Productivity. That elusive goal of any work day. But somehow the more you want to get done the more obstacles seem to get thrown into your path. Some are small and annoying but others can sink your entire day to the bottom of the ocean.
Here are some of the things that I do to improve my productivity:
- Keep a running todo list. I keep a list of things to do open all the time on my computer. I work at my computer, so that makes it a bit easier. I prioritize the list by importance and/or urgency. I make a note of deadlines if applicable. I mark things off when I’ve finished them and use a “+” mark for things that I’ve started to do (I’ve sent an email but haven’t yet received a reply, for example). This is from small stuff to big stuff, sometimes it’s organized in projects – with subheadings for subtasks – other times as individual items. I save a new file each week and update the list at the start of the week, removing those items that are finished and adding new items. I can visit the list when I can’t figure out what to do. It really gives me a sense of satisfaction to mark those things off. I’m being PRODUCTIVE!
- Keep longer term goals and achievements list. In the same todo document I also keep a list of my goals and achievements: papers I’ve started, submitted, or gotten published for the year, grants I’m planning or have submitted, conferences and talks I’m scheduled for or have attended, etc. This part really helps me keep me on task on a more career-oriented time scale and gives me a nice positive reinforcement for what I have done.
- Turn off social media. When I need to be productive I turn it off. No Facebook. No Twitter. No nothing. Of course, I get updates from my OS (Mac) and likely many people get updates from their phones. If you can turn these updates off (you can) then do that. Give yourself a goal and then reward with a defined amount of time that you can check your updates. This is really hard to do.
- Find your productivity soundtrack. I have writing music. I have grant music. I have programming music. Most of it is stuff that doesn’t require much thought and that I’ve listened to 1000s of times before. This works well for me.
- Take active breaks. I’ve been getting up to take walks for fitness reasons but I’ve found that this is an excellent way to improve productivity. A well-timed walk alone can prompt my mind to organize and brainstorm and plan. When I get back to my desk I’m waaaay more productive than when I left. I don’t know that it works for everyone- but certainly beating your head against a brick wall won’t help.
- Move between tasks. If you’re stalling at one task, take a “break” and work on another task for a bit. This can help get things moving and, like point 5, make sure you’re not butting up against a wall.
- Block out chunks of time. On the other hand, for many projects I find I need to block out pretty sizable chunks of time to be able to focus and actually move something forward. Working on something for 10 minutes every hour for a day does NOT generally equal 1.4 hours of solid work.