. Anthony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology explains that this is because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so trying to multitask forces your brain to switch focus and get off track.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal.” – Wagner

4. Prioritize your priority list

Keep a to-do list. But before starting on anything, prioritize that list and cut it down to the top three to four things you want to focus on. Having a long list of to-dos makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand. Start with the top most important things and only add on more once you’ve finished your main priorities.

5. Use your calendar to carve out time for each of your priorities

One thing that Thomas Freitag of MindMove started doing to help organize himself was use his calendar for scheduling tasks. He estimates the time each task will take him and then books an appointment with himself in his Daylite calendar. This way he has a clear idea of how much he can expect to accomplish in a day.

If your schedule normally involves answering phone calls and emails for customers, keep that time in mind when booking focused work time. Add in extra times throughout the day to check and respond to emails and deal with any urgent issues that may come up. Plan for those unexpected  distractions so you’re prepared to deal with them. This method also helps you to decide when an “urgent” tasks really needs to be done or postponed because you’ll visually see the chain reaction that moving around another priority has. If taking an additional task means your main priorities won’t have time to be completed, you’ll be able to better decide which tasks you should be focusing on.

6. Limit socializing during focused time

Socializing can eat up a lot of time. Plan for when you’ll be socializing with the other people you work with. Plan for a few minutes at the beginning of your day like when you’re chatting and having a coffee or during a lunch break. During the time you’ve schedule for focused work, put in headphones even if you’re not listening to music or on a call so people know you’re in the zone.

7. Follow a meeting agenda

Meetings are notorious for wasting time. First off, limit as many meetings as you can internally. Only schedule meetings when they’re absolutely necessary and only invite people that absolutely have to be there. Secondly, provide people with the scope and any necessary materials they’ll need ahead of time. That way you don’t have to waste people’s time bringing everyone up to speed, you can use the meeting time to efficiently start a discussion and/or make decisions.

If you’re using Daylite, you can prep your team for meetings by adding in the scope of the meeting in the meeting details and linking any documents, tasks, or projects that they need to reference before the meeting begins. Finally, have a meeting agenda with points of what needs to be discussed, what needs to be decided, and what actions need to follow. A meeting is useless if people leave and either forget what was discussed or are unsure how to proceed. Record any decisions made and delegate tasks at the end of the meeting so everyone knows what needs to be done next.

8. Listen to music while you work

Listening to music can make your work more enjoyable, which leads to increased productivity. It also deters people from interrupting you while you work if you have headphones in. Help Scout posted a blog a little while back about the effects of music on your productivity that supports some of these ideas. If you find listening to music distracts you while you work, opt for a playlist that is only instrumental or ambient songs that don’t have lyrics to distract you. So throw on a record, a CD, a cassette tape (if you still have one), or stream music on Spotify or Soundcloud.

9. Turn off notifications

As mentioned in tip 3 about avoiding multitasking, doing more than one thing at a time lowers your productivity. Checking your email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and chat rooms is part of this downward spiral of wasted time. Turn off your email and social media apps while you’re in focused work time. Many productivity gurus talk about how distracting emails and social media can be while you work. Schedule time to check and respond to emails only a few times a day. The same goes for Twitter, Facebook, and any other app you use that poses a distraction. If you’re an email addict that has a hard time swallowing this idea, read the post on Fast Company, What I Learned From Checking Email only Twice a Day.

Internally, we use HipChat by Atlassian to coordinate communication between teams. While we need to keep this on so we have a way to keep our teams connected, I take advantage of the status to turn mine to “do not disturb” when I’m in the writing zone and adjust the settings so I only get notifications if my name is mentioned in a chat. This way I’m not constantly disrupted while people are having conversations. In between tasks, I check my email, chats, and social media so that I can respond to things all at once then move on to the next task without interruptions.

10. Take regular breaks to recharge

Studies have proved that working in 90 minute intervals helps you to increase productivity. Tony Schwartz writes about how implenting this strategy changes the way he worked in The 90-Minute Solution: How Building in Periods of Renewal Can Change Your Work and Your Life. In between your 90 minute periods of focused work, take a short break to recharge. You can take a short walk around the office, have a snack, do a quick workout, or even do a few stretches.

11. Eat healthy snacks

Eating small, healthy snacks throughout the day helps you keep your energy up. Instead of having a heavy lunch that makes you feel tired and unmotivated after eating, or not eating throughout the day and feeling depleted, have a few small meals/snacks in-between your 90-minute focused work sessions. Not sure what you should be snacking on? Check out Fitness Magazine’s list of 11 Energy-Boosting Snacks. Or you can follow 99U on their hunt for Tim Cook’s Energy Bar.

12. Set small check points

Break up your deadlines into smaller checkpoints for yourself. Setting your own deadlines helps you keep on track and set a pace for your work. Mini deadlines for yourself can be used to gauge how fast you need to be working to reach your goals.

13. Reward yourself

Show yourself some love. If you’re working harder and harder but not taking any time to appreciate yourself and your handwork, you’ll eventually burnout and lose your passion for working towards something you used to love. Celebrate your successes, even the small ones. Give yourself something to look forward to by achieving your goals by doing little things that make you happy. Treat yourself to a meal out with friends and leave your phone at home. Buy yourself something new that you’ve been eyeing for a while. Book a weekend getaway with friends or family after a stressful week. Taking a short break from work puts things back into perspective for you, even if it’s just for a few hours. Instead of working harder because you think you have to, it’ll help shift your focus to remember why you’re doing it.


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