7 time management tips to supercharge your productivity
Whether you are brimming with energy, or have returned to work feeling less than motivated this January, everyone could use a few tips to get more done.
'We all have days when it's hard to get going, but there are some simple things you can do to boost your productivity,' says Mike Gardner, aka The Time Doctor.
1. Make a deadline
Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. Unfortunately, it's easy to put things off when you don't have a deadline - which is why you should impose your own.
'Give yourself a time by which to complete each task, and always aim to end your workday at a specific time and have everything done before then,' suggests Mike.
'If a colleague asks you to do something, find out when they need it by. If they say "when you can," push them to give you a deadline or suggest one yourself.
'Tell yourself that you can't have a coffee until you've made that unpleasant phone call or won't break for lunch until you've checked the accounts. This psychological trick can help you get more done and enjoy life instead of worrying about what's on your to-do list.'
2. Avoid multi-tasking
Being able to multi-task might seem a good thing in a world where most of us are hardwired to react every time our phone pings to announce a new email, but trying to do several tasks at once can mean you don't do anything well.
Instead of juggling numerous jobs throughout the day, Mike suggests carving out specific times for certain tasks.
'Don't read every email as soon as it pops into your inbox - set a specific time for returning phone calls and emails. If you're expected to respond quickly, you may want to schedule several times each day to do this, but don't leave it open-ended.'
3. Set a timer
Still struggling to focus? Set a timer to work on the task.
'It's impossible to stay completely focused for hours on end,' says Mike. 'Try setting a timer for 25 minutes and work on a task for that time, then give yourself a five-minute break.'
If you're faced with a big project, Mike suggests dividing the work into smaller chunks to stop you from feeling overwhelmed.
Remember, if there's a task you really don't want to do, get it out of the way first thing in the morning. Letting it "nag away" at the back of your mind will only drain your energy.
4. Set physical boundaries
Setting physical boundaries can help to limit distractions.
'If you're lucky enough to have your own office, close the door when you need to concentrate. If you're in an open plan office, put a polite "do not disturb" sign on your desk,' suggests Mike.
Boundaries extend to electronic devices, too. Turn off mobile phone notifications for social media and emails, and consider downloading software that allows you to temporarily block your favourite "time-wasting" sites on your PC - at least until you've hit your deadline.
5. Use a daily action list
Making a list can be helpful when you have lots to do, but don't let it get out of hand.
'Your daily action list is not the same as your task list,' warns Mike. 'Your task list contains everything you need to do at some point. Your daily action list consists of a maximum of three or four tasks you must complete or make a start on during the day. If you have larger tasks, break them down into smaller chunks and put these on your daily task list.'
Just keep the list short. 'You're less likely to feel overwhelmed, plus it will leave you time to deal with any emergencies that arise without impacting your plans too much,' adds Mike.
6. Concentrate on the right tasks
The Pareto Principle, named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, states that virtually all economic activity is subject to the 80-20 rule. For instance, 20% of your customers will account for 80% of your sales. Likewise, 20% of your actions account for 80% of your results.
Mike explains: 'Say you complete 10 tasks in a day. Of these, two will contribute far more than any of the others. While the most productive things you can do are often the hardest or most complex, the reward for completing them is tremendous.'
Unfortunately, we often get caught in the trap of "busy-ness" – completing tasks that take up our time but don't make a big difference or move us towards our goal.
Mike says: 'Before you start work, always ask yourself, am I concentrating my efforts on the 20% of tasks that will give me 80% of my results? Never work on tasks in the bottom 80% while you have tasks in the top 20% to be done.'
7. Use your prime time
Whether you're an early bird or a night owl, your productivity naturally rises and dips throughout the day. For instance, studies show that we're better at analytical tasks from 10 am-1pm, when levels of cortisol are highest, giving our brains a natural boost of alertness.'Identify your "prime time" and complete tasks that need most focus when your energy levels are high,' says Mike. 'Use your time wisely, and you will get more done.'