Regardless of your job, you probably find that you have more on your to-do list than you can actually take care of. Many of us in that boat look for ways to work smarter throughout the day so that we can check off more of those items. Consider using one or more of these strategies to help you so that you can change your to-do list to a ta-da list!
Strategy 1 – Find Out Where Your Time Is Going
Before you can address some of your habits, you may have to identify them and discover which ones are taking up more time than you realize. In doing so, I highly recommend Timeular ZEI°. It is an eight-sided die in which you write up to eight different task categories, one on each side. Once you’ve installed the software and connected the device to Bluetooth, it begins tracking your time. The hardest part may be deciding which categories you want to identify. My categories include: Working on presentations; Blogs/writing; Break/Lunch; Brainstorming; Meetings; Email/communication; Social Media; and Miscellaneous. And because it syncs with my Google Calendar, I can take a look back at my history and see how I did. Or, if I want more stats, I can view how I’ve done in the app installed on my computer. I find this process similar to tracking my steps using my smartwatch. If you find that you are not ready to commit to the cost of the ZEI°, you can still download the app and manually choose your categories to track your time.
Strategy 2 – Rethink Your Time Management Philosophy
I came across Starre Vartan’s blog post several weeks ago and found it very interesting. Instead of focusing on my time management skills, she suggests that I consider taking a look at my attention management skills. How well do I set up my environment so that I can concentrate on tasks that require my attention? Do I let myself get distracted and actually undermine my own productivity success? Consider doing the following to help you give more [extended] attention to those heftier tasks:
- Only check email at specific, planned times during the day. This means not jumping into your email every five minutes, but instead establishing a system in which you, for example, check email between 10 AM and 11 AM in the morning and then between 2 PM and 3 PM in the afternoon. Be sure your boss and coworkers are aware of your system; in case their need for you is urgent, they may need to call you or knock on your door. Taming the addiction of checking email most likely also includes not even having email opened in your browser when it isn’t email-checking time.
- Quieten your phone or smartwatch that might alert you when you receive a text or email (or when a distant acquaintance posts something on Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.). During these times, if you have multiple social media tools vying for your attention, consider just putting your phone on silence…and possibly in your desk or away from you.
- Consider adding background noise to help drown out the distracting ambient noise of your office area. For an adjustable tool, I like using Noisli. It is a free resource that allows me to mix different sounds to create the perfect background noise. When I’m not listening to straight white noise, I’m listening to this special mix. Listen to it and then share your special Noisli mix in the comments.
Strategy 3 – Consider Unique Headphones
Many people find that wearing headphones helps them tune out distractions so they can be more focused on their tasks. But if you work in an environment where you need to hear your surroundings or have to answer the frequent questions of your coworkers or customers, you may find that wearing headphones is not worth the hassle…or worse yet, sends a message that you don’t want to be bothered. In that case, I have a nice solution for you: bone conduction headphones. The technology has actually been around for several years, though it is just now improving to the point of making them mainstream for the public (at least, those that are nerdier or geekier than their neighbors).
Bone conduction works on a similar premise as how you normally hear. Normally, sound waves (vibrations) enter your ear and are translated by your inner ear. With bone conduction, though, sound travels through your bone (skull) to reach your inner ear. While this process sounds like something from science fiction, it works very well. You actually don’t feel anything unless you have your music turned up on high.
I picked out a pair of AfterShokz Trekz Titanium for my birthday gift last fall and have really enjoyed them. I can easily pair them via Bluetooth to my phone so I can listen to music (or take phone calls). They do not go in my ear like traditional earbuds or over my ears like traditional headphones, but in front of my ears covering my sideburns; this allows me to enjoy listening to my music while still being able to hear and respond to conversations around me. Without the buds in my ears, my mind is tricked and tells me that the sound is in the room and can be heard by other people. There are several bone conduction headphone makers on the market. I recommend going to a brick-and-mortar location where you can try a pair on and see if you like the feel and sound. But if you are a little more daring, then jump online, read some reviews, and order a pair.
These are three very different strategies to help you become more productive.