Microsteps to manage productivity

It’s amazing how fast a day can slip away once you start watching “just one episode” of your favorite TV show on Hulu. But even if you have a pretty productive day, you’re probably not maximizing your efficiency. There are certainly some larger-scale changes we can make to help us get more words written–giving up TV shows, designing our workspace to help us focus, or hiding the router, to name a few–but sometimes even minor changes can help us build momentum. Here are three of my favorite tricks:

1. Log off Facebook.

For me, Facebook creep sucks a lot of time–and I’m not talking about my tendency to stalk people’s walls. I log on to Facebook and Twitter periodically throughout the day to network, upload the next day’s posts, or interact with fans on the Quill Pen page. While I’m there, I’ll take a spin down my newsfeed and maybe attempt a witty status. And that’s all fine. I close the window and hit the next item on my to-do list.

But then, whether it’s two minutes or twenty minutes later, I’ll come to my senses and find myself scrolling through my newsfeed again, wondering how I got here and how long I’ve been here. It’s so second-nature, I don’t even realize when I click out of my work and onto Facebook. That’s a serious productivity drain and shows I’m not being intentional about where I spend my time.

My husband devised a great solution for me. “Just log off,” he said. So simple, but so brilliant. Of course, my password is also second-nature, so it’s no struggle to get back on once I’ve logged off, but logging off does two things for me–it prevents my computer from beeping at me whenever I have a new notification, and it adds in an extra step that functions as a flashing blue warning sign in my head: “DANGER: You are about to browse Facebook. Are you doing this on purpose? Is this what you really want to be doing right now?”

If I think, “Yes. Yes I want to be on Facebook,” and proceed to waste time, that’s not an ideal decision, but at least I’m not letting an hour go to waste while literally unaware that I’m doing it.

2. Set your snooze button to 5-minute increments.

I am not a morning person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to be. I’ve succeeded for about three weeks at a stint.

But it doesn’t last.

Perhaps you feel the same way. In my desperate attempts to walk the line between getting more sleep please and still getting up early enough to be productive before going to my other job, I hit the snooze button. Just once this time, I say. Well once turns into four times, and I end up losing forty minutes. What if you could cut that half? If you program your snooze button to allow you five minutes instead of ten, you’ll trick your brain into thinking you’re spending more time in bed than you really are. If you’re a particularly persistent snoozer, it might not work, but for most people It’s an instant time saver.

3. Write down the triggers that kill your momentum.

If I stream even one episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or play even one game of online Spades in the middle of the day, my productivity is absolutely killed for the rest of the day. Sometimes I can reset with a game of racquetball or a nap or a particularly hot shower, but most of the time I just get to wander through the day in a vaguely miserable tug of war between what-I-should-be-doing and what-I-know-I’ll-actually-be-doing-for-the-next-six-hours. Maybe it’s a character flaw that I can’t just snap out of it and get to work, but since I already know that it will be nigh-impossible for me to do so, I do the next best thing: I don’t watch shows on Hulu or play online card games in the middle of the day. Usually. Paying attention to the types of breaks that trigger my productivity meltdowns was a game-changer for me. It’s not that I can’t take breaks, I just have to be careful what I do while on those breaks. Your triggers might be different–take notes on your behavior for a week to see if you sense any patterns.

What are your favorite microsteps to boost your productivity? Join the conversation!

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