At EmailAnalytics, we’re all about productivity. We want to learn about it by studying research and statistics. We want to learn from some of the productivity habits and quotes from history’s greatest minds. And of course, we want to provide the tools that enable people to live their most productive lives.
Unfortunately, productivity isn’t a simple concept. It’s not a single switch you can flip to master the art of working. Instead, productivity is an amalgamation of your habits, your working strategies, your physical condition and environment, and of course, your mentality.
I hope to cover each of these major categories at least briefly in this massive list of productivity tips, nearly all of which are based on empirical evidence.
Prioritization and Planning Productivity Tips
Let’s start by working on the processes of planning and prioritization. How you plan for your day, or week, or even the next hour can have a massive impact on how much work you get done—as well as how your work impacts your overall goal progress.
1. Make a list the night before.
Let’s start before your workday, or before a day when you plan to start a new project. It’s a good idea to make a list of priorities you want to accomplish now. You’ll be less stressed and thinking clearer, and you’ll give yourself the option of getting a running start. Every minute you spend in a calm, level-headed state is a minute that will help you in a more chaotic, demanding situation. You’ll be more objective, and save yourself time.
2. Wake up earlier.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a morning person, you should know there are massive benefits to waking up earlier. Even just 15 minutes of extra time in the morning will give you more flexibility for your morning routine, so you aren’t rushing around, and help you be less stressed during the day. The one caveat to this is you should still get a good night’s sleep—which I’ll cover in my section on physical productivity tips.
3. Stay organized.
This is a vague tip because it can apply to many areas of your life at once. Stay organized. If you don’t have a clear system for how to schedule calendar events, or if you don’t have your documents in a deliberate order, you’re going to have a much harder time accomplishing things. Staying organized requires you to come up with a system for organization, then spend a little time each day maintaining that organization. It doesn’t take long to deviate from your plan.
4. Keep to a schedule.
Try to keep to a schedule. That doesn’t mean you have to follow your schedule precisely, but it does mean you should think about how long it takes to do each task on your priority list, and how many hours you have each day. If you aren’t scheduling your time, it’s much easier to get distracted, and harder to budget your time effectively.
5. Break your day into time slots.
While you’re scheduling, consider breaking your day down into various time slots. Depending on your usual schedule and how precise you want to be, that could mean hour-long blocks, half-hour blocks, or just general chunks like “morning,” “before lunch,” and “after lunch.” This will help you be more precise in your scheduling, and better estimate how long it takes you to do tasks.
6. Maintain a list of backburner tasks.
There will always be slots of “dead time” in your day, such as an hour before leaving, when there’s not enough time to start a new project, or when you’re sitting in a meeting room, waiting to begin. For these gaps in productivity, it’s good to have a floating list of backburner tasks—typically tedious tasks you can knock out at your leisure. This way, you’re not wasting dead time, and you’re also not wasting productive hours doing something low-priority.
7. Come up with a prioritization system.
Speaking of priority, you’ll need to come up with a good prioritization system if you want to be productive. Determining which tasks to work on and when can mean the difference between a day you spend working, but not meeting your objectives, and a day you meet all your objectives with time to spare. Learn to identify which qualities make a task or project high priority, such as which client it’s associated with or the monetary value associated with it.
8. Define both urgency and importance.
If you aren’t sure where to begin with that prioritization system, consider starting with an Eisenhower matrix—determining both the importance and urgency of each project or task. Importance refers to how impactful that task is for your bottom-line goals, while urgency refers to how immediately the task needs to be accomplished to achieve its maximum value.
9. Consider the mental elements of tasks.
In your prioritization system, you should also consider the “mental” elements of tasks. For example, are you excited to begin this task, or are you utterly dreading it? Will it demand all your cognitive resources, or only minimal attention? This will help you gradually move from more demanding, intensive tasks to less demanding ones as your tolerance and patience decline.
10. Break big projects down into bite-sized tasks.
Just like it’s wise to break down your workday into chunks of time, it’s good to break your big projects down into bite-sized tasks. This allows you to be more precise when determining priority, and can reduce the stress of staring down the barrel of a massive project. You can even split those tasks into sub-tasks if you’re so inclined.
11. Procrastinate some tasks.
Procrastination can be good for you if you’re using it intelligently. Mindlessly procrastinating out of laziness, anxiety, or fear is bad, but intentionally putting off a task for a time you know you’ll be better able to handle it is wise. For example, if it’s the end of a long day and you have a challenging project to do, it’s better to get a good night’s rest and tackle it when you’re fresh the next morning.
