Life has never been as busy as it is today. While jobs of decades and centuries gone by were often significantly more physically demanding, today’s work environment often demands more from people with less time and resources to do it with.
As we try to get more and more from our days, both inside and outside, the importance of being productive in the time that we do work is more important than ever. So if you need some new techniques to help boost your productivity, try some of these.
It may seem obvious, but planning is one of the most important elements of being productive. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how you do it either, as long as you use a system that works for you and do it consistently.
Some people like to make a to-do list on a piece of paper and take pleasure in crossing each one off when it’s complete. If you prefer to work digitally, you could use an app like Microsoft To Do which lets you create separate lists for different projects, attach files, set deadlines and reminders, and even share it with colleagues.
Trello takes this a step further, creating a visual board that you drag tasks around. This is useful for managing larger projects, particularly where you collaborate with others.
Take Regular Breaks
Research has shown that our minds can only focus for around 50 minutes to an hour before it begins to get distracted. This is why it’s important to take regular breaks from work.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, taking breaks can actually make you more productive, even though it means you spend less time actually focused on the task at hand. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described taking breaks as “sharpening the saw”. He uses an example of cutting down a tree and says that it will be much easier and quicker to do if you spend time sharpening your saw before you begin.
Taking breaks is the same as sharpening a saw. It helps you to distress, relax and leaves you feeling refreshed for when you’re ready to start work again.
It doesn’t matter what you do during your break. You could go for a walk, meditate, listen to music, read a book, or have a chat with friends or colleagues. Some people like to play games, with TechRepublic reporting that as many as 86% of millennials have played games during work hours.
Some enjoy playing classic games like chess, either through an app like Chess Free or with a board hidden in their desk draw. Other people prefer training their minds with strategic games like blackjack and casual games like CandyCrush and Lemmings which can be enjoyed for a few minutes at a time. As well as having cognitive benefits, playing these games can help people unwind and destress in between busy periods of work.
Use a Pomodoro Timer
The Pomodoro Technique is a method of time management that was created by Francesco Cirillo around 40 years ago. It turns taking breaks into a regime and was named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo first used when developing the technique.
You can download pomodoro timers as browser extensions and mobile apps, but a simple kitchen timer will work just as well.
To use the technique, split your work into 25-minute intervals, with a 3-5 minute break in between. After four blocks of 25 minutes, extend your break to 15-30 minutes.
You’ll be surprised how productive it will make you.
Learn to Say No
It may seem counterproductive, but sometimes the best way to get more from your day is to have less to do in the first place. It can sometimes be difficult to say no to requests for help, to bring up a deadline, or take on some extra work, but doing so increases the pressure on us.
Eventually, when you have too many plates spinning at once, one is bound to fall and smash, so it’s better to dedicate your focus on doing a reasonable number of tasks well.
Additionally, having to stay late to do extra work means you have less time to “sharpen your saw”, and the quality and speed of your work will drop.
Don’t be afraid to say no, and if you have to, explain that you won’t have time and you wouldn’t want to deliver sub-par work.
Combine these techniques together and you’ll be amazed and how much you can achieve in a day.