Productivity tips from extremely busy people
A lot of us feel guilty when we think we’re not being productive.
There are a few ways you could alleviate these pangs of guilt: For one thing, stop tying your productivity to your self-worth. For another, adjust your mindset about how much time you really have to accomplish things.
But perhaps the most simple step, if you are in fact less productive than you hoped, is to up your productivity game.
Being that I work in a fast-paced newsroom where deadlines constantly loom and part of your success is measured by your output, I decided to ask my current and former colleagues to share their favorite methods for getting it all done.
Here are their favorite tips for being more productive:
Blacklist your time-suck websites
“I make a list of what I want to accomplish every day. It’s a pretty basic strategy, but it’s definitely an effective way of tracking my productivity. Nothing feels better than crossing items off the list.
“I’m also a huge procrastinator, so I use the SelfControl app to lock myself out of time-sink websites like Twitter for hours at a time. When I’m using the app, my Web browser says ‘This site can’t be reached’ and it won’t let me on sites on my blacklist for a designated time up to 24 hours — even if you delete the app and reboot your computer, you’re just stuck.”
—Aine Cain, reporter
Get it done first — make it perfect later
“When I work in a packed newsroom or in some busy and populated place and I have an important task that I need to get done ASAP, I try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. I put in earplugs and wear noise-cancelling headphones, or I put on headphones and listen to a site like Noisli. Ideally, I also take my laptop and find a space where I can be alone or around just a few people.
“I turn off the internet and work straight through without stopping until the project is done, or at least one significant part of the project is done. I don’t aim for perfection, but simply to get the project done. Later, I can go back and make the work as good as I can. This has worked well for me.”
—Daniel McMahon, copy chief
“Get more sleep! Everything is easier when you do.”
—Gus Lubin, former senior correspondent
Organize your notes during meetings
“This very simple, old-school, pen-and-paper trick can help you take more productive notes during team meetings:
“I use the simple ‘split-page’ note-taking strategy to take better notes during a meeting so that afterwards I’m able to easily and quickly scan through the major points that were discussed and see what needs to get done on every major project.
“Just fold the piece of paper a little over half way, and draw a line down it, creating right-side and left-side columns on the page. Use the left column to label the major points discussed such as ‘Project X,’ ‘Project Z,’ and ‘To Do.’ Use the right column to write notes regarding those points. This visually helps you break up what was discussed, rather than a long paragraph of jumbled notes, or a ton of bullet points.”
—Sarah Jacobs, associate visual-features editor
Just do it — now
“I know that sounds like the most useless, clichéd advice, but there is nothing to alleviate your anxiety over the tasks on your to-do list like doing them when you think of them.
“Are you putting off declining someone’s request via email? Take 30 seconds and do it before you get distracted. Procrastinating on a phone call? Make it before you think twice. Huge project dominating your to-do list? Send the first inquiry and get the ball rolling.
“The most tedious, dreadful tasks are almost always less horrible than you expect, once you actually do them.”
—Libby Kane, deputy editor
Swim in the deep end
“It’s always easier to stay in ‘shallow’ waters and be in your comfort zone, but in my opinion, you don’t learn that way. When you force yourself to go to the deep end and work outside your comfort zone you’ll learn. It’s not a quick trick or strategy to be more productive today, but the more you learn, the more you can accomplish on a larger scale. And what is that if not productive?”
—Tenzing Dorjee, former web producer
Break bigger projects up into simple tasks
“My favorite trick (to the surprise of no one, probably) is to create super-detailed to-do lists that break out every little detail of what I need to do in a given period. When bigger projects are divided up into simple tasks, it’s easy to go down the list and power through each thing.
“I read about the ‘two-minute rule’ once — that if something takes less than two minutes, do it now — and it worked for me. Now when I know I have a lot on my plate at once, I try and divide everything up into the smallest increments possible.”
—Emmie Martin, associate editor
Prioritize and focus on one thing at a time
“It’s too easy to get distracted, start on many things, and get nothing done at the end. Focus on your highest priority until that is complete before moving on to the next thing.”
—Michelle Martinez Lee, senior product manager
Listen to white noise
Brad Barket/Getty Images for DJ D-Nice
“I have been a huge fan of white noise since college. While I love listening to music, I have a hard time sometimes concentrating when I have music playing. ‘Celestial White Noise’ is my most-watched video on YouTube. It’s 10 hours of white noise and great to turn on when the newsroom gets loud or I really need to concentrate on something and don’t want to be distracted.”
—Lori Janjigian, former editorial intern
Flickr/Sebastiaan ter Burg
“Think of your daily objectives or tasks or whatever as integrated and adding to something larger. This will keep you engaged at the detail level with something big.
“Grinding through to-do lists will over time make you unproductive because you’ll lose that sense of being part of a larger project.”
—Matthew DeBord, senior correspondent