Life is busy for all of us and everyone is trying to be as productive as possible. New apps are being introduced weekly and it can become a bit overwhelming to figure out which ones to use. In this article I cover a few apps and productivity hacks that have saved me time and helped me to focus better during the last year. I hope you will find my suggestions interesting.
Make the most of your morning
I personally find that I’m much more productive when I start my morning with an important high importance task, rather than getting sucked into the email and social media world. Usually I only glance over my inbox very briefly to ensure that there isn’t an emergency I need to deal with and then abandon it straight away. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn will have to wait until later in the day, I’m afraid!
Once you’ve got that high important task completed, you don’t only feel a great sense of achievement but you often realise that you’ve been putting it off for no particular reason and that it didn’t end up ruining your day, in fact the opposite- it energised you to get on with the rest of your day.
Set goals & plan your week
It’s a proven fact that when you plan your week and hold yourself accountable for achieving what you’ve set out to do, you are more likely to accomplish your tasks. I’ve introduced the 12 week year to keep myself on top of my goals. Whether you follow the principles of the 12 week year, which is meant to help you achieve as much in 12 weeks as you would in 12 months or you set yourself a 90 day challenge, doesn’t really matter. Important is that you take time out for working on the business and plan your goals for a set period and review those goals regularly in order to understand what may have been the cause for not achieving them. Usually I set myself about 3 professional goals and 1 or 2 personal goals. What I like about the 12 week year is that you review your progress each week, score your achievements and analyse where you are going wrong or experiencing pitfalls. Even if you don’t want to try it out, the book is still well worth a read, I find.
In order to stay on top of my task list I use a number of tools. I’ve been using Todoist for over a year now, after reading the Productivity Ninja but I am now considering to use Toodledo and I’m a bit torn between the two. Both are available as apps and can be synched across all your devices, they have email add ons, so you can create tasks directly from within your email client, which is quite a neat functionality. Which one I will use moving forward, is unclear but it’s definitely important to have one tool which contains your complete tasks list not only for work but also for your personal life.
Use the pomodoro technique
Ever since I introduced the pomodoro timer app into my life, I work in 25 minute sprints. If you get easily distracted, which often happens in agency environments or as a business owner, this is the way forward for you. Set a timer for 25 minutes and dive into your work. After 25 minutes you get a 5 minute break, after 4 pomodoros, you get a 15 minute break. I usually work through the 5 minute breaks, often 60 minutes are a more realistic timeframe for most of my tasks but breaking them up into 25 or 30 minute sprints, keeps you on top and gives you a sense of achievement. Other great apps are also Marinaratimer where you are able to custom set your timers. There is also the Pomodoneapp.com, which can be set up through Chrome extension.
Outsource the time sucking tasks
If your company isn’t big enough to employ a full time PA or office manager, don’t despair. There are many Virtual Assistant services out there that can help. I personally use Time etc.. A VA service that works straight from web browser or app. What I like about them, is that you can add your tasks on the fly and determine the time to be spent on each task. All VAs that I use are based in the US, which has benefits, as well as drawbacks. On the one hand they can work while you sleep but if you require further information or changes, you need to wait a lot longer. If you are looking for a more personalised service then you can get in touch with ValueAdd Business Solutions who are based in Glasgow. Not sure what you could outsource? Claire Mitchell of The Girls mean business has put together a handy guide of 45 items that you could outsource to a Virtual Assistant or Off your plate: Why you should hire a virtual assistant today by Karl Sakas. Check them out.
Find out what takes up too much of your time
Like everyone else I have quite often the feeling that I’ve been working a long day but haven’t really achieved much. Sound familiar? I wanted to find out where my time exactly goes and installed the Rescuetime on my laptop, which runs in the background and allows you to track time spent on applications like email, Word, Excel etc. and websites. You can also set up Rescue time on any other devices, such as tablets or mobile phones. The software runs reports, which even in the free version gives you a pretty detailed analysis of what applications you spend your time on. You can define sites and applications as “business” or “distracting”. The premium version then has advanced features, such as “focus time” where you set the amount of time you require full focus on a task, during that time the programme won’t allow access to your email or distracting websites like Facebook or Twitter. It was quite an eye opener and I realised that I spend far too much time on my email, which brings me to my next point.
Supercharge your Email
On a good day I receive between 200 and 300 emails, many of those I don’t have to action but at some point I started seeing my inbox grow to the thousands, which started giving me a sense of dread and it stressed me out just looking at my inbox. Therefore I introduced a few apps and techniques in order to aspire to the “Inbox Zero” heaven! The most important rule is to process your email on regular intervals per day. I usually check my email 3 times per day: once at mid-morning, in the afternoon and before I finish off in the evening. During those times, I “process” my emails, rather than reading them and leaving them sitting in the inbox. Let me explain quickly how to best process your mail:
- As a rule I reply to anything urgent.
- Any message that requires to be actioned, should be moved into an “action” folder, you can also tag it as a task within Todoist or Toodledo.
- Any emails that require no immediate action but for you to read, should be moved into a “read” folder.
- If I’m waiting for a response I put the email into a “waiting” folder or if I want to be reminded to get back to the person, I use Boomerang to have the email pinged back into my inbox after a specified time i.e. 1 week or if the person hasn’t responded within say 2 weeks. Boomerang has certainly great for this, without having to set reminders. The free version gives you 10 credits per month. The paid version is also reasonably priced at $4.99 per month.
This simple way of processing emails, has helped me get closer to an empty inbox and less stress. No-one likes to see emails piling up in their inbox, right? Another fantastic and Free tool is Unroll.me, which is a nifty tool that will detect any subscription that you’ve signed up to. You can easily unsubscribe via the tool and have one overview email containing all your subscriptions delivered to your inbox at a set time per day. You can also choose which subscriptions you would like to be added to your daily email, also referred to as “Rollup” or which ones you still prefer to be delivered straight into your inbox. It’s a great tool to minimise the level of emails reaching your inbox and also helps you to review all your subscriptions very quickly.
Last but not least
In our ever-changing digital world, it is important to review your own processes on a regular basis and try to adjust them according to your environment and what works for you.
What productivity hacks work for you? Do you use any apps that really make your life easier?
Photo credit: Maico Amorim