27 Productivity Strategies to Avoid “Squirrel!” Moments
Productivity Strategies: options for making your day more productive
There are a ton of productivity strategies you can use to be more productive, but only some of them will work for you and your life.
I’ve broken down some popular productivity strategies down into five categories:
- set yourself up for success
- manage expectations
- work efficiently
- minimize distractions
- pay attention to your needs
The first productivity strategy category is set yourself up for success.
These are things you can do before you even begin working on any given day that will make your business and life run more smoothly. Here are some ways you could set yourself up for success.
- Calendar blocking. Put everything on your calendar, from work commitments to exercise to when you’ll focus on what. This can help you keep an eye on what’s coming up, stay aware of your ideal schedule and see where it may not be working, and avoid overcommitting your time.
- Create set goal time. Set aside a certain amount of time, like 30 minutes a day, to work toward your yearly, monthly, and quarterly goals—so you don’t lose sight of them.
- Wake up early or stay up late. For many people, waking up early makes them much more productive throughout the day. But for others, being able to sleep in just a little makes all the difference—and then they get a surge of energy at night. Your home life may not always allow this one to work for you, but it’s worth spending a little time thinking about when you work best.
- Batch your tasks. Scheduling similar tasks to occur on a single day each week—like meetings on Tuesday, proofing on Thursday, shipping on Wednesday—can help you focus in on that one task and stay in that mindset for the whole day. Less time spent switching tasks means more time and energy to give to that one task!
- Do the hard things first. Rather than spending the whole day dreading something, get it out of the way first. You’ll stop worrying about it, plus you’ll get a little boost of energy and excitement just from getting that thing done!
- Plan your day the night before. This way, you’ll know what to expect when you get up the next day. You can always move things around, but going in with a plan can make a big difference. You could also plan your week before it begins!
The second productivity strategy category is manage expectations.
These are things you can do to manage what others expect from you, so you don’t spend all your time in reaction mode.
- Set expectations with clients and customers. Sharing a timeline and some information about how you typically work—before a project even begins—helps make sure you and the client are on the same page, and gives you something to refer to if things get a little off track. Similarly, clear explanations of what to expect from any products you sell and your workflow and shipping policies can help the customer experience flow more smoothly on both ends.
- Use autoresponders. If you get lots of emails, consider setting an autoresponder for hours you’re not checking email or days you’ll be focused on other things. This will let people know you’re not ignoring them, and may also increase their respect for you—if they know you regularly bock off time to put your head down and focus, they may be even more interested in working with you, knowing you’ll apply the same focus to their projects.
- Only email at certain times. If you sometimes send emails at 9 pm, people will begin to expect that you’re around at that time—and be confused or even upset if they email one night when you’re out and about and they get no response. Choose consistent email availability periods and stick to them.
The third productivity strategy category is work efficiently.
These are things you can do as you actually work, to make sure you’re getting things done in a timely and effective way.
- Complete projects before you start new ones. Dividing your time among many projects won’t be as effective as focusing on one or two and really giving them your best attention. Make important things a priority and finish them before moving on.
- Get your inbox to zero every day. Don’t start going through emails unless you have time to process them. As you do, answer the ones you can answer within two minutes. Flag all others and put in folders to deal with later. I use three folders: Action Required, Things to Read, and Projects and Orders. Then I flag appropriate emails with red (for things i need to respond to) or yellow (things I’m waiting for). Then as you complete items from those folders, remove the flag and file the emails for reference—or simply delete them if that’s your things.
- Have set office hours. Know when you’ll start working and end working each day—even if that time is different every day. That way, you know you only have until a certain time to get things done, which can be pretty motivating, especially if there’s something fun waiting for you at the end of the workday.
- Work with time, not against it. Try giving yourself a set amount of time and breaks in between tasks to work more efficiently. The Pomodoro Technique is where you choose a task to work on for 25 minutes without interruption. When the time is up, take a short break. For every four Pomodoros, take a longer break. There’s even a free app for it!
- Use an app to track your to-do lists electronically. Instead of using a planner or a sheet of paper to write your to-dos, try using an app. Apps like these will help you keep track of your to-dos and you can access them from anywhere on your phone, without having to lug around a planner or dig for a list. We like checklists in Trello.com and Tuexdeux.com. Tuex Deux even moves your uncompleted items to the next day! Keep in mind, if you’re operating at a 70% completion rate each day, you’ll reaching productive levels.
- Read once, write once. (Not to be confused with YOLO). Instead of opening your email and scanning them to only answer a few, have a dedicated email time block where you read each email and respond right at that moment. Then, archive or flag that email appropriately.
The fourth productivity strategy category is minimize distractions.
These are ways you can keep yourself in that zone of working efficiently and effectively, again so you don’t spend all your time in reaction mode.
- Turn off email while working. In fact, turn off all notifications, like the ones on your phone. Let yourself really get into whatever you’re working on.
- Listen to repetitive music while you work. This lets you zone into your work and get a lot accomplished—like when you're on an airplane
- Don’t use your inbox as to-do list. This keeps you too close to incoming emails and allows outside influences to control your day. Instead, choose a method for recording your to-do items that won’t distract you.
- Don’t answer email before a certain time. Maybe you start working at 8, but don’t answer emails until 10. That way, you can get a solid block of work out of the way before responding to what others need from you.
- Use the trash. Don’t hang on to emails. Keeping a ton of emails in your inbox or even in folders creates a mountain of messages to sort through when you’re looking for something important. If the email is just simply correspondence, delete it or archive it when your conversation if finished.
- Use the workstation popcorn technique. Create three equal sized lists that will take you the same amount of time to complete. Choose three different workstations to complete each list, moving to a new work environment for each. You’ll work fewer hours, get more done, and keep things fresh.
And the fifth productivity strategy category is pay attention to your needs.
These are things you can do to make sure your body and mind are where they need to be in order to get meaningful things done.
- Discover your twilight hour of productivity. We all have times of day when we’re most productive. Figure out what yours are, and then schedule your most important project or tasks during that time. Use other, less-productive times for administrative or repetitive things that don’t take as much energy or focus.
- Take breaks. These give both your mind and body a rest, so that when you come back to work, you’re more likely to be energized and ready to jump into your work again.
- Reward yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to, like eating a piece of chocolate or going outside to get some vitamin D. Rewards can help make you happy and encourage you to get tasks done.
- Check things off a list. So many of us love checking things off a list, and it turns out there's a reason. See the article in the resources for more about how lists create dopamine and what that can do for you.
- Be willing to say no. Knowing your limits and respecting them can make a huge difference in your productivity—because you're not overcommitting or trying to do things you don't really care about.
- Seek help and delegate. Whether you hire someone to help you with business tasks or clean your house, or you get a service to deliver your groceries or your dry cleaning, being able to pass off tasks can free up time to do the things you’re really good at—and that will move your business forward.
This list is just the tip of the productivity iceberg, but it’s a good start!
Take a little time to think about whether or not each strategy could work for you. Remember that there’s a difference between what you think you should do and what will truly fit with your personality, preferences, time, lifestyle, and so on!
Then, choose one productivity strategy and implement it over the next week. Don’t feel like everything has to change right away! Sometimes the best strategy is the one you’re already doing. And then you can also look for ways to counter what hasn’t been working with a new strategy!