4 Productivity Tools That Will Give You Back Your Sanity

ThinkstockPhotos-534040654.jpgWhether you’re working from home or the office, distractions happen, and they can be a productivity killer. Nearly everyone has an example of weeks that you look back on and wonder “What happened? I know I was busy . . ” while still feeling as though you’ve accomplished nothing. With deadlines crashing down on your head and the constant demands of family and work, it’s important to be as productive as possible to maintain your sanity. These productivity tools are vetted by experts to help bring balance back to your life — while still getting things done.

1. Time Trackers

Even if you’re not a fan of tracking every task that comes across your desk, a time tracker can provide a valuable way to give yourself mental freedom from specific tasks. For instance, what if instead of tracking the time you’re doing something, you track the time when you’re not doing something — like checking email? Set a timer for three hours and (gasp!) close your email client completely. Turn your phone over on your desk, and turn off the ringer. For three hours, allow yourself to focus on something other than responding to others. You will be pleasantly surprised at how productive you’re able to be without the constant distractions caused by emails, text messages, and social media without feeling like you’ve been out of the loop for too long. Of course, you can always use time trackers in the traditional way, by setting estimates for time and tracking how long specific tasks will take. Either usage will help bring your productivity back into focus!

2. Take it to the Cloud

Cloud-based document and data storage platforms allow you to be productive regardless of your physical location — a critical need in today’s always-on business world. Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box are a few of the options that offer low-cost ways to sync your information between tablets, mobile phones, and laptops or desktops, so you’re never truly away from the office. More corporations are utilizing these cloud alternatives to traditional enterprise data storage due to the relatively inexpensive cost and ease of use for employees.

3. Expense Management

Mobile apps such as Expensify allow you to take a quick snap of receipts and classify them by project, something that is invaluable for today’s busy professional. Keeping track of receipts and ensuring that they get assigned to the right account is yet another of those small yet nagging tasks that can reduce your available mental space without a single return. Clear out the clutter mentally and physically when you use a digital expense management tool.

4. Email Productivity

Professional emails can be a hassle, from trying to remember to send something at just the right time to getting off the myriad of email lists that tend to stack up in your inbox. Tools such as Unroll.me will quickly unsubscribe you from a wide range of email lists in a few short seconds, while tools such as Boomerang allow you to schedule messages for delivery at a later date. This keeps your email from hiding at the bottom of an inbox that is stuffed full overnight.

Ultimately, these productivity tools will help you squeeze a few extra moments into your day by automating simple tasks such as unsubscribing from email lists and having the information at your fingertips when you need it. When you’re able to take these actions when you think of them, you’re clearing your mind for additional productivity — instead of having to maintain a mental database of open tasks to be completed. Take back your sanity by becoming more productive and regaining some of your focus!

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Wish You Were More Productive? Try These 3 Tips!

ThinkstockPhotos-502922626.jpgBeing productive means making room for the things you really want and uncovering new and innovative ways to work smarter, not harder. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier than you probably think it is. If you want to become more productive, here are a few key traits you should focus on.

Take Frequent Breaks to Recharge Yourself

Although this may seem a bit on the counterintuitive side, studies have shown that taking frequent breaks throughout the day help to recharge yourself. Our “biological clock” has two basic forms that are dictated by our natural twenty-four (circadian) rhythms and our shorter than a day, but longer than an hour (ultradian) rhythms. Our ultradian rhythms essentially function in 90-minute intervals. This is why it’s so easy to go from “firing all cylinders” to “boy I need a nap” and back again throughout the course of your work day.

Remember that managing your time and managing your energy are not mutually exclusive. Taking breaks will help get you over the hump and allow you to come back better and stronger than ever.

The Results Are All That Matters

In a piece originally published by Forbes on how to be a more productive manager, it stated how one of the key traits to focus on is leaning into the results, not the process. One of the reasons why we often feel overwhelmed at work is because we’re just not getting the results we’re after with a particular task. This causes our productivity (and as a result, our morale) to take a nosedive.

Because of this, it’s important to make your number one priority a high-quality, consistent, and reliable output, rather than simply trying to do as many things at the same time as possible.