12. Rehearse conversations.
It may seem like a habit borne out of insecurity, but it’s actually valuable to rehearse conversations you know you’ll need to have in the near future, especially if you’re doing the rehearsal during downtime. That way, when you enter the conversation, you’ll be able to speak more precisely and more eloquently—making the conversation flow smoother and saving you time.
13. Schedule conservatively.
Even though it’s valuable to schedule your time in as much detail as possible, it’s still good to schedule those items conservatively. The basic example here is to plan on an extra 10-15 minutes when calculating drive time in case you run into traffic, but you can apply it to any task or project. This way, you’ll prevent the feeling of panic if your best-laid plans go awry, and if pressed, you can always work on backburner tasks in the leftover minutes.
14. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it now.
This piece of advice was popularized by David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, and it remains good advice. As a general rule, if a task facing you is going to take less than 2 minutes, you should work on it immediately, regardless of where it would ordinarily fall in your list of priorities. Scheduling or planning such a small task is actually a disservice at that point.
15. Focus on objectives or outcomes, rather than tasks.
While you’re planning your day, consider focusing on high-level objectives or intended outcomes, rather than starting with tasks. For example, instead of committing to finish a project, figure out whether you want to tackle client work, or catch up your administrative details as the day’s main focus. This will ensure you don’t get bogged down by the details, and align all the tasks you do with a high-level strategy or focus.
16. Don’t plan too rigidly.
Finally, when you’re prioritizing tasks and planning your day, don’t plan too rigidly. Leave a few gaps in your schedule for unexpected developments or new incoming tasks, and be prepared to update your schedule on the fly once the day actually begins. Nobody can see the future, so it pays to be flexible when responding to new information or new priorities.
Emotional and Mental Productivity Tips
If you want to work efficiently, you need to be in the right mind state—and that means paying careful attention to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Learning to control your environment (as well as your thoughts and feelings) can significantly increase your working potential.
17. Accomplish something early in the morning.
Accomplishing a goal—even a small one—gives us a dose of dopamine, which makes us feel happy, confident, and motivated to do more tasks. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to start your day by accomplishing something (even if it’s small). Once you check that item off your list or bask in the fruits of your labor, you’ll be much more likely to continue your day energetic and productive.
18. Visualize yourself achieving your goals.
The power of visualization is hard to overstate. The idea is simple; if you picture yourself achieving what you want to achieve, you’ll be more likely to achieve it. The psychology behind this phenomenon is complicated, but the trick seems to work, so try picturing yourself finding success before a major project or work-related demand.
19. Do your most difficult tasks first.
Difficult, emotionally challenging, and stressful tasks demand more willpower to begin, and more commitment to follow through on. Throughout the day, your willpower and mental energy will decrease, so it’s in your best interest to do some of your most challenging tasks early on in the day.
20. Reduce the number of distractions in your environment.
According to one study, it takes an average of 23 minutes to fully recover from a distraction. That’s a lot of potential productivity wasted, so it’s a good idea to reduce the number of distractions in your environment however you can. Sometimes, that means disconnecting from the internet. Other times, it means finding a better office space.
21. Take unnecessary devices out of the picture.
While you’re at it, try to limit the number of devices in your immediate vicinity. Recent research suggests that merely having a smartphone nearby—even if it’s completely off—can compromise our productivity. Thank whatever weird brain wiring is responsible for smartphones being so addictive. In any case, put your phone in a drawer unless you truly need to use it, so you can better focus on the tasks at hand. For more help with this, see our post on how to focus at work.
22. Learn to say no.
Everyone feels like they’re busy, but in many cases, this level of “busyness” comes from constantly accepting new tasks, assignments, and responsibilities. Depending on your position within the company, you may have little say in what your responsibilities are, but when possible, say no to new tasks and projects you can’t feasibly take on without compromising your other work. Know where your limits are, and try to remain within those limits.
23. Delegate tasks beneath your paygrade.
While you’re at it, if you have tasks on your agenda that are beneath your paygrade—in other words, if someone with less authority or a lower salary can handle them—don’t be afraid to delegate them. Delegation frees up your schedule, so you can focus on your more important tasks. It also ensures you’re working at optimal capacity, with the majority of your focus being dedicated to tasks at your skill level.
