I am the best procrastinator I know, and on top of that, I have the attention span of a toddler in a toy store, so when it comes to powering through my to-do list, it sure isn’t easy. All it takes is one quick notification ding, and all of a sudden it’s been an hour since I’ve abandoned my task and I’ve added three pairs of jeans, a dress, and a pair of shoes I don’t need to my cart on Abercrombie’s website. It’s a problem that runs so deep in my world, but since I do have a job that I love and want to keep, ignoring my work all day for the sake of online shopping and scrolling through social media is simply not an option. But learning how to have a productive day among the world’s distractions and my nearly nonexistent attention span is something I have gotten shockingly good at over the years, so I am sharing the practical strategies that help me stay focused and productive throughout the day because if I can do it, trust me, you can too.
Our Top Tips for How to Have a Productive Day
Visualize a successful day
As a part of your morning routine, take a few minutes every day to visualize what a successful, productive day would look like for you. There are probably a few tasks that will pop into your head that you know you need to get done and then maybe a few you’d be happy to get to. Consider how good you will feel at the end of the day if you get through all of them. This feeling singlehandedly helps me power through the rest of the day because I want to feel that sense of accomplishment that I am visualizing, and I know that if I do everything I set out to do, I will be in an even better position the following day, too.
Create a to-do list
Forgive me for sounding like a know-it-all, but when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. So whether you like to put pen to paper or utilize one of those fancy digital iPad planners, you will notice a shift in your productivity when you start your day by creating a to-do list. Even if you already know what you need to do for the day and don’t feel the need to write it out, I encourage you to do it anyways. Seeing your important tasks in front of you can remind you of your goals, keep you accountable, and in turn, increase your productivity levels. I even like to write out my daily schedule to see when I will need to be in meetings and when I can implement time blocking.
One of my favorite ways to procrastinate? Not starting something because I don’t have all of the information I need and then waiting until the last minute to ask for the information. My “I can’t start this yet” attitude is addicting, but the effect that it has on my stress level only gets worse as deadlines begin to close in on me. The very simple and effective solution to this is to just communicate and do so efficiently—meaning, when you have questions, write them down and make sure that when you have the attention of the person who you need help from, you can ask them everything you need to know. This mitigates back and forth and allows you to go into your task with all of the knowledge you need to complete it.
Take timed breaks
We all know that taking breaks throughout the day is important for recharging our minds, reducing our stress, and maintaining our energy levels, but if you’re anything like me, your breaks can easily become a little too long. Toxic productivity? Couldn’t be me. This is why I love implementing timed breaks during my workday that range anywhere from 5-30 minutes, depending on what my day looks like. I use these breaks to get up from my desk, stretch, refill my water bottle, take a walk, get a snack, or whatever else I can fit in during the time that I have allowed myself. Since there is a timer counting down until I need to be back at my desk, I don’t waste time. Instead, I make the most of my breaks so I can come back refreshed and ready to dive back into productivity at work.
14 Productivity Tools We Love
Notion is a web application that allows you to manage your files, documents, and projects, and it even has AI features to help you with any work or life-related tasks. This is a great tool for anyone looking to streamline their workload, stop using a million tabs, and keep track of everything they need in one place.
Whether you need help managing your workload, school work, life, or all of the above, Todoist is one of the highest-rated task management tools that can be used on both desktop and mobile. The best thing about Todoist IMO is the templates, so you don’t have to spend hours organizing your tasks. You can just plug them into one of their dozens of curated templates and get on with what you need to prioritize.
If you spend hours in your email going back and forth trying to schedule meeting times and coordinate with others, meet Calendly. Calendly is a scheduling automation tool that can help you minimize the amount of time you spend scheduling and help you get back to your priorities.
From lists to boards to calendars and Gantt charts, Asana makes it easy to manage tasks, keep track of projects, collaborate and coordinate with other teams, keep track of deadlines, and so much more. I might be biased because I use it every single day, but it truly is a lifesaving tool for anyone who wants to gain clarity on their priorities and goals and work alongside other productive and successful people.
ClickUp is a simple and easy-to-use task management tool that allows you to manage your workload, create lists, take notes, and more. It even has the ability to track time per task or project, create graphs that can show how much of a project is completed versus what still needs to be done, and more.
Monday has all the perks of a project management system plus more capabilities that can help you customize your workflows, manage sales cycles, keep track of leads, and so much more. It is used by many big companies like Glossier, Hulu, and Universal Studios, so if you own a small business or work for one that is looking to scale, Monday is for you.
If you have lists absolutely everywhere and have a hard time deciding what daily task on which list is your true priority, Evernote is the productivity tool for you. You can put all of your lists, notes, documents, and everything else you need to complete your to-dos all in one place, and you can even schedule them out so you can ensure everything stays on track. Plus, Evernote works on all your devices so you always have access to what you need.
If you’re not using Google Calendar yet, I don’t know what you’re working with. Google Calendar allows you to easily and quickly manage your meeting times, time blocks, appointments, and more, and you can even share it with others so they know not to bother you while you’re working. If you use it right, it’s more than just a calendar–it’s a time management tool.
Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Basically, it is a time management method based on 25-minute stretches of focused work broken by 5-minute breaks, and this app keeps track of those timers for you. Some of the most productive people I know (many that I work with!) use this technique and swear by it as one of the easiest productivity improvement tips.
If you want to incorporate a timer into your workday but you also want to track your time, Toggl is the tool for you. It allows you to set any time you need and then automatically tracks it into the buckets that you set so you can review where your time is actually spent at the end of the day, week, month, or year.
11. Focus Mode
If I have a busy day and absolutely need to make sure that I have a productive day at work, I utilize Focus Mode on my iPhone. Whether you just need to focus or you want to stay off of your phone while you’re working, you can set automation and parameters around the apps you can use, the notifications you receive, and more with Focus mode.
Do you have tasks on your list that are so repetitive that you wish you could just automate them? Well, you probably can with Zapier. Zapier connects with over 5,000 apps to create automations without any code. For example, if you’re always adding your tasks from Asana to your Todoist app, Zapier can do that for you with just one quick automation.
Pocket is one of my all-time favorite tools because it helps me from getting constantly sidetracked by online articles I want to read, recipes that come up on my feed, and more. Instead of diving into them in the middle of my day and getting distracted, I use Pocket to save them all for later, so when I’m ready and have the time to read them, they are all in one place for me.
Speaking of getting distracted, I used to be very easily distracted by my life to-dos during work time, but then I stumbled on Remember the Milk. This app gets all of those out of my head and onto a list, and it also lets me delegate them to other people in my life. For example, if going to the Post Office is on my list and I know I won’t be able to get there this week, I can delegate it to my fiancé to do on his way home from work. This keeps me in the zone of work without falling behind on what needs to be done.