This time last year, I was at breaking point. No matter what time I arrived at the office, I couldn't get through the ever-mounting pile of emails and tasks on my to-do list. When working late into the night and on weekends just became the norm, I knew I had to find a way to change my lifestyle before my health (and work quality) took a toll.
So every week I started testing out time management hacks we'd covered on the site, and one of them has managed to stick. It's simple in theory, but when I practice this rule, I leave the office on time: Rather than responding to incessant emails throughout the day, I schedule three 30-minute windows to check and respond to timely requests. Otherwise, my email is closed and notifications are off. If an email isn't timely, it sits in my inbox until the morning, when I make myself clear each and every message.
It turns out that treating email as an "opt-in" part of your day is scientifically proven to boost productivity. It can take up to 20 minutes to regain focus after a notification ping, which amounts to such a big time and energy drain that Boomerang for Gmail has launched Inbox Pause to automate this hack.
Inspired by this simple yet effective rule, I turned to women at the height of their careers to find out which time management tricks work for them. It turns out everyone has a tip that's changed the way they work, whether it be starting the day slowly or vowing to always be on time. Apparently, these are the productivity tips that work IRL.
When we're racing from one task to another, our concept of time becomes blurred. In fact, according to neuroscientific research shared by Huffington Post, the way our brain perceives time passing depends on whether a day feels rushed and stressful—which we have control over. It's partly why meditation or taking mindful deep breaths helps us feel more in control.
With this in mind, Catherine De Orio, executive director of culinary nonprofit Kendall College Trust, prioritizes "slow time" at the start of each day. "My well-being is at the top of my daily to-do list, so that's the first thing I check off," she tells MyDomaine. "Before heading to the gym, I use those quiet moments to drink my coffee, read, and plan out the things I need to accomplish that day," she says. "By 7 a.m., I have already gifted some time to myself and created my day's schedule, allowing me to hit the ground running with laser focus since no matter how chaotic or long my day is, I've already tended to my personal goals."
Be Selective With Emails
It turns out that I'm not the only one who swears by email hacks. Tracy Sun, co-founder of Poshmark, says learning to tame her inbox has changed the way she works. "Email-management hacks are the key to productivity because when I get into the office in the morning, I always have an inbox full of emails to respond to," she says. "My tip for staying on top of email is to scan my inbox for the urgent ones, and I ignore the rest until the afternoon." That way, you can be sure that the highest value-adding tasks have been completed early in the day.
Schedule Downtime in Your Calendar
We know that we should take a few minutes to leave our desk and go for a walk at lunch, but it's hard to find time when you're always in the moment. Tara Foley, founder of Follain, overcomes the urge to stay chained to her desk by scheduling time in her calendar. "I'm most efficient when I set aside time during the day to go outside, catch up on emails, meditate, or even just to walk the stairs," she tells MyDomaine. Without it, "all the interaction of back-to-back meetings, and an open office environment can make my head spin."
"At Decorist, we have a culture that puts time on a pedestal," explains founder Gretchen Hansen. "Meetings are a particular focus for us; it's amazing the amount of wasted energy spent in late-starting or inefficient meetings."
To counter the snowball effect of unproductive meetings, her team has set standards. "Everyone is on time for meetings, meetings start on time, meetings are clearly run, and meetings end on time. It feels great," she says. "We have increased our productivity by at least 20% by being vigilant about time. And even better—once people see the benefits for themselves and the team, they start evangelizing it—it's a virtuous cycle."
Wake Up One Hour Earlier
Romy Newman, president and co-founder of Fairygodboss, agrees with De Orio that mastering your morning routine is key. Her top tip: "Squeeze in one hour of work before the day begins to organize, prioritize, check email, and manage social media," she says. "I find that if I wake up early and invest the time to get on top of projects, it helps me start the workday with a clear head and without that feeling of being behind the ball or overwhelmed." Once the most important tasks have been actioned or added to a priority list, she switches off.
"After that, I make breakfast for my kids and get us all ready to start the day. I can even go exercise or do yoga and not be concerned that there is unfinished business on my plate."
What productivity trick works for you? Share your advice in the comments.