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How To Boost Your Productivity & Get Sh*t Done

emmabostian profile image Emma Bostian ✨ ・5 min read

I'm often asked how I am able to juggle so many tasks at once, and get a lot of things done. Productivity is a skill that can be learned and while it may appear easy, it's much more difficult to practice than one might think. Below are some of the tips & tricks I use to prioritize my commitments and tasks.

As a general note, I still have days where I break down and realize I have too much to do and too many commitments to honor. Just because you practice productivity in your life doesn't mean everything will be rainbows and butterflies from day one. But practicing these tips will help you to maximize the quality of effort you put into your tasks and ultimately improve productivity.

Turn Off Notifications

Only 2% of humans can multitask effectively. So unless you're one of the 2%, it's probably a good idea to cut that bad habit.

We don't realize how damaging multitasking can be to our workflows, because it seems harmless but it can have adverse effects.

When you try to focus on more than one task at a time, you can lose about 40% of your productivity. That's a lot of wasted time and effort!

But we live in a day and age where multitasking is almost ingrained into our workflows; text notifications, Slack messages, new email alerts, you name it. We multitask and it's bad.

Before starting a task, I set my computer and phone to "Do Not Disturb" (DND) mode and quit Slack, iMessage, and WhatsApp. I have also permanently disabled real-time notifications to my phone (either turned off completely or in DND mode) which prevents context-switching.

My friend Jason has an excellent talk on "How I Cut My Working Hours In Half & Managed To Get More Done." I highly recommend you go watch it; he's extremely entertaining and the talk is filled with riveting information and tips!

Make A To Do List

This sounds like an obvious tip, yet to do lists are an invaluable tool for prioritizing work.

I have several to do lists: a long-term list, a short-term list, and a daily list. This way, I never lose track of items, but am focused on the tasks which are immediately relevant to me.

I personally like to handwrite my daily list, because there's nothing better than physically checking off a box. But there are many great tools out there to help you remember your tasks.

I have leaned towards the Mac Reminders app due to its convenience, but am now looking in to other fun tools for prioritizing my lists. Here are a couple I recommend.

Notion is one of my new favorite apps because of its incredible robustness. You can take notes, make to do lists, create calendars, and more! The power is incredible. There is a bit of overhead to learning all of the functionalities but from what I've seen so far, it's truly a winner.

Google Keep is another popular one. Although this is more of a note-taking app, you can definitely use it for a to do list. The interface is super clean and easy to use. Plus you can download the app to your smartphone for cross-device syncing.

Start With The Hardest/Most Important Task

We have a finite amount of willpower, and once it's gone, you probably won't get another rush of it until the next day. So it's important to leverage your willpower to focus on the hardest, or most important, task first.

If you spend all of your willpower answering emails and Slack messages, you're going to have a hard time being productive on your important tasks.

We forget that we use willpower in other areas of our lives as well such as avoiding that piece of cake for your colleague's birthday, so use it while you have it!

Take Care Of Yourself

If you're not healthy, mentally or physically, you'll have a hard time being (and staying) productive. It's important to make time to care for yourself.

I always try to take an hour or two at the end of the day away from my devices (which let's be real is a struggle) to focus on things that make me happy, like reading a book.

We forget that mental health greatly impacts our ability to function, and it's not something that should be taken for granted.

Find a hobby which brings you joy and allows you to decompress from all of the hard work you've completed during the day. Force yourself to disconnect. I promise, the time spent relaxing will have a positive effect on your productivity.

Keep An Agenda/Calendar

I love keeping an agenda, both physical and digital, this way I never forget about important tasks.

As soon as I make an appointment or commit to something, I write it down. This may seem trivial, but starting the week off knowing the commitments I have on certain days allows me to plan out my tasks better. For example, if I know I have a JavaScript meetup on Thursday, I'll probably go easier on myself during the day in terms of workload. Versus a day I don't have any plans I can push myself a bit harder.

Theme Your Days

I try to designate specific days of the week to specific projects. For example, I try to work on Coding Coach, my open source project, Monday Wednesday, and Friday. Then, maybe spend Tuesdays and Thursdays creating Egghead courses. I also enjoy using my lunch breaks on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays to take a German course.

By theming your days, you cut down on context-switching which boosts your concentration.

And while this method isn't feasible for every week, it's a good schedule to abide by.

Time Box Your Tasks

I'm the person who, when I don't time box my tasks, will spend hours going on and on without making progress. Thus, I always make an effort to time box my tasks to 30 or 45 minutes (depending on the task).

When I know I have a finite amount of time to work on something, the quality of my work is much more focused. Thus, by spending less time on a task, I actually produce better work.

