How to be productive: 25 tips to live by

Improving your productivity can make your work more efficient while providing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. We’ve put together 25 productivity tips, tricks, hacks, and best-practices to help you get more done in less time and with less effort.

1. Think long-run

You can’t assign your progress in productivity to one or even a few actions. Productive people play a long game and it’s inevitable to experience a few missteps – forgetting to set a timer, failing to plan your day, and more. Before starting this article, I fell into the trap of task-switching – a habit almost every productivity guru tells you to break.

To keep the long-run goal in mind, pick yourself back up when you experience a less-than-productive hour, morning or even day. Over time, unproductive time will accumulate. If you’re consistent in your efforts to implement various hacks, tips, and tricks, the productive time adds up, too. It’s likely your productive time will outstretch the unproductive time, so don’t sweat the small things.

2. Find the formula that works for you

A common question for leaders in any field is “What is your top productivity tip?” Answers range from simple actions like setting timers for Focus Time to more intense (for some) actions like waking up before everyone else to work.

The nuance these questions – and the answers – miss is that these are tips that work for them. An interviewee can’t possibly know your working style or what habits might stick with you. To get the most out of intentional changes to boost productivity, understand not every trick is right for you. The key is to find the ones that make you tick.

Like an elimination diet to pinpoint food allergies and sensitivities, make a list of productivity tips you want to implement based on what you struggle with in productivity – time management, scheduling conflicts, endless meetings, etc. – and add them one at a time. Start with one or two and commit to using them for a work week. At the end of the week, assess how they fit into your schedule. Did it feel like it took more time to set up the practice relative to the amount of time dedicated to work? Did a tip feel cumbersome to implement at first, but add up to an overall win at the week’s end?

3. Reassess your goals daily

A study of 149 participants across businesses, organizations, and business networking groups found the mean achievement score for groups of participants who wrote down their goals was significantly higher than the group who did not write down goals.

But writing down your aims is only the start. To keep productivity streaks strong while moving the needle on your stated goal, you should reassess your goals daily. Determine whether your actions for the day support your goal and let your big goals lead your calendar organization.

4. Add objectives to your meetings

Meetings with defined objectives can have a two-fold effect. Meetings may be shorter because it’s easier to stay on task. Plus, you may have fewer of them when a would-be meeting lacks a purpose and fails to materialize on your calendar.

What should a meeting objective and agenda look like? This blog post breaks it down into two parts of a sentence: defining whether there is a purpose, goal, or objective and sharing the specific outcomes stemming from this purpose – five ideas for the next company event, one topic to bring to audiences at an upcoming conference, etc.

5. Time block your day

No day looks the same, but you can still plan your day in a way that accommodates your working style, project demands, team demands, and even life demands – like an unexpected trip to the dentist. Organize time blocks by project, type of work, day of the week, or even recurring meetings.

Build your solo work blocks for deep focus time – and preparing for your next team meeting. Make sure you include breaks and don’t be afraid to mix how you organize your days. Mondays may be meeting central, but Wednesdays are designated as no-meeting days – ripe for solo focus time or spreading your attention over your current slate of projects.

6. Do not disturb

Our tech devices are onto the productivity obsession. Take advantage of the now-standard features – and extensions – that help you keep your focus and track your time so you know where it’s going. Start with your phone. Both Android and iOS contain features to turn off notifications for calls, texts and push notifications from all apps. Browsers have extensions to keep you from your own distracting websites – social media, news sites, and even Zillow. Our Slack + Google Calendar integration can also automatically turn on Do Not Disturb when you're in a meeting or outside working hours.

7. Make accommodations for downtime

Emails, meetings, administrative tasks, and other work outside of peak productivity are inevitable. But they don’t need to take over your peak productivity times or fall into undefined parts of your day. Give them a specific space – in the downtimes surrounding intense focus. While these tasks may feel less important than direct work on projects and goals, they impact your bottom line and missing them could have a negative impact down the road. By working on these tasks when you feel less productive, you can more easily end a work sprint with tangible accomplishments – reaching inbox zero, planned meeting schedules for the next month, and more.

8. Follow the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule and way of thinking models itself after the Pareto principle, or the concept that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. This rule has been applied to everything from personal relationships to managing family medical practices. When it comes to productivity at work, it applies most to prioritizing your focus.