Discipline, Discipline, Discipline

According to the experts at PsychCentral.com, one of the essential things that you can do to become more productive at work is to maintain a strict sense of self-discipline at all times. Highly productive people aren’t just able to eliminate tasks that are ultimately time-wasters – they also have a high degree of personal responsibility and are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves, both of which fall back under the distinct umbrella of discipline.

Hitting goals, meeting deadlines, fulfilling promises – these are the true goals behind that task you’re trying to find the time to accomplish. Maintaining focus on these through strict self-discipline is the perfect way to suddenly find more time in each day.

These are just a few of the key traits that you can focus on to instantly become more productive at work. This was the good news – the better news is that gains like these in your professional life will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on your personal life, too. You’ll be happier at home, and you’ll have more time to spend with your loved ones. It really is a win-win situation.

The Art of Time-Blocking: A Simple Tip to Revolutionize Your Productivity

ThinkstockPhotos-610773854.jpgMost people just aren’t that good at multitasking. Trying to remain focused (and organized) is one of the most significant time wasters, especially in the life of a business professional. When you try to do too many things at the same time, you become a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” Just when you’re trying to get work done on that big project, another email comes in that you have to respond to. You hop over to your email client and suddenly the phone is ringing, or you realize that you have to proof a new design before it heads out the door. It’s maddening.

Thankfully, there is a better way. By adopting the fine art of time-blocking, you may have just found the simple, yet effective technique you’ve been looking for to unlock a bold new era of productivity in both your personal and professional life.

What is Time-Blocking?

At its core, time-blocking is the idea that you should segment your day into clearly defined (and strictly adhered to) blocks of productivity. Organize the tasks you need to complete by category and set aside a specific amount of time for those categories each day.

If you feel like you’re spending an unfortunate amount of time responding to emails every day at the expense of everything else, set aside 9:00 am to 10:00 am every morning to just focus on emails. Devote every ounce of your attention to this one task and when it’s over, move onto the next one. Outside of the occasional emergency, don’t respond to emails for the rest of the day. Get it done, and then move on.

The Benefits

The beauty of time-blocking falls into two distinct categories. First, it’s an incredibly effective way to eliminate distraction. Instead of trying to divide your attention between ten little tasks, it’s almost like you’re tackling just one big one (i.e. emails, and nothing more). Not only do you get those initial tasks done faster, but the ultimate quality of your output is also much higher because you’re no longer trying to do too many things at once.

Next, time-blocking is also an excellent way to build up a strong sense of momentum that will carry you through the rest of your day. As you begin to move from block to block, you’ll constantly be surprised by just how much you’re getting done. This wave of productivity (not to mention the wave of euphoria) builds on itself, driving things home towards the finish line (and the end of the work day).

Success Comes When You Look Ahead

Another one of the keys to success regarding time-blocking is a little bit of forward thinking. This isn’t something you can make up on the fly. You need to consider the types of tasks you need to do each day and what you have to get done by week’s end. Look ahead a little bit and make a list of your top priorities. Then, separate those into categories and get down to business.

Remember, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Time-blocking won’t suddenly create an extra hour in your day, but it will help you make better use of the hours you already have. If you try to add too many things to your list to the point where it becomes unrealistic, you’ll end up working against your goal and not towards it. You’ll quickly begin to feel overwhelmed, which is something that you do not want.

3 Easy Time Management Tips: How to Create More Hours in a Day

ThinkstockPhotos-517866414The one natural resource there never seems to be enough of is time. There are only so many hours in a day. You don’t need to wish that tomorrow will suddenly be a 35-hour day to get all of your work done. Instead, you need to start using a few small, yet critical, time management tips today to work smarter, not harder, with the hours that you DO have available to you. Here are three tips to get you started.

1) Learn How to Travel Productively

These days, a significant portion of your work probably isn’t taking place within the confines of your office. Whether it’s meetings with clients or unexpected personal issues, you likely find yourself stepping away from your desk more and more. The key to time management isn’t learning how to keep up with your obligations in spite of these sudden duties. It’s learning how to fit in work time around them.

Even if you don’t have a mobile tablet that you carry around with you wherever you go, it’s still easier than ever to work remotely. If you’re not already using a cloud-based file sharing service like Dropbox or iCloud, you need to start. Changing a document on your work computer makes those adjustments instantly available to every other device you have. Likewise, services like Dropbox for Business allow for real-time collaboration on files, letting people get together to work on a project even when they don’t have the time to literally “get together” at all.

