Do you ever feel like you’ve spent the entire day madly rushing from one task to the next without making any real progress? If you’re constantly tackling tasks on your to-do list but never actually manage to tick them off, it’s likely because you’re just not being productive. These smart productivity hacks will help you get more done in less time.
1. Stop multitasking
It might sound counter-intuitive but multitasking is what’s referred to as a ‘false efficiency’, which basically means that it gives you the illusion that you’re doing more (and getting things done) when really you’re just doing bits and pieces of different tasks and it takes even longer than usual to tick things off your to-do list. The solution? Focus on one task at a time.
2. Use ‘the gaps’ in your day
To be clear, this is not multitasking – it’s making the most of your idle time. Waiting for the kettle to boil? Wipe down the kitchen counters. On hold with a call centre? Pack your clean washing away.
3. Set clearly-defined goals
Having a goal you want to achieve will give you purpose for the day. But here’s the really important part: it needs to be realistic. There’s no point in writing down an impressive list of tasks you intend to tick off that day if there’s no way you can reasonably achieve it – you’ll just end up adding that day’s leftover tasks to the next day and have them roll over until you feel completely overwhelmed.
Instead, set out one clear primary goal for each day, as well as adding two to three smaller goals to the list. For example, your goal for the day may be to compile an important report and, alongside that primary goal, you can plan to do online research for a new product you want to buy and schedule time to email your child’s teacher.
4. Schedule, schedule, schedule
That goes for just about everything: work tasks, breaks, answering e-mails, time spent on social media, even time dedicated to worrying – if you find yourself easily distracted, try to bring yourself back to the moment and tell yourself, ‘I can do that at 2pm when I’ve scheduled half an hour for looking at Facebook’.
It’s particularly important not to get sucked into tasks like answering emails every time they ping into your inbox or checking Instagram whenever you get a notification – it’s a real time waster and you’re better off planning two 15-minute slots a day to take care of replies and filing e-mails into relevant folders.
5. Take breaks
You can only concentrate on a task for so long before your mind will naturally start to wander. A good rule of thumb is to break your day up into manageable slots. For example, spend 40 minutes focusing on a single task and block off the next 10-15 minutes for a break.
Warning: don’t be tempted to turn to social media to ‘switch off’ during your scheduled breaks – it’s addictive and you’ll find yourself doomscrolling for 30 minutes before you even realise that time has run away with you. What can you do instead? Get up to make a cup of tea or coffee, go for a short walk (even if it’s just to the printer and back a few times) to stretch your legs or tidy your workspace.
6. Break up big projects
Don’t know where to start with something? Try breaking it down into smaller chunks and write a detailed list of what’s involved with each step. Then add each of those smaller tasks to your to-do list and tackle them one by one. You’ll soon have made your way through the entire thing and it will seem a lot less daunting.
7. Dreading something? Do it first
Rather than have the anticipation of an unpleasant task – like a tricky phone call you have to make or a meeting that you’re dreading – hanging over you all day, tackle it first thing (or at least before lunch). Not only will you save yourself some unnecessary anxiety, having the worst part of your day behind you will actually help motivate you to get everything else done.