I confess: sometimes, I’m as good as anyone at putting things off. But being productive – at home or at work – is all about mindset. Here are four tips that have helped boost my productivity. They’re all little things, and I find that is crucial. As a rule most people aren’t good at making big changes, completely overhauling the way they think and work. So make little changes, and reap the rewards.
1) Work by the ‘five minute’ rule
If something will take five minutes or less to do, don’t put it off; do it there and then. For example at work recently I was sent a flyer I’d designed for a colleague, who wanted a couple of small changes. Knowing that would only take a couple of minutes I got it amended straight away and sent back to her within five minutes. She was thrilled with the prompt turnaround and I was free to carry on with my work day without wasting time adding it to my to-do list, thinking about it, working out when to do it, and then (finally) actually making the changes. Similarly, at home, a good example would be emptying the dishwasher. I can empty that in the morning whilst making a cup of tea, and then it’s all done and I don’t have to do it when I get home from work. So whether it’s replying to an email or putting away some clutter, if you can do it in five minutes, just get it done already!
2) Take control of your to-do list
I love a good list. So I’ve always had a to-do list to help prioritise my workload. At work we’ve recently started using Trello, a free project management tool which is basically a selection of lists made up of cards, where each card is a task to complete. The whole team has a list and it’s very easy to add members to your card if you’re working together on something, and it’s great for giving you an overview of everything you (and the rest of the team) are working on. But as well as that I like to have my ‘today’ list. I sit down every morning when I get into work and take five minutes to write down what I’m going to achieve today. The list takes account of any meetings, makes sure I’m making progress on big projects, and makes sure I stick to my deadlines. It also keeps me focused on the present, rather than getting weighed down by a big to-do list. One day at a time.
3) Remember to take a break
Confession: I’m really bad at taking a lunch break. But on the days that I do, particularly if I use that time to go outside and get some fresh air, I come back feeling re-energised and ready to smash my way through my afternoon’s to-do list. But even if you don’t take a lunch break, make sure you take a few minutes every now and then, just to step back and regain your focus. For me, I’ll take a walk around the building. Maybe I’ll go down and check the post, or I’ll use the toilets on a different floor, just to get away from my desk for five minutes or so. It’s good for your eyes and it’s good for your brain. Remember: the most productive people aren’t those who work the longest. You might achieve no more in a twelve hour day than you would in a nine hour day. Take regular breaks and you’ll find you focus better on the task at hand.
4) Get up earlier
Note, I’m not saying get to work earlier. Set your alarm half an hour early and spend that time doing something you love. Whether you want to start your day reading a book, with a little exercise or by treating yourself to a really nice breakfast, giving yourself a little bit of time in the morning to do something for yourself will get your day off to a great start. You’ll get to work happy, feeling like you’ve already accomplished something, and that sense of accomplishment will fuel your morning.
5) Drink more water
This sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? But if you’re dehydrated you’re less alert, you’ll be sluggish and less motivated. I’ve started to keep a 750ml bottle on my desk which I fill up first thing, and fill up again at lunch time, making sure I’m drinking at least 1.5l of water (plus my morning cup of tea) during my work day. This means that even when the office is hot and stuffy, and everyone’s struggling a little, I’m still feeling bright as a button. Left to my own devices I normally drink very little – I just forget! And I can definitely feel the difference between dehydrated-me and properly-hydrated-me. Drink up, kids!
So there you have it: my five top tips for boosting your productivity by making only small changes to your life.