Every day, you’re overwhelmed by the number of unread emails in your inbox, last-minute project requests, tight deadlines and phone calls that interrupt your train of thought. With so many things vying for your attention, how are you ever going to get them all done — let alone get them done well?
You might worry that the only ways to get more time out of your day are to either do less work or the same amount of work, just not as well. But what if we shared six secrets that will help you do more with the hours you have and do it better?
1. Determine your most productive hours
Some people are early birds; others are night owls. When are you most productive?
To find out, pay attention to your daily work patterns, and note when you have the most energy and focus. Then take advantage of those productivity surges. Use that time for your most thought-intensive work, and delegate routine tasks to the times of the day when you’re less alert.
Tip: Regardless of when you’re the most productive, studies suggest that your brain can focus for only 90-120 minutes at a time. After that much concentrating, it needs a short break before resuming a focused task. Understanding this cycle, called the ultradian rhythm, can help you maximize productivity.
2. Schedule personal time
Sometimes, you must take care of personal matters (like scheduling home repair appointments or doctor’s visits) during work hours. But it’s easy to spend too much time at work attending to these tasks — especially if you work from home. Whether you work in an office or from home, set a fixed time each day to take care of personal tasks like paying bills, making phone calls and sending emails.
Tip: Simply setting a timer on your phone for a certain amount of time, like 30 minutes, each morning can help block time for personal matters. While that timer counts down, clean up your inbox and schedule appointments. When the timer goes off, it’s back to work.
3. Create a to-do list
There’s no greater sense of satisfaction than crossing something off your to-do list, is there? Keep a calendar or notepad by your desk on which you can document each task you must complete during the week. And before you leave work each night, double-check and update your list of tasks for the next day.
Tip: Trello’s free web-based app helps you organize personal and business tasks. With its visual-based organizational system, you can easily add tasks and projects — and quickly see when they’re due.
Related content: 5 Marketing Tools to Increase Your Team’s Productivity
4. Protect the plate
We all have problems saying “no” – whether it’s to a volunteer or a work request or help with a night-before science fair project from your children.
Author and TV personality Melissa d’Arabian emphasizes that people must continuously evaluate what’s on their plates and whether everything should really be there.
Think about your Thanksgiving dinner plate. There’s only so much you can fit on it: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, stuffing. At some point, you’ll compromise your dinner if you pile too much on. And even if you think it fits, as soon as you start walking from the buffet to the table, rolls might start tumbling from your plate.
This can also happen in your everyday life: If you take on too much, the quality of your work goes down. So, take a look at what’s on your plate right now. Can you manage what’s already on it? Do you really have the bandwidth to take on more? You may find that you just have to say “no” to something — at least just this once — to maintain your sanity and a high quality of work.
5. Minimize multitasking by going offline
Who hasn’t been knee-deep in a project when their email dings? You quickly check the email, dash off a response and get back to the project. Now, where were you?
While you can’t go entirely offline during the workday, you can eliminate distractions. Turn down the sound on your computer and phone so you won’t be tempted to reply to emails and texts. Or go one step further by shutting off your phone.
Tip: The Freedom app lets you block distracting websites and apps on your computer and phone for a set time period. And when you really need to focus, Freedom will block the entire internet for you.
6. Be okay with ‘good enough’
Very rarely will you achieve perfection, and you might sacrifice incredible amounts of time trying to get there.
Sometimes, it’s okay to be “good enough.” I could edit this post every day until next June, and I’ll always find a way to tweak it. Does that mean it’s significantly better? Not necessarily. So, if you’re reading this now, my team and I have decided that it’s pretty close to perfect, and I’ve moved on to the next project on my list.
Even though you still have just 24 hours in your day, these tips can help you get more out of your day and accomplish the things you need to while maybe even freeing yourself up to do more of what you want to.
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