6 Productivity Hacks to Prevent Overworking
Welcome back to the second blog post in this month's theme of productivity. Make sure to check out my last blog post on the theme as I chatted about how toxic productivity culture has intensified over the past year creating more problems than I assume it intended to solve. As I don't believe that people need to overwork constantly to achieve the same results, I'm going to share with you some tips that may be handy to ensure that you get your work done efficiently and prevent burnout. I would never lie and say that I never procrastinate or waste time when I'm supposed to be working, it's expected! However, I can say that using the tips outlined below has minimised the time wasted so that I can spend more time relaxing and recuperating.
1. Invest in a planner
As always, planning is the key to doing anything in life. Without a plan, you have no direction and you're more likely to forget to do something or not allocate and dedicate the appropriate amount of time to a particular task. I have used both physical and digital planners and both work just as well. You want a planner that gives you full visibility of a calendar and a 'notes' section so that you can write to do lists and important events on a specific date.
How to use a planner properly:
Begin by inputting any upcoming deadlines in your planner, if you use a digital one, make sure to set an alert a day before or on the day so that you don't forget.
Begin to plan your week in advance based on the week you've just had and any upcoming deadlines so that you know what you need to focus on. Write down high-level tasks you need to complete by the end of the week on a scrap piece of paper.
Plan each day either at the end of the previous day or at the beginning of the day. Give yourself realistic to do lists. Instead of writing 'Do project X', give yourself specific tasks for that project, so that you have 'Contact Jane about …' or 'Complete sections 2 & 3 of module 1'. This way you can actually tick off completed tasks instead of it feeling like you haven't achieved anything. Also, you begin to become aware of how long a task might take you so that you're more prepared in the future.
Tick/mark off completed tasks and if there are any left over, this will inform how you plan your next day.
I normally purchase my physical planners from Paperchase and I recommend Microsoft To Do's digital planner.
2. The Pomodoro Technique
This technique changed the game for me back when I was studying for my exams in undergrad and writing up my dissertations. Most people struggle to focus for extended periods of time so the pomodoro technique helps you combat procrastination by enabling you to manage your time in working/break intervals. For example, if you set a 25 minute timer, you should be focussed on work during this time and when the timer goes off, you should take a 5 min break and then repeat.
When I'm doing computer work, I use the Flora app and set different timers for different tasks depending on what task is at hand. For example, I set 15-30 minutes to plan my day/week and then block my time for around 45 min stretches. When the timer is on, my phone can't be used, so I'm minimising distractions whilst being aware of how long I am spending on a task. I normally do 45 mins work with 15 mins rest, twice over and then have a longer break to eat and stretch etc. The pomodoro technique is also an excellent way to allow you to plan your day/to do lists. By allocating times to each task, you can ensure that you have enough time in the day to complete your set tasks, along with breaks, time for lunch and exercise.
3. Schedule breaks/rest times
Make sure you take your breaks! It's so important to give your mind time to relax and de-stress. If you've ever been working on a project and cannot solve an issue/see the wood from the trees, that's your mind way of telling you that you need a break. I often find that after a break or time away from a problem, I come back fresher than before and I'm in a much better position to solve it quicker.
Rest is essential and the only way to make sure you're not burnt out to start a new week.
4. Plan something fun in the future
I try to plan something fun at the end of each week that will allow me to really switch off work mode. Whether it's seeing friends and family or sleeping in and spending the whole day in bed watching TV, it's so important to have something to look forward to. I really struggled when I couldn't do this as freely during lockdown which definitely led to me overworking.
Think of it as a treat for your hard work and try to not re-arrange your plans, cancel seeing your friends and family due to work, unless you really have to. I find that if I have something scheduled then it pushes me to finish my work on time so that I can actually enjoy my time off guilt free.
5. Write down ideas in your phone's notes section
This is an amazing tip for anyone, but especially creatives. Sometimes 'creative days' are extremely unproductive and it is so hard to come up with new concepts and ideas. Funnily enough, my best ideas for anything come to me in the shower, late at night or in my dreams and I have started to get in the habit of typing out the idea in my notes section of my phone asap so that I can go back to it later. This is also so useful when you are trying to resolve a difficult problem and you get an idea to solve it at a random time. It saves so much time, hassle and brain space. Rather that having dedicated time to come up with ideas and brainstorming you can spend that time executing them.
6. Schedule emails/content
As a former office worker, A LOT of time was spent on outlook. Checking, composing and sending emails can be a huge time waster. You plan to go on to your emails to check an email and you really end up spending hours doing something that's probably not that useful. When I was working part time during my Masters year, I sometimes would work after office hours which meant that I couldn’t get immediate responses to questions, so I would compose a lot of emails at the end of my shift and schedule them to be sent first thing in the morning to the recipient's inbox. This meant that if I wasn't working the next day, I could come back to the response when I began work and wouldn't forget to send an email/spend hours on outlook when I only meant to go send 'a few emails' instead of focussing on my uni work.
This is also so useful if you want to maximise your chance of getting a faster reply. You can't predict if someone will respond to your email right away or how full their inbox is, but most people check their emails in order of what they see first. So, if you schedule your email to be sent between 8.30-9am, you're guaranteed that someone will see your email first before anyone else's that was sent at 4pm the previous day.
If you can't schedule your emails, save them in your drafts folder and set yourself a reminder on the time you would like the email to be sent.
I now use the concept of scheduling for my blog/Instagram content which has saved so much time. Instead of thinking of captions and stories at the time I want to post, I schedule everything to be sent as I'll most likely end up spending an hour doing it instead of focussing on another task at hand.
And there you have it. 6 simple steps to incorporate into your day to hopefully help with your productivity. It's nothing new or ground-breaking but sometimes all it takes is seeing things written down for them to actually stick. I do hope it's been helpful and that if you don't already do these things, you can see some changes in how you spend your 'working days'. If you feel like you are already pretty productive, stop chasing an unrealistic goal that will just lead you to burn out and know that you're already doing enough.
Until next time,