What does productivity really mean? When do we feel like we’ve been productive? Does it mean doing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time?
To me, it’s more about achieving your short-term goals and completing daily tasks as needed. Sure, you can go on a cleaning spree and scrub that bathtub with a toothbrush for three hours straight, but it won’t make a difference if you did that same thing two days ago and haven’t, like, bathed an extremely filthy dog in it since. If I have a job to do and I finish it, I feel productive. If I sort through emails just for the heck of it - I don’t. The same goes for productivity tools: I like using them, not bragging about how many I have installed.
These are strange times we live in, and I’m not speaking about the coronavirus (more like ‘not ONLY about the coronavirus’). We’ve fallen into a downward spiral of productivity. Being busy has become a desirable state of mind. With the world on lockdown, it doesn’t seem to change. Needless to say, we literally have more time now than ever. Being stuck at home is an excellent reason for being productive, but-
You sensed there’s a ‘but,’ right?
It’s important to remember that we function in different capacities, especially now. What some call ‘productive,’ others see as ‘impossible to achieve.’ I’m not writing these words to judge you or make you feel guilty for not doing enough. We all live different lives: to some, the lockdown is a way to wind down, relax, have more energy, spend some quality time with close ones or themselves. Others may struggle. A lot of people are going through hard times right now. If you feel like a loser because you haven’t decluttered your life, deep-cleaned your entire house, learned three new languages and lost 10 pounds since the quarantine started - please don’t. It’s okay not to be okay right now.
But if you feel slightly bored or would like to improve your day by introducing new, healthy habits, go ahead and check out our list of handy tools!
Before You Try Tools For Productivity, Declutter Your Brain
I feel like the #1 thing that stops me from being productive is brain clutter. Like, how on Earth am I supposed to focus on writing an article if thousands of things I need to do later keep popping up in the back of my head?
It’s easy to get rid of all that brain mess and focus on what’s most important right this second. Take a notepad and a pen, then simply write down everything that’s on your mind and come back to that list when you have the time to tackle it. Actually, you can use it later as a base for the Getting Things Done method and boost your productivity again.
Make sure you reduce the distractions around you to an absolute minimum - apps like Forest, Distraction-Free Mode for Google Docs, or self-control plugin for Google Chrome will help you achieve the peace of mind. But that’s the part you’ve probably heard a million times already. Now that we’ve mentioned the obvious, I’d like to show you Productivity Tools Level Two. Jump on that train and follow me.
Act Now, Benefit In The Future
Studies show that boring, repetitive tasks cost businesses an average of 19 working days per year per employee. According to SmartSheet, nearly 60% of employees estimate that automating some of their routine tasks would save them at least six hours per week. That equals almost a full extra workday that could be spent on other, more innovative challenges like concept work.
No matter what your job is, you probably face repetitive tasks for at least some part of it. Manual synchronizing between documents, programs, or systems, sending the exact same email to each candidate during the recruitment process, moving your emails between folders… the list is never-ending here.
Repetitive tasks are not only dull and killing your enthusiasm - they’re actually bad for your brain and your mood. Trust me, you need that happy juice called dopamine in your life, and you can only get it from new, exciting challenges. Doesn’t it feel like you’re going nowhere with your life if your day feels like a production line?
Making a change here may not be the easiest thing to do, but trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll reap the benefits of this step for years from now on, both during the quarantine and later, at the office.
Productivity Tools: Assess What You Work With
To confront your routine and reduce mundane assignments, start by assessing what’s been eating your day. Wait, did I just ask you to sacrifice even more time?! How’s that supposed to help?!
You don’t need to put any time into this task, though. Apps like Timely allow for an advanced time-tracking that requires zero attention. Running it for a couple of days will help you establish your work patterns, decide on what kills your productivity, and where there’s room for improvement or automation. Then it’s time to choose tools that will help you achieve that goal.
The concept of Inbox Zero has been widely discussed, but I feel like few can really accomplish that (and keep it that way). Do you want to know the secret of mastering this art? It’s as simple as setting up labels that automatically prioritize your received emails based on sender or keywords. Your email provider should have that option available, but you can also improve this method by using tools like Astro and Boomerang. These AI engines learn your email habits and create response templates that look like written by an actual human being, not a robot.
By introducing these methods, you can have your emails assigned to specific folders without actually clicking a single button. To take this experience even further, try setting up rules for forwarding your inbox. Before I joined MPC, I spent years being somewhat of a messenger. Forwarding emails to my bosses, my colleagues, my employer’s clients or vendors was literally my whole workday. Using an app called IFTTT would have saved my life back then.
When Struggling, Apply Logic
IFTTT (If This, Then That) might be confusing at first, but it’s a game-changer, both when it comes to work-life and your private life! Let’s not jump to conclusions, though. Why is this system so grand?
Let’s go back to that emailing. Even if you’ve already set up keywords to prioritize or rules to sort your inbox into folders, handling your mails can still eat up quite a lot of time, especially if you have to frequently chase others to do their bit so you could do yours.
