You’re determined to make this the best year for your career yet. Your motivation is running strong, but when it comes to actually making this happen, you’re a little stuck.
I get it — changing your habits is hard and overwhelming. But here’s the good news: you can start small. Below, we’re breaking down 10 different work hacks you can implement this year.
Whether you want to save yourself time and frustration or do a better job of focusing on what really matters, these tips are easy to implement and will get you one step closer to making this the year that you actually take your work life up a notch.
1. Take regular breaks with the Pomodoro Technique
Are you the type of person who sits at your desk for hours without realizing how much time is passing? Or, maybe you’re the type who finds yourself getting distracted every few minutes.
Either way, the Pomodoro Technique can be helpful. This time management approach requires that you split your workday into smaller, more manageable chunks (called pomodoros) and use a timer to track them. You’ll work for a stretch of 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. After completing four pomodoros, you reward yourself with a longer break of about 20 minutes.
What does this do for you? It boosts your focus by instilling a sense of urgency, because you’ll naturally want to get as much work accomplished in that 25-minute chunk as you can. Plus, it ensures that you get up from your desk every now and then — which is important for your brain and your body!
2. Save time with email batching
Groan. For most of us, email is the bane of our existence. I’m one of those people who keeps my inbox tab open all the time, and can’t resist the urge to check immediately as soon as I see a new message has arrived.
But here’s the thing: I know that majorly sabotages my focus and productivity. I’m constantly ripping my attention away from the task at hand to read an email that likely isn’t all that urgent or important anyway.
That’s why so many people swear by email batching, where you only allow yourself to read and respond to emails two or three times per day at set intervals. It’ll reduce your urge to constantly monitor your inbox, and prevent email from continuously sidelining your workday.
3. Manage your energy with a to-do list coding system
Your energy probably doesn’t remain consistent throughout the day. Maybe you’re ready and raring to crank through your to-do list as soon as you grab your morning coffee. Or perhaps you’re someone who really doesn’t hit your stride until the afternoon.
Being productive is about more than managing your time — it’s about managing your energy. It’s smarter to reserve more complex tasks for when you feel your most focused, and the mindless ones for when you feel drained.
After you make your task list, use a simple coding system to indicate where tasks fall on your energy spectrum. You can choose the symbols that work for you. For example, use an up arrow to indicate really mentally-demanding tasks (like creating that presentation) and down arrows for things that are far more routine (like filling out your expense report). Or opt for a smiley face and frowny face. Or simply star the more high-energy tasks.
You have some flexibility here, but notating your to-do list in this way will help you truly make the most of the time you have during your workday.
Being productive is about more than managing your time — it’s about managing your energy.
4. Keep your focus with some simple body language cues
Distractions are inevitable during the workday — especially if you share an office with your coworkers. Every time you feel like you’re getting into a good flow, somebody stops by your desk with a quick question or request.
You don’t want to be rude, but you also don’t want to set the impression that you’re available for a lengthy chat.
Your body language can help you a lot here. Try working with your headphones in to signal to your colleagues that you don’t want to be interrupted. Or, if somebody does pop by your workspace with a question, turn to look at them while keeping your hands on your keyboard. That subtly sends the message that you intend to immediately return to what you were working on.
5. Stop feeling frazzled by silencing notifications
It’d be nice to blame all of our distractions on the people we work with, but we know that isn’t the case. A lot of our focus-stealers are self-imposed, especially when it comes to digital notifications.
The advice to silence your notifications when you really want to get work done isn’t exactly new, but I’m willing to bet that you still haven’t implemented it.
Summon your courage and finally give this a try. Turn off all of the push notifications on your phone. Close your email tab. Set yourself to “do not disturb” in your instant messaging platform. That will give you some much-needed uninterrupted time to focus on your actual work.
6. Prioritize what matters by making your to-do list early
Are you one of those people who makes your to-do list when you get into the office each morning? I can’t blame you — I used to be that very same way.
Here’s the downside of that approach: it leaves room for everybody else to dictate the most pressing priorities of your workday. You probably aren’t creating your list until you’ve checked in on emails and other requests that came in since you left, which means those things immediately earn a spot on your task list (even if they aren’t time-sensitive).
Instead, try making your to-do list for the next day before you leave the office for the night. You’re far more likely to jot down the bigger, more important priorities then, rather than letting your inbox completely rule your schedule. When you return to the office tomorrow, you’ll have an instant reminder of what you actually wanted to focus on.
You’re far more likely to jot down the bigger, more important priorities then, rather than letting your inbox completely rule your schedule.
7. Stop reinventing the wheel by creating templates
Every job includes some repetitive tasks, but that doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch each time. Templates can help you ensure consistency while also saving time.
Do you find yourself sending a similar email on a frequent basis? Save it as a canned response so you can quickly drop it into a blank message and customize the details. Are you a writer who’s always starting with a blank page? Create a template that has the barebones in place for you.
In a similar vein, it’s also helpful to create a cheat sheet for yourself. Whether it’s instructions you’re always digging through email threads to find or photo dimensions you can never remember, pull all of those details into a handy document that lives directly on your desktop so you can quickly find them when you need them.
8. Instill a sense of urgency with mini-milestones
It’s hard to chip away at larger goals. The payoff seems so far away, which makes it tough to keep yourself focused and motivated.
That’s the beauty of breaking those larger objectives down into smaller milestones. For starters, it makes the entire process feel more manageable. Plus, it’ll give you more opportunities to score frequent wins. That’s highly motivating (seriously, just look into something called the progress principle).
So, break that mountain down into some molehills. It’ll feel way less daunting that way.
9. Figure out what’s most important with this matrix
Do you ever have so much to do that you can’t even figure out where to start? We’ve all been there, and it’s easy to be so paralyzed by disdain for our to-do lists that we don’t end up making any progress at all.
Setting up a simple matrix can help you figure out what you should focus on first. It’s easy: draw a square, and then divide it into four equal parts. Along the top line of the square, write “urgent” and “not urgent,” and along the left-side line write “important” and “not important.”
Then, start plotting your tasks in the appropriate squares. Maybe that grant application is both urgent and important, but responding to social media comments is important but not urgent.
This matrix makes it easy to categorize your tasks and then address them accordingly:
- Urgent and Important: Put these first on your to-do list!
- Urgent and Not Important: Delegate these if you can. If not, tackle them next.
- Not Urgent and Important: Pencil some time in your calendar to handle these in the near future.
- Not Urgent and Not Important: These can probably fall off your list entirely for now.
See? It brings a little order and strategy to all of your tasks, rather than just guessing about where you should get started.
10. Make time for yourself by scheduling self-care
We’ve all heard of the importance of self-care, but that doesn’t mean making time for it is easy. It’s something that you need to be really intentional about.
Make yourself stick to it by scheduling it (yes, I mean physically blocking space on your actual calendar) every single week.
Whether it’s a hot yoga class, a massage, dinner with a friend, or even just some time to sit on your couch and veg, you’ll be far more inclined to make time for yourself if you reserve it proactively.
When it comes to your work life, it’s easy to become stuck in your ways and stick with the same bad habits. But, if you’ve vowed that this is the year you’re going to change that, these hacks can help.
Put one (or even a few!) of them into play, and watch as the positive changes start happening. I’m rooting for you!