With so many responsibilities and distractions, staying focused can be a challenge — something especially true now that so many of us are working from home. But in order to do your best work, it’s important to eliminate as many unessential tasks as possible. Productivity is all about maximising your time and tasks within set hours, helping you to become more organised, efficient, and get more done.
Productivity tools and time tracking apps have exploded into the workplace in recent years, offering everything from the ability to creating automated invoices for clients to project management. However, with so many to choose from, it’s hard to know what to pick. To help you narrow it down, our team of productivity experts has rounded up some of the best.
When you’re in the zone, it’s easy to lose track of time. Time tracking apps eliminate the need to rely on memory and do the work for you by keeping track of time automatically. As well as being a useful gauge of how long you need to allocate to certain projects, they can be a saviour for those freelancers working to an hourly rate. Toggle Track is among the best time tracking apps, available as both an app and a browser extension. It’s free-to-use and, if you’re using it through a browser extension, displays the Toggl button to remind you to start your timer. Toggl time tracking also detects when your computer has been idle but a timer is still running, giving you the option to remove that 15 minute period you went to make a coffee, and correct the recorded block of time.
If you’re someone who tends to work on lots of different projects simultaneously, Trello is a great productivity tool to help you stay organised. Trello is essentially like a digital notice board, with cards acting like sticky note reminders. Each card on your Trello board represents a different task, priority, and deadline, which you can arrange and colour-coordinate to your heart’s content. They can also contain checklists, hyperlinks to specific pages, and even attached files and photos for easy access. If you’re working as part of a team, Trello is also a great collaborative tool, allowing you to tag users and invite them to new projects. Even better? Trello also has capabilities for integrating third-party services into your workflow, including Mailchimp, OneDrive, and Twitter.
Want to track your time whilst also blocking distractions? RescueTime does both. This automatic time tracking app, compatible with just about every device you could need, works in the background to observe your computer usage, which it presents in a handy dashboard. RescueTime looks at which apps you’re using and for how long, eliminating the need to manually log hours while also showing you where your distractions come from. You can categorise certain apps, such as Instagram, as ‘very distracting’, using its website blocker, FocusTime, to prevent you from using it when you need to get word done. You can also schedule FocusTime sessions using Outlook, Google Calendar, or Office 365, and pair the app with Slack, where your status and notification settings will be automatically updated based on what you’re working on.
If you’re someone that’s always writing reminders on little scraps of paper and losing them, consider Evernote to be your second brain. Streamlining your notes into one place, Evernote acts as your all-in-one notebook, to-do-list, and image bank, allowing you to capture, organise and find information across multiple platforms. Create ‘notebooks’ for specific subjects and topics, adding ‘notes’ in the form of documents, spreadsheets, images, and even voice memos. Other handy features include a built-in search option, the ability to scan text in a photo using Optical Character Recognition technology, and set reminders for various tasks, goals, and projects. You can also share notes and notebooks with colleagues, friends, and family.
With so much content online, sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read every interesting article or piece of content you come across. Pocket is the tool that lets you save it for later without disrupting your flow. Instead of having to email yourself a link for later reference, or saving it as a bookmark, you’ll never find it again, this handy app stores all the articles, video, and insightful content you come across in one handy storage space. Save directly from the likes of Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube, where you can send directly to another 'Pocket’ or share a link directly via social media. The only downside is the ads, but what do you expect for such a handy free tool? Remove them by purchasing Pocket Premium, which also makes your content a permanent resource, while offering the ability to conduct more in-depth searches.
Deciding on the best productivity tools and time tracking software for you is one step, but to really master time management you need a plan of action.
It’s not always easy to stay motivated, but thinking about the future and the things you want to accomplish is a good way to stay on track. The first step in an effective time management plan is to decide what your goals are — both in the short-term and on a longer-term basis. Once you establish your goals, you can focus on tasks and activities to help you reach them.
We’re all guilty of working overtime (something particularly true for freelancers) but more time at your desk doesn’t automatically equal increased productivity. Decide what your working hours are and stick to them. Although it may sound simple, being strict with when you work can stop you from procrastinating when you know your time is limited. You’ll also start to see a pattern of what time of the day you are most productive. For some, it’s first thing in the morning, and for others, it’s the last thing at night.
Apps like RescueTime are an easy way to identify what your main distractions are. However, you choose to monitor your time, keep a log for at least a week, and then go back and analyse it. Make a list of your biggest time-wasting activities, and aim to reduce the time you spend on them the next day, week, etc. Soon, you’ll start to figure out how to stay focused — whether that means switching off your phone while working or only checking your emails at set times of the day.
Setting realistic expectations on your to-do-list and prioritising what tasks are most important will help you to stay in control, which is proven to boost productivity. Admittedly, sometimes that means doing that job we’ve put off for weeks on end, but continuing to avoid it sadly won’t make it go away. Our advice? Tackle the task head-on and reward yourself for your efforts. Remember, multitasking doesn’t always make you more productive.
There are times when the adrenaline of a tight deadline can push us to reach our goals, but too much stress doesn’t make for a productive workday. The truth is, the more time you spend worrying about something, the less time you’re spending actually doing it. Recognising and managing your stress is a vital part of a good time management plan.
One easy way of reducing stress is to take regular breaks, but you’d be surprised how many people work a whole day without taking one! A well-timed break will restore your energy and focus by giving your brain a chance to reset. Consider going for a short walk, meditating, or even taking a short nap.
For some of us, it’s pen and paper or nothing else, but give the tools we’ve listed in this blog a go, and you never know, you might see your productivity rocket!
What tools do you use for time management? Join the discussion below.
by Emma Gibbins | 22 Feb 21
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