Knowing which task to execute at what time is vital to improving productivity. In this digital age, where almost any distraction can make it to our desk, it imperative that we stay focused and energetic so that we tackle the goals we set out for ourselves.
Lists and copious amounts of caffeine won’t cut it. Here are my top seven productivity tips backed by science to help you structure your day to accomplish your top tasks in record time.
1. Use the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle (or 80/20 rule) states that 80 percent of your results will come from 20 percent of your efforts. If you focus only on the most value-producing activities on your list you will accomplish far more than if you have no focus and try to take on everything that makes it to your desk. You need to work smarter, not harder.
My best tip for taking advantage of the 80/20 rule is to write down all the tasks that you need to do that day and then ask yourself: “If I can only do one activity to push my life forward today, which one should I do?” Then repeat until you’ve circled two or three tasks. Those will be your most important tasks of the day. Everything else should be ignored until you’ve crossed out your top tasks.
2. Sort your tasks with the Eisenhower decision matrix
A powerful complement to the Pareto Principle is the Eisenhower decision matrix shown below.
(Image credit: James Clear)
This decision matrix was envisioned by the 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. With so many tasks and decisions to make, Eisenhower created a system to help him sort through the noise and allow him to focus.
The matrix divides tasks into four quadrants:
- Tasks that are important and urgent which shall be done by you as soon as possible.
- Tasks that are important but not urgent which shall be scheduled for a more appropriate time.
- Tasks that are urgent but not important which shall be delegated to someone else.
- And finally, tasks that are neither urgent nor importantwhich can safely be purged.
The most productive people focus only on the top two quadrants.
3. Plan your day the night before
Did you know that one of the main causes for lack of sleep or insomnia comes from thinking (or worrying) about what you have to do the next day? By jotting everything down before going to bed, you can have a clear mind when going to rest, allowing yourself to recover much better.
Moreover, when you go to sleep you can have your subconscious mind think about the problem and help you come up with a solution much faster (as reported byPsychologyToday). Plus, there’s no better feeling than waking up and knowing exactly what you should do that day right away.
4. Learn to say no
Whenever you write down your to-do list, you should verify that your written tasks are ones that you intended to do in the first place. If the majority of your list contains someone else’s priorities, you will get nowhere.
Once of the simplest ways to let unimportant and seemingly urgent tasks get on the way is to have your email inbox open. Rather than following a plan, you become reactive; and what seems to be a short email can take over your entire afternoon.
Unless absolutely necessary, I recommend scheduling a time to respond to emails. Pro tip: Use Unroll.me to compile all your subscriptions into one daily or weekly digest, or unsubscribe from all your mailing lists altogether.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of social media notifications. (The average person spends almost two hours on social media a day.) I suggest you install StayFocusd (Chrome Extension) to reduce this bad habit we all have. I have been off Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for months now and it feels great.
5. Work in sprints, and exercise
A 1979 study stated that the brain can concentrate effectively for about 45 minutesbefore losing its focus. Rather than simply pushing through your day without any recess, it is advisable to refresh your energy bank every hour so that you can hit your next big task with a heightened alertness.
A good break can include a short walk around the office, switching to a low intensity, easy task or calling that friend that you’ve been meaning to. Exercise releases endorphins (those “feel-good” chemicals), helps us get rid of toxins, and can be a tremendous energy booster. An added benefit of this is that you will also be adding quality years to your life, getting less sick and feeling great overall.
6. Eat and train like a top athlete
I respect and look up to professional athletes. They not only care about their performance on the court but also design their external lives so that they can perform at their peak every time.
Here’s how you can become world-class at what you do: Eat and drink smart. Being hungry or thirsty is a productivity killer. Notice how Google, Facebook and other tech companies make sure their employees are well-fed at all times.
But junk food will lead to junk performance. Snack smart and often. Eat whole grains, oatmeal, nuts, salmon, fruits (blueberries, bananas) and vegetables (dark leafy greens, carrots). Avoid sugar and heavy, greasy foods at all cost.
Use the physiology of your body to your advantage and learn how to manage your “energy bank.” For instance, more often that not, when you feel tired or sluggish it is probably due to dehydration.
Work on your work the way athletes constantly practice and strengthen their weak spots. You too must work on your abilities so that you can get better at what you do.
If you are an accountant, become really good at Quickbooks, learn all the keyboard shortcuts, know how to produce reports on the fly, etc. You have to practice your craft to become the best at it.
7. Defer, delete or delegate tasks
Even with the most advanced productivity hacks, truth is, you won’t be able to accomplish your entire to-do list. If you are, then your list is just too short or too easy. Remember the bottom two quadrants of the Eisenhower matrix I mentioned before? Now, I’ll show you how to tackle those tasks.
A key part of being productive is knowing the tasks that you are most qualified to do. Carefully define the tasks you're good at and leave the rest to your team. You will also find that hiring a VA (Virtual Assistant) will help you free up your time and liberate you from the stress of doing small menial tasks. You can find VAs on Upwork, Fiverr orOnlineJobs.ph.
Ultimately, being productive is a combination of the following:
- Focusing on the right tasks
- Planning the tasks out carefully
- Designing your life and environment in a way that allows you to tackle the tasks at your peak energy levels
Those are all the tips I know to help you become the most productive person around. Try them out for a month, and you will see tremendous results in your life.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors