I wouldn't call them "productivity hacks" - some of these ways of increasing productivity are actually lifelong commitments, or serious decisions. But they all helped. Here are ten things which made me look at my productivity with pride, this year.
1. Get better sleep
Everything suffers after a poor night's sleep - my workout performance, my mood, my productivity. And by analogy, everything gets better once I've slept well. For me, this is about controlling the temperature, noise levels, and light pollution - as well as making sure I stay well away from all news feeds in the evening.
2. Paper, you're fired
2019 was the year in which I finally gave up on any systems, methods, or workflows which involved paper in any way. It's just not worth it. Paper got lost, crumpled, wet, illegible, or just contributed to chaos on my desk.
3. Ask for help ahead of time
I have to keep working on this one, because I'm still not 100% there. But this year, I got better at two joined-up things: knowing how busy I'll be in the near future, and asking for help with stuff before the busy-ness hits.
4. Set a timer
Pomodoros were my friends in those moments when a big task needed cutting into smaller fragments. It didn't always have to be a timer; sometimes, a good album on Spotify (lasting 40-50 mins) would serve to mark the start and end points of a job. Speaking of Spotify...
5. Set a soundtrack
I remember spending 36 hours - three full working days, nine to five - on a digital project which needed to be checked and de-bugged. I remember I went through Fatboy Slim, Prodigy, and Apollo 440. ALL of Fatboy Slim, ALL of Prodigy, and ALL of Apollo 440. So much chair-dancing... Some of us can still focus with office noises and conversations around them; I can't.
6. Do more with what you've got
Changing jobs in a pretty spectacular fashion earlier this year coincided with some quality time I was spending with a career coach. We started out by talking how to make sure I do well at Job A; by the end of our time together we were discussing how best to perform at my new Job B! One of the best things I realized thanks to all this: I already had what it took all along, and now the question became - how to make sure these skills and talents are used. This isn't a hack or a strategy - more of an attitude to how I can be useful at work.
7. Go (the #&k) home
Pam Seele's 5-minute Ignite presentation (NSFW) is the most succint way of expressing this. I liked her idea of making sure there's always someone / something waiting for you at the other end of quitting time - so that you're always armed with an excuse for not staying at work late. Controversial? Maybe. Rude? Certainly. But here's the interesting thing: your stuff gets done if you know you're going to be out that door by 5pm.
8. Suit up
This one's definitely a new-found personal preference. I wasn't always a fan of shirts and ties. And I didn't always enjoy wearing jackets or blazers to work. But as I got older, I guess I opted for the "smart" side of the "smart casual" spectrum. It's not an everyday thing, but for now, suiting up is what I'm trying. I feel good with this, so that's what I'll do from now on. Your mileage will vary.
9. Have a "not-to-do" list
Another one to practice and perfect in 2020. The reason for such lists is that, in an average workplace, there will always be more projects, crises, deadlines and new ideas than it's possible / reasonable to focus on. Some of these are unpredictable; others, once you've worked somewhere for a while, come about pretty regularly. Knowing about them means that I can put them on my not-to-do list, and focus on my tasks without guilt or second-guessing.
10. Listen first
My office mug has no handle on it, but I stick with it for one reason: it's got a question mark symbol on its side. This reminds me not to walk into any interaction with the "here's what I think we should do..." attitude. It's been helpful so far: by asking instead of preaching, and by listening to others, I've been able to quickly move past anxious/panicked moments and on to finding out ways in which I can help. As Zack de la Rocha sang, "I know the power of a question." And I can always sip my tea more mindfully. :)