24. Set deadlines for yourself.
Deadlines can be very encouraging, especially if you’re naturally self-disciplined. Try setting deadlines to achieve certain items, even if they don’t have deadlines naturally. For example, if you’re working on switching to a new email provider, even if there’s no hard deadline in place, you can challenge yourself to get it done within the next week. That way, you’ll have a measure of success, and you’ll be motivated to get it done faster.
25. Create the right level of ambient noise.
Noise can affect your productivity in many different ways. For the most part, music can boost your productivity—but lyric-heavy music can be distracting, and music that’s too loud or too soft can also interfere with your working ability. Similarly, ambient noise is good—as long as that noise isn’t too loud or too unpredictable. Use headphones to find the right mix of ambient noise or music for you.
26. Turn off notifications.
Notifications can be valuable to keep you in the loop on recent communications or ensure you don’t miss something important, but most of the time, they’re more of a distraction than anything else. Getting a noisy notification pulls you away from your main task, and forces you to switch your attention. Instead of struggling with this, disable notifications on every device you can, for as long as you can.
27. Stop multitasking.
No matter how good you think you are at multitasking, it’s overwhelmingly likely that it’s doing you more harm than good. The cognitive costs of switching attention between tasks will make you inferior at completing any tasks on your agenda, and you might be setting yourself up for worse focus in the future as well. Focus on just one thing at a time, and you’ll end up getting more done.
28. Do creative or brainstorming work early.
Work that requires brainstorming or creativity demands that your mind be clear, and as minimally fatigued as possible. Accordingly, this work is best done early in the morning, while your mind is still fresh. Save tedious tasks, and ones that require less focused brainpower, for the end of the day.
29. Reward yourself.
Constantly pushing yourself to do more, more, more isn’t good for your psychological wellbeing. If you want to remain in a good mood, and keep motivating yourself to do better, it’s good to reward yourself. After making a breakthrough or achieving a big goal, take a break and treat yourself to something pleasant, like a jellybean from the jar on your desk or an episode from your favorite YouTube series.
30. Try striking a “power pose.”
Though there is some evidence to the contrary, it seems striking a “power pose” (i.e., making yourself bigger with outstretched arms and good posture) can have a positive effect on your confidence, energy, and motivation. It only takes a few seconds, so it’s certainly worth trying; strike one of these poses in the bathroom, or before you leave for work to give yourself a decent short-term boost.
31. Talk to people you love.
Committing to working for several hours at a time can be psychologically demanding, gradually reducing both your effectiveness at the tasks at hand and your desire to keep going. One convenient trick to get around this is to spend some time talking to a person you love—even if it’s just a few quick texts to your significant other. This will give you a short burst of dopamine, which can make you feel better and refreshed enough to handle another important task.
32. Find a reason to laugh.
Laughter plays a number of important roles in our social interactions. It reduces stress, makes us feel happy, and makes us feel connected to each other. Finding a reason to laugh in the middle of a workday can give you a massive boost of productivity and positive energy, so look up a favorite video or ask your coworkers to tell you their best joke.
33. Change how you think about stress.
Recent evidence suggests that it’s not just stress that affects your physical and mental wellbeing—it’s also your beliefs about stress. If you feel like stress is a negative quality that will only hurt you, you’re going to be more hurt by it—kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe stress is a natural reaction, and one that equips you with the right hormones and energy to be more effective, you’ll be less negatively affected by it. The next time you feel stressed, try to consider it as a boost of energy , rather than something negative that’s happening to you.
34. Change how you think about failure.
While you’re at it, change how you think about failure. If you see failure as the end of the line, and as something to be ashamed about, you’re going to be more stressed, and possibly depressed, when you make a mistake. More importantly, you’ll be less willing to take risks in your job and life. Instead, try to think about failure as an inevitable and regular occurrence, even if you perform well, and consider it a lesson.
By now, it should be no surprise to you that meditation can lead to higher productivity. Any meditation exercise, especially mindfulness meditation, can help you center your thoughts, and clear away the distracting, persistent thoughts that might otherwise interfere with your productivity. If you practice regularly, you’ll also enjoy the perks of greater emotional control, more patience, and a reduced risk of mental illness.
36. Reduce decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue sets in when you make too many decisions in quick succession. Even small, seemingly inconsequential decisions, like what to eat for breakfast, can eventually wear down your cognitive resources. You can reduce decision fatigue by making fewer decisions and making more decisions in advance, like delegating important decisions to a subordinate or planning your outfit and meals the night before.
