There are only so many hours in a day. And sometimes, the hours we have to get through specific tasks or a to-do list can slip away in a blink of an eye. No matter how many apps or tools we use to feel productive, sometimes things still slip through the cracks.

Knowing how to stay on top of things can be the difference between wrapping up a workday a few hours early and having to log a few hours on the weekend. Time management doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s an essential skill to have in your arsenal, both in your professional and personal life.

12 tips to stay on top of things

If you’re constantly feeling like your to-do list is never-ending, consider these 12 tips for a productive life as you learn to stay on top of things like a pro.

1 Create your own system

No one knows you better than you, and what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. Maybe your team member logs into work every day at 8 am and doesn’t take a break until 1 pm. While that works for them, perhaps you’ll feel more productive starting your workday a little later in the morning, accompanied by more frequent, shorter breaks as you go.

Finding the right system for you can help you become more productive without making you feel completely drained of energy when the day comes to a close.

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2 Plan out each day 

One way you can set yourself up for success and feel more productive than ever is to plan out each day by time blocking, which is the process of organizing your workday into specific blocks of time. Instead of an open-ended to-do list that feels unorganized and overwhelming, time blocking makes it possible to focus on a concrete schedule so there’s no question regarding what you should prioritize each day, and when. 

Having this plan helps you stay on top of important tasks because you always know what the day has in store. There are fewer surprises since you know your priorities, important due dates, and deadlines. 

Once you’ve gotten the hang of planning out each day, take it one step further and plan for a few days at a time, or even weeks, to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. 

3 Do the most difficult task first

Once you have a plan for your day, narrow in on what the most difficult task may be. You know, the one you’re dreading or putting off because you feel like it may take more time than you’d like. You probably do this in your regular personal life, too. For instance, if you hate vacuuming, maybe you knock this off of your chores list first so everything else doesn’t feel as bad.

Make it a point to cross the most difficult task on your to-do list first. Knowing you’ve got the hard stuff out of the way makes everything you accomplish after feel that much easier.

4 Keep personal discipline

It becomes easier to truly stay on top of things and live a productive life if you’re disciplined. While this may look different to everyone, you can accomplish personal discipline by:

  • Avoiding distractions, especially from social media
  • Creating a to-do list and following it
  • Avoiding procrastination, especially when it comes to the tasks you don’t necessarily look forward to doing

Holding yourself accountable and remaining disciplined can help you stay on track throughout the day. It can be tempting to check notifications every few minutes and take longer breaks, but having self-discipline makes staying on top of tasks easier.

5 Keep your workspace clean

Over time, your desk (or wherever you work) gets a little cluttered. Maybe with coffee cups, water bottles, a used tissue or two, or even crumbs from your mid-morning snack.

We’re all guilty of a messy workspace from time to time, but if you feel like things are getting a little too messy, give yourself some time to tidy up. Consider taking everything off your desk and deep cleaning your workspace. You can even disinfect your mouse and keyboard. 

You’ll likely feel better and more focused once you sit back down in a clean and thoroughly organized space.

6 Keep everything in one place

Staying organized can be a challenge for us all. Thankfully, using certain productivity tools, like Fellow, can help keep everything in one place. For instance, when you keep meeting notes, action items, agenda templates, and suggestions from feedback in one place, you don’t have to switch back and forth between applications constantly. Instead, everything is right there when you need it, completely organized in easy-to-read dashboards.

7 Know when to say no

Do you feel like you always have to say yes to new projects, responsibilities, and tasks? If so, now’s the time to learn how to say no.

While saying no at work can be uncomfortable, saying yes to everything isn’t healthy either. Even though you want to position yourself as a team player who’s always available to help, do yourself a favor and say no when you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the number of things you’re trying to stay on top of.

Don’t worry about disappointing your team or your boss—in reality, you’re doing everyone a favor by not biting off more than you can chew. Just remember to hold fast to your answer of no and give your team sound reasoning for why you just can’t take anything else on right now.

8 Take care of yourself

It can be easy to forget to take care of yourself when you’re powering through a to-do list that won’t quit. You may feel that taking a break or doing something for yourself will only push you back further. This isn’t the case. Learning how to take care of yourself helps you feel productive throughout the day.

Consider things like:

  • Doing your best to get roughly eight hours of sleep each night
  • Taking a walk outside and soak in some fresh air and Vitamin D
  • Exercising 2-3 times a week to feel more energized and release any built-up stress
  • Sticking to a balanced diet and healthy snacks, especially during the workday

9 Don’t multitask

Sometimes, we all break off more than we can chew. But effective time management doesn’t mean trying to load up your to-do list with as many tasks as possible. You might be feeling extra ambitious as you make a list of tasks, thinking you’ll cross them off faster than you think. 

However, if your list of things to do is too long, you’ll likely burn yourself out quickly. Keep your to-do list manageable, don’t try to do too many things at once, and remember to take breaks! We’re conditioned to think that multitasking is a timesaver, but in reality, your work may be sloppy, meaning you’ll have to go back later and tweak or completely redo it.

10 Implement a fun rewards system

When you feel like you’ve made good progress on the tasks for the day, don’t forget to reward yourself. You can start a rewards system for yourself when you feel like you’re having a productive day and like you’re really staying on top of your tasks.

Maybe this reward is enjoying an extra healthy snack throughout the day, logging off a few minutes early, or extending your break by ten minutes. Whatever rewards system you come up with, make sure how you’re rewarding yourself for a job well done sets you up for success instead of taking you a few steps back. 

For example, maybe don’t reward yourself with an afternoon nap in case you end up sleeping too long and waking up feeling drained instead of refreshed.

11 Avoid distractions 

We’re all guilty of being distracted by notifications throughout the day. Emails, text messages, Slack notifications, social media replies—they can all feel endless and overwhelming. 

Don’t be afraid to turn everything off or set a time to put notifications on Do Not Disturb. For example, I’m most productive between 10 am and 12 pm. I feel like I work at superspeed during those two hours and can get a lot accomplished. To maximize this time and get as much done as possible, I put my phone where I can’t reach it and turn off text and Slack notifications from popping up on my computer screen.

Doing this allows me to hone in on the task at hand and make some pretty impressive progress.

You can also accomplish this by time blocking like we mentioned before. Set up specific times when you let yourself be distracted throughout the day. You can even time block when you check your emails, catch up on Slack, and read up on your Twitter replies. 

12 Celebrate accomplishments

No matter how big or how small, accomplishments deserve to be celebrated! Whether the achievement is getting positive feedback from a supervisor, finishing a task ahead of the deadline, or even getting a raise at work, it’s always a good time to celebrate your wins! 

More productive than ever

When you implement these tips in your professional and personal life, you’ll soon become more productive than ever. If you struggle with staying on top of things, see which of these 12 tips works for you. Soon, boosting your time and managing your to-do list will become simple, and you’ll be able to tackle more in the day while still having time for yourself!