The Best Productivity Hacks for Your Job Search
Sarah Brodsky / MARCH 01 2021

It can be hard to make progress on a job search. When your applications result in an interview or job offer, those positive developments typically come days or weeks after you do the work of looking for openings, researching employers, polishing your resume, and filling out forms. The long wait before you see results makes it difficult to stay motivated because there isn’t an immediate connection between the effort you put in and the reward of getting a great job offer.

It may help to use some tips and tricks to boost your effectiveness. A good first step is to make a to-do list so you have at least a general outline of what needs to get done. Then, use these productivity hacks to tackle your list.

Try a Pomodoro timer

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method based on the idea that it’s easier to focus when you work uninterrupted for short periods of time. If you sit down in the morning and think, “I’m going to work on my job applications for the next eight hours straight,” chances are you won’t actually have eight hours of unbroken productivity. You’ll check Facebook, or the phone will ring and you’ll lose your train of thought. Or after a few hours of concentrating really hard, your mind will start to space out.

With the Pomodoro Technique, you set out to work distraction-free for a limited time. Usually, people follow this technique with 25-minute bursts of work, followed by a 5-minute break, but you can tweak the times to whatever feels comfortable for you. Knowing that a break is coming up soon makes it easier to stay on task and resist distractions while you’re working, and the numerous breaks built into the day can keep you from feeling burnt out. 

Free timers like Pomofocus and Tomato Timer are available in your browser, or you can download one of the many Pomodoro apps that are out there.

Make plans with if-then statements

Neuroscientists have found that the human brain is like an actor waiting to go on stage. It listens for a cue, and when it hears that cue, it springs into action.

You can take advantage of this feature by making your plans for the day in the form, “If… then…” For example, you might say, “If it is 9 a.m., then I will check three job sites for new listings.” You could follow that up with, “If I find five openings I’m interested in, then I will fill out the applications.”

It may help to set these same goals for a few days in a row so it becomes a routine. Once you’re used to it, you’ll find yourself automatically noticing that it’s 9 a.m. and time to start your job search, or that you’ve found five good job ads so you need to switch gears and start applying for those roles.

Turn on some white noise

Many people find it easier to focus when there’s something pleasant but non-distracting to listen to. You could try listening to instrumental music, or search apps and audio sites for white noise playlists. You might want to listen to recordings of rain or ocean waves if you find those sounds relaxing. If you prefer to hear the bustle of people around you, you could listen to tracks from Coffitivity, which allows you to experience the audio environment of a coffee shop no matter where you are.

Be a productive procrastinator

Few productivity experts will recommend procrastinating, but if you’re going to procrastinate anyway, you might as well be productive about it. For example, suppose you need to call up a former manager to ask for a reference, and you’re putting it off. You could write your cover letter, proofread your resume, and make a list of jobs to apply for in the meantime. That’s more beneficial to you than procrastinating by watching TV. And getting those tasks crossed off your list might give you the confidence boost to pick up the phone and ask for a reference.

Do the most difficult thing on your to-do list first 

On the other hand, sometimes you just need to face procrastination head-on and put a stop to it, especially if you’re delaying a task that’s essential to your job search. In this case, it may help to address your most challenging task right away, which productivity gurus often call “eating the frog.” 

Take your list of tasks you need to accomplish, and rank them from most dreaded to least. Then circle the task you really do not want to do. That is your frog, and it’s your job to eat it (i.e., get it done first thing in the morning before you do anything else). 

Getting a task you’re uncomfortable with out of the way frees up all the energy you’ve put into avoiding it. You can now turn your attention to other things you need to get done, without the worry of that one task casting a shadow over the rest of your work.

Break tasks down into tiny chunks

Sometimes, an item on your to-do list seems overwhelming because it’s actually a lot of actions rolled into one. For example, if the item is “Apply to an assistant manager position at ABC Hotel,” you might need to look up the contact information for that employer, make some changes to your resume to highlight your recent managerial experience, write your cover letter, and submit your application. And some of those steps could be further broken down into smaller steps.

Making a new to-do list for that item alone helps you view it as more manageable. You could pick one thing from that new list, like looking up the contact information, and take care of it. That helps you get moving on the application, and with your new momentum, you may find it easier to make progress. Plus, breaking a task down into chunks like this fits in well with other productivity methods like the Pomodoro Technique.

If you’re not getting a task done, take it off your to-do list

If there’s something on your list that never gets done and none of these tips are helping, it may be time to consider taking that item off your list. 

Let’s say you wrote down that you want to apply for a night auditor position with a certain employer, and it’s been sitting on your to-do list for weeks with no progress. You may want to think about whether you are actually looking forward to working for that employer, or if it would be better to focus on applying to other places instead. Or maybe that’s the only night auditor role you’re looking at, and you feel uncertain about whether you would enjoy working the night shift.

Examining why you aren’t getting around to a particular task can help you get some clarity on it, and you may realize you’ll feel better about simply dropping it and moving on to other things. If the thought of giving it up makes you feel that you would be missing out on a worthwhile opportunity, that may give you the motivation you need to finally accomplish it.