Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt guilty at the end of the day because it seemed like you hadn’t been as productive as you wanted. Maybe you could have responded to an email you’ve been putting off, maybe you could have got through more of your to-do list, or maybe you could have made your spreadsheet a little more detailed. Whatever it is, there are many productivity hacks to use at work that will allow you to go home each day feeling happy with the amount of effort you’ve put in.
1. Start the Day by Prioritising Your Most Important Tasks
As soon as you sit down at your desk, make a short (up to 3 items) of the most important tasks you’ve got for the day. Write them out in full sentences, too, so you can clearly identify what they are and what you have to do. Next, estimate how much time each task would take, then budget time in your day to get them done.
2. Start Tough or Start Easy
There are two ways to start your day: tough or easy. If you start tough, you’re getting out of the way that one task that’s really hard and everything else will feel easier, which can be huge when you get near the end of the day and have less energy to deal with things. Or, you could start easy so that you gain momentum with all the smaller things you’re checking off.
I had to play around with both, but I finally learned that starting easy is the best method for me. I like to ease into my days and not be faced with a mountain of work right off the bat, so I take care of little things first, like checking emails and getting back to people. By the time mid-morning hits, I’m fully in my groove and ready to handle anything.
3. Budget Your Time and Work with the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is so simple, and so effective, at increasing productivity at work. It even factors in fun break times as well, so you don’t feel like you’re slaving away to the clock.
How it works is by breaking down your day into half-hour segments—of that 30 minutes, 25 is for work, with a 5-minute break at the end to get a coffee, check social media, talk to coworkers or anything else that’s totally not work-related.
Once you cycle through four Pomodoros, you’re rewarded with a longer break — 15 to 30 minutes to do whatever you want. And the cool thing is that lunch doesn’t count as your longer break, so you get that 15 to 30 minutes as free time.
The key is to use your 25 minutes solely on work stuff, and usually on one task at a time. Having or seeing the clock tick down the minutes motivates you to get things done so you can reach your 5 minutes to check your Facebook that you’ve been so diligently ignoring.
4. Start Using the 2-Minute Rule
One of the best tips I’ve been using over the years is the 2-minute rule: if it can be done in 2 minutes or less, I do it right then and there. That means it’s an incredibly simple thing I can knock off my workflow without losing track of everything else because two minutes is hardly any time at all. Plus, it’s the little things that snowball into bigger accomplishments.
And when I evaluate that something will take longer than two minutes, I put it on hold to my bigger to-do list so I can devote more time and attention to it.
5. Put on Your Headphones
I get that this tip might not work for everyone, but it’s been a huge productivity-booster for me. I can get easily distracted by all the background noise and chatter at the office, so I put on my headphones to drown it out.
However, the music you choose is important. I’ll have a much better time focusing if I listen to music I’m not really familiar with, as my old go-to’s cause me to pay too much attention to the music and lyrics. Play around with different genres to see what works best for you.
6. Group Like with Like
If you make to-do lists long enough, you’ll start to see certain patterns emerge where some tasks share more in common with each other than with others. And when you use this at work, you’re making better use of your brain’s abilities because you’re staying in one mindset for each one instead of flipping back and forth.
Let’s say you’ve got a bunch of tasks that have ‘mathiness’ in common. Group them together and get them all done before moving onto ‘social’ tasks, which require a different sort of thinking.
7. Be Selectively Available to Coworkers
The last few days, I’d been working on an important project with a tight timeline my boss put me on. For those three days, I had coworkers come up to my desk or email me with regular questions, but at that time, I just couldn’t make time for it. What worked for me was asking them how important it was on a scale of 1-10, then deciding for myself if I could take a few minutes for it.
However, when it comes to your boss piling stuff on, you can’t just do that, so you’ll have to approach it in a different way. You need to say yes, but you don’t have to say an outright yes. Instead, say something like this: ‘I can definitely handle that, but could you take a look at my to-do list and recommend which one I delay to make time for this one?’ This shows them that you’re available but also have a lot on your plate, keeps everything professional, and gives you an out to coworkers if you’re late on one of your to-do list items.
Being fully productive at work will take time because it involves organising yourself into a different person. Start small, with one change a week. This will help you avoid overloading yourself so you don’t try and change too much all at once, but instead instil small micro habits that become second nature over time.
And above all else, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you head out the door feeling like you could have done more. This stuff takes time.