If you're like me, you're constantly frustrated with your productivity — or lack thereof.
However, you're probably too hard on yourself. I'll bet you get far more done in a day than you did five years ago. But still, I know the struggle — we all waste a tremendous amount of time on stuff that's not important, or on plain old procrastination.
Time management is tough, particularly these days when it seems like everyone is working from home. Your work productivity depends on your ability to find new ways of increasing efficiency and getting yourself focused on the task at hand.
This self-discipline is difficult, and endless volumes have been written by high-performers about how to boost productivity. I've read many of these tomes myself and, combined with my collective experience as an entrepreneur and writer over many years, I've discovered that the following nine tips have had the biggest effect on my productivity.
The nine effective ways to boost productivity in your small business:
- Observe the 80/20 rule
- Track how you spend your time
- Use time blocking and batching
- Try the Pomodoro Technique
- Work for 90 minutes at a time
- Take breaks
- Set deadlines
- Avoid meetings and eliminate distractions
- Just start
1. Observe the 80/20 rule
This is a rule I absolutely swear by, and it has served me well in my professional career. Also known as the Pareto Principle, it refers to the axiom that 80% of the results come from 20% of your efforts.
It holds, for example, that 80% of your sales revenue comes from 20% of your customers, that some hand-sewn dresses that make up 20% of your inventory account for 80% of your overall revenue, or that 20% of your employees result in 80% of customer complaints.
This principle allows you to zero in on the activities that are the most productive so you can cut out the stuff that isn’t. Trust me — conducting regular 80/20 analyses of your activities and taking bold action based on your findings will work wonders on your productivity.
2. Track how you spend your time
Of course, it’s difficult to zero in on unproductive activities if you have no idea how much time you’re spending on tasks. Use time-tracking software platforms to figure out exactly where your time is going. You will be surprised at how long some tasks take and how quickly you do others.
I use Toggl because it’s free and easy to record tasks — you just enter the name of the task and start the timer. You can categorize tasks and create custom reports so you can see a pie chart of where all your time is going at the end of the week and make adjustments accordingly.
3. Use time blocking and batching
The worst thing you can do is jump between tasks every five minutes. You spend a lot more time than you realize gearing up to do a task and then switching over to another one, and it’s harder to focus when you’re not locked in for a long period of time.
By batching tasks and focusing on them for a block of time during the day, you will increase how much you get done. Schedule these time blocks in advance, and you will be amazed at what it does to your productivity.
4. Try the Pomodoro Technique
When you’re ready to get started working, the Pomodoro Technique is a method I’ve used to stay focused. It’s simple: You set a timer for 25 minutes, and then put your head down and work. Once the timer goes off, you take a five-minute break, and then start the timer all over again.
The advantage of this technique, at least for me, is that it prevents you from being overwhelmed by an enormous task. Instead of thinking about this 80-hour project you’ve got to get done, you’re just thinking about working for 25 minutes straight. Anyone can do that.
5. Work for 90 minutes at a time
If the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t work for you, an alternative is to work for 90 minutes a time. You can accomplish a huge amount of work in that time without risking overwhelming yourself at the sheer length of this work block. In fact, combine this with the batching technique to set aside 90-minute blocks for each task you need to work on.
found that "elite performers" generally worked uninterrupted for 90 minutes or less at a time and took breaks in between. Also, they typically worked fewer than four and a half hours each day. So if you think you need to spend 10 hours a day on productive activities to get everything done, do an 80/20 analysis and reset your work life.
6. Take breaks
Breaks are important, and they can keep you sane when you’re working remotely, so don’t skip them. Breaks provide a respite to a brain stressed with doing complex tasks, so give yourself time to unwind during the workday. It’s good to mix things up with five-minute breaks and longer breaks for lunch, or maybe even take a nap if you can get away with it.
What you do on that break is important. Distract yourself from the task at hand and do something that relaxes your mind such as taking a quick walk, lying down, or reading an enjoyable book. Don't overstimulate yourself during breaks by doing things like browsing social media, or you will defeat the purpose. It's something I've struggled with, and focusing on more relaxing distractions has been a big plus.
7. Set deadlines
Some of us work better under pressure, so why not try putting pressure on yourself? Commit to getting a task done by a certain deadline. The best way to do it is to set weekly deadlines so that you get in the habit of finishing tasks at the same time each week.
It can be tough to set deadlines for yourself if they’re easily broken, so get some accountability. Ask a significant other or a friend to check in on whether you’ve completed a task by a certain deadline. Attach rewards to completing the task on time, like a special treat or a night out.
8. Avoid meetings and eliminate distractions
Workplace productivity often takes a hit from miscellaneous distractions and unnecessary meetings throughout the day. If you’re tracking your time with an app, you’ll see exactly how much time it is on average — and it’s guaranteed to shock you.
Discuss with your supervisor if you feel like too much of your time is taken up by meetings and hurting your productivity. You should be able to come to an agreement that limits your time spent on these activities. Also, try to batch these meetings at one time. For example, get all meetings out of the way on Monday mornings.
Ask your supervisor if you can try work-from-home days once per week just as an experiment to avoid the distractions of the workplace and get some serious work done. Then work effectively on that day to make it the best one of the entire week, which will show your boss that limiting distractions is an excellent way to increase productivity. Use online collaboration tools so you stay connected to your coworkers.
9. Just start
Procrastination is perhaps the biggest enemy of productivity, so sometimes the solution is just to start. Even if you’re not sure where, just start somewhere before your wandering fingers take you to Twitter or your favorite blog.
Sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll get started in the middle of an article because that’s where it’s easiest to begin and get back to the intro at the end. If something about a task is proving to be a mental block to starting, just jump in wherever it’s easiest and follow the momentum to the end of the task.
The latest software tools will boost productivity
Having the right tools can have as big of an impact on your productivity as the techniques above. Project management software will assist you with organizing your project in a way that makes progressing through the steps easy. Productivity apps will show you how you spend your time and give you an occasional nudge to keep that forward momentum. And organization apps will reduce the chaos and increase your focus.