The 6 Most Important Productivity Tips I’ve Ever Received

'Construction Signs' by jphilipg on Flickr

'Construction Signs' by jphilipg on Flickr

In truth, I hate “tip culture,” the idea that you can achieve balance, harmony, and rightness in life with a few painless steps in 5 minutes a day. It’s never that easy.

Also, I don’t want to tell you what to do. Who am I?

So, these aren’t tips as much as they’re pieces of advice that I’ve taken, which have powerfully affected my productivity and efficiency.

1. Keep a list of projects

A project consists of work towards a specific goal. I keep a separate text file of all my projects.

This includes everything I’m working on, even ongoing projects where I just have to check in occasionally. It ensures that I don’t forget anything.

Corollary: Don’t use email as a de facto list of projects and things to respond to. If you read an email and realize you now have to do three new things, don’t keep the email in your inbox; write those new things down and file the email away.

2. Turn off email alerts and process email completely

I keep my email program minimized, and I’ve turned off those alerts that pop up whenever a new email arrives. When I “check email,” I clear time to actually process my email. When I’ve finished with an email, I move it to a folder. When I’m done checking email, my inbox is empty.

I’m not perfect with this. I doubt that anybody is. But when I do empty my inbox, I feel less distracted. Nothing nags. This habit also ensures that I’ve actually written down what needs to be done, instead of relying on a re-read of an email to refresh my memory.

This means I only check my email a couple of times a day. Even at work.

3. Every morning, schedule tasks on the calendar

Literally. Every morning, I open my list of projects. I find the most important one, locate a free half-hour slot on my calendar, and create a meeting for it. I’m the only one in the meeting. I continue until about 2/3 of my day is scheduled.

I felt weird the first few times I did this, but it worked. Not only does it push me to actually work on important projects, co-workers are less likely to schedule a meeting during time I’ve scheduled. So I’ll actually have time.

4. Take a lunch break

'lunch~' by tsuihin - TimoStudios on Flickr

'lunch~' by tsuihin — TimoStudios on Flickr

I used to work through lunch, but a few weeks ago, I changed.

If I get up from my desk and walk somewhere else for lunch, even for just 20 minutes, at the end of the day I’m still reasonably fresh and energetic. If I don’t, by 5:00pm I feel beat up.

This doesn’t mean going out to eat. In fact, I usually take my homemade lunch to a conference room. It’s enough of a break.

5. Journal work and take a reward for every few items recorded

I have a document titled “Daily Time Log.” When I get to work, I open that document, then minimize it. Every time I finish a significant task during the day, or I talk to someone, I record it in the Daily Time Log along with a timestamp.

For every 6 items I record, I eat a small Peppermint Patty from a stash I have in a cabinet.

The key to the reward lay in finding something that I like but don’t love. If I kept Butterfingers or Snickers, I’d feel tempted to scarf them all down.

6. Pick a few core things to do every day

These are the things that are important to you and your work. For me, it’s writing. I write every day, when I get home. Before I eat dinner. Simple but effective.

What effective habits would you recommend?

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