It’s a pretty terrible feeling looking back on a day of work and realizing how little of your time was actually spent productively.
Switching between open tabs ( a little credit card payment here, an email check there ), phone notifications (just a quick peek at my Instagram likes ), and text messages (doesn't my mom know I'm working?) — it's all too familiar. The problem is this sort of multitasking wreaks havoc on your priorities and the activities that actually need to get done.
The Motivation Struggle
Those who need to be self-motivated to get work done — students, freelancers, budding entrepreneurs, digital nomads — know that adequately managing your time to get the most out of your work is a known challenge. But even those in a structured working environment have trouble staying on task: around a quarter of employees are distracted either by their phone, social media, personal email, or office chatter during a regular workday.
And while distractions may be productivity's enemy, it doesn’t mean distractions are inevitable. What’s notable about the statistic above is that a whole 75% of you don’t get easily distracted — a segment of the population to whom I applaud.
If you do, however, happen to fall into the less-than-focused percentile, consider these tips to begin managing your time more effectively.
1. Get organized on paper
At the beginning of each week, and then again at the beginning of each day, the most important thing you should be doing is writing a list of things to do. I say writing because it's indeed something you should be writing down — on paper.
Not only is there evidence behind the effectiveness of writing tasks down, your phone or computer screen are two places where distractions inevitably exist and multiply. That's why your agenda should be in a place where you can see it — directly in your line of vision — and be reminded of nothing else when you're looking at it.
2. Save the easiest for last
To really improve your productivity, write your agenda in order of priority and difficulty, saving the easiest tasks for last. Naturally, you'll want to do the fun and easy stuff first — because they're easier, and you like to procrastinate of course. But the tasks that need more of your attention should be tackled ahead of the game.
Getting the boring or challenging stuff out of the way early makes the work seem less daunting as time progresses, and you'll also have time on your side if it takes longer than anticipated.
3. Work on the clock , literally
Focused work in timed intervals is an effective way to improve productivity while enjoying brief breaks. A good method for this is the Pomodoro technique.
If you're unfamiliar with this technique, it's basically interval training for work. Spend 25 minutes focused on one task (presumably one of the tasks you’ve prioritized in your agenda) followed by a 5 minute break. Continue to work in 30 minute intervals, increasing your break time to 15 minutes once you’ve hit four intervals in a row. It will eventually become 100 minutes of focus and 20 minutes worth of breaks over a two hour window.
The Pomodoro technique is highly valuable for anyone working solo — but it can also be put to good use in groups. Keeping track of your intervals with a lapsing timer on your phone is a great strategy, and there are also free Pomodoro apps you can download.
4. Take better breaks
One often overlooked part of focused work is how to effectively spend the breaks you take. Instead of scrolling on social media or browsing news websites, a much better way to spend your breaks is to replenish. Stand up, go for a walk, stretch your legs, and drink water. Use a longer break to eat a snack, and walk outside to soak in the sunlight and fresh air.
If you do these during your breaks, rather than stay put or inside, you’ll find yourself less likely to crash mid-day. Besides, knocking back water over coffee and absorbing vitamin D are pretty essential (and healthy) habits to get into.
5. Make it a point to block distractions
What I’ve said so far suggests that you’re already capable of blocking distractions and that you’re a highly focused, disciplined, and motivated person. I realize that may not be the case. So if your challenge is keeping distractions outside of your line of focus in the first place, then your computer and smartphone need some tweaking.
If you need some access to your phone (like the calendar or phone calls) but want to hide distracting and tempting apps, then try Flipd. You can use it to make your downloaded apps disappear for an amount of time that you choose — meaning it literally hides distracting apps from you. It’s the equivalent of uninstalling every app on your phone for a few hours while you get important stuff done.
Need more motivation? Flipd also offers audio tracks for focus, meditation, motivational podcasts, and more.