I've mentored people about productivity and spoke to people about it too. Back in 2009 I blogged here about Innovation and Productivity.
I lead a net-working group called Emmaus Work Connectors and last month (January 2020) our discussion was about "Time and Task Management." I told the attendees that I would share some of the information so everyone can have access to it and benefit from it.
Here are some things that I've learned over the years that have helped me with links to articles to get more information about each:
1. Prioritization is important:
We need to prioritize our work in two ways: importance and urgency. Tasks that are important and urgent need to have the highest priority. The tasks that are important and non-urgent need to be scheduled so we get around to doing them. I first learned about this in Habit 3 of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey. I've lately heard it attributed to Eisenhower. One pointer from me is "don't over-analyze" prioritization. Get it close and then just get started on a task.
2. Using a process helps.
Getting Things Done (GTD), Personal Kanban, Agile Scrum framework (video or .pdf), and the Pomodoro technique are great processes to aid in managing tasks.
My main take-aways from GTD is that tasks that are less than about 5 minutes are best to just do right away to keep them from getting on a list. And, take any big projects and break them into smaller ones.
I've used Kanban at work for years. I also follow Personal Kanban for my home tasks. Kanban is the most effective technique that I use. It is based on two easy rules: visualize your work and limit work in progress. I use Trello to visualize my tasks on a kanban board. I use it to track all of my tasks. I find Kanban helpful because by limiting work in progress, it stops me from trying to multi-task which has been proven to be inefficient and even damaging to your brain.
I also find that by using the agile scrum framework of bringing a limited number of tasks from my big "to do list" into a "timeboxed" period of time (one day or one week) keeps me from being overwhelmed by my big list. I believe that agile techniques can be very helpful to apply to my every day tasks. Read a bit about it and see if you agree.
My take-away on Pomodoro is to concentrate on one task at a time for a certain amount of time. Taking breaks is important too and a part of Pomodoro. I find it refreshing to plan a task that takes about a half-hour, work on it, get it done and cross it off the list. Well, in Kanban, I move it to the "Done" column! In Trello, there is even a way to pop some confetti when you move a task to done! (note: Trello can also be used for Pomodoro as one of the several add-ons covered in this article) and it can be used to implement GTD too!)
3. Eliminate (or reduce) distractions
A key part of productivity is to reduce distractions, especially distractions that are unimportant (thinking back to the Eisenhower prioritization mentioned above. This means you may need to turn off sounds for texts on your smartphone, email and other messenger platforms. Another great productivity framework called Inbox-zero (about processing all of your email so your inbox has zero emails left) tells us to just look at emails a few times a day. All these messages are distractions. Distractions pull us away from focusing and it takes considerable time (23 minutes according to one study) to get back on task.
Background noise sometimes helps to reduce distractions around you. I've been known to use coffitivity and other similar websites to make some background noise when I'm being distracted. Try it out!
4. Don't over-analyze, get started on a task
If a task seems to overwhelming, think of one thing you can do to get started on it. Start that one thing. Usually, this is enough to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed and gives the feeling of momentum. Try it!
5. Do tasks with long leadtimes first
If something is going to take a long time for someone else to do, or to get a response, get that item into the "pipeline" as soon as reasonable so that you won't later be waiting on it.
Now you try
These are just a few ideas and this article is already way too long, so I'll stop here. This is enough for you to try.
I use Trello a lot and they regularly post on the topic of productivity.
Here's a blog post they did about "Self-Management: How To Prioritize And Be More Productive" and another titled "How To Create A Productivity Tracker To Reach Your Goals This Year"
What do you think?
I would like to hear about your productivity tips. Let me know if any of the above tips helped you or not and why. Let me know if there are other topics or questions you would like me to cover.