I’m no productivity expert, but I get asked about it a lot. There are four things I do to get as much as possible done.
Focus on one thing at a time
I suck at multi-tasking. Not just doing more than one thing at a time, but being interrupted when doing one task by something else. This comes mostly in the form of notifications on your computer or phone. Someone liked your photo on Instagram? Someone @’ed you on Twitter? A file was uploaded to Dropbox? New email?!
Every time something bings, beeps or flashes, you’re no longer 100% focused on what you were doing. That’s why I’ve turned all notifications off on all my devices, except phone calls (thankfully, those rarely happen).
I’ve managed to not miss anything or forget anything in the 2 years since I’ve killed all notifications. Instead, I use the program I’m using at any given time, and when I’m done, I move onto something else. So I only see Twitter when I log into Twitter. I only see my inbox when I open up my email program.
Group similar tasks
This is similar to the singular focus idea above, but it’s been so significant for me that I think it deserves its own point.
The longer you can focus on a single type of task, the faster you can get it done. So grouping all the writing I have to do into a morning means I can write 5–6 articles in one fell swoop. Perfect. Or I’ll spend a whole day programming websites for clients, which gets my brain into “code mode”.
Similar tasks also require similar software. So my mind gets used to Photoshop if I spend a day working the design of a few client websites. Or my fingers remember all the hotkeys more in my writing program if I do all of my weekly writing tasks at the same time.
Focus on the present
Paying attention to the work at hand instead of daydreaming about what will come of that work is especially handy for entrepreneurs and creative professionals. Too often, we get sucked into imagining that what we’re working on will become the next big thing or go viral or make us millions. But in reality, we can’t know that for sure and can’t achieve those things without doing the work at hand first.
The more attention I pay to what I’m working on, the faster (and better) it gets done.
Come to terms with not being a robot
Too many productivity tips don’t take this into account: we need to sleep, eat, take breaks and move. As humans, our attention spans need variety and we can’t always control our thoughts or motivations.
It might seem counterproductive, but I’m much more likely to get my work done quickly (and well), if I take breaks away from my desk.
Nature walks, 5 minutes of stretching, sitting on the porch and drinking coffee (instead of slurping it while I read/write online) all contribute to being able to focus better when I go back to work.
This is also why I try to stay ahead of my schedule. Because sometimes my brain just isn’t working at full capacity and my time is better spent resting than working. So I set deadlines I can easily meet with some wiggle room instead of giving myself just enough time to get things done. That way, if I need a break, I can take it without breaking promises.
No special programs, secret life hacks or any fancy software for me. I just know I need to give my brain focus, space and rest.