37. Be more decisive.
Speaking of decisions, try to be more clearly decisive. By delaying or spending too much time on decisions, you’ll end up stressing yourself out, you’ll waste time, and you’ll end up more likely to regret your decision (no matter how things turn out). That doesn’t mean you should rush to a decision every time, but you shouldn’t wait too long to make a move.
38. Read and listen to quotes on productivity.
Everyone has a different vision for what productivity is, and a different collection of strategies that work to improve their own productivity. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to read lots of quotes about productivity, and listen to many different perspectives on productivity. We’ve also got a giant list of motivational quotes for employees you can refer to. The more exposure you get to different perspectives on work and efficiency, the better you’ll be able to accumulate the right strategies for yourself.
39. Keep a list of accomplishments.
Most of you are already keeping a list of meetings and tasks, but have you considered keeping a list of accomplishments? Write down the goals you’ve achieved and the things you’re most proud of in any given day, week, or month. It will serve as a motivating reminder of your own potential when you feel overwhelmed, and will help you understand the factors that led to your greatest achievements.
40. Learn to master flow.
Flow is a psychological state that occurs when you lose yourself in a task. It can be achieved by working on tasks that are in the “sweet spot” between easy and hard, and are somewhere between tolerable and enjoyable. This is you at your most productive, and you can spend more time in this state by choosing the right tasks to work on and by eliminating distractions.
41. End each day on a high note.
You can build good momentum from one day to the next if you end each day on a high note. Depending on your personal preferences and your position, that might mean finishing a challenging task, perfecting a new skill, or learning something new. When you end on a positive note, you’ll come into work the next day more enthusiastic and better prepared to work hard.
42. Eliminate perfectionism.
Perfectionism can drive you to work harder and achieve more, but more frequently, it’s problematic to your overall productivity. Excessive perfectionism can stop you from even starting a task if you feel you won’t be able to complete it adequately. It can also make you more stressed and distracted if you feel you aren’t working under ideal circumstances—or if your well-planned schedule falls to pieces thanks to a new development. Overcoming perfectionism can be difficult, so start by accepting flaws wherever you can, and learn to be okay with a “good” result, rather than a perfect one.
43. Invest in your own happiness.
Your happiness matters to your productivity—and quite significantly. If you aren’t happy in life, or in your work, you aren’t going to work at peak efficiency. It’s therefore in your best interest to make an investment in your own happiness, taking days off, spending time doing things you enjoy, and recognizing when you’re at your limit. I’ll spend more time on this topic in the section on timing and breaks.
44. Tackle hard jobs by committing to just 5 minutes.
The hardest part about working on big projects is getting started. You can overcome your resistance to working on a major project by committing to work on it for just 5 minutes. Those 5 minutes of work never seem too hard or too intrusive, but by the time they’re over, you’ll have built up enough momentum to keep going under your own volition.
45. Be part of a community.
Everyone needs to have a sense of community in their lives, whether it’s in your workplace, in a hobby group, or elsewhere. Feeling like you’re a part of something bigger will make you more content with your life, and give you a support group when you’re stressed and feeling overwhelmed. Plus, if your community members are doing similar work, they’ll be able to share some of their own tips for higher productivity.
46. Focus on quality, not quantity.
It’s easy to get obsessed with focusing on work quantity—finishing X number of tasks or working for Y solid hours. However, it’s usually better to focus on the quality of your work. In other words, it’s better to spend your time doing one task right than rushing through two tasks for the sake of getting through them.
47. But don’t forget about quantity, either.
On the other hand, don’t underestimate the perks of focusing on quantity. The more time you spend repeating the same type of task, the more skilled you’ll become at it.
Physical Productivity Tips
Don’t underestimate the power your physical condition and your physical surroundings can have on your ability to work. Anyone who’s come into work with only a few hours of sleep, or ill, knows the impact your physical state can have on your ability to get things done.
These are some of the best tips to improve your physical variables:
48. Eat breakfast.
The food and drinks you consume throughout the day have an effect on your productivity. If you’re hungry or thirsty, you won’t be able to focus, and having sufficient glucose in your brain (and bloodstream) can help ensure you have the energy to continue working. Studies show that people who eat a nutritious breakfast tend to be more productive, especially in the morning, so make sure to get some whole grains and protein before you leave for the day.
