Productivity Tips to Carry You Through 2012

By POPSUGAR Smart Living on 4 January 2012 (Updated 24 February 2012) 5 comments
Photo: WOVOX Team

The start of a new year is a good time to take a review of the best productivity tips we have shared with you. These tips help maximize your efficiency at work so you're getting more done in less time. Read on to find out what our best picks for productivity tips are so you can use them to have an even more efficient 2012!

RELATED: How to Self-Motivate in 5 Steps

Doodle During Meetings to Help Retain More Information

Scientific research has shown that humans can pay attention to one thing for up to 20 minutes. After that period, it gets harder and harder to focus on it. If you feel your attention span has reached its limit, perhaps you should take a notepad out to doodle. A study in the Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal tested the doodling theory on a group of participants. Half were instructed to listen to a phone call that recited a list of names of people and places, and the other half were told to doodle when listening to the message. Those who doodled were able to remember 29 percent more than those who didn't. Psychology Today says:

In the study, the phone message was intentionally designed to be boring. One possibility is that doodling distracted participants from their boredom. Yet it demanded less concentration than drifting off into a daydream, so the doodlers may actually have been more focused than non-doodlers.

Make a Do-Not-Do List

If you're like me, you may constantly find yourself tackling never-ending to-do lists. I think one of the worst drawbacks of a to-do list is that it becomes entrenched in your mind — you're always thinking about what you have left to do, and that can take a toll on you. For example, sometimes I can't help thinking about it when I'm in bed, and that leaves me restless.

The solution to reducing the stress of a to-do list is to counter it with a do-not-do list. Russell Bishop, a life coach, gave some great advice on Huffington Post: at the end of each day or workweek, not only should you cross out the items you have accomplished, but you should also mark that you're not going to do the remaining tasks for the rest of the night or weekend. Writing it off on your list will help to give your mind a mental break from the to-do list. This is such a savvy, yet simple tip — do you have more ideas on how to better manage a to-do list?

Leave a Text Instead of a Voicemail Message

I recently heard a unique voicemail message I thought was a great idea. Her voicemail said the best way to reach her is to "leave a text instead of a voicemail message" because she barely checks her voicemail messages. For those of you who are super texters, this is a great way to keep track of missed calls.

Another awesome alternative is the function on Google Voice that gives you transcripts of your voicemail messages.

Use Nature to Beat Work Fatigue

Although it's recommended to take a short walk to unwind from work, what you're surrounded by during your walk actually matters a lot. For example, if you're walking through a busy street filled with flashing lights and loud noises, the stroll won't really be an effective time-out.

University of Michigan researchers found that subjects who strolled through a nature setting saw a 20% improvement in attention and focus tests. However, participants who took a brief walk in a busy city did not see any cognitive benefits. Even spending time in a quiet room with a picture depicting nature was more effective than a city stroll.

Schedule Emails to Be Sent Later With Boomerang

Boomerang is a Firefox and Chrome plug-in that will let you schedule your emails to be sent at a later time and date, anywhere from a minute later to years later. You can install one for Gmail or for Outlook. The tool even lets you take out emails from your inbox and resend them back to you at a later time when you actually need them. For example, if your friend sent you an email today, but you're not going to have any time to respond until the weekend, you can use Boomerang to remove the email from your inbox and resend it to you on Saturday.

I just downloaded the plug-in for my Gmail account, and I love it! I wrote an email late last night that I scheduled to be sent at 9 a.m. today, which went off without a hitch. I even had time to look over it before it was sent.

I can imagine this feature coming in really handy on Friday when I'm writing work emails, because people are more likely to forget to reply as they usually put off replying to Friday emails until after the weekend. Using Boomerang to schedule those emails for Monday mornings may cut down on the hassle of sending follow-up emails.

Be Specific When Setting Goals

Whether it be saving more or deciding to lose weight, achieving goals can be quite hard for most people. It's easy to set them and pledge to yourself that you're turning over a leaf. And then when you find yourself making excuses to skip the gym or indulging in something you can't afford, you're wondering how your plan got derailed. I came across this neat tip that'll help you better achieve goals in an email from Ramit Sethi's blog I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Ramit says:

"'When it comes to self-persuasion, vague goals are death. For example, people have really vague goals — 'I want to get a six-pack' — which is an excuse to do nothing, since the path to a six-pack is unclear. It would be better to say 'I want to go to the gym two times this week.' Once you accomplish that minor goal, you can escalate it: 'I want to run on the treadmill for 10 minutes without stopping . . . now 15 minutes . . . now 30 . . . ' and finally, once you get to an advanced level, you can set more ambitious, vague goals like a six-pack."

