Small productivity tips with large benefits

The following are four super-simple things you can do in less than five minutes to make a huge improvement in your productivity and efficiency.

First and foremost: disable the alert sound that announces every new email you receive on your computer. This alert sound is such a compelling distraction that it can pull me out of almost anything I’m doing. It’s similar to the sound of a ringing phone — no one can resist it. A lot of people learn to check email at pre-determined intervals (which I recommend), but even just silencing that insistent little beep and checking your email whenever you want will go a long way to reducing distractions and increasing productivity. I killed the beep on my iPhone, too. You can easily turn these notifications back on if the need arises.

A second suggestion and another large improvement for me was eliminating leisure computing after 9:00 p.m. Nothing increases productivity like sleep, and late-night Facebook browsing or tweeting was robbing me of that precious commodity. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! I’m going to order the book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry D. Rosen for more insight on this topic. But even my modest efforts have been beneficial, as I’m getting more sleep.

My favorite online calendar is Google Calendar. I’ve been using it for years and I love it. However, I only recently discovered the “Quick Add” feature. Here’s how it works: when creating a new event, click the downward-pointing arrow next to the “Create” button. Then, enter an event that follows the what, where, and when pattern (note that only “what” and “when” are required). For example, “Meeting with Tom at Starbucks on Tuesday 2.15 p.m.” Using natural language is SO much faster than creating an event and filling each field one at a time. How did it take me so long to find this?

Finally, and this is my favorite, install an app launcher. This is a piece of software that, among other things, lets you launch applications with only a stroke of a key or two. I’m a Mac user and I swear by Alfred. LaunchBar is another popular alternative. On the Windows side, consider Launchy. With Alfred, I can open any app by hitting Command-Space and then typing just the first one or two letters of that app’s name. I can’t even measure how much time this saves me throughout the day. All of these programs do a lot more than launch other apps, but this feature alone makes them worth installing. In fact, when I get a new computer, the absolute first thing I do with it is install Alfred.

You can get fancy with your productivity enhancement to great benefit, but remember that sometimes small changes can make huge differences. Share your favorite small tips that reap huge rewards in productivity and efficiency.

5 Comments for “Small productivity tips with large benefits”

  1. posted by Laura on

    Agreed that app launchers are incredibly helpful, though I just use Spotlight on my Mac. Command-space is the default keyboard command for that, I think, and I get super fast results typing just one or two letters of the name of an app, especially a regularly-used one.

    I have an alarm on my phone that goes off every weeknight telling me to “stop.” Stop surfing the internet, stop reading emails, stop watching Netflix. Put down the computer and walk away. I should probably set it even earlier, though.

  2. posted by Matt Gibson on

    Incidentally, the natural language processing is built right into the standard Calendar app on OS X. Press the “+” button top left and type something.

    There’s a better natural language processor with, for me, a much cuter UI, available in Fantastical for Mac, too. Fantastical can be triggered from the menubar, which is quick, and I also have it available in Alfred.

    (Both of these will work with Google Calendar if you have it added as a Calendar account in OS X.)

  3. posted by April on

    Here’s a tip to make a big difference in your day, though it’s a familiar one that a lot of people have probably already heard of:

    Prepare for tomorrow tonight.

    For some reason, picking out your clothes, packing your lunch, leaving important things you need by the front door, etc. the night before works so much better than doing it first thing in the morning. They take the same amount of time whether it’s night or day, but the whole process is smoother if it’s done in advance and you don’t have to think about those things in the morning, even if you get up in plenty of time.

    It’s a game changer.

  4. posted by andrea on

    thanks you for the Quick Add tip. i had no idea it existed either – it’s great.

  5. posted by Rebekah O'Neal on

    I believe your recommendation to avoid “goofing off time” (my paraphrase) after 9 pm can be the single most effective step many of us could take to improve productivity – especially in this day and age that is focused so much on social media. Another simple but often overlooked tip for improving productivity is mindful snack and nutritional intake choices while you are actually working.

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