49. Get the right nutrition throughout the day.
Nutrition doesn’t stop at breakfast, however; getting the right nutrients throughout the day can help ensure you stay consistently productive. Avoid eating a large meal in the middle of the day, like most workers. Instead, have a light, but nutritious lunch full of protein and complex carbohydrates, and have plenty of healthy snacks on standby so you stay full. Nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are all good choices to have on standby.
50. Stay hydrated.
Don’t underestimate the role that hydration can play on your performance; as little as a two percent drop in hydration can have a measurable impact on your productivity. Keep a glass of water at your desk at all times, and make sure you drink from it regularly. You’ll be amazed how much more consistently you’re able to work.
51. Use caffeine wisely.
It’s no secret that a dose of caffeine can have a huge impact on your performance, improving your energy and focus while decreasing feelings of fatigue. However, that doesn’t mean you should be mainlining coffee all day. Consuming too much caffeine over a short period of time can increase feelings of anxiety and jitteriness. Plus, if you drink too much in the afternoon and evening, it can interfere with your sleep patterns.
Exercise boosts your productivity, and in multiple ways. When you exercise vigorously, you facilitate the release of dopamine and serotonin, giving you more energy and focus that you can use to get more work done. Plus, if you exercise consistently, you’ll get more sleep (reducing your overall fatigue), and you’ll be in better overall shape—which means fewer sick days due to health issues.
53. Get adequate sleep.
Sleep will make or break your productivity. Missing just an hour or two of sleep can compromise your decision making, your cognitive skills, your focus, and your mood. If you miss sleep on a chronic basis, the effects grow even worse. And if you’re sleep deprived for too long, it can have devastating consequences for your physical and mental health, which could leave you unable to work at all. Strive to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, every night, if you want to maximize your efficiency.
54. Take a nap.
If you miss a few hours of sleep one night, you can make up for it in the short-term by taking a nap. If you’re so fatigued you’re distracted from your work, it’s better to take 30 minutes to nap than it is to try and muscle through the detriment. Just don’t rely on naps as a cure-all; it’s important to maintain consistent healthy sleep patterns, and only use naps when you need them.
55. Go outside.
If you work in an office too long, you can start going stir crazy. Take some time to go outside. The fresh air will make you feel better, the change in scenery will relieve stress, and getting to relax your eyes will stave off computer vision syndrome.
56. Invest in the right equipment.
You’ll pay a bit more to get the right equipment, but it can be a major boon for your productivity. A faster device will help you get more done during the day (and relieve the frustration of a slow device). Ergonomic keyboards and furniture will reduce your risk of long-term injury. And if you get a standing desk, you can burn more calories during the day and reduce the effects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
57. Limit and maximize your travel time.
How much time do you waste traveling every day, commuting to your job and going to client meetings? Try to reduce this time however you can, or at least maximize it so it’s not totally lost time. You can reduce travel time by working remotely when possible, and maximize it by handling phone meetings, listening to podcasts, or even reading (if you take public transportation).
58. Change the temperature.
There’s some conflicting information on what makes for the most productive temperature in your work environment because everyone has different preferences. The average preferred temperature is 71 degrees F, but the usual ideal range is 70 to 77 degrees. Play with the thermostat until you find the right setting for you.
59. Work in a new environment.
Working at the same desk in the same building, day after day can get agonizingly dull. You can kick up your productivity simply by transitioning to a new environment. Try working in a new coffee shop, or in a new coworking space. If you can’t leave the office, you could also try moving to a different desk, or even rotating the direction you face. Any change to your environment can be psychologically beneficial.
60. Add a pleasant fragrance.
Aromatherapy has mixed evidence in support of its benefits, but it’s certainly worth a try. Some scents, like lavender or peppermint, may make you more alert and more productive. Experiment with different pleasant smells, and see if it makes you feel more inspired.
61. Look at interesting art.
You can also boost your mood and foster more creativity in your workday by hanging and looking at interesting art in your environment. Zoning out and staring at abstract art can help you process complex problems, and help you find more creative solutions. It’s also a way to make your environment more welcoming, so you can feel less stressed.
62. Pet a dog (or cat).
There’s a reason pets are so popular—they help reduce stress. If there’s a dog or cat in your environment (whether you work from home or you have a pet-friendly office), take some time to pet it or play with him or her. It will make you feel less stressed and possibly give you the focus you need to complete your next task.
63. Keep your desk clean.
Messy people like to claim that disorganization is a sign of genius, but the reality is, clutter is distracting and will damage your productivity. Try to keep your desk clean and organized; you’ll be able to focus on your work more consistently. It only takes a few minutes a day to stay on top of things.