Determine the actions – tasks, projects, etc. – that will move the needle most on your work. Devote more time to these actions and find ways to minimize time spent on the tasks that don’t produce as much for your goals.

9. Find a great calendar app

The right calendar app does more than display your meetings in weekly or monthly view. It fits your line of work and how you prefer to organize meetings, tasks, and reminders. For freelancers and individuals managing teams, some calendar apps offer scheduling to designate time blocks clients can schedule meetings. Other calendar apps take a team approach, like Clockwise, to involve each member in planning their day, coordinating meetings, and finding space for the sometimes-elusive Focus Time. To-do lists aim to keep tasks at hand through options to customize list labels, add deadlines to tasks, and choose how tasks are displayed.

10. Re-examine your routine

Everyone has a routine, whether they realize it or not. To contribute to overall productivity levels, make time to check-in with your routine on a regular basis. You never know what one or two changes to the structure of your day can do to help you reach your goals. You may want to reassess your routine monthly or even quarterly.

Identify your favorite part of your recent routine, your least favorite part, and even how you can change one aspect to help your motivation. Individuals who work from home can keep the various routines from working in an office – commuting, coffee runs, and ending the work day – by changing up how they look at home. Office workers can assess commutes and group activities like team lunches to see where they can make the most of the time blocks – for rest, breaks, or work sprints to move the needle on a project.

11. Schedule lunch

While you might say ‘schedule lunch’ seems out of place for a list of tips to increase your productivity, this action sparks a few effects. First, it ensures you’re fueling your body to take on the afternoon block of work. Second, it opens up opportunities to make connections with colleagues, and even friends, by designating a specific lunch hour. Catch up over a meal or on a walk to build up relationships with those around you. This unlocked block of time also gives you peace of mind when an unexpected errand comes up, or a personal task demands attention before the end of the workday.

12. Finish a task before moving on

In a previous post, I shared insight from Sophie Leroy whose book explores the many ways in which work can be difficult to accomplish. It led to a tip that demands another spot in a blog post: finish a task before you move on. The simple action matters because the brain wants to continue thinking about the last thing you worked on unless you complete it. By completing a task, you’re able to signal an end to it the brain picks up on – which clears the way to dive into what’s next. If you’re having trouble finishing tasks, consider breaking them up into smaller more manageable pieces that fit into the time set for yourself.

13. Make a better morning

Maybe you hit all the basics for productivity – and you still struggle to complete the have-to’s or want-to-do’s. It might be time to reassess your morning. The best part is, for most jobs, your morning routine is completely up to you.

Spend half an hour hunting for a bug in your code – or stream a workout for an added boost to your day. You don’t have to wake up before dawn like the famous names typically associated with success. Take your current wake-up time and set your alarm for half an hour before. Conduct your regular routine to prepare for the day before dedicating the extra half hour to something you want to do – or have to do. Research destinations for upcoming time off, read a book, take a walk or even pick up a few grocery essentials. Experiment to see which activity contributes most to a sense of accomplishment – and do it.

14. Cut down on writing time

Emails and even direct messages often seem like the most important pieces of communication you can send. The truth is, you’re sending dozens – or more – each day. Spending more time – whether it is five, ten or even twenty minutes – on crafting a communication adds up and can confuse the main point of your message.

One way to structure your communications is to follow the ABC rule: ask, body, close. Start with a greeting – this is crucial especially with remote teams who don’t have the opportunity to greet each other in person. Then, make your ask: “We need to follow up on the latest progress report.” Next, dive into the body. Give context to your ‘ask.’ “There are discrepancies in the report and we should dedicate time to meet in order to discuss.” From there, make your closing. This includes any details about next steps: “I have some open time blocks later this week. Is there a time within them that also works with your schedule?” This rule also works if you have multiple ‘asks,’ helping to segment information and make it easier for the recipient to respond to everything.

15. Ask for help

It’s easy to wrap your arms around your workload and miss the opportunity to ask for help. Far from dumping your tasks onto someone else, asking for help allows you to move past ruts and into productive streaks. In some cases, you may need help from colleagues to make a team deadline. Other times, you need a second opinion on how to approach a project – and move past an obstacle. This dovetails with finishing a task before moving to the next. If you’re stuck, ask for help and get unstuck.

16. Find shortcuts

Even simple changes like learning the keyboard shortcuts that help in a certain program can free up time and brain space. There are productivity apps like Alfred that open up even more shortcuts.

Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues how they complete a similar task to see how you can make your own process better. Utilize tools like password managers, bookmark bars, and more offered on various browsers. They cut down on the number of clicks and time to launch to help improve your own user experience when working.

17. Take a vacation

Rest is essential. Sometimes it takes more than a weekend off or a good night’s sleep to recharge from work and responsibilities. A vacation – whether to an extravagant location or to new scenery near home – can temporarily take away the energy focus on work so you can recharge.

Depending on your work style and job requirements, you may need to schedule vacation times around heavy work seasons. Some people may feel recharged after visiting family and others will need separate vacations to ensure they can fully relax before diving back into work. Think about the last time you visited family and self-assess your energy after the trip. If you find it lacking, consider booking separate time to visit family and friends.

18. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’

Sometimes it’s as simple as declining to take on an extra task or two. Other times, it looks like speaking up to extra work from piling on – with no bandwidth to absorb it. It may take time to work your way up to saying ‘no’ to requests like large initiatives with unrealistic start dates, but now’s the best time to start. Plus, you may find yourself ready to advocate for a team system that helps everyone understand the team’s capacity and what can be expected.

19. Don’t fear failure

Some work cultures frame failure as a devastating blow to be avoided at all costs. In reality, failures happen all the time. Their inevitability is all the more reason to embrace the knowledge that they will happen. When they do, make sure you have a plan to work through any negative feelings that come up. Next, be prepared with a plan made especially for the failure scenario in any project.

20. Streamline your to-do list

Writing out a long list of tasks at the start of your day may feel productive. By the time work is over, however, you’ll likely find yourself with unaccomplished tasks. The truth is few people, if any, can handle miles-long to-do lists each day.

Instead, build up your sense of productivity and accomplishment with a list you know you can complete. This could look like capping the list at 5 larger items or 10 smaller ones. Some even suggest limiting your list to 3-5 important tasks each day. If you still find it difficult to complete your list, try breaking up each task into smaller subtasks and focusing on one at a time.

21. Sleep on it

When you get to the end of the day and find a task that you’ve returned to more than once, it may be a good idea to sleep on it. This can be especially impactful for big decisions with many factors to weigh.

You can employ this tip after exhausting other avenues like asking a colleague for a second opinion or leaving the pain point to come back later. If you build time for focusing on tasks or projects ahead of a deadline, you leave time open to sleep on it when a decision eludes you.

22. Improve your sleep

The quality of your day – energy, focus, mental acuity – depends a lot on the quality of your night. What does your sleep routine look like? Your sleep may be affected by scrolling through apps for hours in bed or consuming caffeine or alcohol before turning in.

Find a bedtime routine that supports a better night’s rest. You may need to look at times during your day to catch a rest. A quick nap or even closing your eyes for set periods of time can help take you out of work mode to restart your brain.

23. Use the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is an oft-touted method used for scheduling cuts your time into work and break sections. The standard work timer goes for 25 minutes with shorter and longer breaks between. Many people can focus for longer than the standard timer and should consider adjusting the time to accommodate. You can also line up the sections of time to fit into current time blocks dedicated to Focus Time.

24. Make an email a conversation

It’s important to distinguish between communication needs to not only save your time, but the time of your team members. An email provides accessible documentation for important thoughts and ideas on a specific issue, project, or task. The structure lends itself to sharing a myriad of details in an organized way.

A conversation, by contrast, can be a quick confirmation of a detail, a check on a specific task status, or simply a more personal connection to keep up a relationship with a colleague. This might be better for chat apps. Separating conversations from email helps streamline your inbox.

25. Find your focus

How do you stay in a mode where your brain feels focused and you’re making progress on a task or project? It can look different for everyone. Some people use meditation, breathing exercises, taking a short walk, and leaving your workspace for a bit. You can take it as far as forest bathing, but in the absence of perfect nature outside your door any of these simple actions can pull your brain out of a break and into focus mode.

Going forward

Your day-to-day is going to look different from those around you and similarly, your productivity toolbox may not work for anyone but you. Take the time to try on some – or all – of these 25 tips to help boost your productivity and in turn, your performance.

One more tip: Try adding smart calendar assistant like Clockwise, to your arsenal of time-saving tools. Clockwise automatically reschedules conflicting meetings, frees up blocks of uninterrupted time for you to focus, and factors in your preferences — so that you’re always in charge of your time!

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Future of Work

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