Whenever you're making goals, try applying this concept to them. For example, if you're trying to save money, write down some concrete and specific steps you can take, such as shave $200 off your monthly rent by getting a roommate or moving to a smaller apartment, or saving $24 a week by bringing lunch to work three times a week.

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Organize Your Workdays by Theme

I really don't know how Jack Dorsey does it. He's currently managing two fast-growing tech companies — Twitter and Square. He apparently spends eight hours at each firm every day and he says the only way to juggle two companies is to "be very disciplined." He also themes his 16-hour days. Here's what his schedule is like, according to CNN:

Monday: Management meetings and "running the company" work
Tuesday: Product development
Wednesday: Marketing, communications, and growth
Thursday: Developers and partnerships
Friday: The company and its culture
Saturday: Hiking
Sunday: Reflection, feedback, and strategy

I actually think Jack's "theme your days" idea is a good one, and I think I'm going to start implementing a slight variation of that strategy at work. However, I don't think I'll plan my weekends out. I like to be as spontaneous as possible on Saturdays and Sundays!

Don't Drink More Caffeine Than Necessary

If you intake more coffee than your usual amount, it might make you more stressed if you're already feeling some tension, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol. Stick to your regular cup of joe, and if you think the taste of coffee will calm you down, try opting for a decaf coffee instead.

Stop Spammy Calls

Spam calls can be a frustrating waste of time. Get rid of those pesky calls with these tips:

Do Not Call Registry

This is probably the best piece of advice for putting an end to those telemarketing calls. Once I registered my cell phone number with the Do Not Call registry, which is managed by the Federal Communications Commission, I stopped received telemarketing calls. Let me tell you, silence is truly golden! If the calls still persist, you can even file a complaint with the FCC online.

Keep It Private

Be wary of giving out your phone number and try to limit it to friends. Be very careful about entering in your phone number when you're participating in contests or signing up for promotions.

Straight to Voicemail

If you're getting too many telemarketing calls, you can save yourself the hassle of dealing with them each time by letting an unknown number go straight to voicemail. You can then check your voicemail messages at the end of the day to see who you should really call back.

Stay Optimistic

People who have a positive view about their willpower and believe they have an unlimited amount of it are able to work longer without a decrease in performance quality versus those who believe they have a limited amount, Stanford University researchers found. The

And remember, being happy doesn't have to cost you anything! Check out these feel-good tips on how to have a happier life for free.

Write Down Your Big Wins

Time passes so quickly, doesn't it? Before you know it, it's performance evaluation time again. Here's a tip for you: write down your big wins as they happen over the year. It doesn't matter if it's in Excel, Google Docs, or a plain notebook, start keeping track of your accomplishments. That way when you're pushing a raise, you'll be able to easily whip out the detailed facts and be able to make a stronger case of why you deserve one. After all, memories can fail, and it's easy to forget certain achievements over the course of a year.

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Meg Favreau's picture

Yeah, writing down your big wins is good practice for work, but I think it's also good practice for the point above -- staying optimistic. Sometimes, when I'm stressed or frustrated, I think it's helpful to be able to remind yourself of how successful you've been or how lucky you are, personally or professionally.

Does anybody have other ways they're planning to be more productive this year?

Guest's picture

Wow - these are great! I am particularly loving 'Leave a Text Instead of a Voicemail Message' - this is so true for me. It takes so much more time to listen to a voicemail message plus you have to have a pen or paper handy to write everything down. I think I need to change my message! I am also looking forward to investigating Boomerang. I have thought Outlook as needed a 'schedule later' function for years! Why they still don't I have no idea. Thanks for such great tips! I will be sharing!

Guest's picture

The message to text is great. I've been using the Google voice transcriber for a while now. It's not perfect (the results can sometimes be hilarious) but it normally gets the gist of the message correct. I also like the "theme your days" thing. I tend to have projects with no specific deadline, so it can be hard to figure out what to work on when. I think devoting days to specifics will help me increase the amount of work I accomplish on all my projects. Thanks!

Guest's picture

The Boomerang email program sounds like it's made for some sort of novel plot. Someone sets emails to be sent in the future... person disappears... why are there random emails arriving from him when no one has spoken with him in days? (Not sure writing that story would make me more productive in 2012, but hey...)

Guest's picture

All of these tips are smart, and I think they can help me be more efficient. I also think that focusing on the positive aspects rather than the negative things is one of the best tips to remember at work. We also posted a few guides to help you be more productive at work. - Erich