If you search the internet, you’ll find endless productivity tips, tricks, strategies, and techniques for increasing your efficiency, but which ones move the needle the most?
I can’t say I’ve tried every technique under the sun, but I do want to share the 15 productivity tips I regularly use to get my most meaningful work done. I’ve tried dozens of different things, but these are the ones that work best for me.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Track Your Goals on Paper
Because Daily New Year’s is dedicated to helping people identify, set, and crush their goals, I have to lead off with writing your goals down. Writing your goals down makes you 42% more likely to see success in your goal setting.
You could use an app, a whiteboard, a scrap of paper – it doesn’t really matter. The trick is to write your goals down in a place that you can always refer to it and check in on your progress.
I use Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner because it breaks the year down into quarterly, weekly, and daily goals to help move things along.
2. Learn the Art of Bullet Journaling
I’ve placed Bullet Journaling as number two in my list of productivity tips because it goes so well with writing your goals down. Bullet Journaling is a simple, yet organized way to keep track of all your tasks, projects, events, notes—pretty much anything you want to keep track of.
Each bullet has a specific meaning, and while coming up with your own unique set of bullets takes a little bit of planning, it makes skimming through your notebook much, much easier.
I use plain bullets for tasks, asterisks for questions that need answers, tildes for tasks I’ve started but need to roll over to the next day, and so on.
Then, every day I review my bullets, leaving behind everything I’ve completed and re-prioritizing what’s left to do. It’s a migratory list that keeps things moving and prevents anything from being forgotten. Learn how to do it here.
3. Use Time-Blocking to Control Your Calendar
Time blocking is one of my all-time favorite productivity tips because it helps me control my calendar and my priorities. Simply put, time blocking is a technique where you plan out all of your tasks, micro-tasks, and larger projects in advance and reserve a spot for them on your calendar.
I create 50-minute blocks for batching small tasks, such as blasting through my inbox, and for larger tasks and projects. Projects that require more than 50 minutes get more than one block, but everything makes it onto the calendar.
Time-blocking helps to prioritize projects and requests, but it also helps you to see where all of your time is going. Without prioritizing and time-blocking, an entire week can slip by without you even realizing it, leaving you to wonder how your most important projects didn’t get done.
4. Set a Daily, Weekly, and Monthly “Big 3”
The Big 3! Now, this is a productivity tip that absolutely changed my life, and it all started with the Full Focus Planner. I love this planner for mapping out my goals and tracking my progress because it uses the Big 3 method.
At the beginning of the year, you start by mapping out all of your biggest, annual goals.
Then, you pick the 3 goals that you’re going to focus on in the coming 3 months. Then, each week you sit down and plan out the 3 big things you need to do that week to keep the needle moving. From there, you can plan your big 3 for each day.
I love this method because it forces me to focus on what’s most important. And, if you’ve planned your goals realistically and practiced time-blocking, you should see significant progress on your goals week after week, quarter after quarter.
5. Use the Eisenhower Square for Prioritizing
The Eisenhower Square is a powerful tool for helping sort out Urgent tasks from Important tasks. While some tasks are both Urgent and Important, some are neither urgent nor important.
How can we tell the difference?
First, you draw a large square and then divide it into quadrants. You should get four boxes. Then, across the top two squares, write “Urgent” and “Not Urgent.” Next, write “Important” and “Not Important” down the left side boxes.
Then, start dumping all of your tasks into the boxes. It’s brilliant, and if you want to see exactly how to do it, check out my post on how to prioritize like a pro and crush your goals in record time.
6. Practice the Four D’s of Email Management
Distracted by the never-ending game of email whack-a-mole? Try the Four D’s of Email Management: delete it, do it, delegate it, and defer it.
This productivity tip works best if you combine it with time blocking, but essentially you start by deleting, spamming, or unsubscribing from all of your junk emails.
Then, spend one time-block doing anything you can to resolve and folder as many emails as possible. If it takes longer than 5 minutes, delegate it or defer it, but keep moving.
Now, for anything you’ve deferred, plan an additional time block to knock that out later. End this cycle by shutting down your email until your next designated email time-block.
Processing email using the Four D’s takes discipline and practice, but batching email is one of the best productivity tips I can give you. It works!
7. Strive for Inbox Zero
If you’ve decided to start using the Four D’s of Inbox Management, why not go a step further and strive for inbox zero? “Inbox Zero” is when you round out the day having an empty inbox. And while you may say to yourself, “That’s impossible,” I assure you: it is possible.
By using the Four D’s and a folder system unique to your needs, you can quickly clean out your inbox in a single afternoon. Just create a time-block or two to dive into the process.
Check out this article for the crash course.
