What’s one key strategy you have for how to stay productive and on task when you’re extremely busy at work and need to get things done?
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1. Use a ‘Traffic Light’ System for Availability
Eliminating distractions is the first order of business. I use a traffic light system: a light above my office door shows red when I’m on a call or unavailable, yellow is for pressing matters only and green is for my open-door policy. This has been adapted by our team members in Slack when they change their status to show availability, and it helps breed respect among peers by setting clear boundaries.
2. Create a Comprehensive To-Do List
It is really easy to get sidetracked, even if you are the best at multitasking. I find that making a to-do list helps me visualize my day. I prioritize the important projects, then block time slots for the remaining tasks. What’s really great is the feeling of accomplishment as you cross off finished tasks. By the end of the day, my planner is filled with scribbles, but what a wonderful mess!
3. Prioritize Your Tasks First Thing in the Morning
I would make a to-do list for the next day the night before. I would review the list in the morning to prioritize before the workday starts and leave the list where it’s visible while I am working. It reminds me to be on track if I get derailed from the task I am on. If I find myself getting distracted, I would take a short break and come back to regain the focus.
4. Build in Time for Distractions
Budget limited time for your favorite distractions and tasks. There should be tasks that are negotiable and nonnegotiable. Reward yourself for every completed task. For every two-hour task, make time for your favorite distraction for at least 30 minutes to one hour max. Don’t make excuses to be distracted, but find ways to be rewarded with a chance to have a good time.
5. Focus on One Task at a Time
People tend to multitask when a certain amount of work has to be completed in a short time. Companies often lose productivity due to multitasking, which will inevitably hamper revenue. When you’re in the right flow where you’re completely immersed in one task, your productivity peaks. So drop everything and focus on one task at a time.
6. Break Tasks Into Groups
To stay productive when I’m super busy, I break my tasks into groups: one critical task, three medium-sized tasks and five smaller tasks. You can change the number depending on how much you need to accomplish that day, but it generally works for me when I have a lot on my plate. I can focus on one thing at a time and rest easy knowing I have a plan to get everything done on time.
7. Listen to Music That Promotes Productivity
To stay productive, I put on focus-specific music that’s meant to help you get a lot done in a short amount of time. Some examples are the music on Brain.fm or classical music playlists on YouTube. These somehow help me stay on task and get my to-do list finished faster.
8. Prioritize a Healthy Lifestyle
An overlooked productivity hack is a healthy lifestyle. Numerous studies show a direct correlation between health and mental acuity. Make time every day to exercise and clear your head, even if it’s only for a walk. Eat clean throughout the day so you don’t feel lethargic in the afternoon. Taking care of your body and giving it the right fuel and exercise will help you hold your focus much more easily.
9. Turn Off Your Phone
Turn your phone off if you want to focus. Put it out of your physical reach. I promise you, the messages and calls can wait most of the time. If you have an assistant, make it known you don’t want to be disturbed for an hour or however long it’s going to take you to accomplish your priority project. We all live in a world full of distracting habits, rings and alert banners. Tune out the noise.
10. Cancel Part of Your Day
Disconnect your Wi-Fi and cancel a segment of your day if it is truly important. By disconnecting, you’re avoiding distractions. By canceling a portion of your meetings, you have time to allow yourself to not only be productive, but to also be more creative.
11. Find Your Rhythm
For me, productivity is about finding a rhythm. If I feel “off,” it’s hard for me to perform at my best. I’ve found that small but essential things like breakfast, music and a space to stretch my legs help keep my energy up. As a result, I’m able to stay productive from the time I start working until the end of the day.
12. Take Short Breaks
Take breaks, even if they’re small. This might seem counterintuitive, but it really isn’t. If you’re trying to get 20 things done in a day and go full tilt from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without a break, you might think you’re getting things done but you actually aren’t. Slow down, give yourself a breather every few hours and you’ll be sure to get things done with a high measure of quality.
13. Start With Your Hardest Task
Focus. If you want to do a lot of things well in a day, then you need to do them one at a time. Before you start the day, know all the tasks you’ll have to complete that day. Start from the toughest and most important before you do anything else. This way you can get important work done every day over the long run and thereby maintain high productivity.