Timing and Breaking Productivity Tips
Though related to planning and prioritization, you should also be thinking about how to time your daily events, and how to take breaks effectively.
64. Know your most productive periods.
You probably know some people who identify as “morning people” or “night people,” and it turns out, there’s a genetic basis for this distinction. Some people are naturally more productive and more alert at certain times of day, whether it’s morning, noon, or evening. Learn which hours result in your peak performance and take advantage of them whenever possible.
65. Limit when and how you check email.
Email has revolutionized the way we communicate at work, but it also comes with some nasty side effects. Checking email too often or relying on notifications can result in too many distractions throughout the day. Instead, it’s better to designate specific times to email, and focus on heads-down work between those email periods. See our list of the top email productivity tools for help measuring and improving your email productivity.
66. Establish a “communication” time.
All form of communication can distract you from your normal work. If you’re bombarded with phone calls, voice mails, chat requests, and emails all day, you won’t get anything else done. That’s why it’s important to designate specific “communication” and “non-communication” hours, where you can catch up on messages and focus on work, respectively.
67. Limit your number of meetings.
Meetings are a massive source of time waste. While they can be valuable platforms for conversation and collaboration, they also tend to break down into tangential topics, pull people off more important work, and waste time as a group, multiplying their effects. If you want to be more productive, try scheduling fewer meetings; replace them with email updates or one-on-one conversations over chat.
68. Limit your meeting time.
Some meetings are unavoidable, but you can make those meetings more productive by limiting the time you spend in them. Scheduling a meeting for 15 minutes instead of an hour will force you to stay on task, and reduce the total time you spend not doing more productive work.
69. Keep your meetings on schedule.
One last note about meetings—try to keep them to a strict schedule. Define exactly why you’re holding the meeting and what you intend to accomplish, then make a list of discussion points or key objectives for the meeting. Don’t deviate from that list, and if you do by accident, guide the meeting back to its primary goals.
70. Take lots of breaks.
Most people are tempted to think that breaks are a distraction from productivity; it’s time you spend not working, so it eats into your schedule. However, breaks from work actually benefit your mind in several ways. You get to decompress, reducing your stress levels, and you can let your mind wander, which can help you creatively solve more problems—especially ones that have been plaguing you for a while. When you take a break, you’ll return to work refreshed, focused, and happier—more than making up for the time it takes to have one.
71. Break in the middle of tasks.
Most people try to take breaks after they’ve finished an important or lengthy task, but it’s actually better for your productivity to break in the middle of a task. Breaking in the middle of a task gives you a sense of incompleteness, and your mind keeps working on the problem while you’re away. When you return to the task, you’ll pick it up faster, so you can get back in the flow of things without delay.
72. Go on vacation at least once a year.
People who take at least one vacation a year are more productive than ones who don’t. And as you might suspect, taking a week or more off in a row is much more beneficial than just taking a long weekend now and then. You probably have vacation time, so take advantage of it! You need time away from your work if you’re going to de-stress and lower your risk of burnout. And when you do go on vacation, be sure to use one of our awesome out of office message examples!
73. Set a timer for allowed distractions.
I’ve established that distractions are mostly a bad thing, pulling you away from tasks and compromising your focus, but if you merely ignore or shelve distractions, your willpower will fade and you’ll feel more stressed. Instead, consider setting a timer for your distractions, such as allowing yourself 10 minutes to read the news, or 15 minutes to chat with someone on social media. Think of these as breaks, rather than distractions, and they’ll work in your favor, so long as you keep them constrained on time.
74. Make use of time you spend waiting.
How often do you spend waiting for something, like waiting in line, waiting in traffic, or waiting for a meeting to begin? If you’re like most professionals, this adds up to hours of purely wasted time every week. Try to make the most of this time, catching up on messages, brainstorming new ideas, or even peacefully meditating, so you can treat it like a break.
75. Regularly schedule catch up/maintenance days.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with little tasks, and with tasks you can afford to procrastinate. That’s why it’s important to routinely schedule time, sometimes entire days, to catch up those tasks. Some people call these “admin days” or “maintenance days,” but the purpose is the same—to clean up all those tasks that fell through the cracks, and reorganize.
