Imagine… you're preparing for a big presentation tomorrow. Suddenly, the CFO sends a message to your team that expense reports are due by end of day. Next, Rachel from Operations sends you a direct project request in Asana. In fact, you're receiving constant notifications — all of them vying for your immediate attention!
The result? Your brain is overwhelmed by competing projects. You're starting to feel anxious and hesitant, and it's almost impossible to focus. You're under siege from productivity blockers — and you need to overcome them if you want to accomplish your goals.
Do you struggle with these productivity blockers?
There are two main types of productivity blockers: psychological and technological.
These blockers prevent us from being as productive as we would like, and we've all experienced them! So what are they, and how can you address each type to improve your workflow?
Psychological blockers are invisible barriers that prevent you from being productive. They manifest in numerous ways, like anxiety, indecision, and negative self-talk.
Left unchecked, they can make challenges feel insurmountable and cause you to procrastinate to avoid your never-ending to-do list.
But there are ways to overcome this! One of the most popular strategies is: eat the frog first. The "frog" is the hardest task you have to accomplish. By doing it first, everything afterward will seem easy by comparison.
As Brian Tracy, author of "Eat That Frog!" explains: eating the frog helps you remove psychological blockers and get more done.
Psychological blockers take many forms, and sometimes there's a physical root cause. Here are some common psychological blockers and how to tackle them:
- You feel tired and stressed — made worse by a lack of regular breaks.
Solution: Schedule 15-minute breaks two or three times throughout the day. Put them in your calendar as meetings with yourself, to help you build the habit.
- You feel frazzled and overworked — and with a packed schedule and no time for a lunch break, your energy keeps dropping as the day continues.
Solution: Prepare quick and healthy snacks for your 15-minute breaks so you don't waste time figuring out what to eat.
- You feel unable to focus — compounded by your distractingly messy desk!
Solution: Create an organized work environment. Remove clutter, and keep everything you need within reach to avoid rummaging through drawers and hunting for your phone charger.
- Time keeps running away from you — making you miss deadlines and feel hesitant about your priorities.
Solution: Try the Pomodoro Technique. Not only can this help you get through your to-do list, but it can also help you evaluate how long different tasks take — so you can manage your time better in the future.
Later in the article, we'll discuss more detailed information on implementing modern productivity methods to help you end your day having achieved your goals and feeling satisfied.
To combat psychological blockers, look inward. But for technological blockers, look at your toolkit.
For example, do you have too many apps on your phone or desktop, and are they cluttering your interface and creating distractions? Consider whether you can uninstall some apps and remove others from your desktop.
Then there are push notifications, which can be highly jarring: they distract you and interrupt your flow state. But it's easy to take control of your notifications.
In apps like Trello, Asana, and Slack, determine what notifications you receive and where. In your settings, you can ensure all notifications go to your inbox, or enable/disable push notifications and set exactly when you get those notifications. This can be very helpful in silencing the digital noise. We talk about more productivity tools later in the article.
When it comes to email, the challenge is two-fold: notifications and task switching.
Deal with the former by changing your notification settings. The latter is a little trickier. In most email clients, your messages arrive in a muddled stream, forcing you to constantly switch tasks — this means you work more slowly and are more distracted.
But Superhuman's Split Inbox removes the need for task switching: you can process messages one stream at a time, enabling you to stay focused and get through email faster.
7 ways to overcome blockers and increase your productivity
When it comes to productivity, there's no silver bullet. You need to take a holistic approach to work: from psychological blockers, to your technological toolkit, to anything that will help you stay focused and get more done in less time.
In the last section, we outlined productivity blockers and some solutions to overcome them. Next, we'll dive deeper and outline some overall productivity tips to help you save time, avoid distractions, and get more done. Let's go!
One of the most successful ways to work through psychological blockers is to incorporate self-care into your routine.
"Not only were we not taught how to take care of our energy needs," says Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, one of the editors for Contentment Magazine (produced by the American Institute of Stress). "We've even been rewarded for ignoring them in the pursuit of 'success'. But you can start to balance your energy equation by making small changes."
What are some of these self-care practices you can incorporate into your daily routine?
- Be kind to yourself: It sounds cliche, but you'd be surprised by how much a little self-love can get your day started on the right note.
- Get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet: Forgo that energy-crashing donut for something with a little more protein and nutrition that will feed your brain and satisfy you for long hours. Here are 11 things you can eat for breakfast to boost productivity.
- Take regular breaks: You need to relax your body and mind, especially during busy days. If you have difficulty taking breaks, schedule them into your day to keep yourself accountable. We talk about how to do this in our section on calendar blocking.
- Redesign your workspace: Never underestimate the power of sprucing up your workspace or external environment! Regardless of where you work, make sure it's comfortable, well-lit, and clutter-free.
Harness your procrastination instead of resisting it
Are you a perfectionist? Do you try to avoid procrastination only to find yourself falling deeper into it?
Procrastination will derail any chance you have of a productive day. But when you try to avoid procrastination, it can have the opposite effect and make you feel worse because you hyperfocus on the problem (can't stop procrastinating!).
Try shifting your focus away from avoiding procrastination and harnessing it instead. When we dislike something, we tend to hyperfocus on it, which magnifies it and gives it more power. So instead of fighting procrastination, use it to your advantage.
