Stay on top of your to-do list and improve your effectiveness, efficiency and wellbeing with these simple, productivity-boosting tips.
1. Find your flow
Have you ever been so immersed in a task that you’ve lost track of time and everything going on around you? You might call it 'being in the zone' but it’s what Positive Psychologists call being in a state of flow. In this state, you feel energised, motivated and focused on your task, increasing your productivity levels.
How to find your flow
- Turn off your email notifications and mobile phone. Schedule time to check your emails rather than dipping into your inbox adhoc. This will stop you losing focus mid-task
- Block time out in your diary so colleagues know you are not to be disturbed
- Choose tasks that will stretch you, based on your previous successes and failures. In a state of flow, you should feel confident that you have the skills to complete your task but it should still provide a level of challenge that you enjoy
- Try working in a quiet meeting room or coffee shop. You might find it harder to become immersed in something if you’re working in a space where you perform regular chores
- Be patient. It can take between 5-20 minutes for flow to kick in
- Shift your mindset away from unhelpful thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘It will be rubbish.’ Contact us to work with a professional coach who can help you find new ways of thinking
- Record your progress and stay on track by ticking off tasks as you complete them
- Take short breaks to stretch, rest your eyes and stay hydrated but avoid engaging with other tasks that may disrupt your sense of flow
Start by working through these questions, designed to help you tap into your flow.
Think about what a difference having 20% more time would make to your career and your wellbeing. If you could carve out just 1 extra hour a day for yourself, what would you do with it? What are the consequences to your wellbeing of not having that extra hour?
When were you last working in a flow state? Identify the specific details - what was the type of work, where were you working, who were you working with, did you have a deadline and so on?
When you were last in a flow state, as identified above, what skills were you using? Do you need to delegate some of your work so that you have time to do more challenging tasks that better match your skillset?
What practical steps can you take to set up the conditions for more flow working?
What should you stop doing that prevents you from finding time to work in flow?
2. Manage your meetings
The average office worker spends more than a day a week in meetings! To prevent meetings eating into your productive workday, try some of these tips:
- Keep your meetings short, always start on time and stick to a schedule to keep the conversation focused. You could even set a timer
- Only invite people who need to be there. Cutting down the number of attendees will reduce the chance of your meeting overrunning
- Use smart scheduling. Booking meetings in blocks in either the morning or afternoon leaves you with an uninterrupted block of time to get things done
- Be assertive when accepting or declining invites. If going to a meeting will mean you miss a deadline, don’t be afraid to say no, explaining your reasons. Or make it clear that you’re only available for a specific amount of time
Clear communication skills make for productive working relationships.
- Be an empathic listener. Take the time to understand what someone is saying, rather than simply waiting for your turn to speak. A better understanding of someone’s perspective will ultimately help you get your thoughts across clearly, in a way that’s relevant to them; and is therefore more likely to get noticed or acted upon
- Be assertive and don’t be afraid to say no. Before agreeing to take on another task or project, ask yourself if you have the time to do it and if you’re the right person for the job. If the answer to either question is no, explain clearly why you cannot take it on and try to suggest an alternative solution
Find out more about building productive relationships with our free online course: Emotional intelligence for success.
4. Take a break
Giving yourself time to rest and recharge is vital to maintaining productivity and focus. It’s tempting to work long hours and through lunch breaks in an attempt to impress, but that’s a sure-fire way to burn out fast.
Instead, take regular breaks away from your screen or the task you’re working on. This will help you maintain concentration and motivation for longer, meaning that ultimately you will get more done. Try to take at least 30 minutes for lunch each day to improve your concentration in the afternoon.
Try this one-minute breathing exercise to help you pause and refocus
5. Prioritise your time
There are many different ways to prioritise and some will work better than others. Try a few out and see which one works best for you.
Ivy Lee Method
- Finish your working day by making a list of the 6 most important things you have to achieve the next day
- Rank the tasks in order of importance
- The following day, start by concentrating on the most important task. Don’t do anything else until it’s finished. Then move on to the next important one
- Keep going, and if there are any unfinished tasks at the end of the day, include them on your to-do list for the next day
It may sound over-simplistic, but limiting yourself to 6 tasks (or fewer, never more) is more effective than maintaining an overwhelming to-do list that goes on forever.
Time Management Matrix
This method is helpful if you struggle to prioritise tasks.
Imagine you have a grid of 4 squares (quadrants). At the top of the grid are the headings urgent and non-urgent (each heading is above a single square). Along the left-hand side of the grid are the headings important and non-important (each of these headings is next to a single row).
In this square, write down tasks that are both important and urgent; things you need to do straight away, such as tasks that have pressing deadlines, emergencies and last-minute preparations.
Here you should list tasks that are important but not urgent; things that are necessary for you to achieve your goals but don’t need immediate action.
This is for tasks that are urgent but not important. These tasks don’t help you achieve your goals, so try to keep them to a minimum or delegate them.
These tasks are neither urgent nor important. They have no real value and are time-wasters.
By sorting the items on your to-do list into these 4 quadrants, you can see quickly which tasks need your immediate attention.
Schedule 25-minute work-focused slots throughout the day, each followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 rounds of 25-minute sessions, you should take a longer break.
Start by making a list of tasks you need to complete. Then allocate each task to 1 or more 25-minute sessions, depending on how long you think it will take.
Top tip: Schedule tasks that are more demanding for the time of day when you feel most productive and mentally alert.
6. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination is the enemy of productivity and it happens to us all! Try setting deadlines for the tasks on your to-do list. If you're avoiding a particular task because it's too intimidating, divide it into smaller chunks (don't forget to set deadlines for those too). Finally, when you finish a task that you've been putting off, reward yourself.
For more practical tips on how to improve your productivity, book a place on our free course: Do more in a day than you do in a week