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How to Setup Your Digital Workspace for Greater Productivity

How to Setup Your Digital Workspace for Greater Productivity

Last time I checked, there were only 24 hours in a day…and you need 8 of them for sleeping! In the other 16, you have to somehow manage to fit in all of your work, while also still hopefully saving enough time to actually get out there and enjoy your life.

So if you want to get more work done, you have two options:

  • Add more hours to your work schedule.
  • Get more work done in the existing hours you have.

And because the latter is a much better recipe for a happy life, I’m going to lay out a number of tips for how you can improve your productivity. I’ll come at productivity from three main angles:

  • Tools to increase your productivity in general
  • A couple of WordPress-specific productivity hacks.
  • Some tips for constructing your actual physical workspace to maximize productivity.

Let’s get into it!

Digital Tools and Sites To Boost Your Productivity

Let’s start our journey into productivity with some of the online tools that work to boost your work output.

Pick Some Type of Project Management Tool

Okay, I’m not going to give a specific recommendation here because everyone has their personal favorite. But there’s one fact that holds true no matter what:

You will be more productive if you have an organized project management system that you follow for your projects. With a system, you never need to waste time asking, “what’s next?” – it’s already laid out right in front of you, which means you can fluidly move from task to task.

If you’re into task batching (knocking out similar tasks all at the same time), project management also gives you the bird’s eye view needed to easily batch tasks together.

So what are your options? These are some of the most popular:

  • Todoist – Basic task lists. It’s my personal tool of choice.
  • Trello – Kanban type boards where you can easily manipulate cards to manage projects. It’s also part of my workflow because many of my clients use it.
  • Asana – More heavy-duty project management. It might be overkill for solo freelancers, but it’s great for teams.

Consider Using Time Tracking

time tracking - digital workspace

Time tracking is by no means just for hourly billing. While it certainly helps you with tracking billing, it can actually improve your productivity independent of any practical use.

See, when I started using time tracking while writing, I instantly felt that I was more focused on my work. And that’s when I realized this:

When you work for yourself, you’re never “on the clock”. But if you actually try to put yourself on the clock, there’s suddenly more urgency. You can no longer slack off because you always see that little timer ticking away out of the corner of your eye!

And as a bonus, you’ll also get an accurate picture of how much time you spend working productively…and how much time you spend just staring at a computer screen (a surprisingly high amount, in my case!).

For example, I found that what I considered to be “8” hours of work per day was actually ~5 hours of real work. The rest was just wasted time.

If you’re interested in implementing time tracking, I highly recommend Toggl for its ease of use and beautiful reporting.

Use Jetpack to Import Posts Directly From Google Docs

When Automattic announced the WordPress Google Docs extension for Jetpack, I was jumping for joy. See, Google Docs offers a much more productive interface than the WordPress Editor (I still discover new tricks every day!).

But the problem was always that you had to duplicate your efforts when it came time to actually format the post in WordPress. That meant wasted time and less productivity.

But not anymore.

Now, you can import your fully-formatted posts (and images) from Google Docs to your WordPress site with just a single button click.

Seriously, this feature will save you a ton of time if you use Google Docs to write. Just go here and grab the official WordPress Google Docs extension to get started.

Get to Know IFTTT and Zapier

If you don’t already know what IFTTT and Zapier are…I’m about to blow your mind because these tools allow you to automate huge chunks of your workflow.

They both operate on the same basic principle:

Connecting two separate apps so that when something happens on App A, something also happens on App B.

Let me give you a couple examples:

  • If you publish a new post on WordPress.com, automatically tweet that post out.
  • If someone submits your contact form, automatically create a task in Todoist.


And those are barely scratching the surface of what you can do with IFTTT and Zapier.

So here’s what I recommend:

Think of all the repetitive tasks you have to do every day…and then try to find a way to automate them with IFTTT or Zapier. You won’t be able to automate everything, but I bet you can find some simple ways to save time.

Use Automatic Meeting Schedulers Instead of Email Chains

How many times has this email chain played out in your inbox?

A: When could we schedule a Skype call to chat?
B: Can we do next Tuesday at 2 pm?
A: Sorry, I’m busy. What about next Wednesday at 3 pm?
B: I already have a meeting scheduled then. What about…

You get the point. It might “feel” productive to respond to emails like that…but I promise you that you’re just wasting time.

So what’s a better solution? Use an automatic meeting scheduler. You just give your contact a link with all of your availability. Then, they pick a time that works for them and everything is automatically added to Google Calendar.

No wasted time spent going back and forth.

There are a bunch of tools offering this functionality, but a good starter is Calendly.

Get to Know WordPress Custom Fields

Ok, this one is a bit of a niche use. But it’s something I’ve recently discovered and it can save you a ton of time…if it fits your scenario.