For example, if you procrastinate deadlines and wait until the last minute to complete tasks, instead of implementing 12 self-help "stop procrastinating" steps that seldom work, set a deadline before the real one (your fake but "real" deadline). You can also work with accountability partners or exercise body doubling to focus on your tasks and get them done.
Here's some more information on harnessing procrastination to be even more productive!
Practice time management with calendar blocking
One way to overcome technological blockers and reclaim your day is to practice calendar (or time) blocking.
Random to-do lists give way to all sorts of distractions, whether from technical devices (phone calls, social media, incoming texts) or your work environment. That's because you're randomly tackling tasks and haven't set any boundaries or structure for completing them.
Calendar blocking provides the structure most of us need to stay focused and complete our essential tasks. Instead of just writing down items on a list, schedule them into time blocks during your day, so you know exactly when to start and stop each task.
You're less likely to succumb to distractions when you're accountable for completing a task during a specific time slot.
Turning your to-do list of daily tasks into a time-blocked schedule is simple! Here's an example:
Turn your emails into tasks
Have you ever read an email that requires action but can't get to it immediately? Do you just disregard the email and let it clutter your inbox? If you do, you might also stress over it because once you leave it, you might not remember to action it later. And you don't need the daily worrying over whether or not you missed a critical email.
The solution? Turn your emails into tasks so you don't have to remember them. Once you transfer the email content into your preferred to-do list or system for managing tasks, you can permanently archive or delete that email forever (sweet!).
How do you turn your emails into tasks?. Archaic copying and pasting into your to do list can work for a short duration, but it isn't a scalable solution that can grow with you and your organizational needs. Here are a few more options:
Forward your emails
Many project management applications, such as Asana or Trello, enable you to create new tasks directly from your email. The workflow might require a few steps to set up, like installing a plugin or using a unique email address for forwarding, but it's worth it to declutter your email inbox and stay organized. Learn how to connect email to Asana or send tasks to your Trello boards.
Add to tasks function
If you have Gmail, use the "Add to Tasks" function to save and organize the task. You can auto-fill the task description directly from the email and add more information to keep your tasks organized.
Automate your to-do list
Use Superhuman's Split Inbox to automate email filtering and sorting, and turn your inbox into a system for managing tasks. Treat each split as a to-do list, and let Superhuman filter your emails automatically (while you sleep).
Multitask the smart way
You've likely heard that multitasking isn't humanly possible. Even neuroscience professor Earl K. Miller agrees. I mean, who can do two things at once with 100% focus?
But even though multitasking is impossible, you can still get two (or three) tasks done simultaneously, depending on their required level of focus. If a task doesn't require your full attention to complete, set it to run while you're working on other things. It's like throwing clothes in the washer before you head out to walk your pup.
Here are some productivity tips on completing more than one task simultaneously without sacrificing your brain power.
- Workflows: Set up workflows to run automatically behind the scenes. Software such as ClickUp or Integrify can help.
- Delegate: Can you delegate tasks to team members? Delegate your less important tasks and free up your time to focus on what matters.
- Batch similar tasks: This is not a true multitasking feat, but it will help you accomplish more daily. You'll feel as if you're getting multiple tasks done at once. Stagger your calendar to batch similar tasks together instead of switching back and forth between unrelated tasks, which robs productivity.
- Email sorting: Automate email sorting and filtering with Superhuman's Split Inbox and batch your related emails to prevent task switching.
Work with your unique body rhythms
Mainstream advice will tell you to do your most strenuous, energy-intensive tasks first thing in the morning. This is good advice — but only if you're a morning person.
What if you don't feel your best until about 11 AM? It might even take until noon for you to hit your creative stride (your most productive time). Can you get important tasks done before noon? Sure, but if you want to do your best work, you shouldn't tackle them first thing in the morning (when you still feel like a zombie).
Notice what time of day you're most alert, creative, and attentive. Schedule your day around those times. For example, tackle email management early in the day because it doesn't require a lot of energy, but save replying to messages until later because it requires more mental focus. If you need to do creative brainstorming or any mind-intensive tasks, the afternoon or even the end of the day might work best.
However, you can't always plan your day exactly how you want, especially if you have to accommodate a team of people. But you can shuffle your work tasks to accommodate your unique body rhythms and increase productivity throughout the day.
Learn more about Superhuman Founder & CEO Rahul Vohra's personal toolkit for finding flow and doing his best work here.
Use the right tools to overcome technological blockers and increase productivity
Many of us are stressed out and pulled in multiple directions daily. And although technology can bring distractions, it can also heighten your productivity.
Here are some tools to help you avoid distractions, stay on track with your goals, and be more productive.
- Slack helps teams communicate instantly.
- Mural gives teams a simple way to collaborate visually.
- Freedom enables you to control distractions and stay focused on your tasks.
- nTask helps teams track task progress and collaborate effectively.
- ProofHub tracks your team's time and provides data for effective time management.
- Evernote acts as your second brain to help you take and save notes.
We've also got an article on 16 business productivity tools that includes a more detailed synopsis of some of the tools we introduced above.
Regain hours each week with the fastest email experience ever made
Email remains indispensable to most knowledge workers — but not everyone realizes how taxing email is for your productivity. With Superhuman, you can save three hours a week or more on email and reach inbox zero faster than you ever thought possible.
Plus, you'll never spend sleepless nights again worrying whether you missed replying to a critical email. Focus on the work that really matters and let Superhuman tackle the heavy lifting.
If you want to increase productivity, speed up email management, and banish email anxiety for good, give Superhuman a try today.