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July 1, 2014 | Productivity | Posted by Adam Bobay Adam Bobay

How to Increase Productivity: Time Management Training 101

1) To-Do lists

Ever heard of the Zeigernik Effect? Well, according to Webster, it’s a psychological term for the mind’s tendency to fixate on unfinished tasks rather than the completed ones. In 2011, E. J. Masicampo and Roy F. Baumeister, two Psychologists, did a study on the topic. The two concluded that your mind fixates on unfinished goals almost 75% more often than if you made a plan.

In order to maximize concentration, just make one to-do list. Multiple lists scattered around your desk doesn’t put the mind at ease. If you use a Mac, try using the Reminders application. It syncs with your iPhone so you can have everything you need at your fingertips at all times. If you are using a PC; check out Wunderlist, they have a free app for Android, iOS, as well as desktop and web-based extensions for Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

2) Stop Multitasking

Pride yourself on your ability to multitask? Chances are you aren’t as good as you think. According to the journal of experimental psychology, it takes your brain an average of 4 times longer to recognize and process each item you’re working on when multitasking. Just think about a computer – when you run more programs, your computer operates more slowly. The same is true for your brain.

There are a few solutions to this issue, but for starters, stop being a “martyr multitasker.” Beyond that, the key is to weed out distractions. Utilize the “Do Not Disturb” function on your phone and on messenger applications. There’s no shame in doing one thing at a time, and there’s a good chance you’ll be more effective than any of the multi-taskers on your team.


3) Group Similar Tasks

Grouping similar tasks makes getting through to-do lists a hell of a lot easier. The University of Maryland has published a study supporting this fact. The study identified increases in retention and cognition from grouping. In essence, when you group related tasks, you remember more and thus perform better.

So instead of having lists like this:
– Call Jeremy,
– Employee Logs,
– Post Update on Twitter,
– Call Emily,
– Facebook Post

Make something that looks more like this:
– Employee Logs
– Sales Calls
o Call Kyle
o Call Laura
– Social Media Marketing
o Twitter
o Facebook

Grouping will put your to-do lists in a logical, fluid format; allowing you to tear through work and get that promotion in no time! (Okay, we can’t promise a promotion.)


4) Prioritization Is Crucial

You only have 4 hours to complete your entire to-do list during a typical 8 hour workday, according to research by McKinsey Global Institute. Spend time on non-critical tasks, and your chances of falling behind increase dramatically. Prioritizing this list is a crucial first step in managing your time and maximizing your output.

If you have trouble with prioritization, try the Time Management Toolkit from Mind Tools. The urgent/important matrix helps you identify where each item on your to-do list should be prioritized.

How to use the matrix:



1. List all of your tasks no matter how big or little.

2. Rank those items in order of importance from most important to least important.

3. Now applying the urgency of anyone task, plot the to-dos in the graph.

4. Use the graph to help guide which items should be performed first, and start cranking out some work!


5) Time Yourself

Motivation has been linked to the subjective sense of future time according to a Stanford University study on human development. “Amount of time left” is a primary trigger for different emotional states – lose track of remaining time and watch your stress levels rise. Timers serve the purpose of identifying the exact amount of time which remains. The goal here is that by staying on top of remaining time, you can prevent the high levels of stress associated with needing more. You know, prevent the “oh shit” moments.

There are multiple timers to choose from and most phones have a timer application already included. If you need something on your computer, Mac users can find MenuTimer in the app store, which sits in the menu bar, and sends an alert when the time is up. Orzeszek Timer is a great option for PC users.

6) Just Don’t Be A Procrastinator

Unfortunately, to the one in five people who are chronic procrastinators, deadlines have no effect according to studies by MIT and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Fuschia Sirois of Bishops University identified procrastination has its roots in self preservation. By putting off negative feelings towards the future, you can be happy now (e.g. ‘productively’ alphabetizing your magazine rack) while ignorantly hoping to be more in the mood for your paperwork later.

There are 3 key traits to identifying procrastination;

1. Openly welcoming distractions
2. Using excuses as reasons
3. Giving in to despair

To overcome procrastination, focus on the negative feelings which come from not doing a particular task. You can take this a step further and write “Because of Procrastination” on a Post-It Note and stick it somewhere visible to other people. Whenever a negative outcome arises from procrastination, add it to the list. You will not only be reminded of the consequences of procrastination, but it may motivate you to avoid adding anything else to that list. And well, start getting shit done.

7) Take Control of Your Email

Almost half of each day is spent on email related tasks. Taking control of your email requires making a few key changes to save time. We will concentrate primarily on Gmail, however these options are available in many email clients.

Conversation View

The conversation view brings each separate email in a conversation, both sent and received, and combines them so you can quickly view the message in context.

Enable the conversation view in Gmail by going to the icon (top right) and selecting ‘Settings’. In the General tab, within settings, change “Conversation View” to ON.

Organize It

Identify common themes in your inbox and put them into folders (labels in Gmail). Each particular ‘theme’ is different for everyone, but the principle remains the same. Working with different customers? Set up a different folder for each customer. This allows quick access to each conversation between you and that customer.

To create a new label in Gmail, click the icon (top right) and select “Settings”. In the Labels tab (next to General), select “Create New Label”. Now you’re ready to go label crazy.

Establish Rules and Filters

Rules and filters keep your inbox cleaner by automatically redirecting incoming mail to folders, sending canned responses (we cover that next), or marking it as read or spam. By using the rules/filters function, you can prevent unimportant emails from distracting you from work.

In Gmail, go the the icon (top right) and select “Settings”. Then, select the ‘Filters’ tab at the top and hit ‘Create New Filter’. The drop-down window allows you to identify different criteria for the message, and select ‘create filter with this search’ to identify the action taken by Gmail.

8) Utilize ‘Canned Response’ in Gmail

Canned responses are essentially email templates in Gmail. They can be used for anything from thank you notes to press releases to status updates. If you don’t want it to feel as if you’re writing a formed letter to each of your correspondents, just make more room to add a personal touch at the end with each message.

How to Create Canned Responses

1. Go to the icon (top right) and select ‘Settings’.
2. Select Labs from the tabs at the top
3. Find ‘Canned Responses’ in the labs and Select Enable.
4. After Canned Response is enabled, select Compose to create a new email.
5. Write the body of your Canned Response (Be sure your Signature is not in it – That will show up later)
6. Select the icon at the bottom right of your email
7. Put your cursor on the ‘Canned Responses’ text
8. Select ‘New Canned Response’ and Create a Name

How to Send a Canned Response

1. Select ‘Compose’ (or reply)
2. Click the icon at the bottom right
3. Put your cursor on the ‘Canned Responses’ Text
4. Select the Canned Response you would like to send.

Note: These steps can be used when deleting Canned Responses as well. Just select the Canned Response you want to delete from the bottom of the list.

You’ve now completed Time Management Training 101, look out for more lessons from the Sqrl blog soon. In the meantime, let us know if we missed some of your favorites!


Written by

Adam Bobay

Adam Bobay

Adam is a marketing intern at Sqrl. He's a curiosity enthusiast and never turns down a challenge. He also enjoys tinkering with DIY projects, all things video and photography, and the occasional daily donut.