Overview: How can you have a productive week?
Have you ever felt like your to-do list is getting longer and longer, but you’re getting less and less motivated? When you’re juggling a job, a family, and personal relationships, it’s easy to feel like there has to be a better way to be more productive. (Either that, or there aren’t enough hours in the day.) That’s true in normal times, but perhaps even more so now, when many of us are working from home and dealing with dozens of new distractions (think: helping your kids with online school or the pile of laundry that suddenly seems more appealing than tackling your out-of-control inbox, to name a few).
The good news is… There are ways to be more productive, and we’ve spoken with a number of experts to help you finally get your time back. From developing a better morning routine to apps that will help you stay organized and simple email management strategies, these productivity tips will help you work more efficiently (even if your office is your kitchen table) and, most importantly, leave you with more free moments every day.
Wake up at the same time every day.
According to Rhiannon Staples, a corporate culture expert, and CMO at people management platform Hibob, getting into a routine can be one of the best ways to stay productive—especially when working from home. “Try to get up at the same time every day, exercise if you’re used to it, eat breakfast/have your morning coffee, and then sit down at your computer to begin the workday.” Sticking to a schedule will help you stay as regimented and alert as possible because knowing what to expect will make starting your day less daunting—no matter what you have on your plate, she explains.
Do something nice for yourself to set the tone.
Starting the day with “good energy” is important for productivity, according to Marie Kondo, Netflix star and bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo’s morning ritual includes opening the windows, burning incense, and saying a prayer, but your morning routine should be whatever leaves you feeling relaxed, energized, and motivated, whether that’s a 30-minute yoga class, writing in your journal, reading a book, meditating, or preparing a healthy breakfast.
And start each day with a plan.
Staples recommends making a prioritized to-do list before heading to work in the morning. “It’s always a good idea to start with the most difficult tasks.” The difficult tasks are easy to put off and procrastinate on, but if you succeed, you’ll gain confidence and momentum to complete the rest of your list.
Unplug in the morning and the evening
“It’s fine to go on Twitter mindfully with a glass of wine,” says organizing consultant and Time to Parent author Julie Morgenstern, “but you interrupt your focus when you check your phone during those in-between moments.” That is why, at the very least, you should avoid using your devices during the first and last hours of each day. Consider working on a difficult jigsaw puzzle, opening a coloring book, learning how to knit, playing a board game, starting a bullet journal, creating a vision board, or, of course, picking up a riveting read.
While you’re at work, make your phone less distracting.
Do you need a little help resisting the urge to check out all of those entertaining social media apps? In addition to turning off notifications, you may find it useful to switch your phone’s display to grayscale, which removes all color from the screen and reduces stimulation. For a more aggressive approach to unplugging, you could also download Flipd, a free app that allows you to lock your phone for a set period of time, allowing you to focus entirely on your work or studies.
Set an intention before each activity.
Before switching tasks, Morgenstern advises being mindful. Take a moment after putting the kids to bed to consider how you’d like to connect with your partner, whether it’s by talking about the day, watching a movie, or getting to know each other better. Choose to savor your lunch or coffee break at work. Before the next transition, this will help to refresh your mind and increase your effectiveness.
Stick to one master calendar.
Post-its and strewn notes are no longer acceptable. Morgenstern suggests consolidating all of your tasks and appointments into a single calendar or scheduling system that suits you. “A to-do list that isn’t linked to a schedule is rarely completed,” she says.
Plan your weeks every Friday.
Every Friday afternoon, Vanderkam recommends taking stock of the upcoming week’s schedule in order to delegate tasks, move unnecessary meetings, and make room for anything time-sensitive.
Working from home inevitably means a flurry of Zoom meetings throughout the day—and it’s an important part of staying connected—but having too many mismanaged appointments on your calendar can hurt productivity, according to Staples. She recommends keeping meetings to 30 to 45 minutes in order to keep everyone’s attention on the task at hand. Also, be mindful of the invitations you accept. “If your role in the meeting is unclear, or you don’t have an active role in the meeting, it’s reasonable to ask the organizer if your participation is required.” Do you find yourself being invited to far too many meetings? Schedule some of your most productive hours in your calendar.
Download an organization app to help you at home or work.
It might be time to download an organization app if the calendar method hasn’t been helping you achieve peak productivity. These apps, according to executives and productivity coaches, help you manage multiple to-do lists, organize your address book, track your time, easily access your passwords, prioritize your well-being, and track various assignments, all of which will help you focus and be more productive.
Schedule time just for checking emails.
