Productivity is one of those topics that is discussed to no end. Everyone is looking for a way to get more done. Employers want their staff to be more efficient. Employees want to work less while still meeting their bosses’ standards. Everyone wants to figure out a way to bend time and add more hours to the day – the question is, how do you do this?

Different actions can be taken. Some are more abstract – we’re talking behavioral changes that won’t change overnight. Others are tools, tricks, and work flows that can improve efficiency.

There are five nifty guides that address five different time suckers: collaboration, workload, travel, meetings, and (my personal favorite) email. In an effort to make a complete guide, Simply Business also interviewed some CEOs and VPs of some pretty cool companies, in what they are calling the “productivity series interviews.” There’s some interesting advice from these start-up leaders, so well worth a read.

However, what I want to discuss here is my own personal learning experiences. I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with productivity. I have the type of personality that likes to be involved with everything and has a difficult time saying no – two personality traits that are productivity’s nemesis.

But I am winning in the battle vs. time suckers. Within the past year I was thrown into a new position at an agency that requires me to not only manage a brand new team, but also work on almost all of our clients. I quickly became bombarded with requests, to-do’s, and responsibilities. As a result, I had to fail fast and figure out how to become more efficient.

So from me to you, here are the highlights of my most crucial learning experiences. Hopefully these tips, tricks, and theories can help you improve efficiency in order to get more done and get back to what really matters to you.

  1.  Learn to let go

This is one of those “abstract” concepts that can be difficult to change because they often conflict with a personality trait. However, in order to keep your sanity, you need to overcome the tendency to get distracted. To put this into perspective, a lot of people in my organisation come to me for creative ideas. At first I was ecstatic, who doesn’t want to be involved with that? However, I slowly realised I was getting sucked into projects that I wasn’t technically supposed to be working on at the expense of other priorities.

Finally, I learned to let go – realized that what I personally want to do and what I need to do are sometimes different. Now, I insist that my co-workers either schedule a meeting to go over creative ideas or direct them to our creative team, who will then loop me in after the creative ideas have been narrowed down. It was a hard lesson to learn that I have to schedule time to be creative, but my workload is much better and I rarely get distracted. So my tips to you: have a response prepared to easily mitigate distractions and learn how to separate your wants and needs.

  1. Know what resources are available to you

I use Gmail – I’m utterly obsessed with it. Why you may ask? Because Gmail has a seemingly limitless amount of tools that allow for improved efficiency. There are countless tools to explore in the “Labs” section of your email settings, and if you use another client I am sure there are tutorials out there for you. Here are some of my favorite Gmail features and add-ons:

  • Keyboard shortcuts: Allows you to conduct different email functions with a stroke of the keyboard, such as send email, mute a conversation, or move an email.
  • Undo send: Saves you from accidentally sending an email by allowing you to undo the sending function.
  • Canned responses: Allows you to save templates of emails and minimize the need to re-type the same form email.
  • Boomerang: This add-on allows you to schedule emails to be sent later and auto deliver follow ups.
  • Rapportive: This LinkedIn-owned Gmail add-on aggregates personal information about the people you are emailing in a popup box directly in your compose message field. Nifty for PR and sales professionals.
  1. Don’t underestimate the value of lists

I’ve luckily always been a note-taker – I learn and remember from having everything in writing. However, over the years I’ve realised the importance of them; it allows you to brain dump your ideas and get back to the task at hand, rather than get distracted and dwell on your new epic thought.

If you aren’t the traditional note taker (Post-Its are my weapon of choice – old school for the win!), there are some tools to bring list making up to speed with the times. For example, Evernote and Trello can be used as a list resource – offering advanced project management features to organise your ideas. Don’t let excuses stop you from writing it down somewhere because, trust me, you will forget and/or dwell on a distracting thought.