Productivity Hacks You Can’t Live Without!

Stuck in overwhelm? Follow our productivity hacks to get you back on track

Found yourself in the burnout zone? Overwhelmed with the mountain of tasks that lie ahead? Can’t win back that unstoppable productivity you had?

It’s well documented that when we are faced with pressure, we do not perform at our best. Our brains become degraded by the overwhelm of information, stimulation, and competing priorities. What were once simple tasks begin to blur together in one epic nightmare. What’s worse is that the work keeps coming in thick and fast and it feels like you’re barely keeping your head above water.

Maybe you…

  • admit to yourself that you don’t have the best tools or systems in place to manage your time and workload in the first place. (If this is you then check out this light introduction to productivity tools).
  • were doing perfectly fine until you had to cover another person(s) job on top of your own.
  • didn’t anticipate the amount of work that would be coming to you right now. Eeek!

The magic bullet

You can try to take control back , check your boundaries and reset your current role but you may also need something a little less macro and a little more micro: a simple to do list. 

But a list on its own isn’t going to solve all of your problems. You need some wrap around support, a system that will help you achieve what you need to in the timeframe you need to achieve it in. 

Sound impossible? Well maybe it is, this solution won’t work for everyone! But I’ve been adapting my system for years and passed it on to many team members who have gone on to change it to suit their style.

The theory

Procurement loves a 4-box diagram. Have you ever noticed that many of the models and matrices we use in Procurement are set out in 4 boxes? Supplier preferencing, power and influence, power and dependency, Kraljic matrix, it goes on. There is a reason for that: behavioural science supports that we process vertical and horizontal information differently. In a study psychologist Sian Beilock found that “Although our brain is a general capacity system, some resources are devoted to verbal information and some to spatial information. When we’re doing two things at once that tap a similar pool of resources, we may not have enough to go around… a mathematical problem presented horizontally demands more of the brain’s resources than when the same problem is presented vertically”.

A 4-box to-do list helps to cut through the noise and organise your tasks into vertical lists that can then be categorized on one page or a post it note. The Eisenhower matrix is great but it wasn’t cutting through the noise and categorising things that were an issue. I needed to track different types of information at a glance.

Set yourself up right

A to do list is nothing without a system, these are what I call enablers.

Meet your new work BFFs – your enablers:

  • Have a plan for the morning – clear time at the beginning of the day and end of day to re-do your list
  • Block out time for particular projects (Pomodoro method
  • Remember you’re employed for your skillset, not your ability to spend 8 hours glued to outlook. Close the darn email system, log off, walk away. 
  • Use alarms and timers to keep yourself to time (and not run late for meetings)
  • Promised you’d do something for someone? I stick a reminder at 8am in my calendar and colour code it green – I check all my “green’s” each day and either reshuffle or follow up with the person.
  • Colour code your outlook and sort by category of colour, minimising the amount of information on your screen but also ensures you don’t miss the important stuff. I have red, green, blue and sometimes yellow. Plus it hits that magic vertical part of your brain.
  • Monitor where your time is spent and block out one hour a week, or fortnight for development, then put it in your calendar as an appointment and don’t move it. For me 8-9am on a Friday works well: grab a coffee on the way to work, don’t log in and listen to a podcast or read an article. This is your professional “fuel” – how can you give, give, give and not top yourself up with inspiration or new ideas? 
  • If you are a manager, condense all of your team meetings to be completed by 10am each day (or other appropriate window that works for your schedule).  I realised we were a customer service function who appeared to take up 80% of prime meeting time by talking amongst our team of 25 – customers couldn’t get any time in and everyone ran around from meeting to meeting caused by our own making.
  • Have a “zoom out” plan. I regularly check in with my workplan of priorities, how am I tracking against the key areas I wanted to tackle? And what was once simmering but now might need extra attention? The reverse is also true, once something is on my longer term plan I can set and forget, getting the noise out of my head.

Getting in the zone

For me it’s about setting myself up to get into the flow state with clear parameters that ensure I am working on what I’m meant to be working on and that I won’t get lost and spend too much time on it – I have a tendency to hyperfocus, fixate and over-produce a product (#adhd).

What can it look like?

I have an A5 notebook and draw up 4 boxes, during the day I often put post it notes on top but at the end of the day I reset. Here are variations over the years…

Option A

Option B

My flow

Time is more fluid now than ever and the once firm structures like a dedicated workplace and home life are blurred. Having a ‘today’ list was stressing me; I was a slave to the hustle culture. I now have 3 pages and only one is used daily.

  1. Overall plan – checked once every 2 or so weeks
  2. Batch tasks, the low stuff that if I leave for awhile is proven that over 50% of it will die
  3. Weekly flow plan. The day’s focus is one post-it note on top of the 4 boxes, it only ever has 2 or 3 things that need to be achieved that day.

What, is that it?

As stated earlier this isn’t rocket science but it amazes me every day how many people are in such overwhelm that something simple as a to-do list with a wrap around system is what can help them get back on track. Is this award-winning? No. Is it novel and new? No. It’s just a list with tried and true focus and productivity methods.

Does it work? Absolutely, yes.