I’m sure you’ve got stuff to do. Maybe you’re here because you have too much stuff to do and aren’t sure how to get it all done. Or maybe you know you should be doing something, but aren’t sure what to do or how to do it. Either way, I’ve got you covered.
I come to you today with a mix of tips and tools to help you up your productivity. If you already have a lot on your plate, these will help you pare it down and organize it. If you’re just trying to get your life together, there are a few great starting places on this list. Pick your favorite and make it happen.
1. Read more with Libby
Libby is an app that connects to your library card and lets you check out audiobooks, as well as digital copies of books, to read on your phone.
I didn’t think I’d like audiobooks. I was always one of those people who wanted to curl up with a physical book and a cup of tea, but sometimes that just isn’t compatible with our lifestyles. So I gave audiobooks a shot. Turns out, they’re great.
I love Libby not only for its audiobooks, which let me listen while I’m doing other things but also because I can check out digital copies of books. Then, rather than mindlessly opening Reddit or Instagram every time I pick up my phone, I can open Libby and read something of substance instead of another meme about drinking water.
If you’re looking for a book to change your life, I have some recommendations.
2. Streamline your life with If This Then That
It’s like an if-statement but in real life. Or for the non-programmers out there, IFTTT lets you set a trigger that then sets off some other action when the trigger occurs. I’ve got one set up that puts any contacts I add to my phone into a Google spreadsheet.
IFTTT calls this trigger-plus-action combination a “recipe.” There are plenty of recipes to choose from, or you can build your own. It’s easier than it sounds. There are recipes to text you when it’s going to rain tomorrow or add your saved songs on Spotify to a monthly playlist. They can’t do your dishes for you (yet), but there are tons of cool recipes to make your life a bit easier and help you keep it together.
Before you tell me taking care of yourself will lower your productivity because it takes so much time, I’d like to direct you to the parable of the two woodcutters. (Spoiler: The one who takes breaks to sharpen his ax chops more wood.)
When you take a bit of extra time to eat healthy, exercise, and meditate, not only will you feel happier, but you will have much more energy and mental clarity. That elevated energy and ability to focus and think clearly will result in higher productivity.
It’s challenging to get things done when you’re tired. When you’re tired, you lose willpower, and you aren’t able to focus as long. Being tired can also contribute to procrastination.
Whether your work is primarily mental or physical, or a combination of both, giving your body the proper fuel and time to rest makes it easier to get things done. Getting a full 8 hours of sleep every night is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to get better grades. Allow yourself time to recover.
4. Manage your time with Calendar blocking
Personally, I use Google calendar for this. It’s totally free and has more than enough features to allow me to calendar block my entire life. Few things have boosted my productivity more than learning to use my calendar efficiently.
I like to use Google Keep for brain dumps and other small notes. It’s basically like the notes app on your phone, except it integrates easily with my calendar. I can add reminders to the notes and then those reminders show up on my calendar. If I have an idea that I want to explore later, I’ll write it on a note and add a reminder for a time when I know I have time to brainstorm a bit.
As Gretchen Rubin says, “Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.” Your Sunday Reset is that time each week to do all of those tasks that would otherwise never get done.
Not only that, but you can also use that time to prepare yourself for the coming week by cleaning, meal prepping, doing the laundry, and doing anything else you need to do to head into Monday with a clean slate. It’s the couple hours each week that you spend as the housekeeper and secretary of your business of one so that you can be the CEO during the rest of the week.
6. Test out the Focus Mode browser extension for Chrome
Personally, I like this one because it’s easy to use. I don’t get sucked into it and spend an hour messing with the settings to get it “just right”—aka procrastinating. Focus Mode just turns on and off, that’s all.
If I forget that I’m supposed to be focused, focus mode reminds me as soon as I try to go to a website that is off-limits. It even counts how many times you’ve gotten distracted.
