We’ve all had this thought when a deadline approaches— I’ll be more productive tomorrow and manage time better. But then, tomorrow comes around and email, distractions, and ad hoc work just derail your perfectly planned workday. 

Some of the most productive and successful people have established rules to help them work more efficiently.

In this article, we’ve listed 20 productivity tips that can help you build smart habits, rules, and techniques to manage your time better and work in a more focused manner. Pick up the productivity hacks that work for you from the 20 listed below and make 2021 the year of productivity!

1. Use an app for your to-dos 

Put your smartphone to good use by getting a task management app that helps you keep track of all your tasks. Apps like Todoist and Microsoft To-Do allow you to add your tasks with due dates that remind you of upcoming deadlines. With a to-do app, you can add newer tasks on the go.

2. Prioritize tasks with an Eisenhower matrix

If you have too many tasks on your plate, you may be confused about which one to start with. This is where the Eisenhower matrix helps. Separate your tasks based on 4 characteristics

  1. Urgent and important: tasks you need to do immediately
  2. Important, but not urgent: tasks you can schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important: tasks you can delegate to someone else
  4. Neither urgent nor important: tasks that you can eliminate

With this system, you can immediately identify tasks by importance and get through them without missing deadlines.

3. Consistently track tasks with a bullet journal

For people who get easily distracted by their smartphones, an app isn’t the best idea for your to-do list. Bullet journals are a fun way to create your own task management system. People who manage their tasks on a bullet journal have their own task pages, based on their preference. Many people who practice bullet journals first create a master task list where any small or new tasks can be added for quick reference later. This way, you don’t forget about these tasks. The best part about a bullet journal is that you can customize the pages according to your own preference, whether you want to add monthly goals, fitness tracker, and more.

Read about how you can craft a to-do list on your bullet journal.

4. Break large tasks into smaller ones

If you have a task that seems impossible to finish, you will be able to make better progress with it by breaking it into smaller tasks and tackle it one small portion at a time. Your task would have different parts or steps that you can do separately. Add due dates to each of these smaller tasks and make progress within the timeline you’ve set without overwhelming yourself.

5. Do the task you dread first 

You know that massive tasks on your list that you want to put off till the end of the day? You may be better off finishing it first thing in the morning. By working on the worst task on your list, you can face the rest of the day with less pressure. The worst task, in this case, is the most important or the most daunting task for you.

6. Batch routine tasks

Time batching is a smart productivity system where you group similar tasks like emails and calls within a dedicated time period so that you don’t have to come back to them later. Batch your routine tasks like calls, emails, or updating spreadsheets for one time of the day, ideally in the afternoons when you feel lethargic. By doing this, you can attend to any emails or calls you missed while you were focused on the work in front of you.  

7. Use the 1-3-5 rule 

You may have 10 tasks on your plate but let’s be realistic— you can’t finish all 10 in one day. There’s just not enough time in the day! Instead, use the 1-3-5 rule. When setting your to-do list for the day, plan to get 1 large task, 3 medium-sized tasks, and 5 small tasks done every day. This way, you have a realistic target for the day and aren’t cramming your day with more tasks than you can handle.

8. Make your weekly task list on Sunday

Starting your Monday mornings by creating your task list is a waste of energy. Instead, list down your tasks for the week on Sunday evening so that you have an idea of what your upcoming week looks like and be well prepared to tackle it. This way, you can start your Monday by working on a task, putting your morning energy to good use.

9. Block distracting apps during the week

If you easily get distracted by social media or your media website, set up an app to block these apps and websites during your work hours. Such apps let you block certain apps and websites during a specific time period, say from 9am to 6pm. Some of these app blockers also let you set restrictions based on the WiFi you are connected to. This way, once your device connects to your work WiFi, you are immediately blocked from distractions.

10. Use time tracker to stay accountable

Having a system that shows you how you spend your time can be eye-opening, enforcing you to change your habits. Set up time tracker within your communication platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams where you can check-in when you start work and out when you step away. This way, you can clearly see hours where you aren’t working and understand your high and low hours. Apps like AttendanceBot work within your communication app, simplifying your time tracking habit and allowing you to see the total time you spent working within a day, week, or even month.

A time tracker is also a great way for managers to see how their employees are spending their work hours, ensuring there isn’t any time wasted during work. With a time tracker, there is no need for constant monitoring and it allows you to keep your employees accountable even when they are working remotely.

Read more about time tracking techniques and how you can get started with one right within your communication software.

