What did you really accomplish last week? If you can’t remember doing anything that matters amid all the email and other busywork, it’s time to power up your productivity habits. Here’s list of 15 tips from my Empowered Productivity System to help you learn how to be more productive.
Fight email overload
- Stop the onslaught. Email interruptions zap your productivity. Shut off automatic download of messages and start fetching emails only when you’re ready to deal with them. Doing this on your phone, too, will save your battery life.
- Use the one-two punch. Set up a secondary email account for things like newsletters and promotional mail. Use a Gmail account and set up an automatic forward of anything you actually want, like travel confirmations, while still protecting your “real” email account. It’s like having a personal assistant for your email. Also, use a great spam/newsletter filter like Spamdrain.
- Don’t default to email. When you sit down at your desk and think “What do I need to do now?” the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. And that probably causes you to retreat into busy work, something that is easy, familiar, and doesn’t require a lot of thought. For most people, this means email. Work from your task list instead.
Tame your to-do list
- Centralize. Do you have to check two different email accounts, the Post-it notes on your computer, your calendar and your voicemail to figure out what you need to do? Get your to-dos all in one place.
- Break it down. The items that sit undone on your to-do list are probably the big, scary ones like “get a new job” or “roll out the new product.” Your brain doesn’t know what to do with ill-defined tasks like these until you turn them into smaller, actionable steps that are very specific, like “call the college placement office” or “email the team regarding a date for the kickoff meeting.”
- Get the most from your tools. If you use an electronic to-do list, learn all it can do. Chances are it has features that you aren’t using (like sorting your tasks in different ways) that can make your life easier.
Clean up your calendar
- Think linearly. Change your calendar from block view to linear. You’ll get much more information at a glance.
- Get rid of the to-dos. Save your calendar for meetings and birthdays. Tasks go on your to-do list. Scheduling tasks on your calendar is almost always a bad idea, because let’s face it: Our days rarely go the way we plan them.
- Leave breathing room. And speaking of things not going according to plans, don’t schedule up every minute. Leave some time every day (or extra time every two days) to clean up your email inbox, and accommodate the unexpected.
Tweak your environment
- Declutter. Talk to me all you want about messiness and creativity, but in my work I’ve seen over and over that clutter = stress. Your clutter sends the message (to yourself and others) that you’re overwhelmed and not in control, and that there may be things buried in the clutter that need your attention.
- Tackle electronic clutter, too. When you have lots of application windows and browser tabs open, you’re setting yourself up for constant distraction and task switching, which leads to scattered thinking and mistakes.
- Remake your playlist. Song lyrics can make it hard to focus on your work; if you really hate the silence, switch to instrumental music or white noise.
Make mental shifts
- Do a brain dump. Can’t focus? Try a few minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing to clear your head. Then decide on the specific action items from the thoughts, and transfers those to your task list.
- Zone out. The next time you have a spare moment, instead of reaching for your phone or tablet, just let your mind wander. Your brain needs quiet time to make connections and generate insights.
- Think small. You don’t have to persuade yourself to do everything on your list; you only have to persuade yourself to do the NEXT thing. Sort by due date with only a few things due every day.
You’ll start seeing the payoffs from these little changes right away. Ready for more dramatic results? Consider implementing a full productivity system, which is the ultimate way to learn how to be more productive.