Remember, the smartphone that you likely carry around with you is more powerful than the technology that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s. There are hundreds of thousands of apps that are available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores right now for you to use to customize that device in any way you see fit. Stop thinking about it like a device that you merely use to send and receive calls and start looking at it as your office on-the-go.

2) Hold Better Meetings

Meetings are just a fact of life. But one of the many reasons why people tend to dread that weekly “catch-up” gathering is because they’re huge drains of productivity. The answer to this problem isn’t to stop holding meetings altogether; it’s to start holding better meetings.

Think long and hard about why you’re having a meeting. If it’s just to convey information, you could probably save everyone a lot of time and just send a lengthy email or inter-office memo instead. A meeting should always justify its existence. If it doesn’t, it needs to drop off the schedule. Likewise, plan out an agenda for your meeting ahead of time and stick with it. Make sure everyone who needs to contribute knows what is expected of them before you all walk into a room, giving everyone a chance to be as prepared as they need to be.

3) Get Organized and Stay That Way

Again, time management isn’t about finding more hours in a day; it’s about working smarter, not harder with the hours you already have. One study estimates that as much as thirty percent of our working time each day is spent looking for misplaced items. It stands to reason that if you never feel like you have enough time to get things done, the true issue might just be that you need to take a look around and organize your life more effectively.

The Long-Term Benefits of Making Leisure Time a Priority

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Listening to the waves as they cascade against the sand, feeling the warm breeze against your face, understanding that all is right with the world, at least for that moment, that is what vacation is for most people. Perhaps you would trade the ocean waves for the sound of an eagle soaring through resplendent mountaintops covered in evergreens or snowcaps. The idea, though, is that you are away from your everyday world. You stop clocking in. You aren’t dealing with the stress that encompasses so much of your everyday existence. You are on vacation.

What do you think about this vacation time? Is it well deserved for your hard labor? Is it perhaps frivolous? Do you wonder if you will ever get to realize this dream, this break from your life? Well, read on to learn why vacation is not only an excellent way to rejuvenate your body; it has also been proven to be something you shouldn’t put off:

You Can’t Possibly Get More Done After a Break: Or Can You?

In essence, yes, you are more apt to be productive when you take the time to rejuvenate your body, soul, and mind. A report by the New York Times showed that your body “needs” the break vacation provides. There is even evidence that you become more productive once you get back from your vacation than you would have had you simply skipped your break. The Times reported the following about this aspect of the study findings:

“The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”

Other Benefits Besides Increased Productivity

In addition to being more productive and focused when you return from vacation, there is also evidence that you will garner a whole new perspective on things once you get a break. A CNN report stated that workers who took a break from their jobs enjoyed a new perspective on their lives when they were away from the stresses and problems of their daily existence. Family relationships are also strengthened when vacation is made a priority as family members are able to spend large amounts of non-distracted time together when away from their regular responsibilities.

Do Americans Get it Right?

In most cases, Americans don’t get vacation right at all. In fact, other countries handle this issue much better. The average French worker, for instance, takes more than twice the vacation time of an American worker. Americans typically use only sixteen of their eighteen vacation days according to a 2010 study. An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. report revealed an average of 3.2 paid days off left unused by workers, amounting to around 429 million unused vacation days.

Why It’s so Difficult For Americans to Relax

There are many studies just like the ones listed above that show vacation as a way to improve employee morale, increase productivity, and create a healthier working class, so why don’t Americans make vacation a priority? Most of those who were asked simply said they felt they had too much work to do to take time off. Do we as American workers really feel that our European counterparts aren’t also busy? No. Instead, we feel the world will fall apart if we don’t keep it spinning. Workers in other countries simply don’t have this belief. Therefore, if we as Americans want to make our lives better overall, we have to begin to understand that we don’t personally keep the world in orbit. We can leave for a few days here and there, or a week once in a while. Our country, workplaces, and families will not only survive, but they’ll be the better for it.

Awesome Keyboard Shortcuts

A GREAT WAY TO STAY FOCUSED AND INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY

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Keyboard shortcuts are a great way to stay focused and increase productivity. Here are a few of the most popular shortcuts that we recommend you memorize if you haven’t already.

