Productivity is more than just ticking off tasks on a to-do list. It’s about achieving maximum output, feeling accomplished, and enjoying what we do. Every individual’s journey with productivity is unique, much like a fingerprint. We all have our rhythm, habits, and nuances. I’ve always been fascinated with productivity, especially ensuring my work is done effectively without the accompanying stress.
Even at the UN, we’re facing faster work pace. There are distractions everywhere. Social media alerts may seem harmless, but they’re just the beginning. Lengthy commutes and unplanned meetings also waste our time. Often, our daily life feels like navigating a field full of things that kill productivity.
Drawing from personal experiences and insights, practical methods have transformed my work and life, guiding me to achieve more and cherish each moment.
Productivity Boost #1: Live Close to Work
One of my first radical decisions was to live closer to my work. For many, the daily commute is a significant chunk of their day, often filled with traffic, stress, and unexpected delays. I vividly recall days when I’d get home drained from the travel. Choosing to live within walking distance of my workplace was a game-changer. Yes, the rent was slightly steeper, but what I gained was invaluable: the luxury of time. The daily walks served as a refreshing start, reduced my carbon footprint, and allowed me to engage with the neighbourhood. No more traffic jams or parking woes – just a simple, peaceful walk to and fro.
Productivity Boost #2: Monitor Your Energy Levels
We’ve all heard of the circadian rhythm, our body’s internal clock. However, I took it upon myself to understand my own ‘energy clock’ as everyone has their peak productivity periods. For some, it’s the early morning; for others, it’s the late evening.
I started tracking when I felt most alert and when the afternoon lulls hit. The results? Morning hours were my goldmine. So, I began scheduling my most demanding tasks then. Post-lunch hours were reserved for networking, lighter tasks, and the occasional indulgent coffee break. This personal energy audit redefined my workdays, making them more harmonious and efficient. Check out these articles on WebMD and Harvard on how to boost your energy levels.
Make sure you are getting sufficient vitamins such as Vitamin B12, Iron and Vitamin D.
Recognising your prime energy hours can drastically improve your output.
Productivity Boost #3: Harness the Power of Silent/Focus Mode
As someone who’d jump at every beep or vibration from my phone, learning to embrace the silent mode was transformative. Each notification yanked me away from my work, and before I knew it, I’d be scrolling through the abyss of social media. It was a personal challenge to change this habit. It took me some time to understand that every ping didn’t require an immediate response.
I’ve set my phone to silent mode, kept badge notifications active on my iPhone, and turned off all pop-up alerts, except for calendar appointments. Given their importance in managing my day-to-day schedule, I’ve retained their pop-up alerts to ensure I never miss an important meeting or event. This approach strikes a balance between staying informed and maintaining focus.
With these minor tweaks, I’ve created an environment conducive to deeper concentration. This barrier ensures I’m not consistently lured away by notifications, allowing me to immerse myself in tasks. It was as if a protective bubble shielded me from distractions.
Productivity Boost #4: Implement Time Blocks
Allocating specific time blocks for tasks provides structure and ensures you address priorities. I started treating my calendar as a sacred space. Every task, regardless of its perceived importance, found a slot. It wasn’t just about work. Gym sessions, coffee catch-ups, and even moments of solitude were scheduled. This gave my day a structure, and more importantly, it ensured I stayed committed to each activity, be it a project deadline or self-care.
It’s a commitment to yourself and the task at hand.
Productivity Boost #5: Optimize Your Email Flow
Emails can be both a blessing and a curse. The constant inflow can disrupt concentration. With every incoming email, a part of me would get sidetracked. It was a continuous battle until I discovered the power of filters.
I have a colleague who frequently emails me with questions about her work. Although she has a decade of experience, she still seems unable to work independently, possibly due to a lack of confidence in her abilities. This continual stream of emails has been causing me stress and anxiety.
I took control of my inbox by directing specific emails from certain people (especially frequent or less critical ones) to designated sub-folder called ‘Skipped’ without any notification. This avoids any distraction when I want to have deep concentration and I would only check this folder at the end of the day or during my down time.
