10 productivity tricks successful people use every day
Conquer your to-do list, prioritize effectively, and even have time for a break or two.
Not sure how to be more productive nowadays? It's definitely a modern challenge. The workers of yore didn't have to contend with distractions like Instagram, coronavirus news alerts, and the like, not to mention the concept of multitasking to throw you for a real loop.
“Each time we switch our attention between tasks, we lose our focus,” says Nicola Brown, a New Zealand-based efficiency coach and clinical psychologist. “It's appealing to do so—almost addictive—because our brains release a small hit of dopamine each time we switch to a novel source of stimulation. But to make progress, we need to focus long enough on the task at hand to complete it.”
To help you stay focused and crush your to-do list, Monster spoke to experts to learn their best tips for maximum productivity.
Focus on your “why”
Nothing like a global pandemic to force you to reassess every aspect of your life. But if you see your work as meaningful, you’ll work harder and be more productive as a result. At the start of the day, ask yourself what you love (or really like) about your work and what value you create for your colleagues or customers. “It will have an immediate, positive effect on your mindset and personal energy,” suggests Steve Farber, president of the San Diego-based leadership coaching firm Extreme Leadership.
Check your email in blocks
When figuring out how to be more productive, you'll no doubt want to tackle email. If you spend all day pruning your email inbox, you’ll have less time to focus on your tasks at hand.
“Set three specific times per day to review your emails,” says Alex Moore, CEO of the Mountain View, California-based email productivity company Boomerang. “Research shows that it takes 64 seconds to fully recover from an email interruption, so checking email only three times a day can end up saving people 20% of time spent.”
Prioritize your to-do list
Add “organize your to-do list” to your to-do list ASAP, otherwise you risk plowing through your work without a beginning or end in sight.
Your first step is to organize all your to-do’s into one list instead of having one on your phone and one on your desk, plus a few random coffee-stained Post-it notes, says Matt Girvan, co-founder and president of My Gung Ho, a California-based productivity app company.
Your next step is to choose the five to 10 tasks that are the most crucial. “This immediately shortens your giant task list and allows you to focus on what is really important," he says.
Write a to-don’t list too
“Once you decide what you most need to do in a day,” says Brown, "also write a list of what you're not going to do, in order to make progress on your priorities."
Write down that you will not check social media until you finish writing an article, or you won’t check your texts until you finish sending meeting agendas, for example.
“By writing down what we're not going to do, we become conscious of our distractions and can refer back to our own intention as soon as we naturally feel the urge to switch to a new task,” she says.
Use your time (and calendar) wisely
Don’t fall into the workday quicksand of spending all day in Zoom meetings, answering emails, and completing busy work.
“Blocking out time is an accountability trick,” says Claire Tompkins, a San Francisco-based clutter coach and time-management expert. “It makes you honor the time you know you need to devote to that project.” If other people can see your calendars, mark this time as busy so that your time stays meeting-free and uninterrupted.
Get to know your optimal focus time
Are you more focused right when you get to your work space in the morning with a steaming hot mug of coffee, or after you’ve been in the zone for a few hours?
“Observe when you are most alert and how long you can stay productive,” says Tompkins. “Schedule your important work for that time of day and that length of time.”
If you realize you can only truly focus for an hour without having your mind (and mouse!) wander, schedule a short break after each hour of uninterrupted focus.
Resist the urge to multitask
You may think you’re great at moving seamlessly from one task to the next while listening to music or having the television on as background noise—but are you really?
“We’re far more effective and productive when we focus on individual tasks,” says Girvan. By doing so, you’ll find that you make more progress, produce higher-quality work, and be more productive. (Win-Win-Win!)
Institute the “Five-Minute Rule”
If you can do a task in five minutes or less, do it right away instead of putting it on the metaphorical back burner.
“If you spend a minute or so understanding a task but don't take action, you’ll have to go back and re-familiarize yourself with the task later on,” says Girvan. “Multiply that by hundreds of times throughout a week, and you'll soon see large chunks of time wasted that could have been better spent.”
Track your progress
Celebrate your accomplishments (big and small) by tracking your progress. After all, it's a stressful time to be working, and any excuse to pat yourself on the back is one you should take advantage of.
“It’s easy to lose track of the progress we make,” says Lisa Skeete Tatum, founder and CEO of Landit, a New York City-based career-coaching tool for women. “Write them down and reflect every week to make sure you are making progress toward your goals.”
Take short breaks
You aren’t the Energizer Bunny; it’s okay to take breaks. (Just don’t take five-minute breaks every five minutes.)
“Take a quick, five-minute break and close your eyes, take a walk, or meditate. Do whatever you need to do to reignite your fire for the final workday hours,” says Farber.
Stretch your limbs, refill your water bottle or coffee mug, and ping co-workers to say hello. Nobody expects you to be a robot.
Now is a weird time to attempt to learn how to be more productive, but it's also a really great time to do so. Could you use some more help these days? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice, best practices for working, and job search tips sent directly to your inbox.