People get a fresh start in the fall, as if it’s Back to School is for all of us. It’s no wonder that the number one wish I’m hearing is to be more productive. You’ve decided that now is the time when you are going to get busy and slay all your dragons before breakfast and cook ‘em into tasty little dishes before bedtime.
The first few weeks (or days) of your commitment to do more seems to be working. Your calendar is packed and your to do list keeps growing. You begin pondering how little sleep you can get by on.
Your will begins to slip and that vow to get more done is making you feel irritable and exhausted. You aren’t getting as much accomplished as you imagined when you conceived this plan. You begin to think that you just don’t have enough self-discipline.
I hate to break it to you, darling, but the problem isn’t self-discipline. The problem is, you’ve gotten stuck in the trap that being busy will equal productivity.
The truth is, though, being too busy isn’t sustainable as a lifestyle. And even though many of us are working from home, people are working more hours. And that’s not good. Researchers in multiple studies have found that working more hours didn’t equal being more productive when it came to quantity and quality of work.
Trust me when I say I feel you. Despite months of being at home, we still live in a culture that demands that we join the Cult of Busy. Those too packed calendars make us feel as if we’re in high demand. Though we don’t have many places to “go”, there’s the lure of Zoom call after Zoom call. Folks are still seeking badges of honor to prove just how BUSY (and therefore worthy) we are.
Yes, Busy becomes how we prove our worth, so we hold up our To Do list for others to admire and coo over, just so we can prove how valuable we must be!
No matter how noble our intentions, we become accustomed to walking in endless loops on society’s Treadmill of Busy. And if you want to be more productive, it’s imperative that you get off the treadmill.
The problem with being too busy? Stress. Unhappiness. Health issues. Frustration. Exhaustion. Burn-out….Shall I go on?
Don’t you want to love your life, not feel as if your calendar is ruling it? The key isn’t to get busy. The real key to being more productive, you need to work smarter. Here are a few strategies to ramp up your productivity, reduce the hours you’re working, and allow you to love your life.
Before the Week Begins
A productive series of days begins by preparing ahead.
- Conduct a weekly review. If you want to feel productive, then it’s important to monitor your goals. Clarity on both your short-term and long-term goals will help keep you focused on what’s important. Review is an essential tool.
- Identify your three top priorities for the coming week. Just like monitoring your goals, identifying what takes priority in the week ahead will allow you to channel your time and precious attention towards what really matters to you. It’s hard to feel productive if you reach the end of the week and haven’t hit your big targets.
- Identify at least one task you can ditch or delegate. Like you, I want to hit all the tasks on my To Do list. But usually, my rolling list is longer than humanly possible to complete. Each week, I look for a single task that I can either remove or delegate. You can be more productive when you delete and delegate!
- Review schedules with family. You may feel like your schedule is smooth sailing, but inevitably, the needs of a family member can throw a monkey wrench into your plans. By talking about upcoming meetings, business travel, sports practices, school projects, etc, everyone is clear the priorities and needs of each family member. This way, you won’t feel like your own productivity is being sabotaged by unexpected needs of others.
- Create a meal plan. What’s for dinner is the never ending question. Rather than fly by the seat of your pants, create a weekly meal plan. This way, you can be efficient when you grocery shop and be confident that meal time is less stressful. It’s mentally (and emotionally) draining to be standing in front of the fridge at 7 PM. Save your mental energy for being productive!
A Productive Day Starts the Night Before
The best time to get a jump on the day is the night before will get you in the right frame of mind and enable you start the day running.
- Tidy up your desk at the end of the day. When you sit down to work, you’ll be ready to roll!
- Be grateful and celebrate the day’s accomplishment. Positive focus is one of the best ways to boost your mood and foster a more productive mind. What was good about the day? Identify your biggest win. Name what are you grateful for. You can write them down or discuss them with your family over dinner. This will help cultivate the gratitude critical for success.
- Identify your number one goal for the next day. It’s hard to win if you don’t know what the goal posts are. Use this time to identify and prioritize your activity for the next day. What will it take to make progress towards your targets? Make a to-do.
