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Project Management

Productivity Hacks: How to Work Smarter

When you’re able to work smarter, it’s easier to get things done without feeling any sort of additional or unnecessary pressure. Working smarter is when you’re able to centre your attention without the fear of procrastination.

It’s about developing a process which works for you as an individual. Think of yourself the way you think of your smartphone, if you know you need it to work, you make sure to charge it. If you know you need to work, charge yourself.

What are the best tools for staying on track?

There are a plethora of articles explaining how best to get things done, they’re usually advertising a particular application or specific method of productivity management.

The following are tools recommended and used on a daily basis by our team:

  • GTD (Getting Things Done)

  • Pomodoro Technique

  • Mind Mapping

  • OmniFocus (Task Management)

  • None (Inner Strength)

What Does ‘to Work Smarter’ Mean?

Sometimes, we might feel guilty for taking a short fifteen to twenty minute break at the office, we might think we should be doing something ‘more productive’ when in reality we’re doing the right thing. It’s important to reflect upon any work you’ve done during your breaks, schedule breaks into your day.

Although it varies from person to person, our brains cannot focus for extended amounts of time without breaks, in fact it can only really focus well for an average of ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes. This is known as Ultradian Rhythm. Focus followed by a short period of rest is proven to make you more productive. A little bit of procrastination goes a long way.

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Can Writing a To-Do List Help?

It depends on the task at hand. Most people write their to do lists in the morning, they start by creating a list of tasks they need to achieve either that day or that week. Usually smaller more achievable tasks go at the top and larger, more daunting tasks are placed at the bottom of the list.  

Sometimes, you might even add things you’ve already done in order to simply cross them off. This is known as ‘mood repair’, it gives you a false sense of having achieved something you’ve already done which just distracts you from what it is you’re meant to be doing.

A To-Do list for productivity should really only have one task, a ‘stretch goal’ at the top, something really big, an entire project or some near impossible feat. The trick is to take that stretch goal and break it up into several smaller, more accomplishable tasks or ‘smart goals’.

There is no sense of relief when you’ve crossed off a smaller task because every task is a reminder of the main goal. Focus is more likely to be uninfluenced by crossing off smaller tasks related to a larger task than it is by crossing off smaller tasks which are unrelated to one another.

What’s a To-Don’t List?

This is basically an inverted to-do list, rather than writing down things you hope to achieve or tasks you wish to complete, you write down all the things you don’t want to do. In this case, you don’t want to cross anything off a to-don’t list, as most of these ‘tasks’ will be distractions or bad habits.

A good way to combat your anti-productivity habits is to make micro-changes, even if it’s just to eat an apple every day or to wake up earlier, every little helps.

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What About Multitasking?

No, just no, don’t do it. It’s scientifically proven that multitasking doesn’t work when it comes to more complex tasks or decisions, ‘even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time’. (American Psychological Association, 2006). If you want to be more productive, don’t attempt to multitask.

If you know you’re working on several projects at once, assigning each project to a day of the week or blocks of time during the day can really strengthen your focus. Colour coding each one on your calendar can help too. Everything is easier to manage in blocks.

A method which prevents multitasking is the ‘popcorn productivity station’ method, also known as ‘workstation popcorn’ when you essentially hop from location to location based on the tasks at hand. This can help you avoid ‘work for work’s sake’.

It means that once you’ve finished a task, you physically move onto the next one rather than sitting around waiting (or pretending) to work.  

How Does Workstation Popcorn Work? 

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  1. Limit yourself to three or four main tasks a day, each including smaller related tasks.

  2. Find three or four locations (ideally with WiFi and coffee). Assign your main tasks to each location. 

  3. Setting time limits at each location is optional. 

  4. Imagine the gamification of your work life, head to your first location.

  5. Start working. Once you’ve finished at one location, move onto the next. 

If three or four tasks is too many based on the smaller related tasks each includes, it might be a good idea to try two locations and see if that works for you. If you’re able to work both in an office and remote, it can be useful to include the office as one of your locations.

What If You’re Really Struggling?

Organize your thoughts and treat your time as a budget. If possible, get away from your computer, take a walk, run some errands, play a game, work on a puzzle, do anything which takes your mind off whatever it is that is bothering you.

There are methods out there which may enable you to find solutions to your problems in more efficient way. Distraction and relaxation will enable the flow of ideas to run more freely. It’s important to be ready when you finally realise your idea.

How many times have you thought of something but forgot to write it down or type it up? Being prepared will increase your productivity, when we have everything we need, it’s easier to get things done. A pencil (or pen) and piece of paper or notebook works wonders when if phone has died! If your phone is working there are hundreds of productivity apps to help, the simplest of which are notetaking, reminder or list apps. Have a thought, jot it down, done.

Stress kills creativity. If you find that you’re completely out of your depth, for example if you’re stressed because you no longer like your job, it might be time to just bite the bullet and find a new one. Remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side but pursuing a change might help if your productivity is stagnating.

We’d Love to Hear from You

This post was a team effort and I’d like to thank everyone who contributed!

How do you stay productive? What kind of distractions or problems have you been faced with? Is there anything you’d like to add, have we missed anything?

Please feel free to share your experiences with us in the comments below or via social media (send us some photos or videos too), you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, let’s connect!

To learn more about App’n’roll, take a look at out our website and our other posts. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and recommend it!

All images used are CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0).

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