When you’re juggling work and life — or work plus several lives (think kids, pets…) — there are never enough waking hours in a day. But these personal productivity hacks might just help you cross more items off your list, without dropping balls… or losing sleep.
Here are some things to try:
Prioritize. Start each day by making a to-do list of the most important tasks you need to accomplish. Then, rank them in order of importance. Focusing your attention and energy on just the most critical items will raise the likelihood of getting them done.
Vice President Google Store, Mauria Finley routinely keeps a sticky note with her top three priorities on her monitor to dictate how she spends her time. She asserts that letting some of the other, less important things slide actually makes her a better manager, because it allows “more space” for the members of her team to pick up and run with those secondary initiatives.
Set goals. Consider defining both short-term and long-term objectives for yourself. Short-term goals can help you stay motivated and focused on your daily tasks, while long-term goals give you bigger milestones to work towards over a longer period of time. And don’t underestimate the power of committing to a goal in writing.
On New Year’s Day, Birdies CEO Bianca Gates writes herself a letter where she sets goals for herself for the year. She finds that it serves as a kind of roadmap, guiding her to accomplish at least the top three items she wrote about. “Outside of those things, day to day things may seem murky and messy. But overall, if I feel like I’m achieving the top three priorities that I had set out for the year, then I feel like life is good. I have a strong foundation under me, and I don’t let any of the little things get to me because I’m thriving in the areas that are most important.”
Schedule it. Of course you already schedule your work meetings and kids’ doctor appointments, but also try blocking out time on your calendar for family and personal time — things like exercise or journaling, a movie on the couch with your kids, creative brainstorming for an upcoming vacation, or even just undefined alone time. Visual reminders and any audio chimes you set will keep you on track so you can accomplish more.
You can also use scheduling to compartmentalize your time, which allows for greater focus. For example, Virtualness CEO and Liftery co-founder Kirthiga Reddy says she sets aside a 2-hour block each week for mentoring conversations. Isolating these sessions into one block of time makes scheduling easy and minimizes time-consuming context switching during the rest of the work week.
Multitask. The trick in multitasking is in knowing what’s really “multitaskable.” Doing two things simultaneously that both require the same kind of focus (like working on a spreadsheet and responding to emails) will end up taking you more time instead of less, since you’ll have to make constant adjustments as you’re switching back and forth. Similarly, writing a product brief may take you longer if you’re doing it while listening to a podcast, since the two tasks can use the same brain centers. But combining activities that don’t compete with each other can save you lots of time — hence the concept of walking meetings and under-desk bikes. “I strive to combine three things wherever possible,” says Kirthiga Reddy. “If I can walk the dog, get my steps in, and catch up with a friend or colleague all at once, that’s just about perfect.”
Outsource. It’s important to recognize when you need help. Finding other people to handle tasks such as cleaning, laundry, yard work, or childcare can free up more quality time for you to focus on work and family. “I understand that not everyone has the financial possibility to do this, but I try to outsource everything I can, besides love,” says LinkedIn Engineering VP Erica Lockheimer. “And so the more that I can get someone to do those tactical things (cooking, cleaning…), the more I can focus on spending quality time with my children.”
Get sleep. We’ve all experienced this firsthand, but it’s worth emphasizing: sacrificing sleep to get more done leaves you feeling unmotivated and unable to make good decisions. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep is directly related to daytime performance and productivity. Getting enough rest improves your ability to learn and solve problems. And when you’re sleep deprived, you take longer to complete tasks and make more mistakes. So staying up late to cram one more thing into your day could actually backfire, leaving you less productive during your prime daytime hours. Instead, prioritize getting enough rest.
Take breaks. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck on a task, take a break to recharge. A few minutes of stretching, deep breathing, or even just spacing out can help you feel more energized and focused. “What we’re learning is some of the same consolidation activities that happen in our brains when we’re asleep also occur when we rest,” says psychologist and clinical professor Samantha Artherholt. She explains that allowing yourself downtime with minimal stimuli helps you become more attentive, focused, and creative. It also lets your brain process new information you’ve learned and connect it to other ideas. You know how sometimes you forget the name of a person or thing and then it pops into your head when you’re doing something completely unrelated? Bingo.
Breaks are good for productivity. But if you’re concerned about either forgetting to take them or breaking for too long, then consider using a calendar or timer to help you stay on track. Which brings us to…
Use technology. There are so many productivity tools available that can help you stay sharp and organized. Besides your online calendar synced between your computer and mobile phone, apps like Trello, Evernote, and RescueTime can help you better manage your tasks and time.
One productivity app you may not think of, however, is your phone’s camera. Photos expand time by saving memories and allowing you to access and feel the related emotions later on. How is this a productivity hack? “Sometimes my schedule is so busy that I can only attend conferences or meetings for a short time,” says Kirthiga Reddy. “While I’m there, I take lots of photos. When I look at them later, I feel as good as if I’d been able to stay the whole time. It’s a time saver and a happiness multiplier.”
Nobody will ever tell you that juggling work, life and family is easy. But using these techniques could help you improve your focus, maximize efficiency, save time, and accomplish more. Got a productivity app or hack you swear by that’s not mentioned here? Let us know — we may even feature it in a future article.