Have you ever had one of those weeks where you have so much to do that you can’t even focus long enough to figure out where you need to start?
I find that this happens most often when I haven’t carved out time at the beginning of my week to decide on my priorities.
If this sounds familiar to you at all, here are some productivity hacks that will help to keep you in the stress-free zone at work. The more I’m able to use strategies such as those I share below, the less stress I experience, even when my schedule becomes full. I’m guessing that the same may be true for you also.
1. Clear your mind.
Try to get everything that’s spinning around in your head jotted down elsewhere and out of your mind. My favourite way of doing this is to use a Kanban style board. I use Zenkit, which is a great, free on-line tool. I use it as a space to dump all of the millions of tasks floating around in my head that I don’t want to forget. You can categorize tasks into different groups and can even create checklists of sub-tasks under larger tasks. I’ve found that it’s been a great tool to improve organization and reduce stress.
2. Prioritize with intention.
On days when I feel overwhelmed, I find myself responding to emergencies instead of intentionally choosing what to focus on. I end up working in a reactive mode, with my adrenaline running high, which is most certainly not healthy.
To shift this bad habit, I’ve learned to recognize the signs that I’ve fallen into emergency mode. When I find myself responding to whatever comes in next, jumping from one task to the next and pushing off bigger projects that need focus, I remind myself to slow down.
Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture of what needs to be accomplished helps me to make intentional decisions about where I will put my energy, and also makes it easier to decide which tasks will be temporarily set aside. I try to do this at the beginning of every week and again whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and find it has significantly helped to decrease my stress levels related to work.
3. Set realistic expectations.
I have a tendency to think that I’ll be able to accomplish 25,000 tasks in three hours. I then end up frustrated at the end of the day when I’ve only completed five or six. Any chance this might sound familiar to you?
Zenkit (mentioned above) is a visual planning tool, which makes it easier to be realistic in your expectations of what you can accomplish in a day or a week. The columns on my board include “today”, “tomorrow”, “this week” and “future tasks”, which allows me to slide specific tasks under the appropriate column. In starting the day by reviewing the “today” column, it’s fairly easy to see when I’m aiming for more than I can realistically accomplish.
I also find that I need to be aware of offering myself self compassion on days when I don’t get done quite what I had anticipated. If we end up beating ourselves up when we don’t accomplish as much as we had wanted, this feeds into a negative cycle which just worsens our feelings of overwhelm. Offering ourselves self-compassion can break this cycle of negative thinking, allowing us to get right back to focusing on the tasks at hand.
4. You first!
Schedule in your breaks and downtime first. Whenever my schedule would get really busy, I used to have a tendency to decide to skip my workout, skip my meditation… really, to skip all of the routines that contribute to me feel centered and grounded. Which would just worsen the sense of feeling overwhelmed.
I’ve worked hard over the years to establish a bit more of a balanced lifestyle, where stress and anxiety don’t rule my day (at least, way less often than they used to…!). In doing so, I’ve learned to schedule my downtime into my agenda first. I then work really hard to protect that time. For instance, unless I can reschedule my workouts to another time, I mostly say no to meetings that will lead me to skip the gym. Sure, there are times when I still get off of my regular routine. But it’s way less frequent than before. Shifting my focus to ensure that I am well first has left me much better equipped to deal with work and family related stressors.
5. Chunk time… and focus.
Once I’ve scheduled in my downtime, I start to schedule in blocks of time when I’m going to work on different tasks. This goes back to intentionally choosing what we’re going to focus on instead of following whatever request happens to come in that day. For instance, I may block 2 hours to do outbound sales calls, 3 hours to film videos and an hour to reply to e-mails.
One great tool that I’ve used to help me become more aware of how long various tasks tend to take me is Clockify. With Clockify, you can quickly and easily track how long different tasks take you, in real time. Using Clockify helped make me more aware of the types of tasks for which I tended to schedule insufficient time – which ultimately allowed me to plan my time better in future.
6. Give your brain a break.
Our brains are not made to concentrate for hours on end. If you’re looking to optimize productivity, one of the best ways to do so is to ensure that your brain has regular short breaks. One way to implement this is using The Pomodoro Technique. To do so, you set a timer and work, uninterrupted, for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. You then repeat that sequence multiple times.
My experience has been that different people have different attention spans. So I would suggest picking a block of time that that you feel you can be successful with and schedule in alternating work-rest periods.
7. Find an accountability partner.
Another tool that I recently learned about from a colleague of mine, but have not used personally, is called Focusmate. This is an on-line tool where you are assigned an accountability partner via computer, with whom you check in at both the beginning and end of your work period. The inherent accountability that is built into having to check in with someone will likely minimize the chances that you will get distracted.
At the heart of it, productivity hacks are not about finding ways to work harder, but about learning how to optimize our own personal attention. Putting in place strategies that will support you to stay on-task, organized and focused will undoubtedly help you to get your work done faster and with less stress.
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