It’s finally the evening, work has finished later than you wanted it to, and yet you still have the feeling that nothing has been done. You spent the whole day managing, emailing, meeting, posting and designing. There was barely any time for coffee and lunch is still in your bag…
For many professionals, the question of productivity is a hot topic. According to an Indeed survey that looked at the year 2017, almost half of respondents felt that there was room for greater personal growth in their profession. More than 44 per cent said they wanted to get more out of their current job the following year (2018).
Everything could be done so quickly, were it not for all those videos of cute dogs on Instagram…
People whose work is mostly or exclusively digital are, of course, more susceptible to the internet’s many distractions than those who work more offline. You’re suddenly fascinated by a recent Twitter debate, even if it has no relevance to your job. Or did you know, for example, that you can use Google Earth to zoom in on the office roof? 😉
It’s fantasy to think that concentration can be maintained for eight-to-nine hours a day, with tunnel-like focus and productivity at a constant maximum. However, your own efficiency is a major factor in feeling better at the end of the day.
15 steps towards miracles in productivity
The path that leads from procrastination to improved productivity is broad and can involve making some fundamental changes to how you approach your work flow, mindset and self-organisation. Fortunately, there are lots of small hacks and tricks that can make you a little more productive every day.
Control your calendar
If your work calendar is accessed by others working within your company or organisation – because, for example, they need to assign you appointments – block yourself off some time each day to complete and clear your tasks.
Turn notifications off!
Completely turning off your smartphone during work is not always necessary nor effective, and having access to a phone can have its advantages. But apps with frequent push notifications or non-essential uses can be safely turned off – WhatsApp, daily news apps, the Google weather report etc. And, if you’re using a computer, you can simply mute or close programs during phases of increased concentration – no flashing device means fewer distractions.
Schedule time for emails
Email alerts are notorious disruptors of concentration. Avoid being so frequently bothered by emails by scheduling time for them at the beginning and end of your working day. You can ignore most emails during the time in between. And the idea that we have to save the world every time something critical comes in can simply be put down to the adrenaline of the job.
Elon Musk also plans his emails: the founder of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink starts his day at seven in the morning with half an hour spent answering important emails.
Give time-draining websites a time-out
Do you sometimes lose time to websites that are not absolutely necessary for your work? With the SelfControl app (unfortunately only available for Mac), you can blacklist and block such sites for a specified period of time. Windows users can try out browser extensions such as StayFocusd for Chrome, or Cold Turkey.
Professionals often enjoy the sound of music while working. But it has been proven that music with lyrics distracts – particularly if you fluently speak the language of the lyrics.
Important tasks first (aka eat the frog)!
This might sound like common sense, but lots of employees ignore significant tasks at the tops of their to-do lists. Instead, apply the ‘eat the frog’ principle by always starting with those larger, more demanding tasks.
The two-minute rule
A rule in David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ states that you should take care of everything that you can do in the space of two minutes. This means avoiding the postponement or accumulation of lots of little tasks.
Reduce meeting times by 25 per cent
Of course, meetings are important. Many, however, tend to become artificially extended so that they meet the amount of time scheduled. Time-filling discussions often offer nothing new, so shorten your meetings by 25 per cent.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos follows the ‘two-pizza rule’ when it comes to meetings: he only invites a number of people who would have enough to snack on with two pizzas. Depending on the appetites of your colleagues, that’s between six and eight people.
Another tip: consider stand-up meetings. If a meeting doesn’t need to take long but does require quick results, leave out the chairs. This prevents people from settling down and encourages them to get to the point quicker.
One final tip involves asking colleagues to hand in their smartphones. This can help you get through meetings faster, because participants aren’t pouncing on their phones during every short break.
These days, you can automate almost all administrative processes, from emails to price quotes to project execution via time tracking, and so on. If there’s a task you can automate, do it!
When you notice that a newsletter, RSS feed or Twitter feed doesn’t offer anything useful, immediately unsubscribe or stop following. This leaves only relevant information in your inbox. It helps to repeat the process weekly or monthly.
Save, save, save, save
Or: CTRL + S in Windows and ⌘+ S on a Mac.
Learn keyboard shortcuts
Speaking of CTRL and ⌘: learn keyboard shortcuts! They are incredibly time-saving and available in almost every program. Start with those that are useful for your favourite applications and then expand according to your individual needs. Also, ask your colleagues who are graphic designers or developers for tips, as they tend to be knowledgeable when it comes to shortcuts.
Everyone knows the classics for word-processing and graphics programs, but there are a few other combinations that are incredibly helpful, especially when surfing the internet. Browsers weren’t designed to be used quickly with a keyboard – it’s possible, but often annoying! Here are some really helpful keyboard shortcuts that speed things up when working in a browser:
⌘+ L: Highlights the address line
⌘+ T: Opens a new tab
⌘+ W: Closes the current tab
⌘+ F: Activates the page-search function
⌘+ Option + F: Jumps to the address bar of the browser and opens a Google search directly
⌘+ ⇧+ T: Opens the last-opened tab
⌘+ ⇧+ R: Reloads the page without cache
Other helpful shortcuts
⌘+ ⇧+ /: Activates the help function of an app or tool
⌘+ , : Opens the settings of the current app
⌘+ ⇧+ 3: Saves a screenshot to the desktop
⌘+ ⇧+ 4: Opens the selection area for a screenshot
If that’s not enough, with the Vimium plug-in for Chrome and Firefox you can further optimise your browser settings and assign shortcuts to basic mouse commands. Here are a few possibilities:
⇧+ T: Browse open tabs
⇧+ B: Search bookmarks
⇧+ F: Display all clickable items on the page
Keyboard shortcuts help you to get things done quicker. Furthermore, keyboard commands distract you less than tab surfing with a mouse, because your actions are far more specific. When using the mouse, you might randomly click onto the open Maps tab and find yourself strolling once more through Lisbon…
You’ll find all shortcuts for Windows here, and here for Mac.
It’s impossible to track all daily news, so don’t try. Just start the day with half an hour of news – anything more will distract.
The Pomodoro technique
There’s always something. For example, here’s an email from your beloved colleagues discussing the possibility of a delicious lunch. Each time we read such messages, we become distracted from work and have to again refocus. It takes about 15 minutes to get back in ‘the zone’ of concentration.
This is where the Pomodoro technique helps: short bursts of full concentration without any distractions. With the exception of a timer to stop work (and this can be found on any computer or smartphone), you don’t need anything.
At the heart of the Pomodoro technique are 25-minute work sprints. Each burst is followed by a five-minute break, and the cycle begins again. After four of these cycles, you take a slightly longer break of 15 minutes. During each work phase, you focus exclusively on one task. No multitasking, no notifications and no strolls through Lisbon. 😉
Of course, these 25 minutes aren’t carved in stone. As soon as focus starts to wane, take a short break. But, with a bit of preparation – such as grouping together or scheduling tasks – almost all to-do lists can be broken down into 25-minute chunks. Lots of small tasks (see point 7), for example, can be completed in one block, while larger projects can be broken down into smaller pieces.
Speed up your mouse
Top tip: increase the speed of your cursor. It can feel strange at first, but you soon get used to it.
When it comes to your own productivity, it’s ultimately about deciding what works for you. If scented candles help you concentrate better and not get distracted, that’s fine. The first step is to become aware of where there is a need for improvement. Then, applying major changes to your habits can prove successful. You can do this in small steps or move forwards more quickly – in the end, for your own productivity (as with many other things), structure and rhythm are more important than power.
Also published on Medium.