It’s 3 pm. The afternoon lull has well and truly set in. And you still haven’t finished that report due for midday.
Everyone, at some point, has trouble meeting deadlines. Whether it’s lack of organisation, loss of concentration or simply life getting in the way, work is the first thing to suffer a lapse in productivity. The key thing to remember is that the fixes are out there. Get on top of your workload and you’ll soon be reaping psychological as well as financial rewards.
Manage your time right
We all know the basics: break up your day, reduce big tasks to small, take regular breaks from work and hold yourself to deadlines.
The biggest weapon in your time management arsenal is, simply, making the effort to pre-plan your days. Says Jessica Greenwalt of Pixelkeet: “The productivity trick I've used that has made the biggest impact on my life is using lists. I've been using Google Calendar as my daily checklist. I fill up to eight hours of each work day on my Google Calendar with tasks, blocking off a minimum of 30 minutes for each one.
“Placing tasks on my calendar gives me a visual for what my day will be like and gives me concrete goals to accomplish. Limiting myself to eight hours of calendar time per day also forces me to focus on completing the most important tasks first.”
If you like a more colourful timetable in a specific app, there are plenty of options out there. Class Timetable, designed primarily for students but good for professionals too, can cover all your bases.
Keep track of tasks
Got a bunch of stuff to get done? The first step to juggling tasks is make a list of them. The sense of satisfaction you get from working your way down a list beats mindless, forgetful job bouncing by a mile.
A well-known, tried and tested app, Wunderlist is the share port of call for those in need of optimised list-making. This app allows you to share your lists with collaborators and set customisable reminders/due dates. What’s more, you can access your to-dos from pretty much anywhere, whether it be tablet, phone, desktop or watch.
Sound too dull? True adventurers can inject some danger into their to-do lists with Epic Win, a list app that buys fully into the gamification trend. The spiel promises that “each task completed is destroyed by your avatar, so get your Undead Warrior to beat-up your laundry, or your Treeman to headbutt your overspilling inbox.” Winning.
Break it up
We all know that working eight hours straight is, for more, a futile effort. Most people work best in short, focused bursts - a method popularised by the famous ‘Pomodoro Technique’. If you think this kind of approach sounds good for you, try an app like Be Focused Pro, which breaks up individual tasks into discrete intervals, optimising lengths for peak concentration.
Need more of a boost? A cute alternative pomodoro app is Forest. At the start of every self-imposed work interval, you plant a seed. Over the next half hour, your seed gradually grows into a lovely tree. When you’ve completed your ‘pomodoro’, your tree gets planted in a forest that you can admire – proof of your focus and hard work.
How you spend your breaks between tasks is almost as important as the tasks themselves. Take time out to stretch your legs. Alternatively, do absolutely nothing with the website Do Nothing For Two Minutes. Try it – it’s harder than it sounds!
In this modern world of screen-watchers, net-surfers and open plan offices, it’s near impossible to do twenty minutes’ work without something distracting you.
If your issue is time spent on social media, news sites or other unproductive corners of the web, the fix is simple: get a browser blocker. From Chrome Nanny to Stay Focusd, there’s something for every platform. Simply set the number of hours you’re allowed to waste on certain sites a day, and your blockers will do the rest, blocking you from your time-thieves.
If you’re a writer and even Chrome Nanny can’t solve your distraction problems, you need to go drastic. Get yourself WriteRoom. This take-no-prisoners download temporarily eliminates your entire computer desktop – toolbar, email and yes, even Microsoft Word – leaving you the barest minimum of requirements: a simple, old school text edit interface. If getting words on a page is your priority, this is perfect.
The jury’s out as to whether music helps or hinders concentration. For many, background noise can help their motivation skyrocket, tuning them into whatever task lies before them; that’s why coffee shops work so well for so many. But hitting the right balance between ‘zen’ and ‘distracting’ can be hard.
This is where Focus@Will comes in. The claim is that, by careful linking of tracks and unique sounds, the app can construct playlists to actually boost your productivity.
Does it work? “First,” reads the site, “the results of an EEG (electroencephalographic) or “brainwave” study show that focus@will audio tracks tune people’s brains to frequencies associated with sustained, task-focused attention and thought (read the study results). Second, we see a greater than 200-400% increase in focus time with focus@will, based on a survey of 22,000 of our most active users… We ask our users to rate their productivity during each session, and we’ve found that the average productivity in a one-hour focus@will session is 75% – this is far above the productivity most people report in an hour without focus@will.”
Whether it’s music, shareable lists, timetables or simply doing nothing, there are plenty of technological aides to help boost your productivity – and, in most cases, they’re absolutely free! The best way to see what works for you? Download a few and get testing. You’ve nothing to lose and a lot of time to gain.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.