76. Make good use of weekends.
Emails are a time to leave work stress behind, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about how to use your weekends to make yourself more productive. For example, you can schedule more leisure time for your weekend so you go into work more refreshed, or you can spend Sunday night organizing your priority lists and agenda so you can start stronger on Monday.
77. Have a firm cutoff time.
Work has a tendency to creep into your personal life, which isn’t good for your mental health or productivity. It’s better to set a firm cutoff time, not allowing work tasks to interfere with your rest and time away from work. Remember, cutting off a task in the middle makes it easier to jump back into things when you pick it up again.
78. Decompress after trying to solve a tough problem.
There’s a reason so many people claim to have breakthroughs on tough problems in the shower; it’s because they aren’t focusing on anything. The brain continues to work on problems in the background even after we’ve abandoned thinking about them; in fact, trying too hard to focus on a problem can end up costing you progress. Instead, when you’re trying to tackle a hard challenge, take a step back and give yourself time to decompress. You’ll have better odds of coming up with the ideal solution.
Automation and Time Saving Productivity Tips
There are literally hundreds of little ways to save time, dependent on which tasks you’re trying to accomplish. But there are some general tips and rules you can follow to save time on the tasks you complete the most—many of which rely on automation.
79. Define productivity as less work, not more.
Workaholic culture has defined productivity as doing more work, but this ends up working against you most of the time. Instead of trying to find ways to squeeze in more hours of hard work, find ways to make your existing tasks easier and less time intensive. Instead of fitting more tasks into an hour, find ways to minimize the number of tasks that result in a measurable benefit. In other words, focus on quality of work, rather than quantity.
80. Set up automatic email filters.
Gmail has a number of hacks and tricks that can help you be more productive, but one of the best is automatic filters. In the Filters and Blocked Addresses section of the Settings menu, you can define key qualities of a certain group of emails—such as emails sent by a certain sender, or those that come in during a certain time of day—and automatically forward them to a category or folder. That way, you don’t have to take the time to manually sort them.
81. Use canned responses.
While you’re at it, take advantage of custom canned responses. In the Advanced submenu of Gmail Settings, you can turn on canned responses, which will allow you to create a small library of phrases you can call upon with just a click in the future. Even if it saves you only a few minutes per use, over time, it can save hours of time. See our guide on setting up Gmail email templates.
82. Experiment with Gmail addons and apps.
One of the best perks of Gmail is its friendliness to third-party apps, addons, and extensions. These tools can make you blazingly more efficient, depending on how you use them, helping you measure your progress and/or automate your email management. Experiment with them until you find a collection that works for you.
83. Automate simple tasks.
Simple manual tasks don’t seem like they take much of your time, but they add up over the course of a day, or week. The more of these tasks you can automate, the more time and focus you’ll be able to dedicate to more important, high-level projects. Use services like IFTTT or dedicated apps to automate everything you can.
84. Dictate notes rather than writing.
Unless you’re a true master typist, you can probably speak faster than you can write. And thanks to the quality of modern voice-recognition technology, the accuracy of dictation software is fantastic. Start dictating your notes and brainstorming sessions instead of writing them all down.
85. Create templates.
If you deal with the same types of documents or files over and over again, create templates to work from, such as these ones from Venngage. In the future, you can copy and modify them, rather than starting from scratch. It may seem like a simple and obvious hack, but it’s one that many professionals overlook.
86. Learn keyboard shortcuts.
Did you know that most apps, including Gmail, offer keyboard shortcuts, which allow you to access certain commands and features faster? It takes a while to learn them, but once you get familiar with them, you’ll never go back. Try learning common Gmail keyboard shortcuts to shave minutes off your time each day, and hours, cumulatively, over the months and years.
87. Shorten all your communications.
Why not try to shorten all your communications? We tend to use more words than we need to in our documents, our emails, and even our phone calls. But being more concise will allow you to spend less time writing, will waste less time for your recipients, and will probably lead to a clearer understanding of your intended message.
88. Master all our Gmail hacks.
We’ve compiled a massive list of all the hacks you can use to make Gmail work better for you, so get going on them. Most of them only take a few seconds to a few minutes to learn, and they could revolutionize how your write, read, and organize emails. For example, you can learn how to rearrange your inbox layout, and color-code your emails based on groups.
89. Reduce the number of “time-saving” apps you use.
I see what seems like dozens of ads a day for apps that promise to save me time on my daily tasks. And to be fair, many of them probably do have the potential to improve my productivity. But every app you add to your suite will take time to learn, and time to manage, and if you have too many, they’ll defeat the purpose of having one. Keep your focus on the apps most likely to save you time, and don’t overload yourself.
