What’s one way to stay productive when you’re extremely busy at work and have a lot on your mind?
These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC has also launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
As a female founder with five young children, I have learned the importance of compartmentalization. It is key to my success and sanity. When I am at work, I am fully and only focused on the tasks at hand. When I am traveling to meet with potential enterprise clients, I am fully focused on the clients. When I am with my kids, I am fully focused on them, with my phone off and away.
2. Ditch the Smartphone
Mobile devices have made the world easier to navigate, communicate and transact. That said, there are times when my phone becomes overly burdensome. My smartphone, by nature, tries to train me into placing more importance on its usage than on completion of my high-priority tasks. By taking time to disconnect and focus on the task at hand, I’ve been able to get more out of my day and leave work at work.
3. Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, so your productivity is going to suffer if you don’t set time limits. You can use this to your advantage by prioritizing your tasks and setting aside short sprints to focus (and complete) each task before moving on to the next.
4. Take Breaks
As counterintuitive as it may sound, schedule enough breaks throughout your workday. I find busy people are at their most productive when they follow spells of focused work with short breaks. Schedule a break every two hours, even if it means setting a timer to remind you. A few minutes away from work and you come back rejuvenated.
Always make a list of your priorities in descending order. If writing an article for submission prior to deadline is more important than filing next year’s tax returns, do that first. Do not multitask. Knock out priorities one by one, or risk either never getting anything done or doing subpar work.
6. Start at the Top
Minimize your inbox and find one to-do item to knock out. Stop doing everything else and focus on that one project. Once you finish it, cross it off your list and go take a walk. Then come back, spend 30 minutes sifting through emails and find another task that needs to be accomplished. Rinse and repeat.
7. Switch Gears Frequently
When I find myself bogged down with work and having a tough time staying productive, I find the best strategy is to break everything down into tiny segments and switch between them rapidly. I’ll edit one section of a draft, write a portion of another draft, answer a question online, give myself a small break, then repeat. Switching back and forth like this helps me stay motivated.
8. Remove Distractions
It’s very challenging to focus on one task at a time with so many distractions like social media, emails, phone calls and text messages. When you have an urgent project to finish, it’s best to remove these elements. If you have to, use a productivity app that removes Facebook from your screen. Set your phone to do not disturb. Set a goal and stay disconnected until you finish it.
9. Set Your Intention for the Day
I start each day by spending five minutes meditating on what I’m grateful for and five minutes setting my intention for the day. This easy 10-minute practice helps me stay centered when I have a lot going on and keeps me focused on what matters.
10. Build Habits and Systemize
When you’re extremely busy and have a heavy workload, create a daily routine, system or habit related to the work you need to do. When you get into the habit of doing the work every day, you’re able to squeeze all that stuff in. It’s the habit that makes the work feel lighter.
11. Plan the Day Out
Planning helps you stay on track. It also ensures you don’t miss any important tasks. I always spend 5-10 minutes collecting and planning my tasks for the day. I even plan my breaks and schedule the most important tasks during my morning session. I try to figure out which tasks I can delegate to my virtual assistants and team members to free up some time on a busy day.
12. Work Outside
When I’m finding it too distracting to focus, I like to take my work outside. I’ll sit out on a deck with my laptop and coffee while my productivity increases. There’s something about being outside in quiet nature that just puts me in a good mood, and that shows in my work.
13. Use a Time-Tracking App
Time-tracking apps have helped me stay productive throughout the day. It’s so easy to get distracted online and I find that having a little pop-up reminder asking if I’m working on the task helps keep me honest with myself.
14. Use a Whiteboard
As the owner of several different businesses, my days are jam packed with meetings and deadlines. To help me stay focused and productive, I keep a whiteboard list on my desk.
15. Recenter Yourself
Toward the end of the day, it’s easy to feel particularly scattered and lose track of what is most important for you to accomplish. Taking just five minutes for a quick workout (think jumping jacks, crunches, pushups, etc.) or a short guided meditation (there are apps for that) is an effective way to refocus your attention.