Did you find yourself working from home in these challenging times?
Perhaps it’s your default working condition and you just seem to struggle a lot more than usual to concentrate with all that extra commotion at home.
Whatever your reason may be, the good news is that there are some super simple fixes that will work even for the most desperate scenarios.
The catch? You have to enforce them fully and follow through so they stick around!
So here we list the best productivity hacks that can be applied not just to those working from home, but also to an office environments (where small tweaks might be needed).
After digesting the three most successful books on productivity, mindset and focus, I’m happy to share the accumulated wisdom in an easy digestible format so you don’t have to deep dive into the 800 pages worth of wisdom I did.
Productivity Hack #1 – Remove Physical Distractions
Pretty things on your desk are really just that – a distraction from work. In theory, all you need on your working desk are the bare essentials.
Sure, your work station will not look instagram-friendly, but you get your work done and we both know which one is more important right now.
Remove all clutter, items that you might pick up to play while you procrastinate doing work. These include: fancy pens, paper weights (never got the point of those to be honest), small clutter like jewelry or candles and anything that does not directly contribute to your work day.
All you need is a notepad, pen and some water to keep hydrated during the day. Sounds like a monastery? Well, yes – that’s the idea.
With clear desk your mind will also feel more clear and free to focus on what’s in front of you.
Productivity Hack #2 – Remove the Phone
I know, you’re not going to like this.
For a moment, just consider how many notifications on your phone distract you from the task you’re currently working on.
If your phone is not 100% essential to your work, keep it out of your office environment. In case you work in a public office, keep it in your purse or somewhere that’s hard to reach.
When we get bored, we tend to look at our phones and get lost in a rabbit hole. It all starts with a quick glance on Facebook and before you know it you’re reading the 7th article on a random topic that will have zero impact on your life.
Phones are the number one distractions and managing your relationship with this little device will pay dividends in all areas of your life.
For night time, I go as far as removing the phone from my bedroom so I don’t start scrolling through feeds at night, ultimately screwing up with my sleep cycle and waking up cranky every morning.
Productivity Hack #3 – Optimize your Phone
A simple thing you can do right now that will have a major impact on how much time you spend on your phone – head over to your notification settings and switch off everything that you don’t consider essentials.
That means all updates from social channels, emails, non-essential apps, games, whatsup and anything else. Keep the ring tone obviously, but everything else that you don’t need to go around your day should be switched off.
This is not amazing just for productivity, but also for improving relationships around family and at work.
Productivity Hack #4 – Optimize your Social Channels
While we’re on the mobile topic, head over to your Facebook feed now. Switch off and unfollow all people that do not bring joy to your day and any brands or groups that are not important to you.
What you end up with is just a few occasional updates from people you actually care about. What does that translate to? Less time spent on social media checking for constant updates.
If you want to take it step at a time and can’t commit to switching off notifications right away, this is a good way of easing off into less obsessive relationship with Facebook updates.
Productivity Hack #5 – Check Emails Twice a Day
I know this sounds like another crazy advice. After reading Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week, I got a completely different view of what a productive day looks like and how much of my time was wasted on completely non essential conversations via email.
The truth is – there is rarely anything that requires your immediate reaction. Checking your emails before lunchtime and later in the afternoon takes a lot of determination and self discipline, but in the end I promise it’s worth it.
If you are a control freak and don’t want to miss an importation email from a client, simply set them as exception in your email provider, so that every time they send you an email you get a notification on your screen.
Another productivity tip for emails – if you find yourself creating a to do list and part of that involves corresponding via email, simply batch these tasks. Make a note of them with a tag email, and bang them all out in one go when you check your emails for the first time on the day.
For projects or conversations that would require follow up steps, it’s better to send them closer to the end of the work day, so you don’t end up flooding your inbox and mind with unfinished tasks for the day before you can do anything about them.
Productivity Hack #6 – Keep List of Internal Distractions
This was a great advice from one of my books on productivity – if you find yourself getting distracted a lot by internal triggers, write them down and keep a log.
For example, for me, most of my internal distraction triggers come out when I have to do some creative work, like copy-writing. Especially if it requires a lot of thinking and creativity and I feel stuck. In that case, I would come up with 10 different ways to distract my brain from the task at hand.
Write down the activity, the internal trigger and the best way to deal with it. Sometimes that might just involve noting the situation and riding it out, until the urge for distraction subsides. If it doesn’t help, take a break – see below.
Productivity Hack #7 – Regular Breaks
There is some scientific research into how long can you stay focused on the task. The advice may vary, but on average, you shouldn’t work without a break for more than hour.
I would suggest taking it at 30 minute slots at a time, with a 5 minute break in between.
There is a handy browser tool called tomato timer which will let you follow exactly this routine and alert you each time your time is up. The few blocks of work and then divided by a longer 10 min break. You can read more about the ‘pomodoro technique’ here.
Try to stop yourself from having to finish a task when the timer rings and do follow through with the breaks.
Productivity Hack #8 – Work on One Thing at a Time
Research suggests that each time your brain has to switch between tasks, it always take a bit of time for your to focus again on the task in front of you.
Not only is it not a productive way to work, but you are also getting more prone to make errors and spend longer time at each task.
The tomato timer technique I suggested above is great to use to keep you focused on one task at a time.
For example, dedicate one 30 min slot to answering email, next 30 min slot on working on task A and following 30 min slot on working on task B.
Productivity Hack #9 – Batch Tasks Together
Wherever possible, batch similar tasks together and do them in one slot. Best example – emails – respond to emails in two dedicated slots per day, not as soon as a new email arrives.
Another great example – if your work involves updating social media channels, do it once a month and schedule content for the whole month.
If you’re writing blog posts or content, you can work in a similar way – write content for the whole week ahead on a dedicated day of the week.
The reasoning behind this approach is that its much more easier for your brain to focus on similar tasks and one activity and execute it much more quickly.
Productivity Hack #10 – Set Your Priorities
All these productivity hacks and tips are designed around saving time and keeping you on top of your to do list.
In light of that, you should consider two things:
First – Have you ever asked yourself what are you saving time for? If you could cut down your work time in half, what would you spend the other half on?
Make sure the goal you’re working towards is aligned with what you do on daily basis. If you’re trying to get more time to spend with your family, set clear times for work and family life.
Secondly, review your task list. Each week, start your week by closely examining your tasks and how they contrirubte to your overal goals.
I use the 4 quadrants of task management for this, which allows me to make a super quick decisions on what to work on and what tasks to eliminate.
Check your list ot tasks and divide them as follows.
It goes without saying that you should spend most of your day on quadrants 1 and 2 tasks.
Bonus tip – I would recommend planning your to do list ahead for each week, instead of each day. For each day, set only three tasks you want to accomplish so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
So that’s it, roughly four books digested into 10 main points. If you find something else that’s super helpful for productivity, please do share with us in the comments section.
PS – I have included some further reading tips here for those who want to dive in deeper on this topic:
Getting Things Done – the Art of Stress Free Productivity
Tim Ferris – 4 Hour Work Week
7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
Indistractable – N. Eyal
Hyperfocus – Ch. Bailey