Before You Start, EvaluateEven if you’ve never read up about productivity or becoming more organised, there’s some sort of system in place already. Evaluate how you tackle specific jobs, how you choose to collaborate with colleagues, and how good you are at meeting deadlines. Do you often find yourself working late just to get things done?
Also try and think about what you’re getting right. If you have a particular way of working that gets you results, it’s worth taking it with you as you develop your professional career. Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back every once in a while.
1. If You’re Doing It Wrong, Admit ItMost of us are great at pointing fingers, but always find it that little bit harder to have a long hard look in the mirror. No matter how good you think you are when it comes to productivity and organisation, there’s always room for improvement. Willing to embrace new ways of doing things is the first step towards injecting effective performance into your workflow.
2. Start With Baby StepsWe’re going to give it to you straight: becoming a productive and organised work machine is going to take time. If you’re a procrastinator extraordinaire, it’s going to take more than just a day to change your stripes. To stop getting discouraged at the next roadblock, start things off with baby steps.
The main thing you want to avoid is the dreaded feeling of being overwhelmed. You’ll soon be clutching at old habits, putting off the gargantuan expectations you’ve set yourself, and you may even end up less productive than you were. Just start small and see progress as your initial aim. After some initial resistance from your old unproductive self, you’ll soon see a sharp rise in your efficiency.
3. Develop Some DisciplineWhen you make a promise to yourself, keep it. If you’ve made a plan with realistic expectations, then it’s worth going the extra mile to ensure you stick to your targets. Constantly find yourself having to stay late just to do the bare minimum? It’s possible that procrastination or distractions are getting in the way – eliminate these over time and develop the discipline it takes to drive your projects forward.
4. Get a DiaryWhether you opt for an app or the old school variety, ensure you have a diary or a notebook. It should include your most important appointments, tasks you need to get done, and anything in between. Without some sort of way to organise and track your day, you’ll be lost.
Even if you’ve joined the digital revolution, there’s always room for a notebook, just in case. Remember, those pesky smartphones have a penchant for running out of battery at the most inopportune moments.
5. Use Time Management Tools and Apps
Technology is there to help you – make sure you use it to your advantage, rather than becoming a slave to it. Time management tools and apps are out there that can trim hours off your day. Here are just a handful of them:
- Basecamp – Excellent project management suite that’s built with collaboration in mind. Packages start at just $20 per month.
- Any.Do – Simple and easy-to-use application that can be used to create personal to-do lists, whether for personal or professional projects.
- Asana – Similar to Basecamp, just a little bit more lightweight and it’s free.
- Toggl – Not sure where your time is being spent? Use Toggl to track each and every minute of your day.
- Remember the Milk – If you need a more extensive version of Any.Do, Remember the Milk is an ideal task manager.
- Freedcamp – The free version of Basecamp that’s recently been revamped. Offers a surprising amount of features at no cost whatsoever.
- Dropbox – Are you worried about losing that important work document? Do you need to access your files from home? Dropbox is a cloud-based storage application that works across multiple devices.
And that’s just the start. There are lots of other apps out there that work on your computer, laptop, and most smartphones. They sync on the cloud, meaning you can use them anywhere. Just make sure you don’t overload yourself – pick the ones that do what you need and go from there.
6. Prioritise TasksEach and every item on your to-do list should have a priority level attached to it. Come up with your own system, whether it’s number-based or each item is simply labelled as High, Medium, or Low. It’s important that you clear your desk of the most important items first and leave the rest till later in the day.
Whatever you do, don’t bog yourself down with small-fry tasks such as looking over your emails, tidying your files, or making phone calls to catch up with clients. Otherwise you’ll find yourself sticking around the cubicle well after closing hours.
7. Get Rid of Clutter
It’s impossible to work at a desk that’s full of paperwork, unopened mail, and bundles of random trinkets. At the end of your working day, try and clear your desk. Get your drawers in order, stack papers in identifiable and categorised places, and throw away old items you no longer need. Having a clear workspace is paramount to staying organised and it also has a strong psychological effect. Turning up in the morning to a clean space is much more conducive to a high quality work environment than something that looks like it’s been through a hurricane.
8. Take Advantage of Idle TimeBecoming an expert at managing time that’s otherwise idle can sometimes add several hours to your day. Do you walk to work? Listen to useful podcasts or audiobooks that will help you at the office. Commute on the train? Get your hands on a tablet or netbook to manage your spreadsheets and documents. You can even use your time in the elevator to reply to a couple of crucial emails.
Stuffing those idle moments with useful items you can tick off your to-do list can do a surprising amount to your workload. Instead of spending evenings catching up with what you didn’t manage to finish at the office, you can relax with your family and switch off.
9. Plan Your DaysWhen you first get to your office in the morning, open up your day planner (or equivalent) and set yourself a list of tasks that need to be completed. It may be tempting to get straight to work on a particular job, but planning your day carefully will actually help you be more efficient and will save you time.
Planning your day is just the start. You’re also going to want to manage the long-term aspects of your project. Think about setting up goals that cover your week, month, and year. Of course, you can be a bit looser about the exact specifications when it comes to the big picture. However, your day-to-day should have a very clear set of to-dos that need to be completed before you head out the door.
10. Think About Your GoalsBeing productive is not about working till you drop and being organised doesn’t matter if you’re not getting the results you need. The whole point of being productive and organised is facilitating your long-term aims. If all your time is spent dealing with the small stuff, taking notes, making up new to-do lists, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Keep your goals, whether they’re geared towards personal advancement or driving the company forward, clearly in mind. Don’t lose sight of what you’re looking to achieve – ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’, if you will.