Whether you work from home, or go into work every day, productivity is a term that chases us no matter what. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much time you spend on something, what matters is how much you’re able to get done. However, it’s easy to get distracted and procrastinate.

I’m sharing some methods I’ve used to help me stay productive. Employing these have helped me become more efficient and have given me more time for myself!

In my research of different ways to improve productivity, I came across something called the Pomodoro technique, which is a popular time management method. I’ve used it with success and I’ll share that too!

How to Be More Productive

Each day is divided up into different ways so that I can make the most of my time, and not waste any. This has increased my efficiency and increased my productivity.

Set Goals

I start each day, or each week, by setting goals, or deadlines for myself. You don’t have to have a plan for every minute of your time, but you should have something to work towards.

The more you’re able to identify what needs to get done and in what time frame, the more likely you are to complete the task or achieve the goal you’re after.

How do I keep track of all of this? I write it down. I personally prefer to use planners. I know some who live by their Google calendars/notes and reminders; still others I’ve seen have sent emails to themselves with to-do lists. I think that the advantage to writing everything down is also so that you can see it all at once, which will allow you to get a better idea of how to divide your time across the day.

Set a Routine for Yourself

I try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day and give myself time to unwind and relieve stress every day before bed.

I believe consistency in our routines allows us to develop better time management habits that we can stick to, and increases our productivity while working, which then allows for time to unwind and relax at the end of the workday. I work as a physician, and on my “days off”, I’m still up at the same time and I’m able to complete so much of my work on those days.

Schedule a Specific Time to Check Emails

In the same way, I establish a routine for the workday. I set the same time every day for checking emails. For instance, I only look through work emails in the morning and then don’t check again until the end of the workday.

With two set times, the rest of the hours in between can be dedicated to actual work activities. (Trust me you aren’t missing out on anything—anything truly emergent, you’ll be getting a phone call). The caveat is if I’m expecting a response or am actively communicating with someone via email, then I’ll check more often or leave it up on my laptop.

Stay Away From Personal Texting/phone calls.

Just like you schedule a time to check your emails, do the same with personal texting and phone calls. Only check your phone at pre-determined intervals during the day so that you don’t stray from your tasks while you’re completing them.

Minimize Distractions

Once you’ve set your to-do list, you need to now stick to the tasks at hand and say no to distractions. I’m very intentional with this step.

First, Set Your Workspace

No matter if I’m working at home, or trying to be more productive at work, I look for a spot where I can focus and concentrate. I have a couple of areas of the hospital, where, if I have some time, I take my laptop and I’m able to go there and get in the zone. I find that if I’m in an environment conducive to being productive, I get so much more done in a shorter period of time.

This is kind of like how you shouldn’t watch tv in bed. Your bedroom should only be for sleep. This way you train your body to be triggered by the environment you’re in. I think the same holds true for personal productivity.

Stay Off of Social Media

This is a no brainer to minimize distractions. If I must check, I try and only do so when I’m not working on anything work-related, for instance, during lunch, or answering personal emails.

Close the Door to Distractions

I’m only able to do this at home. I got into my library/office and literally shut the door. I think this is especially helpful when I need to hammer something out, working on a deadline, or need take a work-related call.

Take Breaks

It’s not possible to keep working straight throughout the day. You’ll start to fade and lose focus.  Instead, I find that I can be more productive by taking regular breaks.

I recharge by getting up and walking around. I’ll stretch your legs, grab a coffee; if it’s nice outside, I’ll step out and get some sun. Moving around actually makes me more relaxed and clears my head much more effectively. Try it, you’ll realize how tired you are of staring at a computer screen, and how refreshed you feel when you sit back down.

Group Similar Tasks Together

This is a great way to boost your efficiency and get several things done at once. Tasks that are related or intertwined should be done together or in succession.

For instance, say you’re writing a research paper (I was in this boat a couple of years ago). You have to do the research and figure out how to translate what you find into succinct writing. Instead of doing research in the morning and then writing in the evening, combine these tasks. As you find relevant articles for your research try to immediately incorporate them into your paper.

My method was to copy/paste relevant information, with the links to the references, as soon as I read it. THEN, I would go back and reword, and link everything together into cohesive sentences and paragraphs that held meaning. Given that I had saved the relevant references, it was also easy for me to include that information as I went along.

