Managing your time and staying productive is a skill many designers and developers struggle with, sometimes it feels like there is not enough hours in the day to work on all the ideas that pop into your head throughout the day.
Planning your day and setting out work priorities is a skill that will increase your productivity and efficiency reducing your daily work hours. I noted down ten of my productivity tips to help you, I would be very interested to hear your productivity tips so leave a comment and I will add them to the list.
1) Organize the structure of your day
I find when I organize my day into set tasks it allows me to focus my all my energy into the set task in hand, it sounds obvious but when I do not do this my focus is often spent thinking about other tasks I need to do whilst I should be focusing on the current job I am working on.
I find I only work effectively for certain durations and times, because of this I can plan my day and work tasks around this, I know that in the early morning I am most productive so I set my high priority tasks in the first couple of hours in the day.
I find by doing this I can get these tasks done in half the time as I am more focused and not distracted. I set a timer for one hour, during this I work on the task in hand, no social media, no YouTube or email checking then after the power hour I have a break, refresh the mind then start again.
Wasting time procrastinating on YouTube, FaceBook or Twitter is fine, as long as you have a set time for it and it does not interfere with your work flow. A great iPad app I use called ‘Todo‘ really helps me with setting tasks and importantly prioritizing them.
2) Check emails at set times
I find nothing worse then being distracted whilst in the middle of some code or a design, often the distraction is caused by an email notification and curiosity always prevails. I end up checking my mails, replying and sorting only to realise I have lost focus on the task in hand and lost X amount of time.
The solution: dedicate set times for emails, I check them first thing in the morning and then every few hours, work dependant. This allows me to avoid distractions and generally get work done in a more time efficient manor.
3) Setup your workspace
I think it is important to create a work environment that is clean and tranquil, I personally cannot work in a cluttered, loud environment which will only serve to distract. If your going to spend many hours each day in the same room it is good idea to be comfortable, investing in a good chair to support your back and suitable desk is a wise investment, not an expense.
A friend who used to work from home, would get up and get dressed for work, leave the house through the front door and walk around the block and enter the house through the backdoor. He claimed it would set his mind into work mode better than working in your pajamas after getting out of bed.
I think there is some truth in this. Your work environment is a work space, it should not be at your kitchen table or on your living room floor.
4) Take note
I tend to take notes wherever I am, ideas and concepts can come to you at anytime. Very often, after spending hours working on a design or some code your creativity natural dries up and you burn out. This is when its time to stop and get out of your house or office.
Its often whilst away from your normal work environment that new and fresh ideas come to you and noting them down is a great way of taking the idea back to your home or office and adding some new ideas to an existing concept.
There is no creativity killer bigger then simply staring at your monitor, stuck for ideas. That is when your work quality starts to decline, by actively taking notes throughout your week you will always have extra ideas to explore for projects when your creativity starts to dry up.
5) Avoid multitasking
Before I set out a daily work structure I would often end up working on multiple projects or tasks which proved not only rather stressful but highly unproductive. I think it is pretty impressive if you can send an email, talk on the phone, add a FaceBook status and create a web app all at once, but sadly not everyone can work like that.
Being able to multitask is a good thing, but when you need to focus on writing code or creating your pixel perfect design you really need to be focused. Working only on single allocated tasks allows you to successfully complete the work to a higher standard and in a shorter time.
6) Be social, in your own hours
Unfortunately getting distracted is all too easy, how often have you found yourself working happily and then suddenly realised, without thinking you have slipped into the social void that is Twitter or Facebook and lost 30 minutes of your life, consequently loosing all direction on your current work project.
OK, maybe not that extreme but being distracted by other websites does happen, a handy FireFox add-on called Leech Block allows you to block specific websites on your PC during certain time periods of the day. This is a great tool and is a great addition when creating your daily work schedule.
7) Get out and get active
Regular exercise has so many positive effects, it should be part of your weekly schedule without excuses! Sitting in a chair for on upwards of 8 + hours per day is not healthy, neither is it good for your productivity.
Performing regular exercise and eating a good diet helps to keep the flu and sickness away, you are no good stuck in bed sick an incapable of working. Sitting down all day increases your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
I have had many ideas come to me whilst in the gym, luckily I have my iPhone with me and it allows me to note this down (Tip #4). Going for a run or a bike ride is a great way to clear your mind, I find I am more focused and work faster after comming back to work after an intense workout.
Chris Spooner wrote an interesting article which is well worth a read, titled “How Do You Stay Fit and Healthy as a Designer?”
8) Time Chunking
This point relates to tip #1, I know that I work great for set periods of time, after my concentration starts to dwindle and my productivity slips. Time Chuncking really helps me focus on one job task then take a break and reset my concentration.
For example, I set a timer for 1 hour and will work solidly for that hour trying to eliminate all distractions and simply focus on the task in hand. After the hour I will take a break for 15 minutes, then get back to work.
In the past, before I used this concept I would notice my contraction and creativity fading as the hours passed, often ending in me staring blankly into the monitor void or reading countless blogs on building a nuclear reactor in your kitchen.
Time Chuncking allowed me to eliminate the point in time when my creativity and focus starts to fade and take a break and continue with my work after.
Staying awake until 5am working is not such a great idea, unfortunately it often happens in this line work. A lack of sleep will not only dramatically reduce your productivity but will also negatively effect your attention span and impact your health.
It is important to try and get at least 8 hours sleep per day, allowing you to wake up feeling fresh, with a clear head and ready to plan your day. When you wake from a full night sleep you will be able to shift your brain into work mode, without relying on gallons of coffee to prop you up at your desk.
Planning your day structure as recommended in tip #1 should enable you to plan out your daily work or personal commitments and this should stop you working off into the night.
10) Change your work location
Sometimes sitting in the same location for hours can suck your creativity dry, at this point it can be a great idea to get mobile. Grab your laptop and go and work somewhere else for a couple of hours.
A change of location can have a great effect on your productivity and creativity, all you need is your laptop, an internet connection and you can work from anywhere. Grab a coffee in a local coffee shop or sit in the park on a summers day, simply getting out of your normal work environment will add a different source of inspiration to your work. If you work directly from your Dropbox account, this will be very beneficial.
The above productivity tips are what I found to work great for me, most of which where noted down (tip #4) in random locations during my day. What tips do you have?