24 Productivity Hacks From Successful Career Women

October 8, 2020
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Regardless of your industry, job title, or goals, you probably have a to-do list that seems never-ending. Yet, with so many tasks vying for your attention, it can be easy to get to the end of the day and feel as though you really haven’t accomplished anything.

To help, we tapped into the brilliant minds of 24 female leaders to learn the one productivity tip that has changed their life and freed them up to work on what matters most. Try one or try them all! The real impact comes from finding what works best for you.

1.Get an Early Start

I am most productive two to three hours before my day actually starts. Even if I woke up at 8 a.m., I always found myself feeling rushed and scattered throughout the day. The moment I started waking up two to three hours earlier, it gave me the quiet time and space I needed to build out lists and goals for my day and get work done without any distractions. Even if the rest of my day turned out to be unproductive due to things outside of my control, having those hours in the a.m. within my control has been a game-changer for my productivity. 

2. Utilize Automations

People might think that I’m a superwoman, but my real super power is utilizing automations. I started building them when I was working in Corporate America to help me and my team complete repetitive and mundane tasks more efficiently and accurately.

As a solopreneur and consultant, I’ve integrated bots and automations whenever and wherever possible for the things I don’t like doing and don’t want to spend my time doing. I love using automation software like IFTTT for my emails, social media posts, contact forms, automating responses, and beyond. Specifically, it has been a game-changer for managing my calendar and my emails. 

3. Focus on the Big Picture

With dozens of active projects, at any given moment, across different industries, I found that the most important thing for my productivity and effectiveness has been to set aside time to take the big picture view of those projects as well as how I would like my businesses to grow.  

At least once a month, I schedule a three-hour appointment with myself! My appointments have allowed me to review the wins, challenges and forward paths on active projects. They also give me space to be intentional about my goals for my companies, and not only business growth, but also how we can contribute to our communities and foster equity, diversity, and inclusion.

4. Do Your Most Important Task First

Learning about Daniel Pink’s “Most Important Task” has been a game changer for me. The idea is that you pick one most important task for the day, and do that first thing in the morning. Particularly during this COVID work-from-home era, distraction is so prevalent that it’s tempting to dig into the easiest task when I sit down to work. This isn’t, however, always the most important task. 

Now, I pause before I go to bed at night and write tomorrow’s most important task on an index card. I put that card on my computer, and that’s the first thing I do when I sit down to work.

5. Prioritize Tasks With High ROI

Focus first on the tasks with high return of investment (ROI). This simple philosophy governs how you would invest your money, and you can do the same thing with your time. Focusing on tasks that give you high returns, like automating processes, will allow you to reinvest your time and energy to give you even more “bang for your buck” so to speak.

When I first started my company, it was just me at my kitchen table doing everything from product design, finding manufacturing partners, branding, photographing, setting up my e-commerce site, emailing and social marketing, etc. I learned to focus on tasks with high ROI first as a matter of survival. I’m a former product manager, so I learned early on the importance of prioritizing tasks. Between having my priority list and focusing on tasks with high ROI, I was able to get the company off the ground and find the product/market fit I needed in order to be able to start hiring.

6. Practice Breathing Exercises

While I like meditation and think it does a lot of good, personally, I’ve been an adherent of practicing pranayama (breathing exercises for relaxation and focus) daily for years. I find that pranayama is more effective at clearing your mind and preventing your emotions from interfering with your decision-making.

Managing my team remotely, while staying inside during quarantine, I’ve noticed that people have started paying much more attention to their inner state. In fact, I feel like our awareness and attitude towards mental health is experiencing an important global shift overall. 

7. Meditate in the Morning

The first thing I used to do in the morning, even before getting out of bed, was to check my emails and other notifications. I found myself getting stressed and overwhelmed from the moment I woke up, and this set the tone for the rest of my day. 

Now, I disable my alarm and immediately hop into a 10-minute morning meditation using the Insight Timer app. A daily 10-minute morning meditation in bed has never asked too much of me in terms of my time and effort. This habit kicks off my day with grounded and peaceful energy which has actually helped me be more productive at work.

8. Plan Your Day the Night Before

After having kids, my mornings felt hectic and disorganized. So, I plan my week on Sunday evenings, and then each weeknight, I review and prepare for the next day. I’ve found it game changing to review the next day’s activities, identify priorities and pack up any items the night before.

