These five productivity tips will teach you how to work smarter, not harder.
Prioritize Your To-Do List
Keeping a To-Do list ensures you never forget a task—plus it’s satisfying to check something off after you complete it! But a running list of jobs isn’t enough to stay organized.
When you create your To-Do list, prioritize each item. This means you’re ranking them in order of importance. If you need to do something immediately, it goes to the top of the list. A task that isn’t due until the end of the week can be closer to the bottom.
Making time to rank your jobs helps you see what you need to do and what you can put off until later. This helps you feel less stressed when you look at a To-Do list that’s 20 items long.
If you want to level up your time management skills, create To-Do lists for every day, and even one for the whole week. This helps you see what you’ll spend time doing each day. The broader timeline of a week allows you to see how the tasks play into your overall schedule.
Weekly To-Do lists go hand-in-hand with deadlines. No one likes a deadline, but they’re effective at keeping you on task. Knowing when something is due helps you break it into manageable pieces.
Say you have to give a presentation at a lunch meeting on Friday. There’s your deadline. Sure, you could wait until Thursday and pull an all-nighter, but your anxiety levels would skyrocket. Instead of procrastinating, create personal deadlines for this presentation.
You have to let your boss look it over on Friday morning, so really, your deadline to complete the work is Thursday. You have to research the topic first, so your deadline to compile notes is by the end of work on Monday.
That gives you Tuesday to write the presentation, Wednesday to format the slideshow, and Thursday to practice and catch any errors.
When you create deadlines, you’re empowering yourself to make the most of your time. You’re also ensuring that you won’t feel stressed about a project, or have to work late to get it all done.
It might seem strange to learn you shouldn’t multitask when you’re trying to be more productive, but it’s true. Multitasking diverts your attention away from one task and potentially causes you to make more errors.
Even if you think you’re multitasking when you work while watching a TV show, you’re not paying attention to both things. You’re working, and when you look at the TV, your brain is rapidly switching over to process what’s happening in the show.
Asking your brain to constantly shuffle back and forth between tasks can waste about 40% of your time. This doesn’t even take into consideration the time spent reacclimating your mind to the guidelines. After you’re distracted, you probably spend a few minutes thinking, “Where was I?” and trying to remember where you were with your work.
You might hear the dialogue in the background, but it’s probably not making much sense to you. If it does, you might look at your work and realize that you’ve been typing what you’re hearing. That’s because your brain was listening more intently to the show than it was focusing on your work task.
When your brain is constantly jumping back and forth between two or more things, you’re not able to give your full focus to anything. As a result, it takes you longer to complete one task than it would if you gave it your full attention.
Set Time Limits
Setting a time limit to accomplish a task can help you understand how much time you have and how you’re using it. It can also make it more bearable to work on a dreaded task if you know it will only last a certain amount of time.
The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most popular methods for this style of time management. You break your work into chunks of 25 minutes, using a timer to keep you on track. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break.
During your break, you can answer texts or emails, scroll social media, refill your coffee—anything! Even a short break will make you feel more energized when it’s time to come back for another Pomodoro.
After you complete four Pomodoros, which takes two hours, you can take a longer break. It’s surprising how much work you can get done in 25 minutes, especially when you know you’ll get a short break once you’re done.
Take Time Away
Pomodoro breaks give you the idea of how time away from work can recharge you and help you come back stronger. Taking longer breaks is also important, including taking a day off.
Modern society feels the need to always work, or at least always be available. But that’s detrimental to your mind and overall health. If you work continuously without relaxing, you’ll burn out. It’s important to let your brain and body rest so they can replenish your energy.
Even spacing out is an effective way of taking a break. Your brain is checking out for a moment and thinking about anything and everything. When you refocus, you might find that you felt like you had a power nap, and now have great ideas for the task at hand.
Time management isn’t hard to master, and these five productivity tips will help.
When you create deadlines, focus on your priorities, set time limits, and take breaks, you take control of your schedule and make the most of your time.