Self-discipline takes time (management).
Professionals spend months, if not years, implementing practices and developing habits that will allow them to be their most productive selves.
On the other hand, many (including myself) are still subject to the distractions of social media, BuzzFeed quizzes, and water-cooler talk.
For those who don’t have months to develop self-discipline, these 10 tips will get you some quick productivity wins when it matters: right now.
1. Complete the most important tasks first
I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard this one before. As far as time management tips go, it’s one of the most well-known, and for a good reason. To-do lists can be daunting. By crossing off the most tedious first, you can relax a bit knowing the rest of your day will only get easier.
To reference Mark Twain, if it’s your job to eat a frog every morning, you better do it right away. If it’s your job to eat two frogs, then eat the bigger one first.
While we may not be eating amphibians (and thank goodness), this mindset applies to the workplace. Start your day with that heavy-duty project, and rest easy with the knowledge that it’ll only go up from there.
2. Plan on early
When I was in sixth grade, I lost count of how often I heard the expression, “Early is on-time and on-time is late,” from my then-soccer coach. Frankly, it didn’t make any sense to me. On-time is called on-time for a reason, is it not? Years later that soccer career didn’t stick, but that mindset did. Now, I simply think of it regarding deadlines and meetings instead of soccer practices. If you know your latest blog needs to be to your editor by Wednesday, aim to get it done the Tuesday before. It may not always happen, but at least if something comes up, you have a buffer before you miss your deadline.
Similarly, aim to get to work 15-to-30 minutes earlier than you need to be, especially if you have a meeting in the morning. Between traffic and train delays, commutes are unpredictable, and knowing you’re going to be late will have you flustered. When you have a little wiggle room, you can stay calm and still get to work as soon as you sit down.
3. Stay organized
Two things that I can never seem to keep organized: my desk and my desktop.
Two things that consistently slow down my work: my disorganized desk and desktop.
Organization is essential (and clearly, something I struggle with), but we often only consider organization regarding physical spaces. In reality, keeping things like your desktop, your inbox, and your contacts tidy is equally as important.
If your desk is a nightmare, start there. Before you leave at night, take five minutes and clean up any coffee cups, wrappers, loose papers, and whatever else litters your space. Taking one coffee mug back to the kitchen is easy. On the other hand, balancing three mugs, two plates, and an empty La Croix can is the office walk-of-shame.
Taking a few minutes to tidy up your desk every day is enough to keep you sane (and avoid the reputation of the office hoarder).
Similarly, our computers provide features that simplify organization efforts. Use them! Organize your desktop into folders, keep an alphabetized contact list in Microsoft Excel, and use tabs to systemize your inbox.
When you don’t have to worry about searching for an image on your desktop or knocking over that week-old coffee, you can focus more on the task at hand. Clear desk, clear mind.
4. Start when you sit
So many of us have convinced ourselves that we need to take a few minutes to settle in at the office before we start working. We’ll get to the office around 9 a.m., grab some coffee, catch up on our LinkedIn feed, send a few emails – the usual. By the time we start working, it’s 9:45 and almost an hour of our day is gone. Does this sound at all familiar to you? If so, I’m sorry for what I’m about to say.
Settling in is a massive waste of time. If you do this every morning, you’re looking at hours lost per week. And if you’re at your most productive in the morning, this time loss is even more crucial.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution. Get to work, grab your coffee, sit down at your desk, and go. Open your most important task of the day and get after it. By the time 9:45 rolls around, you’ll have gotten a sizable chunk of work done while your colleagues are still reading LinkedIn’s most recent self-indulgent double-spaced status update.
5. Take advantage of your weekends
Okay, hear me out on this one.
If you’ve had a productive week, there’s no reason you should have to spend your entire weekend still on the clock. Work-life balance is as crucial to productivity as anything else on this list.
That said, Monday mornings are hard. Don’t make them more difficult by walking into your office entirely unprepared. Consider taking just 30 minutes out of your Sunday night to start planning for the week.
You can prioritize your to-do list, clean up your inbox, prep for some meetings, and, suddenly, you’re not dreading Monday morning nearly as much. When it comes to weekend work, a little goes a long way. A half hour is all it takes to eliminate those Sunday scaries and plan for the week ahead.
6. Do it now
Or as we say here at G2 Crowd, “Do it live!”
In other words, you’re not saving yourself any headaches by pushing off work. I’m not implying you should drop a project you’re totally immersed in because somebody gave you a new task. However, if you’re having a slow day and it’s requested you pull last week’s traffic numbers, why not do it immediately?
In both my personal and professional life, I follow this one rule: If it’s something I can complete in less than 10 minutes, I do it right away. When I complete the task, it’s finished, and I can move on. These short requests are quite simple. It’s pushing them off and letting them build up that will slow you down in the long run and hinder productivity.
7. Establish an MVP (minimum viable product)
If you often get caught up on the little details, or if you’re a perfectionist, then this one is for you. Don’t get me wrong – you should produce work that you’re proud to have your name on. That said, occasionally we get too caught up in trying to make things perfect. Striving to produce something exquisite is a good goal, but if it’s pushing back your deadline by hours, or even days, then you should probably reevaluate.
I encourage the idea of determining your minimum viable product, or MVP. Your MVP should be a finalized, solid version of your project – whatever it may be. But, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Utilizing an MVP allows you to hit your deadlines and produce work you’re proud of, and remember, you can always go back and optimize later.
8. Utilize your bonus time
How many times per day do you find yourself in “bonus time” – you know, sitting on the train, walking on the treadmill, or even waiting 10 minutes between back-to-back meetings? If you’re anything like me, you’re likely spending this time to scroll through Instagram or texting a friend. But what if you used some of this time to work?
I’m not saying you should work in every spare moment you have, but utilizing even some of these “bonus times” could mean almost an hour of extra productivity per day. Whether it’s typing some quick notes into your phone or responding to a few of those emails, the small tasks accumulating here and there will add up in the long run.
9. Get your eight hours
You may have gotten through final exams thanks to your university library’s 24-hour coffee shop, but just like jungle juice and pizza for breakfast, all-nighters are something to leave behind in your college days. Look, there are countless statistics about how critical sleep is. I’m sure you’ve heard every single one, so I’ll spare you the medical advice.
That said, try to get your eight hours in. You may think you're productive working until 2 a.m. to finish that blog post, but what about the next day at work when you can hardly keep your eyes open? Maybe a few late nights are inevitable, but don’t make them a habit.
For those of you more financially driven, Wall Street Journal has reported that on average, one extra hour of sleep per night is associated with a 16% increase in wages.
10. Learn to say no
I’m a hand-raiser. If my colleague needs somebody to look at their recent article or my manager needs assistance planning a team outing, I’m there. In a lot of ways, I'm proud of this quality. On the other hand, it’s something I consider a bit of a weakness.
It’s great to be known as reliable, but never let people take advantage of your kindness. If you’re slammed and a coworker asks you for a favor, you are allowed to say no. You don’t have to be rude about the matter (and you shouldn’t), but putting your own tasks ahead of a colleague's is perfectly acceptable.
Now put these tips to practice...
For even more tips and tricks on boosting productivity, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to time management. For now, start putting these ideas into practice and watch your productivity levels skyrocket.