When I wake up the next morning, I feel organized and ready to start the day. It helps to save time and also allows us a little extra time for the unexpected things that can happen in the morning. 

9. Practice Essentialism

I practice Essentialism: it is the rigorous prioritization of only the most essential projects in my business. Any business opportunity that does not forward my three priorities for the quarter gets deprioritized or delegated. 

When I was experiencing entrepreneurial scatterbrain, I quickly pivoted to Essentialism which increased my focus and my bottom line. When I coach female executives and leaders, the first practice is to the three most essential business priorities to communicate to their team and three other essential life priorities to communicate to their family and manager. The process of choosing which three initiatives to prioritize in and of itself is clarifying and strategic. 

10. Take Short Breaks Often

I started taking breaks every two hours even if it was just for 10 minutes. I used to work non-stop with little breaks thinking I could get more done. The problem was most days I was working 12 or more hours resulting in major burn out. Taking short breaks every two hours has been a game-changer because it allows me to rest my eyes, take a few deep breaths, or get a snack, giving me a needed boost.

11. Utilize Gmail Tools

It is a combo of two simple Gmail tools: the scheduled send and the snooze. I’m a very action-oriented person. and if I don’t take action quickly, things can fall by the wayside. The scheduled send allows me to write that followup email ASAP after the call, but plan it to go out at a time that is appropriate. The snooze feature is a fantastic way to not let emails get lost in your inbox and even let you file them away and pop up when you need a reminder.  

It has been a staple of my work to stay organized, on top of my work, and feel confident that I’m working on the right pieces at the right time. There is very little that makes me feel worse than accomplishing something, feeling great, and then realizing that I had missed much more impactful and bigger priorities on my plate.

12. Force Yourself to Brain Dump 

Before diving into anything that requires creativity or thoughtfulness, I put a four-minute timer on the clock to free write about it. I force myself to use the entire four minutes and just write whatever comes to mind. Lots of it is gibberish, but quickly, once I get through that, I end up surfacing thoughts and ideas I otherwise wouldn’t have if I had just dove right in.

I am a speed demon and a task master. I grew up in start-up land, so “done today is better than perfect next month” has been the name of my game. I think it’s a strength of mine, but it also lends itself to multi-tasking which just isn’t productive. By spending four minutes to slow down and just think about this one task, I’m able to speed up in the end because my ideas are much more developed and baked.

13. Start With Delegation

Start your week with delegation instead of action item overwhelm. As you write out your to-do list for the week, think critically about every item on the list and if it is critical that you be the one doing it. If you don’t have a team to help absorb tasks, look into virtual assistants and interns that can take over your more time consuming, recurring tasks. This will leave you with more time and energy to focus on important tasks that relate directly to your big picture strategy.

This has been revolutionary for my business by giving me back time and mental space to focus on strategy and prioritize tasks that directly result in forward movement. Delegation has directly led to increased revenue by allowing me more capacity to take on additional clients.

14. Invest in a Meditation Practice

Daily meditation has transformed my life and allowed me to be more focused, more calm and able to get much more done. I started meditation because I have ADD which, as an entrepreneur and creative director, is both my superpower and my achilles heel. I draw a lot of creativity from my natural energy but it can leave me scattered as well. 

Implementing a meditation practice has allowed me to slow down and approach my work with calm intention. It is a practice that must be cultivated constantly but it has been worth the investment in time because it ultimately saves time when I am not rushed or forgetful.

15. Walk and Jot

I call it the Walk and Jot. I am sure it is not the formal name, but for me, it stands for walking and dictating the majority of my writing work into my phone. 

It started by happenstance; as a field reporter, I was always running from story to story and needed to write in-depth articles on the go. I found dictating my first draft into my phone, not only saved time, but it allowed for a better free flow of thoughts to shine through. Now, most mornings I walk and dictate into my phone pieces and creative inspiration that I am working on. First drafts are always hard to get on paper, but this way, I don’t waste time thinking of the perfect word. This process has enhanced creativity, time management, and productivity all at the same time.

16. Prepare Well For Meeting Someone New

When meeting someone new, prepare well; the conversation will feel more like a second than a first.