11. Pomodoro technique 

If you need a system that manages your time for you, use the Pomodoro Technique. This technique breaks down your work time into intervals of 25 minutes with short breaks of 5 minutes in between. The urgency that the Pomodoro Technique instills urges you to work faster, helping you stay productive and get work done faster.

Pomodoro apps on your smartphone can even snooze notifications and block apps from being opened, ensuring you aren’t distracted.

12. Use mornings for heavier tasks 

Mornings are high energy hours for most people. It’s important that you make the most of this time by putting your social media scrolling away and dive straight into your tougher or larger tasks. 

If you aren’t a morning person though, you can start with smaller, 2-minute tasks and work on the heavier tasks when you are at your peak. Identify your high energy hours within a day, whether it’s late at night, in the evenings, or right after lunch and block those hours for deep work.

13. Focus on 1 thing at a time

Multitasking is no one’s productivity secret. In fact, it is proven that multitasking can slow you down, which means that you aren’t managing your time well. Instead, when you start a task, work on it within the time you’ve blocked for the task. Ideally, it’s best to finish the task you have in progress before you start the next one. As simple as this productivity tip is, focusing on one task at a time will speed you up, helping you manage your time efficiently.

14. Snooze your notifications

Switching off your notifications— email, your smartphone, and even Slack— can allow you to focus more on work. Without the constant buzzing, you are less likely to be distracted and you’ll reach for your phone less, getting more done during the day.

Instead, set aside a few minutes twice a day, during lunch hour and at the end of the workday to go through all the messages and reply back. You can also set up Slack notifications in a way that you get notified only when someone mentions your name or uses the word “urgent”.

15. Say no to the small stuff

Sometimes, to ensure you’re more productive, you have to pass up on work in the first place. By saying no to tasks that you can’t accommodate or ones that can be delegated, you can focus better on the tasks you already have and not feel pressed for time.

16. Block out the noise with headphones

If you work in a noisy environment, a pair of headphones can help you pick up pace. Wearing a pair of headphones also lets you get work done without the noisy office breaking your flow of thought. Although it may not keep all interruptions away, people will also be less likely to disturb you with unimportant work/questions if you are wearing headphones.

Many people are re-energized when they are working in a busy environment, with people moving around. If you are someone who gets distracted by people moving around, you can always opt to sit in less happening areas. Book out a conference room or find a corner to help you get through your work.

17. Minimize meetings

Meetings are time wasters. Often times, meetings are called to discuss small changes or decisions that can just be made over Slack or on call. Minimize the number of meetings you have by asking the person who called the meeting whether the discussion can be had on Slack or over a call. By reducing the number of meetings you have, you can spend more time getting work done and less time discussing it. 

Additionally, when you do schedule meetings, make sure that it is short, has an agenda set already and that during the meeting, everyone sticks to the topic at hand. Many companies practice standing meetings, where attendees stand during the meeting. Having to stand creates discomfort and participants are forced to keep the meeting short.

18. Block out time on Google Calendar

Use your Calendar to your advantage. Since everyone has access to your Calendar, you can establish hours where you do not entertain meetings, calls, or even interruptions. Block out your high energy hours on your Google Calendar so that anyone who wants to have a chat with you can quickly look at your schedule and plan to approach you during your low hours. 

You can also set your out-of-work hours so that you can aren’t disturbed with work-related calls and tasks when you are away from work.

19. Reset with a break

If you feel stuck with a task, stressed, or unproductive, a break might just help you reset. Get away from your desk for an hour so that you can come back with a clear mind to tackle the tasks on your plate. Use that break to take a walk, get a workout in, or read a book. What’s more, you shouldn’t just take breaks when you’re pushed to take one. Ensure that you’ve scheduled at least 2 breaks within your workday to help you recenter and give your brain the much-needed time before the next task.

20. Set personal deadlines

Your manager or supervisor would set a deadline for when the task they’ve assigned to you should be handed over. To avoid rushing right before the deadline, it’s best to set a personal deadline, a day before the actual deadline, A personal deadline allows you to finish the task with enough time to review your work before handing over.

Despite all these productivity tips, it’s important that you remember that getting more things done during your work hours starts with just sitting down and getting started. When feeling demotivated, taking a break can help but don’t let a lack of motivation stop you from even trying to make progress on your tasks. Sometimes, you’d find that just starting the task can help you gather the motivation you needed.

We hope these productivity tips help you manage your time smartly in 2021.