What is one of your key strategies to staying productive and on task when you’re extremely busy at work?
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Make a List
At the end of each day, write out the tasks you need to accomplish the following day and prioritize them based on their importance. The list should only contain items that can actually be accomplished. Throughout your work day, the list will help you to stay on track while also providing intrinsic satisfaction when you cross off accomplished tasks.
2. Use the Pomodoro Technique
I don’t always use the Pomodoro Technique, but when I need to get extra-focused it is the first thing I turn to. The idea is simple enough: Work in 25-minute bursts with 5-minute breaks in between. I often do a few rounds before I’m fully in the zone and can just flow for the rest of the day. It’s easily the most powerful psychological hack for productivity in my arsenal.
3. Close Your Office Door
When you’re extremely busy, close your office door. It allows you to plow through your work with very little to no distractions. If your door is open you are welcoming visitors and every, “Hey, how’s your day going?” conversation is pulling you away from important tasks. When you establish a closed door policy, your team will know not to bother you when your office door is shut.
4. Listen to Music
Minimize distractions. For me, this includes listening to music without lyrics in order to minimize unexpected background noise. I prefer classical or other ambient sounds, especially as classical music has been shown to help plants grow faster.
5. Keep Personal Communication on the Back Burner
I don’t respond to personal texts, emails or social media unless it’s somehow related to an emergency (but that usually involves getting a phone call). Otherwise these personal channels become a distraction and reduce my productivity. I save checking in for my breaks as well as before and after set work times.
6. Say “No” More Often
My go-to is simply saying “No” more often. The busier your schedule gets, the less likely you are to scrutinize it, let alone make time for other work. It’s easy to fill your whole calendar with meetings and updates on projects, but this doesn’t help you stay focused on one task. Step off the hamster wheel of always saying “Yes” and you’ll find you’re able to be focus more on being productive.
7. Change Your Environment
You need to know the environment that you best work in and then go to that physical place. I don’t mean a beach in Cancun. I’m talking about taking over the conference room if you need the quiet, or going to a coffee shop for that background noise without direct contact. Whatever environment helps you focus is the environment that you need to settle in during that busy day.
8. Keep Moving the Ball
I try to keep myself productive by finishing the items on my to-do list that require the least amount of brain power, rather than getting stuck on the few that are the most challenging. Sometimes it takes time for my brain to figure out the answer to the more difficult problems, and finishing smaller more manageable tasks keeps my spirits high and motivates me to continue scratching items off my list.
9. Hire an Executive Assistant
We’ve all put off hiring an assistant at one point in our business career. Biggest mistake ever. An assistant not only helps you get far more accomplished, but they also make you way more accountable. I hired an assistant for three things: micro management, time management and organization. Just one person will lead to 100% growth this year. She made me a better version of myself.
10. Write Everything Down
Everything I need to accomplish that day is in my calendar, and if I don’t get it all done, I move it to the next day. I keep a running tab. I also ask myself two questions: What is the most important thing that has to get done? And what is one thing that doesn’t need to happen today? My master list is in my phone, but I write it down on paper so I can cross it off and see what I’ve done.
11. Keep Separate Inboxes
If you are managing multiple projects or client accounts, a simple way to stay organized is to create multiple emails and inboxes so that every project is organized and you can focus on one at a time. This allows you to separate projects and deal with them in order of importance and urgency.