This productivity tip is actually five tips as it's the five most impactful things that have improved my productivity at work, and when done together throughout the day, they have a massive impact on the amount of work I produce, plus the value it creates.
If you've ever spent the time to note down how many distractions you have in a day, you'll be shocked at how little time you spend on one thing, before you're distracted.
So the first tip is to invest in a tool that blocks sites or apps you shouldn't be accessing during the working day, or at least not sporadically throughout the day. Freedom is a tool I've been using for years, as it helps in the following ways.
- Set up time periods for when you want to block access to distracting sites or apps during the day, e.g. 09.00 to 12.00 and 13.00 to 17.30.
- You select the apps and websites you want to block
- If you try to access one of these sites/apps, it will present a blocked screen.
- It's ideal when you subconsciously open up a browser as you're stuck on a challenging task at work, and your mind is telling you to stop; the blocked message reminds you to get back to it and get it done.
It's a paid-for tool, but it's very reasonable, and if you could measure its positive impact, it's worth the money.
Next is, use timers to break up your day into 30-minute focused sessions.
It doesn't have to be 30-minutes, but I find this works well for me.
Before the 30-minutes start, you promise yourself that you won't do anything else until that 30-minutes is up. Doing this makes you realise how many distractions there are at work, but it's excellent for learning how to become more focused and remove those distractions.
Always go full screen to help focus during those 30-minute segments.
You do this as even just seeing your email app at the bottom of the screen might pull you out of that focused state, and before you know you're reading emails before moving on to the next low-value task or distraction.
It also helps to hide your bookmarks toolbar if you have any non-work-related links; plus, try only to have one browser tab open, as again, you'll be tempted to go elsewhere rather than work on the task at hand.
The next is a game changer: turning off your mobile and desktop notifications. That's the pop-ups, or the notifications that appear in the top right-hand side of your screen, like Outlook or Teams.
You also need to turn off the notification badges on the apps; this is especially important on your laptop, as seeing the number of email or Slack messages go up is a distraction every time that badge number changes. It might as well be saying to you,
"Ohh, there's another email; you really should check it; it might be important"
"Why not take a break? This task is too hard; switch off and just read through a few emails."
For most jobs, no inbox needs to be monitored constantly; you can reply a little later, which I'll touch on in the final tip.
The final tip is to plan your day, every day. If you don't plan your day, you're reacting to what's happening to you (emails, requests, more straightforward tasks, low-value work requests) rather than taking control of what you work on and producing high-value consistently.
Plan your day isn't a do list, but start by noting down ten or so actions you want to complete that day; these should be a mixture of important, valuable and easy tasks to help with momentum.
Then place these tasks in achievable 30-minute slots throughout your day; just don't forget to add in any pre-booked meetings first, time for breaks and not just lunch.
And to help with not being owned by your inbox or Slack, plan in time for when you'll look at your messages and respond. For more details on how to do this, see my more detailed post on planning your day here.
So do these five together, and you'll see a significant impact in your productivity, and each day you do it, you'll create a compounding effect of the value you create and the level of performance you provide in your work.