Have you ever ended a busy work day without being able to recall one assignment or project that you actually completed? Or maybe you end the day with an even longer to-do list than you started with and countless emails sitting in your inbox.
What if instead of working harder, you could work smarter and gain the satisfaction of crossing tasks off your to-do list, simply by altering some habits? Lucky for you, I’m sharing 10 tips that help motivate me and keep me on track for completing tasks as efficiently as possible. We all can use some help in the productivity department from time to time.
Get a Good, Early Start to Your Day
First things first, a productive day begins early. No, I’m not suggesting you start your day at 3:45 AM like many head honchos do, but wake up early enough so you can gain control of the day before it gains control of you. I always find that no matter how challenging it is to get out the bed in the morning, I never regret waking up early.
Sometimes it’s simply just not fun, but rising early allows you to be proactive about your to-do list, instead of overwhelmed and reactive to everything going on around you. This is probably the most challenging tip on the list, but it will tremendously impact your productivity throughout your entire day.
2. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Being aware of your professional strengths and weaknesses will allow you to better work in your sweet spot. Take a moment each day to reflect on what times you were most and least productive. Once you’ve established your peak productivity times, focus on getting your most important work done during that window. Don’t spend time replying to emails when you are typically most productive. This simply isn’t conducive to getting the most quality work done possible! Help yourself out and let time work in your favor!
Another thing to remember while you’re working hard is to make sure to take care of yourself by taking mental breaks. Your brain wasn’t made to work for hours and hours on end (more on that here if you’re interested in understanding the human brain’s circadian rhythm cycle) and you will quickly burn out if you don’t give yourself a break.
I personally like to take quick five minute breaks and completely step away from my computer and allow my brain to rest from time to time. Sometimes I get a drink of water, eat a snack, or simply just get up and walk around. I actually used to work for a company that had ping pong tables in the office for employees to take “brain breaks”, but I only recommend this if your co-workers aren’t overly competitive, as this might stress them out more than their real work ;) Regardless of what you chose to do, get up and move and let your brain rest every now and then! You’re not a robot.
3. Focus on the First 80% and Put Your Perfectionism Aside!
If you’re unfamiliar with the 80% approach principle, it involves putting perfectionism and procrastination behind you and achieving 80% results of any task or project as quickly as possible. The thought behind this principle is that you should simply take action to complete something that you can later refine or get help with from someone else. Don’t be nit-picky or overly critical in the early stages, but produce a product to its initial state.
This principle dramatically improved my workflow because I felt freed from perfectionism and able to just produce something without the mental hold backs. If you feel stuck on a project or find yourself procrastinating on getting something done, just start somewhere, and allow that to motivate you forward.
4. Stay Inspired
We all have spaces, images, music, and people that inspire us. Take time everyday to be inspired by these things! For some, that may mean reading an article every day on a topic that truly interests you. It may mean working from a coffee shop that makes you feel motivated. And for others, it may mean surrounding yourself with people who inspire you to produce great work. Whatever it is, let the things that inspire you also motivate you!
One thing to note with this: When it comes to inspiring environments, it’s important that you surround yourself with positive and productive people while you work! Laziness and negativity can almost be contagious, but so can productivity and goal achieving, so be mindful of your working space and who you are allowing yourself to be surrounded by! This can greatly impact your work.
5. Prioritize and Set Deadlines
Time management and prioritizing play a huge role in staying productive. When new tasks come your way, immediately discern them as being either urgent or not urgent, and focus on getting those urgent tasks done first. Some things can simply wait until tomorrow or at least for a few hours. As I mentioned earlier, this means not spending your your peak productivity time responding to your never-ending inbox. I personally like to save this for the middle and end of the day because I don’t have to use as much brain power to reply to emails. I would rather use my best brain power (in the morning and early day for me) to knock out a killer presentation or any creative work!
It’s also important to set deadlines for yourself when prioritizing so you don’t fall behind on the important things. It’s easy for work to get piled on your to-do list, but setting deadlines for specific tasks will force you to be motivated to complete them in a timely manner!
6. Utilize the Tools Around You
Although a simple tip, sometimes the best way to be productive involves using the tools you already have around you. This includes the great power of delegation (interns love when you give them meaningful tasks!), the ability to Google anything and everything you may need help with, and simply asking for help from those who may excel in a certain area you’re struggling with. Have you been assigned a project you know someone else in the office has a great background knowledge of? Ask them to share some of their wisdom with you! You’re only punishing yourself if you struggle to get stuff done and don’t use the tools around you!
7. Write Down Distractions to Handle Later
If you’re anything like me, you probably have a million thoughts going through your head at any given moment. As you’re working hard getting a task done, this can be extremely distracting, but never let it pull you away from the important task you’re focusing on. Instead, write down those ideas and come back to them once you’ve completed your task. If you remember while you’re working on a project that you need to email someone by the end of they, write it down and deal with it once you’ve finished the task at hand. This is complete discipline in dealing with distractions, but you’ll thank yourself when you no longer have 25 internet tabs open at once.
8. Touch it Once
This productivity tip is super simple but effective. Just touch a task one time and one time only. If you open an email (during your designated time for responding to emails, of course!), respond right then and there. If you are having a conversation with someone and they ask you to send them a file, do it immediately. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll deal with it later, because chances are you’ll get too busy and forget. Handling little tasks right then and there improve your efficiency. Coming back to the same simple task multiple times clutters your head-space and weighs you down. So instead, just touch it once and be done with it!
9. Keep your work in perspective and stay grateful
It’s easy to get bogged down while going from one project or task to the next. I find it very helpful to stay motivated to get work done by recognizing the bigger picture in the work I’m completing. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that the work you do is contributing to bigger company goals. Think of the value you are able to add to the organization through your work, whether it’s paying the company's bills or closing large sales. Tasks simply have to get done, and you’ve been trusted to do a part in that! Perspective is everything, and it’s easy to lose that perspective when you’re in the constant grind. So take time to be mindful of the bigger picture of it all!
It’s also helpful for me to find at least 1 thing to be grateful for in the work I’m doing and let that motivate me to make things happen! For example, I am very grateful for the ability to work remotely from anywhere with my job, which greatly impacts the quality of work I produce. When I feel discouraged or overwhelmed with tasks, I remind myself of this very thing among others, and am motivated to keep on keepin’ on!
10. Hold Yourself Accountable, But Don’t Forget to Show Yourself Some Grace!
When you’re in a productivity rut, remind yourself that you are being relied on to complete a task (duh!) but take that responsibility seriously and show those around you how seriously you take your role and your projects - no one will ever question your work ethic!
Although it’s important to understand the importance of the work you complete, it’s also important to celebrate your wins! No matter large or small, celebrate your victories! Think Pavlov’s dogs. You’re more likely to continue working hard if you know there’s a reward coming -- I highly recommend rewarding yourself with chocolate or coffee (just ideas!).
To be honest, there are simply just days where you get way more done than others, so show yourself some grace when you don’t mark everything off your to-do list in a day. Focus on starting with a clean slate tomorrow and being better than you were the day before. Nobody is 100% productive at all times, but it’s a skill to constantly practice and cultivate!
There you have it. The ways I stay productive and motivated throughout the workday! Hopefully you found at least one tip to implement into your daily grind. What helps you stay productive and get your best work done?