One thing I’ve learned from working with people at Google is that productivity is a skill that can be honed. Fundamentally, it’s about creating positive work habits that are realistic to maintain year-round, regardless of whether you’re an experienced executive or just starting your career.
As many of us learned over the past two years, being productive can be really hard when the unexpected happens. That’s why having some core productivity skills to fall back on is so important to help you manage all the moving parts of life. With that in mind, here are four of my favorite productivity tips to take into the new year:
Time management for big and small tasks
We’ve all been stuck in a negative cycle of procrastination when faced with a large, difficult, or time-consuming task. Facing the task head-on seems too daunting and can provoke feelings of anxiety, so we instead put it off for later and focus on other less-urgent items. As the deadline approaches, we become even more anxious, compounding procrastination further.
Aside from the obvious downside of missing a deadline, procrastination comes at our own expense by preventing us from using our time efficiently. One way to prevent procrastination is by identifying your “power hours“—the blocks of time when you’re most productive—and arranging your demanding tasks for that time. For example, I personally find I’m most productive in the morning from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., before meetings and emails require more of my attention. You can then reserve your downtime for smaller, more mundane tasks, or for lower energy meetings like a coffee catch-up with a coworker.
Another great way to save time is by identifying the tasks you do most often and finding faster ways to do them. Many of us likely spend a lot of time in our inboxes and on video calls; taking just a few minutes to learn how to optimize these everyday tasks can save you a considerable amount of time in the long run.
Plan ahead as much as possible
Time management is an incredibly useful skill, but maintaining focus during those times you set aside is, arguably, even more important. We can anticipate some distractions by accepting they will happen and learning how to manage them. Focus tips like keeping only one tab open and muting notifications will do wonders to minimize distractions and prevent procrastination. I also recommend writing your to-do list the night before. Knowing what lies ahead will make prioritizing your tasks a much smoother process, and having a bird’s-eye view can help you estimate how much time will be needed for each item—all before even starting the workday.
Focus management can also help you stay on track with current priorities. After all, saying ‘yes’ to something is saying ‘no’ to something else. There is always a trade-off. For example, replying yes to a meeting you don’t really need to attend is a no to heads-down time on that project you do need to finish. Check in with your priorities every so often and try to balance the everyday tasks done by “current you” with those of “future you.”
Upgrade your to-do list
It may seem simple, but the classic to-do list stands out as one of the best ways to stay organized. When making your to-do list, you should think of it as a map to guide you through your day. However, optimizing your to-do list so it becomes more than a collection of things that need to get done can do wonders for productivity and mental health.
As a guiding framework, I created the Daily Plan road map, which I recommend to all my coworkers, including our executives, and suggest they fill it out the night before to help them better organize their day. In addition to standard sections for listing tasks based on time and urgency, the Daily Plan includes space to write down moments of gratitude and mindfulness because research shows that practicing those can help you remain focused and collaborative—all necessary to avoid burnout.
Make productivity work for you
Everyone has different work styles, and understanding what works for you (and what doesn’t) will help you find the productivity habits suited to your needs. For example, people who prefer to rewrite their handwritten notes from meetings may not immediately benefit from improving their typing speed, and bullet journaling may not be useful for people who do everything electronically. Take some time to reflect on projects where you were at your most productive. What were you working on, and how did you achieve your goals? How did you stay organized and motivated? You should also reflect on instances where you were perhaps not as productive, or found it difficult to remain focused, and identify any recurring themes.
If you’re not sure which tips might suit you best or don’t know where to start, I’ve created a productivity guide covering everything from writing emails and staffing meetings to wellness at work. As you’ll see, there are many different strategies to become more productive, and not every tip will have the same impact on everyone.
The past year has certainly posed many challenges for workers and employers alike, but we also have a unique opportunity to mitigate some of these challenges by ringing in more productive, healthier work habits in 2022. A little attention each day to increasing your productivity can reap benefits that will last a lifetime.
Laura Mae Martin is Google’s executive productivity advisor and manages the Productivity@Google program, helping employees increase their daily workflow and productivity.