We’re more productive than ever, thanks to modern technologies. But those same innovations that let us do more, faster and better than ever before come with their own challenges for focus and productivity at work. Here are some concepts and resources that might help you boost your own personal productivity during the workday:
- Communicate more effectively. Many organizations have moved away from email for team management and coordination in favor of “group collaboration” tools such as Slack, Trello or Asana. But in this digital world, we often end up spending far more time writing emails or thumbing in text messages than we would simply calling and talking to someone. How much digital back-and-forth are you going to need to accomplish the purpose of your communication? If it’s more than twice, consider saving everybody time and simply talking to them, either on the phone or in person. (And if you can combine this with getting up from your desk chair and moving around the office, all the better!)
- Combine notes and resources in one place. The best-known tool for this is Evernote, which combines note-taking, to-do lists, collaboration, archiving and much more. If you can’t or don’t want to use Evernote or some other third-party application, common office software such as Microsoft Outlook has a broad range of capabilities most people never use; including the ability to turn emails into tasks or appointments by dragging them into those fields, note taking and management, group collaboration and more. Whatever you use, the most important thing is that you pick one tool and stick with it as much as possible.
- Track your time and figure out where it’s going. Just as we’d try to optimize the use of other scarce resources in our businesses, there’s real value in taking a data-based look at how we use the limited number of hours in our day. The first step is to use a time-tracking program such as Toggl , Harvest or Rescue Time, giving you the necessary data into where that time went. Once you understand how you’re using your time, you’ll be able to identify the large and small time sinks that keep you from accomplishing as much as you could.
- Control your email, don’t let it control you. Whether it’s Google Inbox, Outlook tools or third-party apps such as Newton, Spark or SaneBox, there are a variety of tools available to help sort and prioritize the flood of email that enters our inboxes on a daily basis. Deal with the critical emails as needed, then schedule time to work through the rest in an appropriate and concentrated manner that doesn’t get in the way of other responsibilities.
- Avoid the smartphone trap. Studies suggest the average American checks their phone as much as 150 times a day. For people in jobs that require sustained focus, the constant temptation to see what that buzz or ding was about can be a constant source of distraction and derailment. Limit the alerts on your phone to just those things that require immediate attention during the work day, and keep it out of your line of sight.
- Get some sleep! It might seem strange to suggest doing something completely unproductive on its face, but the more researchers understand about how our bodies and minds use the time we spend asleep the more it’s clear how important it is to our productivity during our waking hours. Industries where employee alertness is critical – including trucking, aviation, railroads and even the space program – are beginning to institute pro-napping policies. If you’re able to in your work environment, consider trying out an early-afternoon nap to see what it does to your energy and effectiveness for the rest of the day. If you can’t nap, another good option to reset your brain and improve your focus during a long day is a brief period of meditation, either on your own or using a guided-meditation tool such as Headspace.