Windows:
Ctrl + A will select all
Ctrl + C will copy
Ctrl + X will cut/remove (rather than copying it)
Ctrl + V will paste the text or object stored in the clipboard
Ctrl + Z will undo changes
Ctrl + Y will redo changes
Ctrl + F opens the find field
Alt + Tab switches between open programs
Ctrl + Tab switches between browser tabs
Ctrl + S saves your file
Ctrl + Home moves the cursor to the beginning of the document
Ctrl + End moves the cursor to the end of the document
Ctrl + P provides a print preview

Apple:
Command + A wills select all
Command + C will copy
Command + X will cut/remove (rather than copying it)
Command + V will paste the text or object stored in the clipboard
Command + Z will undo changes
Command + Shift + Z will redo changes
Command + F opens the find field
Command + Tab will switch to most recently used open app
Command + N opens a new window or document
Command + O opens a selected item
Command + P prints the current document
Command + S saves the current document.
Command + W closes the front window
Command+Option+W closes all windows of an app¬

While using the internet, spacebar (or the “pg dn” key) moves the scrollbar down a page, Shift + spacebar (or “pg up” key) moves the scrollbar up a page.

Spring Cleaning Tips For The Office

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When you think about it, you spend more time at your office than in your own home, not counting sleeping hours of course. Consequently, the atmosphere of your office, whether it be neat or disorganized, will greatly affect you and your employees in a myriad of ways. Therefore, learning how to keep your office clean is important. Before getting to the cleaning tips, though, let’s look at why a clean office is imperative.

A Disorganized/Dirty Office Is:

  • Unprofessional: If your office is cluttered, dusty, or generally disorganized, you will instantly appear less professional to clients/customers. You might say, “I’m too busy working to clean up after myself.” Well, consider the appearance of your office as you would your own. Would you come to work in your bathrobe simply because it took more time to get dressed?
  • Less Productive: Running a successful business is all about productivity. Getting things accomplished is the end goal. If you spend an hour looking for a particular folder under piles of other files and perhaps old take-out cups, is that a productive way to do business? Of course, it isn’t. By not having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place you are actually wasting billable hours.
  • Can Make You Sick: A dusty, dirty office can also cause sickness in a person who has a sensitivity to dust or allergens. Therefore, as a business owner, you might lose a part of your team to sickness simply because your work environment isn’t healthy. This reduces productivity simply by cutting down manpower.

Spring Cleaning Tips

Benjamin Disraeli, an author who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1800s, said the following about the importance of and commitment to cleanliness in all aspects of life:

“Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.”

This quote exemplifies the importance of cleanliness perfectly. It also reminds us that cleaning isn’t always instinctual. That’s why a checklist of sorts is as worthwhile as a guide on whipping your office into shape this spring.

Primary Focus Areas

There are three basic areas you should focus on when cleaning your office. These include your workspace, your paperwork, and your technology. There are, of course, more areas to think about, such as the floors, bathrooms, and such, but just getting these three basic areas organized will go a long way towards creating a more productive working environment.

1) Organize Your Workspace

This is relatively easy; it just takes time. Simply go through your desk and throw away the trash. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do this basic step. Get rid of/recycle old water bottles, carry-out cartons, and drinks. Also, donate or throw away anything you don’t use or that doesn’t work. Why keep a calculator that doesn’t function properly or hang on to a pencil that’s too small to write with? Simply getting rid of all the stuff you don’t need or use on and around your desk will help immensely.

2) Reduce Paper Work

As you know, paperwork is never ending, and if you don’t have a great file/shred system in place, it can really get out of hand. Part of cleaning off your workspace should include going through and shredding documents you no longer need. If you do need to keep something, create an easy-to-follow filing system to get these files off your desk.

3) Clean Your Technology

This tip should be taken literally, as in taking your computer apart and dusting it with the proper tools, as well as metaphorically. Clean the inside of your computer by deleting old emails and archiving those you need to keep.It’s also a great time to back up your server if you have one or update old software.

If you commit to putting things away at the end of every day, your office will never get as unorganized as it was. You might have to allow a few days for cleaning, but the increased production, as well as the creation of a more professional workspace, is well worth the time investment.