IFTTT helps you set up automatic patterns between different apps to reduce actions you need to perform manually. For instance, you can set up a reminder to follow up on an unanswered email as frequently as you wish to, or ask the app to automatically forward an email containing a specific keyword to someone else. If you work with email attachments a lot, set up a trigger to immediately copy an attachment to Dropbox, and then notify you on Slack.
For social media managers, apps like IFTTT can be a real revolution. How? Let me tell you a little story.
Imagine you’ve just set up an event on Facebook - let’s say it’s a workshop for entrepreneurs that’ll happen in a month and will require the attendees to bring some items with them and fill out an extra form before they show up. You don’t want to list that info on Facebook because you know no one will remember to do it unless poked. So, to save your time, you set up a rule to send an email to anyone who signs up for the event with all the details, then follow up a week before the event and again two days before (because you’ll provide lunch and need to know who fancies what). On top of that, IFTTT automatically copies the lunch orders to a spreadsheet, lets you know when everyone answered (or pokes you to chase them), and then reminds you to send the file to the caterer. Magic, right?
If you’re looking for other ideas for tasks to automate, check out this list of suggestions:
- keeping up with your business travel expenses by automatically putting all your business Uber rides in a spreadsheet;
- tracking the time you spend at certain places and copying it to a spreadsheet - this can be extremely helpful if you drive between clients and charge them basing on time spent with them;
- automatically putting up your social media posts on all platforms instead of cross-posting for hours;
- sending an email to your offshore team when your plane lands at the airport for that quarterly visit;
- creating a project at your selected platform when a client pays for it.
Remember when I said that it’s a game-changer when it comes to your private life as well? Setting up the rules in the app may take a bit of time, but when you think about all the tiny things you do throughout the day, they add up fast. Imagine receiving a weather forecast every day precisely the second you step out of the shower, ready to pick up the clothes for the day. Or having your phone send a message to your partner when you’re passing by the store. Or even better - having it notify your hotel when you leave the plane at your holiday destination and switch on the lights at your home at sunset to prevent burglary. IFTTT is a valuable tool for productivity outside your office hours as well.
Keep Your Productivity Up
I can’t help coming back to that emailing issue. After all, it’s one of the most tedious and repetitive tasks most of us have to handle daily.
We’ve already used productivity tools to sort that inbox into folders and set up rules for specific scenarios that save you tons of time, but we still need to write all these emails. Now, I wouldn’t trust AI enough to do this job for you (yet), but… there’s an app for that too!
Lintalist allows you to store ready, formatted, and interactive texts that you can even exchange with your team members. What’s more, it has extra features like hotkeys, full-text search, plugins, and scripts. It’s like a library of texts you use in your day to day tasks, from code snippets to ready-made email templates. Think of it as a magic wand for all that “hello, please find the invoice attached” and “hi, did you decide on the designs already, it’s been a year” talk.
Okay, but what to do with these emails that you actually have to write in real-time? These that tackle specific projects, explain specific things, etc.? Sure, there are times when you just have to sit down and actually write something. But don’t stretch your fingers just yet - read on to see what else you can simplify.
Show, Don’t Tell
We commit a lot of time to lengthy emails explaining complicated processes or discussing complex concepts. It can take quite a while to write all this down and edit - not to mention that the other person has to read it all, process, and write an answer as well. Don’t you feel like screaming when you write a five-page essay in an email only to see “okay” as an answer?
To reduce the chance for midday frustration, switch to advanced real-time communication with productivity tools like Miro and CloudApp. Miro creates interactive whiteboards you can use to discuss and establish processes and workflows, while CloudApp allows for easy screen sharing, images sending, and webcam recording. These tools will not only save you time - they’ll also improve your skills and make you look more professional.
Other tools you can consider to boost your productivity are:
- Pomodoro method (for extra customization, try web apps based on this tool like Marinara Timer)
- Loop – Habit Tracker for establishing good habits
Productivity Is King… Isn’t It?
It’s easy to download a bunch of productivity tools, write long to-do lists and schedule everything you can, but please, remember that the actual king of productivity is rest. It’s not only good for your eyes, back, and joints; it also helps your brain regenerate itself after being focused. Think of it as a stretch for your legs after a long run. Boredom is actually not such a bad thing either.
Remember all these goodnight stories you heard as a kid? Most of them were about a couple of kids who were bored one second and mischievous the other… Having nothing to do for a while can promote your creativity and inspire you to do great things, so remember to leave some time for that as well!
Once Again: Why You Should Use Productivity Tools To Enhance The Way You Work
I won’t be the first or the last person to say that the times are changing, and they’re hard right now. The crisis is upon us, which can mean that some of us will lose their work stability. Improving your work-organization skills and learning how to get more out of your day will always prove to be useful, either at your current workplace or anywhere else. COVID-19 will change the way we work, so getting to know a few tricks may be the key to land safely in that brave new world.