Productivity and Time Management Hacks

In this day and age, it is common for many of us to pile more and more responsibilities and tasks onto our to-do list in an effort to literally do EVERYTHING. What we don’t realize is that, by tacking on more items, we run the risk of becoming overwhelmed and not getting anything done.

Let’s face it, we are all guilty of procrastination. We know we should be more productive at work, as well as at home, and we read endless life hacks to help us overcome our bad habits (like scrolling mindlessly through Facebook instead of writing that report), become more productive and manage our time better. But, how often do we incorporate these tricks and tips into our daily lives and actually see a measurable change?

Before we look at ways to boost your productivity, let’s look at some of the reasons you may be lacking it in the first place.

Reasons you lack motivation and productivity

It happens to everyone at some point in time. No matter how hard you work or how dedicated you are to a project or idea, you can eventually become burned out. Not only will you be less productive, but your motivation also takes a hit. However, what most people don’t realize is that there may be outside forces at work — and they are things that you can actually change. Let’s take a moment to discuss five reasons that you may be lacking motivation and productivity.

1. Too much multitasking

It is a common misconception that multitasking is an effective way to get more done in a shorter time period, when the opposite it true. In fact, some studies indicate that when you are doing too many activities at one time, it can be more of a distraction and lead to waste. Not only that, but it can also result in your becoming overwhelmed. Overwhelm often leads to a decline in quality. This is why it is a good idea to focus on one task at a time — focus is the key to productivity.

2. Too much clutter

Sometimes it is not the amount of work or its complexity that demotivates us — sometimes it’s the environment in which we perform these tasks. Whether you are aware of it or not, your work space can have a huge impact on how productive you are.

Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that objects stimulate the brain and when there are several objects within your line of vision, they compete for your brain’s attention. Ensure that your work space is free from unnecessary clutter and be careful about the way that you arrange your office furniture.

3. Too much work

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that the more work you do, the less productive you are. However, this is often the case when people take on too much and don’t take the time to rest.

In his study, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras concluded that when we work for more than 50 minutes at a time without breaks, our productivity slowly declines. We become less motivated, easily distracted and the brain essentially becomes “numb” due to all of the continuous stimulation.

Time management tips

Nearly everyone has heard of “time management” at some point and has a basic understanding of what it means, but why is time management so important?

Effective time management gives you freedom and peace of mind. Using your time effectively means more down time to do what you please, instead of being bogged down by endless tasks and feeling like you never have enough time. As humans, we thrive on having a sense of control in all aspects of our lives. When we don’t have control over something, we feel threatened and insecure. And while we can’t control time itself, we do have a say in how we use it.

Here are some ways to manage your time more effectively:

  • Set a timer -  “Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and turn off all email, phone and social media notifications. You will be amazed at what you can accomplished without distractions,” career coach Mary Kruger suggests. “And reward yourself at the end of the time – maybe with a quick walk, stretch or flipping through your favorite magazine or social media site.”
  • Take out time to think - I am not a big fan of ‘time management.’ We as humans cannot ‘manage’ something that keeps moving, like time. The best thing we can do to be productive is to manage ourselves. Self-management is where most people miss it,” explains career coach Marla J Williams. “I encourage clients to schedule time to think; yes, think. Think about your day, life and career. Take 15 minutes a day to start off. Author and speaker John Maxwell has time to think scheduled in his day to think for an hour a day.”
  • Schedule everything – “Schedule yourself for tasks and do them in bulk. For example set aside two times a day for email. That way you aren’t getting distracted from other tasks answering emails,” Mary explains. “The same goes for other projects. When you assign a time for doing things, they get done!”
  • Fine-tune your focus – In the past, being someone who could multitask was considered a good thing. However, numerous scientific studies have shown that multitasking is a bad idea. In fact, by attempting to multitask (switching rapidly from one task to another), you are actually at risk to make more mistakes and retain less information. What’s more, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully refocus your energy on a task after you’ve been distracted!
  • Write it out - “When in doubt, write it out. If your mind is too “busy”, you can’t focus your attention on the task at hand,” career coach Lisa Pachence suggests. “Whatever is taking up your valuable mental real estate, extract it from your head onto a piece of paper, your to-do list, email, organization area. Or, just get your current thoughts onto paper to clear up space for you to do what’s really important.”
  • Switch off - We have all fallen victim to notorious time wasters like the internet (specifically, surfing the web, checking Facebook and watching YouTube videos) and television (Netflix series binge, anyone?) at some point or another. So, a great way to better manage your time is to restrict the amount of time you indulge in these activities.

Productivity hacks

The fact is, we all have the same 24 hours each day to get what we need to do done. So, how do you maximize those 1,440 minutes?

