Like thousands of professionals all over the country, you're trying your best to stay organized, keep your appointments, and still churn out the countless hours of work you need to keep pushing your company forward.
Most of us aspire to conquer more and more work in less and less time, but since none of us can cram more hours into the day (despite our best efforts), increasing our productivity is the best we can do. Even so, in some cruel twist of irony, most "productivity enhancers," like going to the gym every morning, seem to add more effort to our already busy lives. Instead, try one or more of these 15 productivity hacks--which you can execute and experiment with immediately:
1. Pause your email inbox and turn off your phone.
Go airplane mode. If someone totaled up all the time you spend in a given day responding to emails, answering calls, and responding to text messages, you'd probably be surprised--if not incredulous--at the results. If you want to actually get things done, shut down everything and focus on the tasks at hand interruption-free. Inbox Pause for Gmail lets you literally pause your inbox, which does the trick perfectly.
2. Clean your desk.
Clutter on your desk leads to clutter in the mind. A messy workspace can make you feel disorganized, unfocused, or even downright panicked as you look at all the papers and junk around you. It doesn't take long to clear things off--especially if you have a lot of trash lying around--and the benefits of working on a cleaner desk are immediate.
3. Work on next-day task lists.
It's true that focusing on the present helps you get tasks done faster, but working on your next day's to-do lists will help in two ways: First, you'll help your future self by setting a prioritized list of items in advance, and second, you'll be clearing your mind of tasks you don't need to worry about today.
4. Establish a micro-routine.
Forming a long-term habit, like a morning meditation routine, takes time. Forming a short-term habit yields similar benefits, but can be implemented immediately. Instead of introducing some new activity to keep track of, sort your current requirements into digestible circuits. For example, you could break each hour down into a repeatable process: 15 minutes of communication catch-up, 15 minutes of simple tasks, and 30 minutes of a difficult, larger task.
5. Break in the middle of a task.
Breaks are important. Taking 10 minutes to clear your mind can give you enough of a mental boost to save 15 minutes of eventual effort. Even though it might be tempting to take a break when you finish a task, since you've reached a natural milestone, it's actually more beneficial to break in the middle of a complex task--that way, it's easy to jump back into things.
6. Set sprints for yourself.
Large, complex tasks are the usual culprits in slowing us down. The idea of a large task can distract you or weigh on your motivation. Instead of trying to plow your way through it, break it up into sections of effort. You'll trade one large task for several smaller ones, and it will be easier to motivate yourself and measure your progress.
7. Perform mindless tasks as a break.
Mindless tasks are annoying when they're on a task list, but when you're actually doing them, they can be quite relaxing. If you don't have time for a real break, take time away from your current sprint to work on something mindless. It will keep you productive while giving your mind a chance to decompress.
8. Deactivate your Internet connection.
No matter how focused or busy you are, the Internet is always a temptation. Even if your motivations are purely professional, such as checking in on your LinkedIn contacts or tweeting on behalf of your company, there are heavy distractions on every corner of the Web. To stop yourself immediately, choose a handful of tasks to work on offline, and disconnect your Internet for a set amount of time.
9. Replace a meeting with a bulleted email.
Some meetings are genuinely productive. Most meetings are not. Find an unnecessary meeting to skip--possibly an internal one--and replace it with a bulleted email that contains a list of objectives, a list of deliverables, and a list of questions (if applicable). It will keep everyone organized and on track without wasting time in circular or redundant discussion.
10. Work on Sunday night--just a little.
You need to take time to relax on the weekends in order to keep your sanity, but working Sunday night can be a great way to catch up and prepare for the week ahead. On Sunday night, you won't be bothered with phone calls or emails. Instead, you can look at the week to come with a refreshed mind and tackle a few tasks while you're at it.
11. Get rid of your low priorities.
The low-priority tasks on your list will only serve to distract you or make you feel more pressure throughout the day. Find a way to get rid of them. If they take less than two minutes to complete, do them. If they take longer, then either delegate them to someone else or schedule them for completion on a future date.
12. Commit to starting your least pleasant tasks.
We all have tasks on our lists that we dread, but we can't postpone them forever. Getting the worst tasks out of the way first can clear your path for the rest of the day, so commit to at least starting those tasks as early as possible. You might find that once you get started, you'll be more motivated to finish quickly. If you need to break in the middle, you'll have still accomplished the start of the task.
13. Say no.
Your list is long and it grows longer by the day. Sometimes the easiest way to get something off your plate is to avoid accepting it in the first place. Don't be afraid to say no to a task or a meeting that you feel would be unproductive.
14. Optimize your commute.
Depending on how close you live, you could have half an hour or more time to catch up on voicemails, listen to an audiobook, make voice memos for the day ahead, or just relax with some calming music. Make the most of your trip.
15. Go somewhere else.
The mind craves stimulation, and staying behind the same desk day in and day out can get stale and stressful. At least one day a week, make an effort to work in a new location. It can be a home office, a coffee shop down the street, or even a picnic table in the park. It's a great opportunity to get a fresh perspective and a calmer environment in which to focus.
Most of these productivity hacks are short-term duct-tape fixes. They don't significantly reduce your workload or magically create a system to get things done. But they do eliminate some of the micro-annoyances keeping you from staying on schedule and set you up to get more things done in less time. Your life may never fully calm down, but taking small steps to make your life easier will improve your performance and give you more of that irreplaceable resource--time.