If I remember that I’m supposed to be focused, I know I have to turn off the extension to distract myself with YouTube. That forced moment of hesitation causes me to rethink my actions 90% of the time, and I decide to keep working. The other 10% of the time where I still choose to get on YouTube, I try just to let it happen and not beat myself up over it because I likely needed a break.
7. Journal it out
It took me a while to realize the value of journaling, but after hearing several people talk about how life-changing it has been for them, I decided to give it a shot and start writing morning pages.
Morning pages are three, stream-of-consciousness, hand-written journal pages that you write each morning, shortly after waking up. It’s just one method for journaling, and there are plenty of others out there as well. Do a bit of exploration to find something that intrigues you.
So… how does journaling boost my productivity?
Glad you asked. Journaling helps you to get all of the ~stuff~ out of your mind. A lot of it is crap, but there are also a lot of great ideas in there, and they don’t become real until you get them out of your brain and into the physical world. Journaling gets those ideas into the world and helps you to think things through.
Writing your ideas down allows you to see your train of thought. It can help you to make connections that you hadn’t made before. One of my favorite parts of journaling is that I often find the obvious solutions to the problems I’m having. The best solutions are often right in front of your nose, and you just have to take the time to look for them. Journaling is that time.
These solutions are typically time savers and productivity boosters. Even if I don’t find any answers in my morning journaling session, it leaves my mind clearer and gets rid of the mental distractions so I can stay focused on my work throughout the day.
8. Get Organized with Trello
Trello is a list-making application that is often used for project management. Turns out the same tools that are useful for project management can also be applied to life management.
I used Trello to complete my Life Audit.
It helps me to keep track of my long term goals so that I can make sure my life is headed in the right direction. Too often, our goals fall through the cracks because we may not be able to work on them much, if at all, right now. Trello is flexible, yet simple enough that it can easily be made to fit your needs, whatever they may be.
9. Spend less time proofreading with Grammarly
I write a lot. By my rough estimate, there are close to 125,000 words on this blog alone. I do my best to proofread everything before it goes out, but writing this much without a second set of eyes checking it over is risky.
Grammarly checks everything you write as you write it. The basic version is free and is great for checking your comma usage and confirming that you didn’t write “the” instead of “then.” I’ve noticed that the more I use it, the more my writing skills improve because I know what mistakes I make often and what to watch out for.
Whether you’re writing papers for school or emails to your boss, native English speaker or not, Grammarly is a nice back-up to have.
10. Cut down on cooking by meal prepping
I love to cook, so I don’t always meal prep. That said, when I do meal prep, I’m always amazed at how much time it saves me throughout the week. Sometimes it’s so nice to be able to pull out a container and throw it in the microwave for a couple of minutes instead of cooking.
Not only does meal prepping not cost you anything, it actually saves you money. It can take a bit of practice to figure out what works for you, but luckily, I can help you with that. I also occasionally post meal preps over on my Instagram, so make sure you’re following me there so you don’t miss ‘em.
When you’ve meal prepped, you can stay focused longer because you don’t have to stop to cook. Plus, you can make sure you’re eating healthy, helping you out with tip #3.
11. Try out the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique is a strategy for getting things done where you work in chunks of 25 minutes, separated by 5 minute breaks. Every fourth break is longer, typically 10-30 minutes.
I’m actually using this method to write this blog post! Since I’ve been doing a lot of my writing in batches recently (i.e., writing a few blog posts at once instead of one a day), the Pomodoro technique has helped me to write a decent amount at a time without burning out. It’s great for those times where you don’t want to get started because you only have to make it through 25 minutes and then you get a break.
Btw, it’s named the Pomodoro technique after those tomato-shaped kitchen timers. Pomodoro means ‘tomato’ in Italian.
There you have it, eleven of my favorite ways to boost my productivity for free. Combine them all together, and you’ll be a productivity-God. Do you use any of these techniques? Which one is your favorite? I’d love to hear about what strategies work for you or what you’re interested in trying from this list.