1. Turn off notifications on your phone

There are countless studies being conducted on the negative impact of the distractions that fill our space from our constant companion. This is not just affecting young people, we are all falling victim to the ping and dings. A recent study revealed that Fortune 500 CEO’s average 28 minutes of uninterrupted productive minutes a day.

2. Delete social media from your phone

“No, but really. How much time are you really spending on social media?” asks career coach Kelly Melsted. “Track how much time you are logged on; you might be surprised. Not only is it giving us a false sense of reality, it is also sucking our time. There is nothing to lose and you will get loads more time in your life. Try it out using one of many trackers like Forest.”

3. Take breaks and work in bursts

Your brain can only concentrate for 45 minutes. Countless studies have shown that working endlessly without a break actually makes us less productive. Clear distractions and maintain focus for 45 minutes followed by a sweet mental break. Take a walk, call a friend, eat a cupcake, dance — anything that will give your mind time to rest.

4. Plan your weekly schedule

On the weekend or the start of every week, organize your weekly work schedule and prioritize the most important tasks, as discovered in the previous tip. You could do a phenomenal job on one task, but if you neglect another your boss prioritizes, then they’ll just view it as a negative. As a result, it’s pivotal to free up as much time as you can so you can focus on the important tasks and get them done in a timely manner.

5. Get a proper night’s sleep

Nothing is worse than feeling so shattered at work that you can’t keep your eyes open or focus on exactly what your boss is asking you. If you’re struggling with getting enough shut-eye, try to establish a nightly routine. Avoid stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine and instead drink chamomile tea. A bath can also be brilliant for inducing a deep sleep, as the temperature drop after we get out of the bath is proven to send us to sleep. With exhaustion being an acknowledged issue in the workplace there’s no excuse for staying up procrastinating on your phone or laptop late at night if you truly want to be productive at work.

6. Don’t check emails until afternoon

Spend the morning addressing your own tasks instead of answering to people’s needs. Checking email in the morning immediately pulls us into someone else’s agenda. Start off slow, try waiting until 10 am, then 11 am and see your productivity skyrocket.

7. Assign a date and time for your tasks

Perfectionist alert: Do you ever find yourself spending way more time on a given task? Assign a time limit and due date. Will it be perfect? No, but better imperfectly complete than a never-ending pursuit for perfection.

8. Get into work early

Establishing a habit of being early in your professional life will place you in a position of power and control. Leaving home just half an hour earlier in the morning will not only allow you to skip the traffic and have your morning coffee (or two) in the peace and quiet of an empty office, it will also impress you colleagues and those in charge. This extra time will allow you to get ahead with your to-do list without interruption, creating a highly productive attitude from the start of the day and allowing you extra time to deal with any issues that arise during the day.

9. List your daily top five

Every night, list out the top five most important tasks. This is not your errands or shopping list. Include only the most important tasks related to your top goals.

Now that you’ve got your list, you’ll want to add a detailed verb to every action item and possibly a timestamp, as well.

For example- instead of writing your list like this:

  • Desk
  • Gerry
  • Newsletter

Give it some direction:

  • Clean desk and file all papers
  • Email Gerry the proposal
  • Spend 30 minutes writing newsletter

Boost your productivity in the AM

Getting up in the morning can be tricky, especially if you’ve got a long day ahead of you and a late night behind you. Here are some tips to get you leaping out of bed and into a productive mindset.

1. Eat a substantial breakfast - Gorging on larger dinners and skipping breakfast will leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic throughout the day, reaching for the coffee and the pro-plus. As you’ve likely heard many times before – breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Aim to achieve a balance of food groups, most importantly including protein to kick start your day.

2. Get outside - Aim to spend at least a small part of your morning in the great outdoors. Whether you incorporate this into a regular exercise routine or simply get into the habit of drinking your morning coffee outside whilst reading the paper, spending time outside is proven to increase our happiness and productivity.

3. Hydrate - While many of us are in the unfortunate position of needing coffee to get up in the morning, kicking this habit can have huge benefits both on your productivity and your health. Trade out the coffee hit for something with less caffeine (you don’t need to eliminate it entirely) and make sure that you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and get your brain functioning at top speed. Green tea is particularly renowned for its rejuvenating effects.

4. Get to work early - Getting to work just 15 minutes earlier isn’t going to have a huge impact on your morning routine. However, what it will impact is your whole outlook at work. An extra 15 minutes at the office to settle into your work, look through emails and plan the day ahead will leave you in a more relaxed, calm state when 9 am comes around.

5. Exercise - It has been proven time and time again that the endorphins released by exercise leave you full of positive energy, ready to tackle anything. A morning workout will boost your levels of energy and positivity; if you’ve already achieved the usually insurmountable task of visiting the gym before 9 am

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