Are you struggling to dial down the crazy in your week? Not getting things done and then beating yourself up about it? Hello and welcome to my world. I can’t tell you how many evenings have gone by where I have spent (and wasted) a lot of energy thinking about all the tasks and projects I didn’t complete. All of the lower priority things that I spent my time on (or took a nap!) instead. This very blog post was a victim of my mental swirl, ironically. It sat half-written for two weeks because I couldn’t get my days organized well enough to block out and protect my writing time. How ironic! So, what was originally a top five list is now a complete fifteen list because I got serious about detailing how I perform optimally. Now, you benefit from my kick-in-the-butt, no-kidding, get-sh*t-done tactics.
- Plan your days in advance.
Look at your calendar on Friday for the upcoming week. Make adjustments to ensure you can keep your commitments and have buffer time for travel, rest breaks, or small bursts of productivity. Block off pockets of time for yourself throughout the week, but especially after particularly full or stressful days. You should control your schedule, not the other way around.
- Identify the focus for your day.
Look at the next day’s priorities the night before and detail them by order of importance and/or time sensitivity. Be clear on your focus for the day and how tomorrow’s workflow feeds into the following day and the rest of the week. This will ensure that you are completing priorities in the appropriate order and in line with overarching goals.
- Implement a productivity technique (or two!).
Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique, personal Kanban, or time blocking? Implementing one of these techniques can immediately help you organize your approach to work and maximize your productivity during your working sessions as they each focus on working during discreet blocks or bursts of time.
- Over-protect your time and create boundaries.
Learn to say “no”, “not now”, or even “not ever”. Instead, offer what you are capable of completing and when you might be most effective in doing so. Over-commitment is a surefire way to push your priorities to the backseat while you bounce around to other tasks that may not align with your goals.
- Close notifications on your computer and minimize alerts on your phone.
This one goes without saying, yet it can be hard to implement due to our great fear of missing out. Closing alerts during your time-blocked periods of productivity can minimize the distractions and temptations that often lure us away from work.
- Designate time to check email versus all-day monitoring.
Checking email incessantly is a source of constant distraction. Set times to check business emails, personal emails, and social media 2-3 times a day. For example, you might clear your personal inbox before your work day and not recheck it until the evening. You might limit social media to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Business emails may be reserved for work hours and maybe once in the evening (but no later than an hour before bedtime, or you’ll risk interfering with quality sleep depending upon the nature of your incoming emails.)
- Create a music playlist that stimulates your productivity.
Listening to music can inspire and motivate you to be productive and can also focus your brain and prevent your mind from wandering. Try creating a playlist with music that enables your flow. For example, my productivity music playlist includes pop songs played on the piano (without lyrics, so my brain doesn’t sing along).
- Eat the frog.
Mark Twain once said, “If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day .”This quote has been the inspiration for many productivity techniques and teachings. The idea is that you set the tone for your day by tackling the hardest, most demanding task on your list. This helps you identify and prioritize the most challenging task and motivates you to complete it first thing in the morning.
- Take breaks and be deliberate about them.
Standing up and getting the blood flowing while working is essential to your mental and physical health. However, this can quickly turn into a mindless snack break or unintentional wandering around and dabbling in other tasks or chores (especially if you’re working from home). Schedule your break and put a limit on it. For example, at the top of the hour, you may “schedule” a 10-minute break that includes taking the dog out, stretching, refilling your water bottle, and handling one personal to-do.
- Be really focused on work in short bursts.
Avoid multi-tasking all day. Instead, focus on tasks for short bursts to facilitate the completion of work rather than juggling multiple, partially done jobs all day. This is easier said than done, particularly for those of us who have spent years doing five things at once with children at home. However, once you move away from multi-tasking, your brain will be calmer and more focused, leaving you in a positive emotional state.
- Create a dedicated, optimal workspace based on your preferences.
Creating a dedicated workspace that includes the colors, lighting, technology, seating, artwork/décor, and privacy that speaks to us is incredibly helpful in facilitating our best work habits. In fact, you may even have more than one space! My favorite place to work is on my porch, where I can see trees and nature, but it’s not the best place for taking phone calls. Hence, I need to have an indoor space as well.
- Minimize distractions from others.
We sure love our dogs, but when they bark at every passer-by or Amazon delivery, it isn’t helpful to our productivity efforts. Similarly, our kids can also be a source of endless distractions, though we wouldn’t trade them for the world. Finding ways to work in a quiet environment can be challenging but can be done with creativity. For example, I created a workspace upstairs complete with a dog bed so my dog could be with me but no longer had access to the ground floor windows or front door. This immediately reduced the amount of barking that went on. As for children, I time blocked my day so that my most brain-intensive tasks were done while they were in daycare or school. This allowed me to do more manageable tasks while they were around or when they were in bed.
- Commit to your mornings.
Minimize guilt and stress later in the day by taking advantage of the time when your energy is the highest and your home and the world are the quietest. For example, you may work for an hour after going to the gym in the morning or before your children start their daily routine. This allows you to clean up your inbox, organize your priorities for the day, or knock out a task or two while you are at your best and distractions are at their least.
- Set deadlines and timeframes for priorities.
I learned the hard way that just putting priorities on a post-it note and sticking them to my laptop didn’t necessarily mean they would get completed in a timely fashion. It just meant that I would see them frequently, which actually started to generate stress. Assigning a due date or priority per week has helped me to drive things to completion. The key is to limit the number of high-priority tasks you have associated with one deadline or timeframe. Be thoughtful and realistic about how much effort your priority will take, build in a buffer if it is dependent upon other people or factors, and be clear on the other things that might be going on around your deadline.
- Build self-care into your daily structure.
Schedule activities to recharge your body and mind throughout the day. This may be a 30-minute walk in the middle of your day, holding planks between conference calls, or actually taking a nap versus drinking more coffee in the mid-afternoon. Whatever your body needs to perform its best is what you should consider building into your daily work day. I know I need to build in time for my brain to rest (or at least be away from the computer, phone, and to-do list), as well as to get fresh air, so my self-care activities revolve around these two factors.
No matter what tools and tips you adopt to enhance your productivity, remember one thing: done is better than perfect. Don’t allow perfection to be the enemy of good enough, and extend yourself some grace when times get challenging, and your schedule blows up. Remember that it may take a while to settle into what works for you, and even then, it will evolve as you move through the many seasons of life. The key is to remember your goals and work smarter, not harder, to achieve them. Cheers to colorful post-it notes and fancy day planners, eating frogs, and redecorating workspaces!
All my best and more,