Productivity Tips

These tips were compiled at one of Better Together’s Business Mastery Salons in February. Participants paired up and discussed what promotes and hampers their productivity, then broke into groups and brainstormed their best tools and practices. While this list represents some of the best tips and tricks from that group, it might not work best for you! This post will help you think about how you can create conditions for productivity.

Small group breakout

What helps and hampers your productivity?

Take a moment and think back to times when you have felt very productive. Consider deeply the quality of those experiences. What activities, tools, or practices made those times feel good?

Write down a list of those things that promoted productivity in your life. Here’s a few examples from our group:

  • When my work benefits others
  • When I get rewards for my work
  • When I am proactive vs reactive 
  • When I set boundaries with my clients / coworkers / team
  • When I get “Energy from my Tribe” / coworkers / partner
  • When I get the big task done first thing in the morning, and the rest of the day is for smaller, easier tasks
  • When I set time parameters / time blocks for tasks / clients / meetings, etc
  • Having a routine / ritual 
  • For at-home workers / freelancers: 
    • Put on REAL Pants! 
    • Have a “faux commute” : Take a shower, put on real clothes, walk to your favorite coffee shop, come back and get to work
    • Go to a co-working space
    • Get out of your house and share ideas with others
    • Take real breaks: Watch your favorite show, read a book, eat lunch at your dining room table, take a break with your coworkers, talk about things that aren’t work, etc.

Now consider the shadow side of productivity, what blocks your productivity. Write down a list of these activities as something you should be aware of and avoid.

“Outer order, inner calm.”

Becoming mindful of these blocks to productivity will allow you to see them coming and avoid them. For instance if notifications often distract you, find ways to turn them off during focused productive time. If a messy desk makes you less productive you can create a ritual for cleaning your desk each morning.

Productivity Tools & Practices

We found that while there are many tools and apps out there to help with productivity many of our best tips were practices. For instance, leaving the house in the morning and walking around the block as a pretend commute back to your home office can be a powerful ritual that signals the start of the workday. This little ritual can be part of larger rituals around productivity.

Rituals are important

When we think of ritual we often think of something religious. I would like to flip that. You can be religious about your productivity. You can be devoted to a practice that promotes productivity. I would suggest starting small with something like making your bed each morning. Then as you practice and begin to master it try adding in new elements. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a walking break between tasks
  • Block off time in the morning to prioritize your intentions for the day
  • Close down all work related programs on your computer at the end of your work day and open them up when you are ready to begin work
  • Take time each week and/or month to set intentions
  • Take time each day/week/month to reflect on your intentions

These rituals become the scaffolding for routines that, for some, help promote productive behavior. Start small, try new things, and be kind to yourself as you experiment with what works.

Train your clients (and your apps)

Productivity often comes from periods of focused work time (somewhere between 25 and 50 minutes). Pouring your attention into a task and dropping into a flow state can be very productive.

Having clients (or anyone) pinging you at all hours, calling you up, messaging you across multiple devices will create distraction and limit your ability to drop into flow.

a yellow wall holds the flaking fragments of a painted on triangle containing a single exclamation mark.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Your first line of defense is to set boundaries and expectations with people you work with. This can be as simple as letting folks know that you will answer emails within 24 hours (giving you a day to reply to anything that appears). To more explicit expectations set in your contracts around working hours.

You can start this process by defining your working hours and holding yourself accountable to not read or respond to messages sent to you outside those times.

To help you hold these boundaries there are many apps and tools to disable notifications. Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Use your calendar’s “out-of-office” feature to prevent people from scheduling time with you during certain periods.
  • Set office hours in your Google Calendar
  • Use the do not disturb toggle on your phone
  • Close your inbox when focusing on other work
    • Choose a task and set a kitchen timer to fully focus on that task

I work with an organization called Cave Day who keeps an awesome list of tools for focus (if you want to try a remote cave, use code BETTERTOGETHER for 20% off).

Prioritize your tasks

No matter what you use to list your tasks you’ll want to prioritize them. Having a super long todo list is a great way to destroy your motivation. It will seem overwhelming.

Blocking out your tasks by the month, week, and day is one way to start limiting the sense of overwhelm. From there you can use a method brought up by a number of people in the meeting where you rank your tasks by importance and urgency. This method is sometimes called the Eisenhower Matrix and it looks like this:

What is critical (important) that needs to be done right now (urgent)? What is critical but can be done later? What is urgent but not very important? You might try and look back at your tasks for the last week and categorize them, then think of how you want to handle things as

Use the right tool for the job

Once you’ve examined what helps you be productive and started building ritual and rhythms around cultivating that you’ll have a better idea of the tools you need. Often when we jump straight to using tools we’ll find that we spend way more time maintaining a tool than the time it saves us.

A great example of this paradox is the Bullet Journal. When I first tried it out I immediately went on YouTube and found obsessed talented people who built complex and beautiful journals. Then I spent hours and hours crafting my own only to find that it didn’t work for me.

A really lovely journal with illustrated headings and great handwriting with a big red X over it. As if the author is trying to say, don't make your journal all nice and pretty!
No Estée Janssens of Unsplash, we don’t have time for this level of detail!

I sunk so much time setting it up without testing it. The next time around I gave myself permission to be sloppy and do what worked. Adding and subtracting things as they became more or less useful.

As you look at the tools, please be aware of this productivity paradox!

Feel free to read the raw notes from the meeting. Big thanks to Terra Jo Vigil and Amber Heavner for writing up these notes that became this post. Big thanks to everyone who participated and shared their wisdom.

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