That is just one, maybe not so great example, but you can see what I mean. By grouping similar tasks together you also are concentrating on them at once, which means you’ll likely get more done during that time frame. AND there will be less repetition or retracing of your steps this way.

List in Order of Importance

You should always prioritize your more important, more pressing tasks first and leave your less important tasks for later.

I like to think of it this way: when I start my day, I have energy and motivation and am more likely to sit in one place or stay focused for long periods of time. As the day progresses and I get more tired, I’m more easily distracted. Thus, if I do the less important things later, the distraction won’t matter as much OR I could try and multitask my way through them because they won’t require my full attention.

The Pomodoro Technique for Time Management

The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique that was developed in the 1980’s by Francisco Cirillo to increase your productivity and decrease procrastination. In essence, this technique can help you with everything I’ve discussed above. I’ve tried it with moderate success. I’m going to describe it below so that anyone wanting something more structured (and well researched), then you can try it too!

So, Why is it Called the Pomodoro Technique

Where does the name come from? Pomodoro translates to “tomato”. Think of the tomato-shaped kitchen timers…Francisco used that as inspiration when naming this technique. I don’t use a tomato timer, just one on my phone.

pomodoro technique
tomato kitchen timer (Pomodoro technique)

How Does it Work?

The Pomodoro method is a way to break up your day into small, focused intervals (Pomodoros) with regular breaks in between. The Pomodoro technique suggests 25 minute blocks of focused work. The idea being that you should focus and complete the task at hand in that time then take a break before moving on to the next.

6 Steps of the Pomodoro technique

To break it down further, there are 6 steps to using this method:

  1. Decide on the tasks to be done.
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and check it off your list
  5. Take a 5 minute break
  6. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

Four Pomodoros constitute a “set”. Once you complete a set, then, you are allowed to take a longer break.

Think of each checkmark as a way of showing yourself that you have completed 25 un-interrupted minutes of work. So then, if you do get distracted you don’t earn a check mark. In this way you can track how able you are to stay focused for that period of time and/or what distractions have come into play to prevent you from fulfilling the full 25 minutes of focus.

Variations to This Method

Not everyone is able to sit for 25 minute consecutive increments. The good thing about the Pomodoro technique is that it may be adjusted to fit your schedule and lifestyle.

For instance, you can lengthen the time of your Pomodoros. Or you can use this technique in between regular workflow intervals. As an example, I would adjust mine, for instance, if I had a day filled with meetings, or I was in clinic and knew I would be distracted, then I would just use the time in between patients, or in between meetings to really focus on my tasks and attempt to finish as much as possible.

Advantages to the Pomodoro Technique

This method is meant to help you streamline your objectives and goals, and minimize interruptions when completing tasks. This technique is also flexible in that you can adapt it to your current schedule and simply use it during your free time. If you think about it 25 minutes is not a long time to not look at your phone or check your email; in other words, you can easily incorporate it into your routine.

In addition, when you write down everything you need to do, and then track your progress, you can get an objective measure of when or what distracts you (if anything), when you are most productive during the day and which tasks take the most time and energy.

Overall, by helping you maintain focus and reducing waste, you greatly increase your efficiency and productivity.

Disadvantages to this Method

As I mentioned above, it may not be super straightforward to incorporate this time management system into your schedules. In addition, depending on where you work or the task to be done, 25 minutes may not be enough, and any time above that may prove to be too long to put off distractions.

Why does Productivity and Time Management Matter?

Knowing how to be productive and manage your time wisely is important in any industry. The more productive you are, the more money you may make, and the more influence you may have. Because it is what drives us, knowing how to do it well can make a big difference in how we are able to live our lives.

Burnout is on the rise and happiness is on the decline. I think a lot of that stems from the fact that we have poor time management skills, spend too much of our time on tasks that have no actual value, or we fail to focus, therefore procrastinating and wasting time.

However, knowing how to be productive and changing your habits to be more focused is not complicated or difficult. If you’re struggling, then start small; make small changes, set small goals, and start to build good habits into your day to day routine. Incorporating these time management skills and tips I’ve mentioned, or even trying the Pomodoro technique can go a long way towards getting things done and giving you more time to be you.

Everything here is something that I’ve tried and I’ve found that I am able to get much more done throughout the day. I am more productive, more efficient and feel so much more accomplished at the end of each day. I hope that some of these tips helps you as well!