By ensuring that my primary inbox was free from unnecessary emails, I could better process incoming emails without the added stress of pending tasks staring back at me. It was about reclaiming control and ensuring I decided what deserved my attention and when.
With this technique, I managed to keep sanity and my day distraction-free.
Productivity Boost #6: Delegate Where Possible
Delegation isn’t just a managerial tool; it’s a life strategy. I remember weekends when I’d begrudgingly dedicate hours to chores I disliked. Recognising this, I hired a helper for cleaning and ironing tasks. Bringing in help not only freed up my schedule but ensured tasks were completed more efficiently.
The same principle applies to the workplace. Recognise what tasks can be handed off or, in some cases, simply avoid taking on unnecessary responsibilities. This not only lightened my workload but enriched team dynamics.
Productivity Boost #7: Master the ‘Follow Up’ Folder
With delegation came the challenge of keeping track. Enter the ‘Follow Up’ folder in my email. This simple strategy allowed me to have a system to track delegated tasks and ensures accountability.
In my MS Outlook, a designated ‘Follow Up’ folder reminds me of pending items. By making a copy of the emails sent in this folder, I’ve created a single reference point to monitor progress and ensure timely completion.
While it might initially appear demanding, believe me, each time I glanced at this folder, I had a clear picture of what was pending and what needed my attention.
Productivity Boost #8: Localize Your Shopping
Time-saving doesn’t always have to be a complex strategy. Something as simple as shopping locally can add hours to your week. Though driving to distant locations might sometimes offer cost benefits, the time and stress associated with long drives and busy shopping periods negate these savings. I’ve found shopping more pleasant and efficient by choosing local stores and off-peak hours.
Productivity Boost #9: Automate, Automate, Automate
Automation is the ally of efficiency. From paying bills to monthly financial transfers, setting up automated systems minimises manual oversight and reduces the risk of errors or missed deadlines (and late fees!). A simplified financial system, for instance, means less time spent managing accounts and more time enjoying what you’ve earned.
I’ve set up a standing order to automatically transfer a predetermined amount to my brokerage and UNFCU accounts each month, precisely a day after receiving my salary. Afterwards, I promptly purchase my favourite ETF for investment. That’s the entire process! This streamlined approach to investing keeps everything uncomplicated and requires no more than 5 minutes of my time monthly.
This newfound love for automation transcended other aspects of my life, ensuring I spent minimal time on repetitive tasks.
Productivity Boost #10: Cultivate Quality Over Quantity in Relationships
While it may seem an odd point in a productivity discussion, the company you keep significantly impacts your well-being and, by extension, your efficiency. Surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting individuals can boost your energy and drive. Reassess relationships that drain you. Being selective with social engagements ensures you invest time in relationships that enrich your life.
Prioritising quality over quantity meant deeper, more fulfilling interactions, free from negativity and draining encounters.
Productivity Boost #11: Use Basic Tools Intuitively
I took a step back in a world obsessed with the latest apps and tools. Sticking to basic, intuitive tools has its advantages. Using familiar platforms, like the iPhone calendar linked with MS Outlook, eliminates the learning curve associated with new tools.
My calendar encompasses everything, from routine reminders like “dental appointments” to more pressing ones like “flight tomorrow.” It’s a tool that ensures I remain organised, punctual for meetings, and free from the stress of remembering every task or commitment.
I also enjoy Apple Notes, which I can access on my iPhone and the web. I use the PARA (Projects-Areas-Resources-Archives) system by Tiago Forte to organise my notes and information, and thoughts. I don’t use Evernote, Remnotes or Notion. They are simply over-engineered and complicated. Apple Notes has simplified my information management without overcomplicating the process.
Instead of chasing the next big thing, I focused on mastering what I already had, reaping richer benefits.
My journey with productivity has been filled with experiments, discoveries, and insights. It wasn’t just about doing more tasks or filling every minute. It was about finding joy in what I did, about ensuring each day felt rewarding and balanced. Every strategy and change was a step towards building a life that harmoniously blended work and happiness. Through this reflection, I hope to inspire others to take charge of their time, to mould it in a way that resonates with their unique rhythm, ensuring that both productivity and joy coexist.