Time and attention are precious, and meeting fatigue is a very real thing. When you’re meeting new people, it can be exhausting to spend 15 minutes on each person’s backstory, and you’ll find your 30-minute meeting is over before it feels like it really began. When I meet with someone, I want to be able to jump right into why we’re connecting instead of spending the majority of the conversation telling each other things that would surface in a quick internet search. I do a lot of research before I meet with people: I look at their LinkedIn, what they’re posting and engaging with on social media, things they’ve written, and recent news about them or their company to get up to speed on what’s out there. You might find a mutual friend or something you have in common and be able to connect on a deeper level.

17. Devote Time to Critical Tasks

Blocking at least one 90 minutes session in my schedule per day to devote time on the most critical task has been a game-changer for me. I’ve implemented this new productivity habit as I used to feel overwhelmed by never-ending to-do-lists, and I was always juggling multiple things. On the contrary, multitasking actually slowed me down and hindered me from achieving something that really mattered. During this 90-minute session, I am laser-focused and able to finish a project ahead of schedule.

18. Utilize Asana

I use Asana to project manage all my tasks, both for personal and work. At any time I can be planning 3 or more events, so each event has its own project with sub tasks. I can easily share the tasks, communicate with people I work with, and everything is tracked. I have all the tasks archived for years of events!

19. Create a “One Day” List

I created a “One Day” list : a place for me to put all of the great ideas that I wanted to do “one day.” Every few weeks, items from this list graduate to my actual priority list. I am an idea person which can be a huge distraction because working on a ton of ideas means you don’t make meaningful progress on any. Having a place to store the potential distractions allows me to stay focused on my priorities while still capturing the new directions.

20. Focus on 1-3 Big Tasks a Day

I only focus on 1-3 big tasks a day. I used to have a never ending to-do list, but instead of writing out a million things for each day I only focus on 1-3 big things. It’s been a game-changer for me because I am pretty much a full-time mom running two businesses and have very few hours a day to get things done.

I had to figure out a better system to feel less overwhelmed and also help me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something. Sometimes I also write a “done” list at the end of the day rather than “to-do” list which feels like I accomplished even more – even if it’s simple tasks like ordering more business cards.

21. Remove the Pressure to be Productive

The more I remove the pressure to be productive, focus on my biggest priorities, and trust that I’m moving at the right pace, the more productive I become.

Putting pressure on myself left me feeling rushed and behind like there was never enough time to get things done. By shifting my energy to trust that everything will get done and to focus on what’s actually important, I can go through my day with more ease while still moving forward in a meaningful way.

22. Be Aware of Your Level of Energy

The most valuable thing I’ve learned is to build awareness around my level of energy in different domains and consistently take tiny steps to replenish it throughout the day.

I started doing this after doing research for a client. As a coach, I’m always trying to understand what’s best for those I serve. When I tried it for myself, it was life-changing! It allows me to feel much more present and intentional with everything I do which means cutting out distractions and therefore working much more efficiently. In addition, it’s a perfect way to feel aligned with my values of positivity, simplicity, growth, and challenge. 

23. Utilize Time Blocking

I am a firm believer in time blocking my calendar for both work and personal tasks. Scheduling chunks of time helps me to keep focused during tasks and block out distractions. This ensures I don’t spend too much time on one thing and can get to everything I need in a day to feel productive. 

You can also easily get into a routine with daily time blocks and better manage your time as you learn how much time it takes to get certain tasks done. Calls are at my desk in the morning, all meetings are made mid-day, and afternoons are spent with branding opportunities and catching up with the team.

24. Try the 33-Minute Trick

The most legendary, crazy, prolific, productive copywriter of the twentieth century, Eugene Schwartz, would set a timer on his desk for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. During that time, the only thing he could do was the task at hand.

This 33 minute trick really forces you to focus on what you’re doing by—removing any and all distractions—and breaks up your day into digestible chunks. Plus, it turns out to be a perfect nugget of time pressure: long enough to get something very meaningful done but not so long that it feels like a chore. 

About the Author: All womxn featured in this article are members of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective for extraordinary entrepreneurial womxn supporting one another in achieving audacious dreams. Dreamers & Doers mission is to catalyze the success of womxn leaders and their ventures through community and mutual support.

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