The scenario works like this:

You have a basic “format” for your blog posts that constantly comes up. So, instead of manually formatting it for every single post, you create custom fields that do all of the work for you.

I recognize that’s a little abstract, so here’s a real example I just implemented:

I have a site where I write reviews of local businesses. As part of the reviews, I always add the same set of details to the top of the post:

  • Name of location
  • Address
  • Type (e.g. bar, restaurant)
  • Google map embed

Without custom fields, I’d have to go and grab the Google Maps embed code, write in the location type, and format the name and address. Not a ton of time, but it adds up.

But with custom fields, all I have to do is paste in those details to a couple custom fields on the backend, and then everything shows up perfectly formatted on the front end (including automatically embedding Google Maps using Google’s API).

Using and displaying custom fields will require a little bit of knowledge. But a plugin like Pods makes the whole process fairly accessible.

Eliminate Time Wasting With Rescue Time

Up until now, everything I’ve shared has been focused on making you actually work more productively. But this one is all about eliminating the insidious productivity killers that are sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

Rescue Time does two important things:

  • Shows you how much time you’re wasting on social media
  • Blocks those time-wasting sites (which you’ll want to do immediately after seeing the first number!).

How To Create a Productive Physical Space

All those tools I listed above won’t help you much if you’re working under terrible conditions. So if you want to master productivity, you need to optimize your physical space just as much as your digital space.

After plenty of trial and error and reading the research on creating productive office spaces, I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty productive workspace. And I’m going to share those with you. But first, I thought I’d share a real shot of my office space:

Colin's workspace

And here’s why my space looks like that:

Ergonomics Matter for Productivity

I never really believed the hype about ergonomics until I bought a laptop stand on a lark. Now? I’m a convert.

Proper ergonomics make it infinitely easier to stay focused (and comfortable) over long periods of time. And that means you’ll be more productive!

But it’s not just about productivity. If you spend all day at a desk, proper ergonomics will make your whole life better. No more neck pain…no hunched shoulders…I cannot stress how important this tip is.

So what are proper ergonomics?

  • The top of your screen should be ~2-3 inches above eye-level. That means if you’re using a laptop, you’ll absolutely need a stand (I bought this one)
  • Your screen should be 20-30 inches from your eyes.
  • Your elbows should type at a ~90-degree angle.

Because some of these numbers depend on your height, The Human Solution put together a great tool to help you calculate your ideal desk and chair height, as well.

Make Sure You’re Getting Natural Light

I never understood people who can work from a windowless room. I think it’s horrible for productivity, and the data backs me up. A 2002 literature review from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that “natural light has proved to be beneficial for the health, productivity, and safety of building occupants.”

And a 2014 study from Northwestern also found that natural light boosts health.

So if at all possible, try to get at least a little bit of natural light in your workspace.

Plants Actually Make You More Productive

Did you know that plans are actually scientifically proven to make your work more productively? A three-country study found that adding plants to an office space increased productivity by a whopping 15%!

Now, I didn’t add plants near my desk for this reason…I just think they’re nice to look at. But 15% more productivity isn’t a bad secondary benefit!

And if you’re not a plant person, studies have noticed a similar effect with adding art to your workspace.

Get a Multi-Monitor Setup

Be careful with this one…because once you try a multi-monitor setup, you may never be able to go back to a single monitor.

Multiple monitors are amazing for anyone who needs to do research. With a single monitor, you have to constantly tab back and forth between the research and what you’re working on. With multiple monitors, you can leave the research open on one screen and work on the other.

Just be careful that you use the second monitor to actually make yourself more productive. It might be tempting to use the second monitor for something like…YouTube videos. And that is definitely not a recipe for increased productivity!

Buy a Mechanical Keyboard If You Type A Lot

You know how people always say you should invest in a quality mattress because you spend a third of your life sleeping?

Well, if your workday consists primarily of typing on a keyboard, the exact same thing applies to your keyboard.

Don’t rely on the cheap chiclet keyboard that came with your laptop – invest in something that’s a joy to use. And in my opinion, that’s a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches.

Mechanical keyboards use actual physical switches during typing. Without spending a whole post diving into mechanical keyboard switches, I’ll just sum it up by saying those physical switches make typing:

  • More enjoyable
  • Less fatiguing

And they also have a good chance of making you a faster typist, which naturally is going to boost your productivity.

If you’re interested in upgrading, The Wire Cutter has a great roundup of quality mechanical keyboard models.

Wrapping Up

Productivity is one of those pursuits that never really ends. There’s always another trick to employ and another habit to implement. But if you have a solid set of tools and a physical work environment that’s conducive to productivity, you’ll be most of the way there.

Now it’s over to you – what’s your best productivity tip for WordPress or work in general? I’d love if you shared in the comments so that we can all be more productive.

Article thumbnail image by ART.SOLO / shutterstock.com

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