I’ve become something of a productivity nerd over the last few years, but certainly not by choice. I’ve had to constantly seek out any new productivity tip, trick, or hack that I could find just to be able to manage my ever-growing workload.
This is what I’m doing right now, and it’s working well.
#1 Start Each Day With A List
The most basic and essential tool that I use is my daily lists in Evernote. I started with Dave Ramsey’s daily task list method and have evolved a bit from there. I break my list up into 5 sections: Today, Tomorrow, This Week, Next Week, and Someday.
The Today list is for things that absolutely have to get done today. Tomorrow is for things that I would like to get done today but can wait until tomorrow if necessary. This Week is a natural progression from the Today and Tomorrow lists. Once you get to the latter part of the week your This Week list should disappear. As you might expect, Next Week is for items that you can’t get to this week but will be priorities next week.
Someday is really just a holding place for ideas that you’d like to get done at some point in the future. Every Monday you should take a look through the Someday list and see if anything merits being moved up in priority. It feels really good to be able to pull something out of hibernation in the Someday list and get it done this week.
#2 Prioritizing Your Today List
Having the lists broken down and filled out is a great start, but it doesn’t necessarily help you get things done today. You have to do some serious prioritization to start checking off tasks.
First, any tasks that take less than 10 minutes should go to the top of the list. Being able to take care of all the smaller tasks on your list early in your day is a huge win.
The remaining, larger tasks on your list should be ordered by importance. The order that you work on the tasks, though, should conform to your schedule. For example, if you’ve finished your small tasks and it’s 10:30AM, you might not want to start a task that’s going to need 4 hours of uninterrupted time. If you have a smaller tasks from Today that you can knock out before lunch it might be best to work on that first. That would leave a larger block of time after lunch for the bigger task.
If everything goes to plan (I know, right?) you should end your day with everything, or almost everything, completed. I often find myself finishing up my Today list well after midnight.
Batching similar tasks together is a great way to increase your productivity. I’ve found that I get more done when I do all of my phone calls back to back or when I run all my errands on the same trip.
Each morning when you’re making your Today list you might want to make special notes next to your tasks indicating ideas for batching. Put a P by all the items you can do on your phone. Put a C by everything that needs a phone call. L for Laptop, and so on. Other ideas for things to batch: emails, online shopping and ordering, anything related to finance.
If you work with clients then it should go without saying that you should focus on one client at a time. Jumping back and forth between clients is confusing because you have to reorient yourself to a completely different set of tasks and problems.
This will be quite a bit different for everyone, so find the system that works best for you. I like to complete as many phone tasks as I can while I’m in the car line waiting to pick up the kids.
#4 Limit Phone Calls and Meetings
Phone calls are almost always an interruption. Each time the phone rings you have to stop what you’re doing, figure out who is calling and whether or not you want to talk, and then somehow try to regain your previous train of thought. Even if you don’t take a call you have to refocus. Lately I’ve decided to always keep my iPhone on silent… and I’m really enjoying it so far.
When I absolutely have to do a phone call I like to schedule them in advance, that way I can minimize the impact to my day.
While I certainly don’t love phone calls, they do have a time and place. If you can accomplish something quicker with a 5–15 minute phone call than you could over a series of emails over 2 days then just pick up the phone and save everyone the hassle.
I spend 50% of my day reading and responding to email. 50% is probably more than most people. I’ve tried keeping my email closed and only checking a few times a day, but that doesn’t work for me due to the sheer volume.
On my desktop I use Gmail’s Inbox in Chrome. I have enabled and use the keyboard shortcuts religiously. I can get through 50 emails at a time much quicker with the keyboard than I can with a point and click.
I also use the Inbox app on iPhone. I do, however, make sure that mail notifications are turned off; it’s much more peaceful.
Thus far I have stayed away from the idea of having an assistant manage my email for me. I’m not a control freak by any means, but giving over access to my email feels like too much right now. Perhaps at some point in the near future I won’t have any choice, but for now I’m keeping my email.
#6 No Notification Distractions
Notifications are productivity vampires… they drain your attention span and you don’t even realize it. If you’re in the middle of doing something, like writing a post on Medium, and the screen on your phone flashes you will instantly, automatically, look at it. It just happened to me and it took me about 30 seconds to regain my train of thought. So insidious.
My solution is to simply keep my phone facedown on my desk. I prefer to leave notifications on (as long as they’re silent) so that I can see what I missed when I do get to a point where I can check.
Consistently putting everything on a calendar is probably the least surprising productivity hack of all time, but it’s worked wonders for me.
Once I have a prioritized list of tasks that need to be accomplished today I will start blocking off time on my calendar for each of them. This allows me to answer a few questions like “do I have more tasks on my plate than can be realistically completed?” and “do I have some pre-existing time commitment today that will cause me to not finish?”.
Having all of my commitments, both personal and work, in my Google calendars is kind of comforting, because I can always check and see what I have coming up for today, tomorrow, and so on. If someone asks me to schedule a phone call or an in-person meeting I can quickly give them an answer on the spot, without having to awkwardly tell them “let me check my calendar and get back to you”.
Tip: Change your calendar default setting to 30 minutes from 1 hour.
I just recently started using Slack. I’d heard all the hype for a while but kind of ignored it because I didn’t want to have to spend the time to learn a new tool or add it to my little ecosystem. Once I finally gave it a fair shot I was hooked.
Now I use Slack to keep all the communications for my development agency in one place. I still use Basecamp for project management, but we’ve replaced Campfire with Slack and haven’t looked back.
I also have a Slack channel dedicated to all of my WordPress sites, so that whenever anything happens on one of my sites, whether it’s a blog post being published or a comment being left, I get an update in Slack. Just simply having all of this information in one place has helped me tremendously.
I’m still new to Slack, so I’m sure there are countless ways that it can help me and my team that I haven’t even thought of yet.
This post originally appeared on Medium.