8. Turn off All Smart Phone Notifications
Turning off my smartphone and desktop notifications is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Have you ever noticed how many notifications pop up every hour? Sometimes, it even seems like they roll in by the minute.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
It never stops! Unless, of course, you turn them off. Most phones allow you to turn off all notifications or on an app-by-app basis. Many apps even allow you to configure your notification settings individually, too.
On my phone, I shut down everything except SMS text and Google Hangouts, both of which my wife use to get in touch with me. Overall, I don’t get many texts, and my wife is the only one who messages me on Hangouts, so I get very few notifications.
When I want to check my email, Slacks, or anything else, I manually open the app and do so. And you guessed it; I try to adhere to time-blocks for checking in on these communications.
9. Stop Multitasking
Ready for a controversial topic? Multitasking isn’t real. I’m happy to engage in a friendly debate in the comments below, but I stand firm – multitasking is not real.
Sure, you can try brushing your teeth in the shower, but for every second you spend brushing your teeth, there’s a second not spent washing your body. We can practice multi-task switching, but not multitasking.
I often try to write and watch TV and guess what: it doesn’t work. As I’m writing, I’m missing the show, and I have to ask my wife what happened. Then, when I’m watching the TV, I’m not writing. I can switch back and forth quickly, but this greatly reduces productivity.
Instead, try to focus on one thing at a time, because when everything is important, nothing is important.
10. Learn How and When to Say “No”
For some of you, saying “no” may be the hardest productivity tip in the entire list, but it’s probably the most impactful.
We all have the same amount of time each day, so when we say “yes” to far too many things, our ability to get anything done diminishes. What’s worse, we lose the ability to work on the things we want to work on.
It has been said that, for everything you say “yes” to, you’ll have to say “no” to something else, and that’s true!
There isn’t time to do everything, and not everything is worth doing yourself. Use the Eisenhower Squares combined with the Four D’s (yeah, you can do that) to help you sort out what you should do, versus what you should delegate or say “no” too.
And, if the Eisenhower Squares don’t help, focus on your Big 3. If you say “yes” to every opportunity that comes your way, how will you ever focus on your Big 3? It’s okay to say “no.” Try it today.
11. Optimize Your Workspace
Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
I’m not going to tell you that you need a tidy, nearly-empty desk like mine to be more productive. That’s true for me, but it’s not true for everyone.
I recommend optimizing your workspace around what makes you most comfortable. Whether you like a bright room with sunshine and windows or a dimly lit room with candles and cafe music, create your space around what makes you most productive.
We’re at our most productive when we’re most comfortable.
12. Listen to Ambient Music
Did you know that listening to music with lyrics that you can understand has been shown to reduce concentration? While that may not be true for everyone, it is for me.
As much as I love country and rap, the lyrics distract me from the thoughts in my head, continually derailing my progress. Then, I have to regain my train of thought only to lose it again.
When I’m concentrating, it helps me to listen to movie scores, peaceful piano, or even Latin music – anything that is ambient. Give it a try and tell me it doesn’t help keep you in the zone.
13. Learn on the Go
Opposite of the last tip, listening to something educational when you’re not mentally engaged is an excellent productivity tip!
If you have a long daily commute or spend significant amounts of time in the gym, why not listen to a podcast, audiobook, or any other type of audio you can learn from?
In a recent post, I outlined several ways that you can learn something new without spending any extra time. If you’re looking to be more productive, check it out!
14. Track Your Progress
One of the best ways to measure productivity is to track your progress. I’ve already talked about tracking your goals and your daily Big 3, but you can track so much more than that.
Going to the gym every day can seem mundane, especially if you do not see any progress. But, are you getting stronger or faster? Track your progress so that you can see your results.
Are you trying to read two books per month? Track your reading log every day to see your progress. Are you trying to lose weight? Log your calories, daily weight, and body measurements.
Whatever it is, tracking your progress is a great way to see your success and boost your motivation and productivity.
15. Get a White Board
Okay, so if you’re already tracking your goals and progress on paper, in an app, or in a notebook, why get a whiteboard?
For me, a whiteboard is a great visual tool that helps keep your goals top-of-mind. Even though I plan my weekly and daily Big 3 in a notebook, I also write them on my whiteboard.
Sometimes my day moves quickly, and I forget to open my notebook, but my whiteboard is right there, staring me in the face, reminding me of what’s important.
And, it’s a great brainstorming tool! It doesn’t have to be big to be useful, either. My whiteboard is only 2 feet by 3 feet, but it gives me plenty of space to log my goals, list my tasks, or even brainstorm some blog ideas.
Over to You!
Do you see any new productivity tips that you’re going to try? There are tons of productivity tips out there – which ones did I miss? What strategies are you using to get you most meaningful work done?
I’d love to know! Drop a comment below.