5 and a half tips to be more productive

Are you getting the most out of your day?

25th July 2017 in General Thoughts
dave armstrong productivity

Most of us want to find a way to get a bit more done and combat distractions – have you tried these?

Time is our biggest resource, our biggest luxury – and the thing it’s easiest to take for granted. Finding ways to manage your working time can make your jobs easier – and your time off more rewarding too. These are my best tips for getting more out of each day. Now, where’s that to-do list?

1. Know what your goals are

First things first – what do you want? The first stage of getting things done is to set some goals.

We tend to have 3 kinds of things to put on a to-do list:

  • Ambitions – ‘I want to become Liverpool’s favourite banjo player’
  • Daily habits – ‘get at least 30mins exercise every day’
  • To-do tasks – ‘Send cost estimate to my new client’

So first up, you need to know which kind of goal you’re talking about – it’s going to be hard to put your ambition down on Monday and cross it off Tuesday. But breaking that down into smaller tasks – posting on your blog, sharing your portfolio, preparing for events – can all help get you there. That’ll give you a more manageable list to start with.

Once you’ve got your goals, whether they’re just for today or for your whole year, write them down. It can be as simple as having a good, reliable diary and setting yourself some deadlines, but if you’re after something a little stronger, Bullet Journaling is a great way to map your daily tasks, reminders and habits.

2. Break up the day

A huge step towards increasing your productivity is to stop looking at your day as one long block, or even two half-day-long pretty-long-blocks. Psychologists tend to agree that the longest anyone can really concentrate on one thing is about 45 minutes.

This means that if your goals for the day are too big, or too broad, it’ll be really hard to make them attainable. Take a tip from school-age you – take that to-do list and put it into a timetable, switching up the kind of task you’re doing every ‘period’. This is also a great way to keep regular jobs like email or admin to a set amount of time, rather than letting them spill over into your whole day.

Or, to keep it simpler, make like a tomato. The Pomodoro technique, invented by Italian developer Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, recommends working in 25minute chunks with a 5-minute break in between each, then taking a long break after 4 chunks. With those little breaks in between for your diversion of choice (take a walk, play with the dog, flick through Tinder…) you’ll be much more likely to stay on track.

Find out more about the Pomodoro technique.

3. Make your distractions constructive

Reframe your distractions as research time! If, during your productive hours, you can’t resist the pull of your phone, or you long to pick up your book instead of focusing on the task at hand, make that love work for you. If Instagram or Reddit is your focus-puller of choice, give yourself time to explore – but set a time limit on it.

A photographer, for example, might use this time to explore the most popular photography hashtags to check out what the competition’s doing or to post a question on a message board about something in your industry. Things like this can really feel like a break – and this kind of little-and-often observation of the rest of your industry can bring huge rewards. You never know what kind of ideas it might spark.

4. Get ranking

We all know (whisper it) that really, we never quite get to the bottom of our to-do lists. There’s always another thing we could do, another job to finish. So another crucial trick is to get ranking – always have a sense of what your priorities are and tackle those jobs too.

There are a lot of people who also swear by picking off the most loathed tasks too. Need to do that filing, or dreading finishing your tax return? Getting that out of the way first will save you any further procrastination time – and also make for happier free time at the end of it too when that dreaded job is in the past.

5. Rethink your work-life balance

Everyone has a natural rhythm with peaks and troughs throughout the day. Thankfully, many modern workplaces are recognising this and giving their staff more flexibility about when and how they work. If you work for yourself or you can set your own schedule, commit to determining when your best hours are. Prefer to take your lunch break at 11.15? Want to work all day Sunday and take Wednesdays off? Give it a try and see what works.

A lot of us keep doing things out of habit – so by following the wrong timetable or not being clear enough about what it is we’re trying to get done, we can miss some good opportunities. By making a few tweaks to our daily routines and keeping an open mind, you can start to see great changes. With those good habits racking up, you can make better use of your time and, hopefully, enjoy life a bit more too.

5 (and a half). Change your sleep pattern

I’m going to write a post about this as it has changed my life for the better. For now, just open a new tab and do a googly search for Polyphasic Sleep – Personally, I participate using the Everyman flavour and have been doing so for a couple of years. There’s far too much to go through here so I will go through my documentation (yes, I document everything!) and pull a post together.

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