7 Productivity Tips to Stay On Task and Get More Done

We could all use an extra hour in the day, right? By using the right productivity tips, you can get back your wasted time and increase your output. Or you could get your work done more quickly and spend more time resting and relaxing! It’s all up to you on how you spend your time you reclaimed.

So if you’re looking for ways to make yourself more productive, check out these productivity tips!

Before You Try Productivity Tips, Audit Your Time

Before you figure out how you can manage your time more productively, you need to figure out how you spend your time. For one week, use a timer and scheduler to jot down every task you do. Whether you’re spending 5 minutes scrolling through social media, a half an hour on phone calls, or driving an hour on your commute, jot it down.

At the end of the week, it’s time to go through your list and categorize each item with similar tasks. Here are just a few suggestions for different categories to use:

  • Communication: Time spent responding to emails, making calls, or direct messaging people on your business’s social media accounts all go into this category.
  • Lost time: Time you can’t get back, like commuting, using the restroom, or taking a lunch break (take your full break!). No productivity tips can reduce this used time.
  • Collaborative time: Time working with others, like in meetings or training sessions.
  • Work time: Time spent actually doing your specific job description. If you’re a Design Engineer, you’re designing in CAD. A photographer? You’re shooting on set.

Now that you’ve taken a look at how you spend your week, you can start to organize yourself. Dedicate specific time slots in your day to groups of tasks. If you group similar tasks together, you don’t have to waste time switching your brain between different task types. So 10:00am to 11:00am gets reserved for communication. Then you turn off all email, Slack, and any other messaging notifications at 11:01am. You can’t get sidetracked by a stray email that could derail your whole afternoon.

But more importantly, this audit will show you where you’re wasting time. Figure out which tasks you can eliminate or hand off to someone else. When you see yourself spending too much time scrolling through Twitter during the day, limit your social media time.

On the other hand, if you’re a social media manager but spend too much time on captions, ask the company if you can hire a part-time writer.

1. The Mark Twain Technique

You’ve likely heard quotes from Mark Twain’s famous literature. But have you heard his quote that inspired a key productivity tip?

Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Not the most pleasant image. And how is that a productivity tip?

While hopefully eating a live frog isn’t on your actual to-do list, “eating the frog” symbolizes your worst task of the day. It’s that task that you go to bed not looking forward to the night before.

If you leave that task until the end of the day, you’ll spend the whole day dreading it. Procrastination for that one task will breed unproductivity through the rest of your day as well. If you get up and get it over with, you don’t have to spend the day dreading it.

Plus, you’ll feel more empowered since you conquered the task you didn’t want to do! Bring that powerful attitude with you throughout the rest of your to-do list.

2. The Happy File Technique

Does starting out the day with your worst task not sound like something you’d want to do? Try looking at your “happy file” first.

What’s a happy file?

You know that sense of pride you get when your boss compliments you on your hard work? That joy you felt when your partner sent you a sweet text about your future? The smile you had on your face when you got a promotion?

Take all the messages that you received that remind you that you are successful and loved. Put them in your happy file. This file could be digital, or you could be crafty and collage them. When you start out the day, look at your happy file. It will give you the confidence, courage, and self-assurance to eat the frog.

3. The Pomodoro Technique

After looking at how you spend your time, you figured out that you get sidetracked and lose focus. This ends up costing you quite a bit of time.

So how do you stay on task and not waste time?

Try out the Pomodoro technique. It helps you focus on specific tasks without interruptions.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick one task you want to work on uninterrupted. Put “do not disturb” on all possible notifications.
  2. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
  3. If you have a random thought about something that absolutely has to get done, write it down on a piece of paper. It can wait 25 minutes.
  4. Once the timer rings, set it for 5 minutes and do nothing work related. Relax. Take the full 5 minutes.
  5. Start the process over again. After 4 Pomodoro cycles in a row, take a 15 minute break.

That 5 minutes of break is absolutely necessary in maintaining the time management effectiveness of the Pomodoro. Don’t cheat and use that time to start answering emails. If you let work creep into your break time, you’ll let distractions creep into your work time.

4. Break Big Projects Into Bite-Sized Pieces

Who doesn’t love the rush you get when you cross something off your to do list? You may not realize it, but that small boost of serotonin and sense of accomplishment you get from checking it as complete is the same regardless of the size of the task you checked off.

