Do you often feel unsatisfied with how much you’ve accomplished in a day? Many people struggle with being productive, but there are ways you can become more focused and efficient, even if you’ve habitually been scatterbrained in the past. Try putting these six strategies to work for you and see how much they boost your productivity.
Break tasks down
Jumping into a big project is often intimidating. You don’t know where to start, so it’s easier to just put it off until tomorrow, and then the next day, and the next. Soon the deadline is looming, the project seems bigger and scarier than ever, and in addition to feeling overwhelmed, you’re also stressed out. Most of us have found ourselves in this uncomfortable situation, which tends to result in doing poor-quality, rushed work and pulling all-nighters.
This scenario can be avoided entirely by breaking projects down into small, manageable steps. The earlier you do this, the better, so as soon as you have a big assignment or project on your plate, take action. You don’t have to actually do anything towards the project yet – just dissect it. Figure out everything you’re going to have to do to get the assignment done, and break the process down into the smallest steps you can. This makes the project approachable and takes away your excuses for not working. Every big project is just a compilation of many small tasks, and when you know exactly what those small tasks are, you can work on them one at a time without feeling overwhelmed.
Use to-do lists
It’s much easier to have a productive day if you start with an idea of what you want to accomplish. Get into the habit of writing out a list of everything you want to get done during the day before you even check your email. Having an agenda for the day gives you something to focus on and work towards, and you’ll feel good when you cross everything off your list.
Do one thing at a time
Multitasking kills your focus and diminishes the quality of your work. The more things you’re trying to do at once, the worse all of them will probably turn out. It might seem like you’re being more productive when you multitask, but this is an illusion – you’re really just wasting your attention and working harder than you need to. Devoting your attention to one task at a time boosts your efficiency and makes your work better, too.
Block out times for specific tasks
Specifying blocks of time when you’ll work on specific tasks makes you more productive for a couple of reasons. First, it keeps you on task during those times. If you promise yourself you’ll spend a specific hour working on a report, you’ll be less likely to waste that hour on Facebook or checking email. Second, by giving yourself a clearly defined stopping point, you’ll be motivated to work harder and finish the job more quickly. If you’ve got all day to get something done, you’ll probably take all day to do it, but if you only give yourself two hours, you’ll step up your focus and get it done a lot faster. This doesn’t mean you should push off your assignments until right before a deadline – feeling stressed and panicked is not a good state for working – but it does mean that you can increase your productivity if you limit the time you spend on tasks.
Use a timer
As mentioned in the point above, when you’re working under a little bit of time pressure, you tend to focus better. Using a timer is a good way to motivate yourself, especially if you’re having a hard time starting a task or working on something you don’t really want to do. Setting a kitchen timer and promising yourself that you’ll just work for 15 minutes is easier than wading into a messy, overwhelming pile of work with no clearly defined stopping point. You’ll probably be able to get more done in 15 minutes than you expect, too. There are several strategies for using timers, with the Pomodoro technique being one of the most popular. The Pomodoro technique consists of 25-minute intervals of work interspersed with five-minute breaks. After four work sessions, reward yourself with a 25-minute break. Experiment with the length of your work sessions and breaks to see what keeps you focused best.
You’d like to get more done, but it’s hard to work when people wander into your office every fifteen minutes, your phone keeps chirping with new notifications, and you just can’t stay off social media. Does this sound familiar? If you’re constantly being interrupted, you’re definitely not going to be able to focus, so get rid of all the distractions you can when you’re working. Close your office door, turn off notifications on your phone, and use a browser plug-in that blocks time-wasting sites during your work hours. Remind yourself that your time is too valuable to waste on little distractions throughout the day.
Becoming more focused and productive is within your reach – it’s all a matter of planning and determination. You can get into the habit of consistently producing good work if you put in the effort every day. Making an agenda every morning, getting rid of distractions, tackling one step of a project at a time, and scheduling times to work on things are all effective techniques that will help you get more done.