You start the work day with high hopes about what you’ll accomplish. Then suddenly, it’s the end of day, and though you were busy the whole time, you’re not really sure what you got done. Sound like you?
Mostly due to technological advances, productivity has increased so much that the average worker today can produce in 11 hours as much as a worker in 1950 could produce in a full 40-hour work week. But are you making the most of technology to help increase your work output?
Tools and Apps to Improve Your Productivity
Take a time out. Countless studies have shown that we perform better when we take breaks, yet many of us remained chained to our desk for hours at a time. Technology makes it easier than ever to get absorbed in a task, or more often distracted by multiple tasks at once. The Mac-only app Time Out will give you the kick you need to take a stretch or grab a glass of water on regular intervals.
Track yourself. You think you know what your time-sucks are, but are you right? Just like companies run studies to see where they can improve efficiency, you can use a tool like RescueTime to find out what’s preventing you from being your best. The app runs in the background, and then sends you a weekly report with a productivity score and detailing where all your time really went.
Achieve inbox zero. Just like working from a clean desk can help improve your productivity, I’ve found that working with an empty inbox helps me to focus on what’s actually time-sensitive. For most, the concept of having no email in your inbox at the end of every workday, or even the end of every work week, sounds impossible – just a pipe dream. I know it did to me, but when I realized (with RescueTime’s help) that I was spending a lot more time handling my email than I wanted to be, I knew something needed to change.
Baydin offers a wealth of tools designed to help. I use the Boomerang feature (available for Gmail and Outlook) to temporarily remove messages from my inbox when I can’t handle them immediately, and then they’ll reappear later when I have time. Inbox Pause will stop you from receiving new messages for a period of time, say, while you’re writing an article, so that you don’t get distracted by other things that need to be done.
Better organize your email. How many email accounts do you have? Often, people have acquired several email addresses over time. Maybe you switched email providers but haven’t wanted to give up an old address… just in case. Or you have separate email addresses for different enterprises.
This usually isn’t very efficient, but there’s a way to fix it without getting rid of any old address: use Gmail. It allows you to send and receive from all your email addresses (yes, even those that are not Gmail addresses) in one place and easily search them. Click on the gear in the upper right hand corner, select “Settings,” and then select the “Accounts” tab to see your options. Gmail also allows you to set up Filters to automatically handle email, such as archiving, labeling, or forwarding it.
One situation where it may make sense to have two inboxes is if you want to separate your personal emails from those for work. That way you don’t get distracted by your social life when at work, or your work life when at home.
Embrace the Cloud. If you work collaboratively, it just makes sense to keep files in a place that all of you can access. Instead of emailing back and forth for last week’s report or the company logo as a PSD file, you can easily find it on Dropbox, Google Drive, or whatever other solution you select. The key is to create a simple filing system and general guidelines for naming to make finding things easy. Establish a convention for your team, and make sure everyone follows it.
Similarly, you can share your calendar using tools like Google Calendar, making scheduling meetings easier and preventing countless emails back and forth to find a time that works.
Turn it off. Okay, so this tip might be a bit of a cheat. But sometimes the best way you can use technology to improve your productivity is to not use it. And guess what? There’s an app out there to help you do it, because let’s be honest – it’s easier said than done. The app is called Freedom (for PCs and Macs), and once you set it (for between 15 minutes and 8 hours), you’re offline unless you reboot your computer.
Don’t confuse multi-tasking with productivity. Switching back and forth between tasks actually makes each task take more time. Instead, use technology to get through many short tasks quickly, take care of some tasks automatically or more efficiently, and focus on longer tasks for the time they require.