Productivity tips from the pros

If you’re struggling to get things done, there are lots of tips from psychology professionals to boost your productivity. Psychology Today collected some of the best a few years ago, and we’ve been trying them out at Mindapples and with our corporate clients.

Here are our favourites:

  1. Avoid multitasking. Block out time when you avoid all other tasks, and remember to put your phone and email away.
  2. Plan regular exercise breaks (even walking helps), to refresh your mind and boost your creativity.
  3. Rather than allocating a fixed amount of time to a task, break it down into doable chunks and then work until that chunk is done.
  4. Free up mental space by making a plan to deal with unresolved issues, to help you focus on the task at hand.
  5. Do things badly. Getting started is often the hardest part when it comes to tackling a task. Doing a first version without worrying about the quality gets the ball rolling and you can work on improving it later.
  6. Be realistic. We often overestimate how much we can get done. Identify one important task and make that your non-negotiable goal for the day.

Productivity is a subjective business though, about learning what helps you stay fresh, and which tasks you find easiest to do. The more you get to know your mind, the easier you’ll find it to work in a way that works for you.

Learn more about how to be productive in our latest book, The Mind Manual, and our award-winning guide to managing your mind at work, A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.

How to hack your to-do list

Bottomless inboxes and endless to-do lists have become the bane of our lives. Trying to keep track of outstanding tasks can be stressful – our attention has a limited capacity and we can only fit so much in our mind at any one time. But help is at hand. Research suggests that rather than removing tasks by actually doing them we just need to have a good plan of when and how to do them. The act of planning how to finish something enables us to let go of uncompleted tasks that are cluttering our memory.

David Allen’s international bestseller ‘Getting Things Done’ provides a practical guide to how to do this. The GTD archive and reminder system acts as a plan for how to release the part of your attention that is struggling to hold each item on your to-do list in your mind. It is based on writing down everything you need to remember and filing it effectively in three main areas:

  1. Archive to store stuff you might need one day (and can forget about until then)
  2. Current task list where everything is stored as an action
  3. A “ticker file” of 43 folders in which you organise reminders of things to do (43 folders because that’s one for the next thirty-one days plus the next 12 months).

Breaking down your to do list into individual actions allows you to convert your work into things you can either physically do, or forget about, happy in the knowledge that these tasks are in the system. Each day you pick up the folder for that day and either action the item, or defer it to another folder for a future day or month.

With the remembering and monitoring taken care of your mind is freed from its tendency to get fixated on unfinished tasks and forget those that have been completed – known by psychologists as the Zerigarnik Effect.

Read more about hacking your to-do list on the Mindhacks blog.

Learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.