Tips on how to get organized, get creative, and get it done.
We get it. You want to be a little more productive at work – we all do – but sometimes it’s just so challenging. As soon as you start tackling that important project, the phone rings. You finally are about to get your company’s social media in order, and you get an email flashing “URGENT” across the screen. And let’s not forget that never-ending and oh-so-distracting facebook newsfeed. These struggles all plagued me during my first few months of work, but I quickly learned how not to let distractions get the best of me. Here are a few ways that have helped me stay as productive as possible.
The Pomodoro Technique
This technique is a time management strategy developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s and is perfect for knocking out projects that take a solid chunk of time. To begin, you need to decide on what task you need to complete. Once you’ve decided on the task, sit down to accomplish it. But before you do, get out a timer, set it to 25 minutes, and press start. If you don’t have an external timer, simply use the clock on your phone or download the Forest app. During these 25 minutes, you are solely dedicated to working on this task. You should not be answering emails, going on social media, or doing anything else. Once those 25 minutes are up, you’re free to scroll through Instagram or do whatever relaxes you for the next 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes are up, go through another 25 more minutes of work.
Repeat this cycle, using as many pomodoros as needed to get your assignment in a good place. I would recommend three cycles to maximize productivity since too many might feel exhausting.
Download Boomerang for your email
Boomerang is an email plug-in (compatible with Gmail and Outlook) that has two main applications. The first, is scheduling emails. And the second, is putting your inbox on pause. Scheduling emails is one of my favorite ways to stay on top of client needs, while also keeping myself sane. Sometimes clients will ask for projects with a deadline in a few weeks, and I end up finishing them early, although I’m not quite ready to hit sent. Instead of adding that 10th sticky note to my desk that says, “send email on July 8th”, I simply schedule that email with Boomerang and I’m done!
As mentioned earlier, Boomerang can also pause your inbox, meaning you won’t receive any emails and those pesky notifications that come with them. I know to some people the thought of not getting notified the exact second you get an email can be scary, and I get it; but if anything is that urgent, you will probably get a phone call.
Schedule a weekly or bi-monthly creative session
Carve out 30-40 minutes every week – or every other week – to explore your creative side. You can do this exercise either by yourself or with everyone in the office. Creative sessions can be anything! Some of our favorites here at Communify include everyone creating a drawing or painting around a collective theme, or doing a writing exercise. If those don’t appeal to you, try playing a board game, acting out a skit, or taking some cool photos.
These exercises are especially helpful to those of us, myself included, who tend to be a little more analytical and don’t get as much creativity in our jobs as people like graphic designers, developers, or copywriters. But, even for professionals like graphic designers, these exercises are great to forget about work and be creative without the pressures of any client feedback. It also allows you to shift gears for a bit, giving you that mental break you’ll need to be brilliant later.
Take your vacation days
No seriously, do it. In 2015, Americans left a staggering 658 million vacations days unused. That’s insane! When I ask people why they don’t use all their vacation days, I generally get three answers:
- “I can’t afford to go anywhere.”
Have a staycation instead. Finding a local pool or just spending a day hanging out with your dog and going for a long walk can do wonders for your mental health.
- “I’m just too busy.”
Okay, it’s true, taking time off can definitely be stressful, especially if you feel you’re pivotal in keeping work flowing back in the office. But research shows that when you don’t take these vacation days, you actually lower your overall productivity. There are a lot of advocates out there that recommend avoiding work altogether when on vacation. In a perfect world, I would agree. But if taking your cell phone and making calls/checking emails for an hour a day, helps you get out of the office and on a nice vacation, do it.
- “Nobody else takes all of their vacation days at my office.”
Nobody wants to be the one who sticks out at work for the wrong reasons. But if you were given 20 PTO days a year by your employer, you have 20 days to do with as you choose, they can't penalize you for following what was agreed upon as the terms of your employment. Take those days. And who knows? You may start a new trend.
Use your commute wisely
One of my favorite ways to use my commute most productively is to try and schedule calls or meetings as I am driving to or from work. This can easily take the hour or so of wasted time you spend each day commuting and turn that into an hour of billable time. Your commute can also be a good time to listen to music or a podcast, or even have a productive, uninterrupted brainstorming session for an upcoming project.
Schedule with Google Calendars
Google Calendars are perfect for scheduling meetings and keeping the rest of your team aware of when you’ll be busy by using a shared calendar. This software is also great for blocking out time to work on projects. Sometimes, I’ll have a project that I’m putting off, and for whatever reason, it keeps getting pushed back. To ensure that I finally work on the set assignment I’ll block off time on my Google Calendar. The trick: you have to stick to it and do it.
While these techniques certainly help us stay on track and increase our overall productivity levels, it can still be hard to follow these suggested tips when things get crazy. Even if some of these ideas don’t seem like they’ll work for you, give them all a try. Make some adjustments to fit your work style and see what happens. You may just find your stride.