I’ve been working ever since I was 14 years old. Since that time, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and given myself plenty of headaches.
Once I entered the working world full-time, I got serious. The thought of making a difference at work energized me to go out and find ways to become a better professional. By attending talks and workshops, I learned tools and tricks early on that have drastically impacted how I work to this day.
Below are 3 simple productivity hacks that have disrupted my workday and impacted my career for the better.
1. Inbox Zero.
I became an inbox zero-girl 2 years ago, and have never looked back.
Inbox zero is exactly what it sounds like – an email organization system where you try to reach 0 messages in your inbox at the end of the day. As you resolve emails, they either get deleted or saved into another folder. This leaves only unresolved items in your inbox, making it an effective ‘to-do’ list.
I never hit 0 emails, but this system has made it worlds easier to 1) find emails when I need to reference something and 2) quickly see what needs to be done, without getting distracted by a sea of old messages.
How to start: If your inbox seems like a black hole right now, no worries! Take no more than 1-2 hours to start the dreaded organizing process. Create folders that cover the large buckets of your work (for me, those are Clients, Events, Research and Operations) and start organizing your messages for the past year. For messages older than 1 year, create folders for each year and store them there. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to do it all at once, and this way you can do a little bit at a time. Behold your clear inbox and remember to keep it that way.
2. Work blocks.
Work blocks are chunks of pre-scheduled time for working on a task or project. The key here is pre-scheduled: you have to block the time on your calendar to do the work.
Why is this so effective? If a project is super high-priority, or if a task keeps falling to the wayside, I’ll set up a work block to remind myself that it needs to get done. By committing to a time on the calendar, I’m more likely to do the task or reschedule if something comes up. Work blocks are a great way to hold yourself accountable, track how you spend time, and reduce the likelihood of something slipping through the cracks. If your digital calendar is visible to co-workers, it’s also a good way to signal to folks when you’re busy.
How to start: Look at your to-do list for the week and set calendar holds to tackle each item. Keep in mind which tasks require more concentration, and schedule those for times when you feel most alert (in my case, 10AM-12PM.) Simpler tasks should be scheduled during your low-performance hours, likely towards the end of the day. Be mindful of due dates for your tasks and don’t make the mistake of scheduling too many blocks back-to-back. Life hardly works in accordance with your calendar, so leaving some wriggle room will make the work block-system feel more manageable.
3. Lists and Trackers.
There’s power in a well-crafted To-Do list. It’s important to our success that we capture what needs to happen and that we write those things down. Information that only exists in our head is likely to be forgotten, and it can be therapeutic to relieve ourselves of that burden by having a list.
To-do lists are great, but they’re not the only lists to work by! Listing accomplishments is just as important to our effectiveness. If you’re a fundraiser or recruiter, keep a list of all your initiatives and their results. (I like to track how many outreach emails and calls I make, and whether those efforts produce new clients.) If you’re a freelance writer, keep a list of all your published pieces and track how much content you put out on a regular basis. Tracking achievements helps identify areas for improvement. It also provides great talking points with your manager come annual-review time.
How to start: Pick your system. There are TONS of list-making apps, but a word document, post-it note, or piece of paper works fine. (I personally like to use Excel for categorizing and sorting items.) Then, figure out what lists you need. A general to-do list helps, but you might also make lists for more complicated projects (which can eventually give birth to project plans. More on those later.) Finally, consider making a list for your more personal, professional goals too. Do you want to get better at handling different technologies, or more experience with public speaking? Once you have the lists you need, be sure to keep them in a place where you can easily see them.
What other tricks do you use to stay organized?