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5 Ways To Increase Productivity & Focus: Plan It, Time It, Isolate, Enjoy, & Flex!

Everybody goes through phases – sometimes you can work efficiently, you feel like you’re getting places, you’re achieving things and having ideas. And sometimes there isn’t enough coffee in the world, you get distracted, you feel like your task list is multiplying even as you stare at it… those are the times to implement some really simple techniques for being productive.

Whether you’re out of internal self-discipline or you’re already feeling productive and you want to capitalise on it, you may find these suggestions useful:

1. Have A Plan, And Make It Achievable

These two things will only work together. Set yourself up to succeed, not fail, and then plan how you are going to get to that success. There is nothing more motivating than being able to look at your plan and see the certainty that by the end of a set period of time you will have achieved something that will make you feel good.

Depending on your kind of work, you may find it suitable to have a plan for the following day, or for the whole following week. I tend to deal with a lot of little tasks every day and have to react to support issues and client requests, so a daily plan suits me best.

~~ Use the last ten minutes in your day, or 45 minutes in your week, to plan for the next day or week ahead. Doing it the day before gives you a chance to relax in the knowledge that tomorrow is in-hand and will be organised and successful. It also gives you mind time to mull the plan over, and will actually make it easier to stick to when you come to carry it out.

~~ Build in a nice wide margin for overrunning on tasks. Make it stupidly large at first. You will be surprised at how much you can still fit into your plan, and the aim is to get to the end of the day unrushed and with some spare time to use, which will really feel luxurious. As you work out how long things take you, you can reduce the margin a little in future plans, but always make it fairly generous.

~~ Build in specific gaps for reacting to issues that arise on the day. I leave a gap in the afternoon for email responses, tech support, anything that cannot wait another day but didn’t need to be dealt with exactly the second it occurred.

~~ Stick to your plan. Use your plan to support you if you have difficulty saying no to people – remember you are simply rescheduling them for another day, and maybe even keep a small note of things to put onto tomorrow’s plan. Depending on how your office works you may even find it beneficial to share your plan with your colleagues – at my workplace we operate a morning meeting where everyone briefly outlines their plans for the day, and it helps everyone to keep on track and avoid interrupting colleagues with things that could wait and be dealt with more efficiently at another time.

2. Identify The Time Of Day You Are Most Effective

Most people find they suit a specific time of day. When do you feel fresh, ready to dig into your work, or at the very least less likely to run away flailing and screaming?

If you find mornings are your most productive time, ensure that you plan any work requiring strategic thought, planning or particular coherence for those times. You have to be disciplined yes, but being aware of what works best for you and working with that is even more effective.

3. Isolate Yourself Once In A While

Add to your current task the live alerts from your email program and Twitter feed, Facebook notifications, blog comment notifications, phone calls and interruptions from colleagues, and it’s surprising any of us can focus on anything for more than two seconds.

So choose appropriate periods of time to close your email program and alert software, notify your colleagues or receptionist that you are unavailable for calls or discussion, and focus on the task at hand.

Remember that other people have plans for their day too, so inform everyone that might need to know when you are going to be unavailable, and let them know when you will be accessible again. If you’re a morning or evening person these periods of isolation could more easily be done at those times, when your colleagues are not in the office and clients do not expect to be able to get hold of you.

4. Enjoy Yourself Once In A While

If your tasks are often three hours or longer of the same work – don’t wait for your attention to wander, build in little breathers.

If you are finding it particularly hard to motivate yourself to do something, build in specifically timed breaks during which you allow yourself to do something you would enjoy, such as stop for some food, take a two-minute walk, listen to one track of music you love, talk to your colleagues… anything short that will refresh you, and give you something to aim for.

Working without short-term goals can be pretty demoralising, so make markers along the way to look forward to, and to remind yourself that you have made progress.

5. Don’t Die By The Plan!

Be flexible. If you isolation is interrupted by something urgent, if your plan goes awry due to an unexpected emergency, DON’T PANIC! as the Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy wisely advised. Just deal with the issue, take a breath, regroup and get back to kicking-ass. You might decide to rewrite your plan to take account of what happened, or you might not feel the need and just start afresh from the next day’s plan.

And on days or weeks or months when you feel you don’t need a plan, dedicated focusing time or timetabled breathers, don’t bother with them. I come back to these strategies only when I want to, or know I need to, in order to get work done, achieve my targets and feel great at the end of the day.

About The Author: Camilla Todd manages Search Engine Optimisation, social media campaigns and brand awareness for WNW Design SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at camilla@wnwdesign.co.uk or phone on 01395 542569. You can also follow WNW Design on Facebook here.

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