Updated: Sep 9
Productivity. We are always told we need to be more productive, most of the time from our own inner critic. We need to make the best use of our time. Take advantage of the day. I don’t know about you but many times I go to bed feeling anything but productive. Actually I feel the exact opposite. I feel sloth-ish, disappointed in myself and effectively ineffective. I started to feel as if the illusive productivity “groove” would never be mine. But maybe it can be? Maybe there’s a way to get more done every day without getting down on ourselves or gritting our teeth through the tasks.
I started on my quest to getting more done every day by reading everything I could on productivity. I would read the book, apply the suggestions and see if they worked. The ones I could fit into my life (aka the ones that “felt right”) stayed and the ones that didn’t, well, didn’t last very long. After a while I started to enjoy my own style of productivity. This helped me get more done every single day in a way that felt more enjoyable and right for me.
This post features all the “rules” I have found that worked for me. Tips that I use every day to stay on task while working from home. To meet those deadlines without a boss telling me what to do. To hold myself accountable to accomplishing more every day. Caution to the reader: these are only suggestions. I did a lot of trial and error when developing my own productivity style. You should expect to do the same. Some things will work for you and some won’t.
How to use these tips? Read them over and try them out. Give each one a test run for a week or two. You will begin to discover which ones will work for your personality and which ones won’t. I also recommend learning more about productivity from the experts. I read and read and read the top books on the topic and learned so much (I have listed some of my favorites below!). Be willing to be a student of productivity. Never forget that all experts were once beginners.
Are you ready to start getting more done every single day? Me too. Let’s get started!
TIP #1 USE TIME LIMITS ON SMALL TASKS
One of the biggest ways people waste time is by not spending enough productive time on a project. We don’t have the pressure of a time limit so we dilly-daddle our minutes away. How often have you started paying bills and then found yourself checking Facebook or Instagram?
Giving a firm time limit to a task creates expediency thus allowing you to get more down in a shorter period of time. It forces you to work with a purpose. I will often assign a ten or fifteen minute limit to smaller tasks that I know can be completed fast. This creates a “beat the clock” mood in me that can really speed things up.
TIP #2 BREAK GOALS INTO SMALL CHUNKS
There is nothing that kills a project more quickly than thinking of how long it will take. But continuous daily work towards that goal can make the prospect of finishing it seem possible. Let’s use the example of organizing your photos on the laptop. I don’t know about you but I take about a million photos these days. With our phone as the new camera, capturing any moment with a shot is not only convenient but also the new normal. I am old school. I prefer to then take all those snippets and move them to my laptop for safe keeping. But this literally creates thousands of photos I need to sort, catalog and file. Rather than spending hours upon hours in one sitting, I break this task into a daily 15 minute task. Every day, for 15 minutes only, I sort and delete and name photos.
Take time today to identify which projects can easily be broken down into 10-15 minute daily chunks. While this process may take longer (let’s say two weeks), it makes the task more enjoyable, prevents decision fatigue from trying to do too much and still accomplishes the ultimate goal.
Not every project will be easily broken up into time chunks. You will need to use trial and error to see which type of goal you can apply this tip to. Once you do, you will want to stay consistent. Work on it a little every single day until it’s done.
TIP #3 DO A BRAIN DUMP
Life is so complicated. There are often many areas of our life we are trying to manage with tasks and projects and long-term goals. Maybe we are doing a house remodel. Or we have a big project to implement at work. We need to remember to send that birthday card out to a friend. Our to-do list is often filled with both big things and small things.
If you find that your mind is jumbled up with too much “stuff,” you are probably also feeling many negative side effects. Decreased efficiency. Less creativity. A lack of focus. More anxiety. Increased decision overload. One way to alleviate these symptoms and move forward is with a brain dump.
A brain dump is a process in which you literally empty your mind of everything that is grabbing your attention. I start by getting a pen and a stack of post-it notes. Then I would write on each post-it note one pressing thing I want to accomplish. Some things were little. Some things were big. They all received the same small square sheet of paper. The goal is to send all those thoughts from the brain to a physical reminder.
Getting thoughts out of your mind and onto paper frees your brainpower to tackle more every day.
TIP #4 TARGET PROJECTS AND BREAKDOWN THEIR STEPS
Sometimes it is necessary to think about a task as more of a multi-step project than a one-time event. Home remodeling projects often land in this category but so do many other things. In fact, anything that requires more than one step should be considered a project. How you take on these projects can be essential to whether or not they are accomplished.