Checking off (1) send an email to your boss and (2) finish graduate thesis will give you that same boost.

If you just have one large task, it will feel daunting. You won’t want to even start to tackle it, because it just looks like so much work. But if you break it into tiny pieces, you can have a bunch of small victories along the way.

If you split a giant task into tiny pieces, you’ll get a better sense of your progress. You’ll also get that small burst of empowerment and accomplishment every time you check something off. You’ll inspire yourself to keep going so you can check more off.

5. Find an Accountability Buddy

We aren’t all amazing at sticking to self-imposed deadlines. If you imposed the deadline, no one is there to enforce it except yourself. For chronic procrastinators, it’s all too easy to let due dates slide until there’s an external pressure to get the important tasks done.

If you rely on outside sources for your motivation, it’s time to find an accountability partner. You might feel fine letting yourself down, but you’ll feel less likely to let a due date pass by if someone else is holding you to it.

Become accountability partners for each other. Have a meeting once a week where you talk about upcoming tasks and strategize how the other can best tackle or approach them. At the beginning of the meeting, you give a status report on last week’s tasks. By the end, you’ll have a gameplan for the upcoming week.

If you need an extra boost of accountability to improve productivity, have work dates. These can be virtual or in person and can run for any amount of time. If you work from home, having work dates with an accountability buddy can give you that sense of community you lack when you work alone.

You get to set it for any time of day, so think about when you’re most productive. If you and your partner are both night owls, have a 10:00pm work session.

6. Make Your Time Management Tools Digital

I too often fall prey to the cute, aesthetically-pleasing planners in bookstores. I always think “this time, this time I will use this.”

And, I never do.

And even if I did, lugging around a giant planner just won’t work for me. When I’m on the go, I’ve got an iPad, Magic Keyboard, Apple Pencil, and maybe a small notebook and pen. I don’t have room for an 8.5x11inch binder with all my tasks and calendars.

You want your time management tools to be (1) accessible wherever you are and (2) easy to use in the long term. While nothing beats writing on good, old fashioned paper, time management tools belong in the cloud.

You want to be able to pull up your to do list on an app on your phone when you’re out of the office. Opening up your calendar on all your devices will help you stay organized. And with a digital tool, you have no limit with how far ahead into the future you can plan.

Experiment with different time management tools and figure out which one saves time for you personally. We all have different needs when it comes to our organization software. Some might find Trello’s simple lists too restricting, while others might find Monday’s tools too overwhelming. Productivity tips aren’t one size fits all, and neither are organizational tools.

7. Separate Your Work from Your Life

Just like with the Pomodoro Technique, you can’t let distractions enter your work, and you can’t let work enter your relaxation. If you don’t have boundaries, you won’t have work life balance. When you don’t have work life balance, your productivity tanks.

Your brain can only handle so many tasks at a time. If you have home stuff on your mind at work, you can’t focus on work. When you can’t focus on work, you can’t get as much done. If you can’t get your work done during work hours, you bring that work home.

When you bring work home, you can’t dedicate the time you need to relaxing, housework, errands, family time, hobbies, and passion projects. That leads you to bring home stuff into the office. And now we’re back to the beginning of the cycle.

If you don’t set up explicit boundaries between your work and your life, both your work output and, more importantly, your mental health will suffer. Setting boundaries isn’t easy, especially now that employers expect you to be on call at all times.

But if you dedicate energy to setting and enforcing those rules, you’ll find that you can get more done during the work day. You’ll also find that you have more time away from work to devote to yourself and your family.

If you work from home or are an entrepreneur, you need to be twice as diligent in setting and keeping those boundaries. When home and work share a physical space, it’s hard to separate the two from your mind. Figure out what you can do to truly walk away when work hours are over.

Not All Productivity Tips Work for Everyone

Everyone is unique, so of course we all thrive under different work environments. A productivity tip that changes one person’s life might just slow another person down.

Someone who is really independent likely doesn’t want the constraints of an accountability buddy. But someone who thrives in a collaborative work environment and is a verbal processor could see huge improvements in their productivity.

It’s all about finding what works for you personally. You likely won’t get it done on the first try, but if you keep at it, you’ll find a routine that increases your productivity.

Published in Career, Featured Articles
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Author, Artist, Photographer.

Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.

She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.

She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.

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