Many people use the Pomodoro Technique which is great! Typically this involves breaking working sessions into about 25 minute intervals with short breaks between.

I personally find 25 minutes a bit too short, so I aim for 45 minutes. I find that after this time block my concentration starts to waver, so taking breaks is really valuable to reset your mind.

De-Clutter Your Workspace

This tip may not be for everyone, but I'm the type of person who can't concentrate if my physical and digital work spaces are cluttered. After each task, I try to close all browser tabs and reset my environment. This way I start each new task with a blank canvas.

If you're able to work with 120 browser tabs and a zillion folders on your desktop, all the power to you! But I personally like to have only the task-relevant information available.

Conclusion

I hope some of these tips were useful. Try them out and see how much your productivity increases! I guarantee there will be an improvement to the quality & quantity of your work!

Discussion (51)

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parshirahul profile image
Rahul Parshi
Start With The Hardest/Most Important Task

I personally start with the easiest/Most important task. The joy of completing a task will increase my will power. So that i can start the hard one easily

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ogrotten profile image
ogrotten

Not only that, bulldozing thru a stack of todos is insanely satisfying. It's like getting a flywheel up to top speed that helps you power thru the 1 or 2 more intensive tasks.

After spending the morning bustin out a 12 long todo list, I have all the energy to work solid on that 1 thing for the afternoon. If I did it the other way, I'm super distracted in the afternoon, looking at dev and reddit between tasks and not finishing the stack of todos.

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mmeyers00 profile image
mmeyers00 • Edited

If you're able to work with 120 browser tabs and a zillion folders on your desktop, all the power to you! But I personally like to have only the task-relevant information available.

I think the same way. Sometimes my co-workers look at me weird when they see I only have 4 tabs open in my browser and they literally have 40 tabs opened from last week!!! Not only will this hamper my productivity in terms of mentally, it will also slow down my computer 🤔

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Tyler V. (he/him)

I shut down my computer every night (work and personal) and there's no better feeling than starting fresh each day.

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mmeyers00 profile image
mmeyers00

Yes!! This is something I recently started to do at work. I used to just let my computer sleep when I leave work and come back in the morning and resume (Weekends I would let it hibernate). It would usually be fine that is until a few days later the computer gets slow presumably because of memory build up. Even if it happens once or twice in the week it would kill productivity - my computer should NEVER be slow! So I decided "what the heck, I'll just create a scheduled task to restart my computer every morning BEFORE I come to work" (sorry folks I'm on Windows and using Vagrant Linux - and Docker if necessary, for development) and it's worked wonders!!!

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Antonin Januska

I used to hate when I accidentally did that but these days, I enjoy it. I'm ok with the extra overhead of having to open all the apps, spin up docker, and whatever else. :)

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Utkarsh Talwar

...40? HOW? I start feeling stressed after 10! 😰

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emmabostian profile image
Emma Bostian ✨ Author

I’m sorry but I don’t agree with some of these. Shutting down your laptop won’t save you a lot of time. Hiring a person to do and manage your work? That’s not productivity that’s giving up your responsibilities. If something is loading on your screen and you start doing something else, that’s multitasking and will break your productivity.

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edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

Interesting, I didn't know that only 2% of people could effectively multitask. I'll have to consider that when I evaluate people.

Nonetheless, as a multitasker, I still do everything on this list.

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nguyenquangtin profile image
Tony Tin Nguyen

Thank you for yours tips, Emma. 👍

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parshirahul profile image
Rahul Parshi • Edited

Nice tips and one more tip which boosts my productivity
Drink a lot of water (liitle bit tea or coffee) while working, it refreshes your brain.

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Rob Record

Careful, the caffeine in tea and especially coffee can have the reverse effect because it takes a long time to leave the body, disallowing your body to rest properly at night, which robs you of energy in the long term. If you're after hydration - which is certainly energy-giving, pure water is the best!

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parshirahul profile image
Rahul Parshi • Edited

Yes I don't drink tea and rarely I will drink coffee usually I will drink a lot of water.

Modified the previous comment also😀

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nic0demus profile image
Ni-c0de-mus

Not always rainbows and butterflies??? NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! ;o)

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Noorullah Ahmadzai

Thanks Emma, Enjoyed Reading it.
Sometimes I think I should start blogging too Lol

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Simone Seagle

Great points! I use hand-written to-do lists too.

One thing- if you have a ton of browser tabs, you might try looking at a tab manager like Toby. I love it! They're like better bookmarks that I can organize by project.

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L-K-Mist

Yip, Toby saves me from Open Tab Overload too!