90. Improve your abilities.
A decent runner can run a mile in 7 minutes. A record-setting runner can break 4 minutes. The difference in speed often comes down to technique and training, and you can count on those same qualities differentiating the efficiency of your work. If you train yourself to be faster or better at a given skill, you’ll be able to accomplish tasks related to that skill faster—so consider improving your familiarity with technologies you use on a daily basis, and improving skills like typing to save even more time.
91. Know when someone else could do this faster.
That said, there are some things you simply won’t be able to do as quickly as someone who specializes in that area. For example, an experienced accountant will be able to generate a revenue forecast faster than a well-rounded entrepreneur. Part of your efficiency depends on knowing when it’s more efficient to delegate work, and then delegating it.
Measurement and Analysis Productivity Tips
You won’t get far in improving your productivity unless you can effectively measure your progress. For that, you need the right terminology, goals, and approach to measuring your productivity, the right tools to help you measure it, and a commitment to use insights gleaned from those tools to make you a more productive person.
92. Track your time.
Keep track of how you’re spending time, and how much you’re spending. Over a few days, you’ll quickly learn which tasks are eating up the majority of your time, and which ones you’re able to handle most efficiently. You’ll also learn when and how you get most distracted, so you can find the right strategies to improve.
93. Measure your emails.
Email is a productivity gateway since it’s so vital to so many of our professional functions; measuring and visualizing your email patterns is therefore one of the best steps you can take to improve. For example, with EmailAnalytics, you can learn which days and times of the week are busiest for you, how long it takes you to write and respond to emails, and who your top senders and recipients are.
94. Keep a journal.
Consider keeping a journal. This will allow you to keep track of not just your productivity, but also your emotions and state of mind. You’ll learn which triggers in the day make you more or less productive, and which habits have the most significant bearing on your working efficiency.
95. Work with a mentor.
No matter how experienced you are, there’s always someone more experienced than you in the same field. Talking with a mentor can help you learn more about your bad habits, which areas you can improve, and which strategies you haven’t yet considered for improvement. Work with your mentors regularly, and your productivity should improve.
96. Take snapshots of your progress.
Productivity stats are best viewed over extended time periods, like month over month or year over year. Take snapshots of your current level of productivity if you’re going to take these measurements accurately.
97. Isolate your variables.
If you add five new strategies all at once and notice a productivity increase, you’ll be hard-pressed to determine which of those strategies was decisive in improving your productivity. Instead, try to add in one new strategy or new tool at a time, so you can isolate your variables and determine what helps or hinders you.
98. Be aware of (and change) your habits.
Oftentimes, productivity is directly tied into our habits—many of which go unnoticed because we’re so used to them. If you want to improve, you need to be aware of both your good and bad habits, and work actively to promote or suspend them, respectively.
99. Talk to other people.
You can learn lots of new productivity strategies and good habits from mentors, but it’s not just the most experienced people among us who have something valuable to add. Talk to everyone you can, including coworkers, subordinates, supervisors, and even people from other industries. You’d be surprised what little hacks and tricks people come up with.
You won’t improve your productivity by keeping things the same, or only following the pieces of advice you’re sure will benefit you. Instead, it’s better to treat your productivity like a scientist; you have to experiment, change your variables, and measure your results if you want to make progress. Keep trying new things, even if you’re satisfied with your current level of productivity.
101. Take things one step at a time.
Productivity increases are rarely night-and-day. You aren’t going to save 3 hours a day with a single trick, nor will you be able to break a bad habit overnight. You need to change your mentality if you want to avoid getting discouraged, and recognize that productivity increases take time and effort. Just focus on making one improvement at a time, and don’t worry if your gains are small—especially at first. Eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be.
I don’t expect you’ll be able to integrate all these productivity tips into your life, but you should be able to learn more about your work just by reading them. Try adopting a few at a time, gradually improving your performance, and keep the ones that work best for your work environment and personal preferences.
There may not be a comprehensive tool to improve your productivity, since it’s dependent on so many individual factors, but if you want to get started with an in-depth analytics tool to help you gauge your progress, you can’t get better than EmailAnalytics. Sign up for a free trial today, and you can start measuring your productivity in terms of how many emails you’re sending, how long it takes you to respond, who’s sending you the most emails, how much time you’re spending on the platform, and dozens of other factors.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.