How I Shot My Productivity Through The Roof

How I Shot My Productivity Through The Roof
by Sarah Pike
Photos Nicole Baas | March 10, 2016
If you're anything like me, you've probably read more than your fair share of humdrum articles about how to improve productivity.
In most cases, the recommendations seem impossible to follow or absurd and unhelpful. After scouring the Internet for the best tips I could find, I found a few quality pieces of advice, paired them with some of my own ideas, and set out to ramp up my productivity. Like any change of habit, it took some trial and error, but in less than a few weeks, my efforts began paying off.
I’m sharing what I learned so you can manage your day better, too—with less of a learning curve. Here are the three (easy) steps I took that sent my productivity through the roof.

1. I ADJUSTED MY SLEEP

One thing many top CEOs have in common is that they wake up before sunrise to get things accomplished. I’m not a morning person, so I took baby steps by setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier each week, until I was getting out of bed a whole hour earlier than I used to. To make the early-morning gig more bearable, I stuck to a strict bedtime of 10 p.m.

This slight adjustment to my sleep schedule gave me time to do things I enjoyed but hadn’t had time for since I started freelancing—like journaling, meditating, and (gasp!) even cooking a legit breakfast. Within a week I felt more fulfilled, more inspired, and more energized.
It’s human nature to put off what you don’t want to do, but once you start eating frogs, you’ll be hooked.
Although I don’t work during my morning routine, it motivates me to knock out a slew of tasks well before 8 a.m. I’ve found that accomplishing tasks first thing in the morning improves my productivity throughout the day.

2. I FIGURED OUT WHERE MY TIME WENT

Next, I got serious about my time management (or, rather, lack thereof). To find out how much time I devoted to various tasks throughout the day, I experimented with a few time-tracking apps and ultimately settled on Toggl. It’s ridiculously easy to use, and the free basic plan offers all the features I needed.

After a few days of time tracking, I had a clear picture of how I spent my day—and some of it wasn’t pretty. I wasted more time than I thought by engaging in social media and chatting with friends. To help me manage my time better, I downloaded Stay Focused, a productivity extension for Google Chrome that restricts the amount of time you can spend on the sites that distract you most. It can even block you from those sites altogether. Bye-bye Pinterest, hello productivity.
It takes employees an average of 15 minutes to get back to their work every time they are sidetracked by phone calls or other messages.
During the workday, I turned off the notifications on my phone and checked it only once per hour for missed calls, texts, and messages. Sounds drastic, but according to a Microsoft study, it takes employees an average of 15 minutes to get back to their work every time they are sidetracked by phone calls or other messages. At that rate, it doesn't take long to rack up some serious wasted time. 

On top of all this, I noticed that when I worked from home in the evenings, my Internet was painstakingly slow—I’m talking 20th century kind of slow. Because I work as a freelancer, my Internet woes made me less efficient, which actually impacted my income some and made me feel defeated. So, I did a little research to find out why my Internet slowed to a snail’s pace at night and what I could do about it. Upgrading my Wi-Fi equipment instantly solved the problem. My efficiency (and mood) radically improved.

3. I REVAMPED MY TO-DO LIST

I’ve kept to-do lists since college, but I wasn’t using them effectively. They helped me remember what to do, but they didn’t help me make the best use of my time. And, very often, the tasks I dreaded most (and probably needed to do first) didn’t get accomplished.

Then I started eating frogs—figuratively, of course. Developed by the personal development guru Brian Tracy, “eating frogs” is a productivity method. In essence, it means prioritizing the most unpleasant or most difficult item on your to-do over the other tasks on your list. By eating your frog first, you’re mentally freed from it, which enables you to focus on your work, boosting your productivity. It’s human nature to put off what you don’t want to do, but once you start eating frogs, you’ll be hooked.

Productivity is one of the keys to success for any savvy career woman, but beyond that it can help you achieve a more rewarding work-life balance. After all, you deserve some you time.

What are your favorite productivity tips, tricks, or tools? Please share in the comments.