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Lauren

I love the "theme your days" tip! It made me realize I've been stuck in this rut of trying to do a little bit of everything every day, which results in not much progress being made in any category. Some serious schedule reworking is in my future, thanks!

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Benjamin Stigsen

I rarely have more than 8 tabs open because it's frustrating to navigate through them, and not being able to see the title on some of them stresses me out. I also rarely have several projects loaded in Sublime Text unless I need to look at some previous ones for reference. As a todo list I use WorkFlowy, it just seemed to meet my needs the best without having functionality I don't use.

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Corey McCarty

These tips are great. I would like to add that todo lists meet agendas in a bullet journal. Hobbies are great, and if you can find things that incorporate some hobby enjoyment into your ritual then it forces you to unwind in that ritual. I personally took up wetshaving over disposable/cartridge razors; podcasts during my commute, mechanical keyboard and upgraded mouse for work as well as a monitor stand to hole my two smaller monitors one over the other.

make your routine enjoyable.

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Troy

I do believe that if everyone in the world followed these principles there would already be a cure for cancer. However, I'm not all this disciplined myself. Suppose that leaves me room to grow? Explained in a nice concise manner, thank you! (I've already eliminated most notifications, annoying buggers.)

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Ali Sherief

Before doing it like that I've once crossed 800 tabs open...

Nice! I usually average 250 tabs open (my PC has 8GB RAM). Most of them are not loaded and are just thumbnails. I have lots of DEV posts and other pages I want to read.

Here's a tip: When you open Chrome, it will load all of your tabs at once which will deplete all of your memory. If you open Firefox and it restores your session, it won't load any tabs unless you click on them which is very, very handy and memory saving.

Also I'm the kind of guy who forgets to read his email sometimes.

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Cesar Mostacero

Thanks for the tips!
In my opinion, ToDo list (combined with discipline to review and complete it) is the most important one. Most of the times we have a lot of small-medium tasks and is difficult to have everything in the head without forget at least one of those.

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Vince Ramces Oliveros

The hardest part of productivity is something you don't even know when/where to start.

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dafin profile image
darrie

Make A To Do List
This sounds like an obvious tip, yet to do lists are an invaluable tool for prioritizing work.

This is true and yet the hardest part of them all. Prioritizing work is the most difficult part. I use to handwrite them down on post-it and stick them on my desk. But things get lost easily. Now, I use online to do list app to help me organize work and personal task. I use Todoist and Quire. Todoist is more for my personal task. Quire is great for work assignments and project management. Quire is an excellent tool for organizingprojects. You can add each individual task and also include sub-task.

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Charles Douglas-Osborn

Love it! I always struggle with the workspace because I love postit notes!

Some other useful similar tools:
Sunsama (sunsama.com): Calendar and Task tool, makes planning your day much easier
Haystack (haystackapps.com): Makes finding documents and moving between tasks much faster
Veamly: (veamly.com): Great for communication reach roles by adding in the Pomodoro and reducing notifications.

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John Alcher

I personally still use a good old pen and paper planner for my daily todo lists. Nothing beats the satisfaction of checking off lists with a pen!

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Andrew Grothe

Interesting indeed. I've come to some of the same conclusions over the past few months. A daily written todo list is very powerful. A finite amount of willpower is so true. I now try to schedule all meetings for afternoons when I've run out of steam and block my mornings for getting stuff done.

I've also found the pomodoro really good. I don't like setting a timer, but anytime my concentration starts to wander I take a short break and return with more focus.

Something I've also found useful is deliberate context switches. If I'm not getting anywhere on a coding task, I'll get some document reviews out of the way, or vice versa. Something about a completely unrelated task helps with a reset.

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Gavin Fernandes

I use notion too! it's pretty amazing isn't it. I also use Microsoft Project for project management (doesn't work on Linux ugh) and can't seem to find an alternative to it that's right for me though.

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Gabriel Guzman

Great advice, thanks!

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stue

Wow thank you, this is great. I usually have a hard time but I'm going to follow this from now on.

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Jason C. McDonald

Great tips! I especially like the "theming" idea. That might help me organize some unpredictable bits of my schedule.

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Alex Pliutau

Hi Emma, how do you combine lunch and German class, is it a real offline class or do you mean using some sort of app during the lunch? Interested, because it would be nice for me as well :)

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Andrew W.

Awesome advice thank you! I should print this out and put them on my wall.
Here I am getting distracted. Ok back to work!

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dreis0

Very cool! Loved the day themes tip

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Mohammad Fazel

Awesome article, continue this great work Emma!

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Shubhashish Dixit

800 tabs?! what were you working on?

thisisshub profile image
Shubhashish Dixit

Gift me your RAM? :)

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ogrotten

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