Rather than get lost in sea of the “things you need to do” make sure to target what items are projects and then breakdown those projects into steps. What is the first little thing you can to reach your goal? What should happen next and after that? Breaking larger, more in-depth tasks into small goals can keep you motivated rather than landing in decision overload. It gives you a concrete task you can do today to move closer to your intentions.
TIP #5 HONOR YOUR TO-DO LIST
Far too often, we pile a bunch of stuff on our to-do list because it feels good. It can be a relief just to write something down. That doesn’t mean we have any intention of actually finishing it. But this short term relief is more damaging than helpful. When we repeatedly leave our to-do list unfinished, we start giving up on ourselves and our goals. We lose confidence in our ability to do what we say we are going to do. We rob our future progress.
Another tip for getting more things done every day is to only put on your to-do list things that which you are committed to accomplishing that day. I think of it as honoring myself. I honor myself when I do what I say I am going to do. When I honor my commitments. If a task seems too overwhelming for the day, decide on a first step and put that on your list.
TIP #6 RESIST AVOIDANCE TECHNIQUES
It’s human nature to go for immediate satisfaction rather than put in the hard work for a lasting result. We want the instant results without the hard work. No matter how much we “advance” our mindset or thinking, we will always try to go with easy and simple over the difficult and worthwhile. The key is to identify the urge and resist the avoidance.
A perfect example of an avoidance technique is over eating. I discovered this in my own life recently and it has completely changed how I handle the situation. Whenever I feel anxious about a tough task I need to do, I turn to food to ease my worry. It becomes a way to avoid the work while giving me the release of enjoying a tasty treat. Rather than stepping into the uncomfortableness of working on the chore, I would avoid and occupy myself with food. You may see this in your patterns too with food, social media, Netflix or any other mindless activity.
The key to resisting avoidance and getting more done every day is to identify when and what you are avoiding. When you are able to notice these patterns, you are able to change the behavior. It gives you the ability to think through your options and make the choice that offers long-lasting results rather than short term comfort.
TIP #7 PUT A PREMIUM ON YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIMES
Everyone has a time of the day when they are most productive. For some, it is during the early morning hours. For others it is 10 pm at night. It doesn’t really matter when you are productive. What matters is that you know this magic time and then use it to your advantage.
Schedule important tasks during your most productive times. Take advantage of these peak hours and push yourself to only work on the really, really critical chores. Don’t know what you should work on? That’s often that which you are avoiding most. Identify those things and commit to using your increased brain power during these prime times to tackle them.
TIP #8 SCHEDULE IN CREATIVE TIME
Having pockets of creative time in your day can be one of the most important things you do to increase productivity. Strengthening your creative muscles can lead to an increase in problem-solving skills, a boost of confidence and refreshing of the mind. Whether you like to write poetry, paint on canvas or bake a cake, finding a way to be creative every day is essential to increased productivity.
When should you schedule these creative endeavors? That depends on your own personal work day. I often schedule 30 minutes of creative time right after a long work session. It gives me a break from thinking and can be something to look forward to while getting through what is sometimes a less than pleasant task.
TIP #9 TURN OFF DISTRACTIONS
One thing that can really put a drag on our productivity is the distraction of constant interruption. Phone calls, emails and the dings of a social media notification can all be killers to getting stuff done. The technology that is meant to make our life easier can actually make it more difficult.
The good news though is that you can control that technology. Silencing the phone and turning off notifications can help you stay on task and get more done. You don’t have to do this the whole day… just the pockets of time in which you are doing your most labor-intensive work. Removing these distractions help you work more efficiently and faster so you can get more done.
TIP #10 KEEP CLUTTER TO A MINIMUM
Ironically enough, keeping clutter to a minimum can actually increase your productivity. Yes, staying organized helps you get more stuff done. A cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind. On the flip side, a cluttered mind is less efficient and more prone to avoidance and distractions.
Simplifying your surroundings will help you jump into your work more quickly and then sustain that effort for longer. Start by cleaning your desk and then branch out to the entire office space. Every night take a few minutes to tidy up so that you can start fresh the next day.
Without these ten tips, I would not be as productive as I am now. It took time to find the strategies that worked for me but now that I have my days are less stressful and more enjoyable.
In the end, the key is to create a healthy mindset around productivity. To believe that you can accomplish all the things you want to -- without being hurried or anxious. You need to have confidence that you are able to master the skill of being in control of your day.
And once you have that confidence you can build upon your success to get more accomplished then you ever dreamed possible.
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