Constantly checking and responding to emails, even on your days off, leads to increased stress, according to a 2017 American Psychological Association survey. Set pre-determined time frames for opening your inbox if you find yourself becoming one of those “constant checkers.” Allowing yourself 20 minutes per hour to respond to messages may reduce stress and allow you to get more done in the remaining 40 minutes.
Spend less time responding to emails.
When you’re in e-mail mode, reducing your email responses to five sentences or less will help you communicate your thoughts more succinctly—and save you time writing them. To avoid coworkers or friends thinking you’re being rude, Chris Bailey, author of Hyper Focus, suggests including a line in your email signature that says something like, “To respect your time and mine, I’m keeping every email to five sentences or less.”
Take frequent breaks every day.
“If you don’t give your brain a break, you might end up in an internet rabbit hole instead of working,” says Laura Vanderkam, author and time management speaker, who recommends incorporating short breaks into your workday. Go for a walk, let the dogs out, grab a cup of coffee or a snack, check-in with a friend or family member, do a quick at-home workout, or listen to a new podcast during that time.
Being too busy is often an excuse for shying away from exercise and hobbies you love—but putting yourself first is essential. Vanderkam and Morgenstern agree that looking after your mental health in small intervals is useful. Watch a 10-minute YouTube video that makes you smile, enjoy a cup of chamomile tea, listen to a good song, light a scented candle, and indulge in some well-deserved self-care.
Make the most of the weekend.
Choose whether you want to tackle tasks in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings. This, according to Morgenstern, can help you balance your relationships with family, friends, and yourself, while also incorporating time for pesky chores and overdue professional tasks. Make sure to schedule time to do nothing at all.
Coordinate to-do lists with your partner.
Making and sharing to-do lists within your household will help things run more smoothly–and may even help spark more feelings of gratitude. “When my husband and I got married, we made a spreadsheet with all of our household chores on it. When I completed a task, I would place a check next to it, and when my husband noticed, he would send a simple thank you note (and vice versa) “Marie Kondo, the organizing guru, wrote about it.
Make time spent with friends and family count.
There’s a reason it’s called quality time. Morgenstern suggests relying on daily “reconnection points,” such as dinnertime, to be fully present with your loved ones. She claims that it’s not so much about spending more time with the people you care about as it is about ensuring that those moments are filled with focus.
Plan a vacation.
Employees, including those who work from home, should take advantage of their paid time off if they are able to take an extended vacation or a long weekend road trip, according to Staples. “Vacation, even if you don’t go anywhere, is necessary to unwind after a difficult or especially taxing couple of months at work.” Hitting the pause button may make you feel lazy, but she explains that taking that time off to completely decompress will result in higher levels of productivity and a more positive attitude toward your job when you return.
Write down your accomplishments.
Instead of focusing on what’s left to do at the end of the day, Bailey suggests making a list of your day’s accomplishments. Comparing your list on a daily and weekly basis will help you realize how productive you’ve become.
Establish a firm end to the day.
Setting a hard stop for the day is just as important as starting your day at the same time for long-term productivity—especially during quarantine. “It’s easy to work extra-long hours, especially if you’re not commuting right now,” says Staples, “but this can lead to burnout and, ultimately, a drop in productivity.” “Create a sense of rigidity in clocking out as if you had a train or bus to catch.”
Throw Out Any Productivity Tip That Doesn’t Work for You.
Human beings are multifaceted. No one can tell how similar or dissimilar they are to another person. We are all different in terms of where we find motivation, what helps us stay focused, what makes us feel demoralized, and how we recharge. We can use science to determine what kind of productivity advice or tips work for the majority of people, but we’ll never know what works for us unless we try it. Monique Valcour, an executive coach, and Harvard Business Review contributor, wrote an insightful article with productivity tips for people who despise them. It’s for people who get motivated by looking inward at their goals rather than looking outward at their to-do list. It’s for those who aren’t fond of tomato timers.
Take Meetings During Your Slump Time.
Picking any time when you’re free is the worst way to schedule meetings. The hours of the day aren’t all the same. You’ll have more energy, feel more focused, and be able to find your motivation during some of those hours. You must safeguard those hours so that you can tackle the most difficult tasks at that time. Do not make those hours available to people who want to meet. Instead, set aside a time during the day when you’re available for meetings. What time of day do you find yourself slouching? Your default meeting time should be during your slump hours.
Few people have complete control over when meetings take place. If your boss’s boss invites you to a meeting, you must attend at the time they specify. When you have control over the meeting time, such as when someone asks when you’re free, give them options that correspond to your slumps. That way, you can save your high-focus hours for work that requires it.
This is a similar trip to the one you may have heard before: Schedule several hours of deep-focus work each day on your calendar. Here’s the distinction. Few people actually block out time, whereas scheduling meetings during slumps is something you may do.