- Set out your clothes. One thing that slows us down is decision making. Whether we’re going to the gym or getting ready for an important client meeting, laying out our clothes the night before can help us step into the day with extra momentum. Don’t forget to help your kiddos do the same!
- Create a launch pad. There’s nothing that will kill being productive like searching for keys, backpacks, or purses when you’re trying to get out the door. Each member of the family should have a designated spot for their stuff – a launch pad. Every evening, double check the launch pads for backpacks, shoes, those papers for school you need to sign…..
- Unplug early. Blue light inhibits our body’s ability to shut down and go to sleep. If you want to be more productive, you need to unwind before bed and allow your body to work. Turn off the computer. Put your phone face down, but not on your nightstand.
- Go to bed already. The older I get, the more I understand how critical it is to get adequate sleep. It’s easy to Facebook and Netflix away hours of our night! Lack of sleep, however, is killing our productivity and our health! Science says: get your beauty sleep!
Be More Productive By Maximizing Your Morning
Remember how you wanted to slay your dragons before breakfast? One of the ways to being more productive is to maximize the first hours of the day.
- Feed your mind and soul. The quality of your work depends upon how you fuel your mind and soul. Read something nourishing or inspirational. Write in your journal. Meditate. Commit to at least five minutes in the morning to soul nourishing.
- Move your body. The research is clear: to be more productive and prosper in your personal and professional life, getting some exercise helps. Go for a walk or run. Do some stretching or yoga. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym, even five minutes of stretching and push-ups will get your body ready to perform better for you.
- Fuel your body. Though I may begin the day with that first cup of coffee, I feel better when I eat breakfast. It’s hard to focus or be productive if your body is begging for nourishment.
- Refresh your memory. Remind yourself of the top priority of the day and do a quick scan of your rolling to do list.
- Slay one dragon. Do the hardest thing on your to do list early in the mornings.
- Don’t hit your social feeds right away. Even if your work depends on lots of social media interaction, attack some items on your To Do list first. It’s easy to get caught up in the Black Hole of Time when you’re on Facebook, and before you realize it, you’ve lost productive work hours.
Ways to Hone Your Focus During the Work Day
After maximizing the morning, it’s time to seize the day. The trick is focus. There are a million distractions to throw us off task. But if we drill down on what matters most, we can work at our peak all day long.
- Before you commit. It’s easy to say yes to every opportunity, even when you want to say no. The key to being more productive, though, is to say no more often. Your gut will tell you if you is something doesn’t fit your priority list. So, listen to your gut and say NO right away, but delay your “YES” until you’ve had time to think.
- Use “Heat Mapping” to take advantage of your natural productivity cycle. Some of us are true morning people, others are night owls. I’ve found that I am the most productive before 11 AM and then get another burst of energy around 2 PM in the afternoon. Learn your own natural rhythms, and schedule your tasks accordingly. By doing the tasks that require the most concentration during my peak energy times and saving the more mindless tasks for my lower energy times, I am able to better maximize my body’s natural productive periods.
- Silence notifications. Every time a notification sounds, it will break your concentration and distract you. To be more productive, silence your phone and/or computers notification.
- Batch like tasks. Just like taking advantage of your natural productivity cycle, batching similar tasks allows you to focus more clearly. Work on a project exclusively. Answer all your emails in blocks of time. Deal with social media monitoring and posting in doses. I divide my time so I’m working on major projects several times a week, plus smaller projects and maintenance tasks in between. I gain efficiency by segmenting similar activities.
- Do a late afternoon check-in with yourself. I hate it when I get to the end of my work day and realize I’ve forgotten to do something important. Make a habit of reviewing your task list to ensure you’ve been as productive as you desired.
- Walk away. It’s tempting to keep working after your official work day is over, but you will be more productive overall if you have a designated quitting time. “Parkinson’s Law” states “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” which means having a quitting time helps you be more productive.
These tips for being more productive aren’t foolproof. And no, they don’t work for every situation.
Each of us will have emergencies and surprises that can set us back. Emergencies don’t have to derail us from our goals, though. Choosing to focus on ways to be more efficient will be more rewarding than being busy. We all want to feel accomplished in our lives. Being productive, not just busy, will help you feel accomplished. And I guarantee you’ll love your life more.