Saturday, May 19, 2018

Productivity Tips and Tricks for Every Personality

First and foremost, you need to figure out what your most important thing to do is.  In order to do this, you have to get in touch with what is most important to you. What are your values? What are your goals? To find your dream job? Lose weight? Find more balance in your life? Get promoted at work? Spend more time with your kids? Find a new house? Make more friends? What lights your fire right now? 

Once you have some of those ideas in mind you can employ these tips to make sure what you do lines up with what you say you want to do.  In other words, turn your wish list into an action list.

How to Make Sure Your Time is Spent on Achieving Your Most Important Goals

Sometimes we get confused as to what is truly important, and we let other's goals, wishes, and emergencies take over our time.  These tips will help you take back your time (and your life).   

Tip #1 Decide What is Important versus Urgent 

It helps to put things in these 4 categories:
  • Urgent and Important
  • Important, but not Urgent
  • Urgent, but not Important
  • Not Urgent, and not Important
Urgent and important items will obviously make it to the top of the list.  For instance, if your dishwasher is leaking all over your kitchen floor, this constitutes an urgent and important problem, and you will cancel meetings, and put everyone and everything else on hold to get this taken care of.

Important, but not urgent might be something like buying a baby gift for your best friend or finishing the family photo album (assuming these things line up with your values and goals).

Urgent, but not important is when your kid is frantic in the morning because he forgot to pack his lunch. Not important because buying lunch won't kill him (despite what he might say about it), or it's when someone else wants you to drop everything to deal with their urgent and important (or just urgent) task. Remember, just because something is urgent to someone else, doesn't mean that it needs to be urgent for you. I'm not totally unfeeling. If you want to be available for others emergencies, have "office hours" for that.  More abut that below.

Not Urgent and not important. These are the things we get sucked into doing like attending your mother's cousins' baby shower or dusting the back of the bookshelf (buy enough books to hide the dust). These are things, you can probably just let go and it will not be the end of the world.  These are the things you need to quit. For more info on how to quit click here: Be a Quitter

Tip #2 Write down the one thing you need to do today

I know, I know, so many things so little time. How can you pick just one? Imagine you only have enough energy to get one thing done today.  What would it be?

To do this, we need to soften our expectations of ourselves.  This sounds like slacking, I know, but bear with me. Do you have kids? A significant other? Are they important to you? Look at your to do list, and tell me if you have one thing on there that screams, "These people are my life". We have laundry and dinners to make, etc. on this list, and those are important, but if this were your last day, how would you spend it? I would stop by subway, or grab a box of cereal, and take my kids to the park and enjoy them. I would make time to go out with my girlfriends. When is the last time you did that stuff? If you doubt me, click what people who were dying regretted the most:

I get you can't do this everyday, but the thing is, we keep putting these things into the "not important, not urgent" pile, and not important, not urgent things eventually don't get done, and now you are sad because you have no friends.

Your one thing doesn't have to be the same thing everyday (we aren't one dimensional after all),  unless you are laser focused on getting something done, then by all means set aside time each day to complete that goal.

What is important to you, right now? Put that as your most important thing on your list.

Tip #3 Because I know you really won't put one thing on your list. Time line your day. 

Raise your hand if you always think you have more time than you actually do, and then kick yourself for not getting the stuff done that you feel like you should have gotten done.  Time blocking out your day will really help you, not only be more productive, but also realize you physically can't get it all done. It is not your failure, it is a failure of time.

Make a list of all the stuff you need to do this week. I make a dump list on Sunday of all the stuff I can think of that I need to do, then I prioritize it, and assign the most important items to certain days.  Some people make one big list, but I like to divide it up into categories, like housework, work, family stuff, projects, me time, etc.

The list is usually overwhelming, so divvying it up into the categories mentioned in Tip #1 is helpful, and finding that one thing a day to work on is powerful.  However, to get all that stuff done, I would need many lifetimes.  Here is one way to pare down your master list:  How to Get Sh*t Done

Step 2, after paring down your list is to Time Block.

Time Blocking

Time blocking works great for the over-scheduler because you can schedule out what you need to do and how long it will take.

Start by making a simple time line.  I just draw a vertical line in my planner and start when I get up and number down to when I am free of children.  Like this:

Nothing fancy at all.  However, very eye opening.  Once I put in the stuff that I have to do, like appointments, and school pick up, I quickly realize that I do not have a whole heck of a lot of time.  Don't forget you need to eat and shower at some point.

This lack of time is why you put in your most important thing.  The thing that will have the biggest impact to your goals, be it career, family or otherwise.  My current project is scheduled at 1:00 PM. For an hour I will work on that project.

Now that your biggest impact thing is scheduled, you can write in the stuff that is your second and third most important.  When I say "schedule", I mean write it in your planner in ink or put it on your calendar and set an alarm.

I work mostly from home part time, so I dedicate one block of time to that each day, then a house item each day, and then some time to catch up on random stuff that pops up.

Recently I have been devoting a bigger block of time one day a week for projects (Monday, I spent 6 hours on the laundry room, and it was so worth it), but that is for a special projects, and definitely not something I can do every week. I am planning a road trip so I blocked out 2 hours one day this week and an hour on another day to focus on planning that.

Set the length of the time blocks that works best for you.  Some swear by the Pomodora technique of 25 minutes focused, 5 minute break. If you are really procrastinating, set a timer for 15 minutes and race against the clock (make it a game, especially helpful for mundane household tasks). For stuff I want to do, I can focus for long periods of time, and I don't like being interrupted once I am in the zone, so for certain tasks, I go for 90 minutes. If it's stuff I don't enjoy, but must get done, then I race against a short timer. Experiment and see what works for you.

Speaking of the no fun mundane tasks that are part of life. Use "Buffer Blocks"

These are blocks of time to do those recurring routine tasks like email, regular mail, paperwork, or other random time-suck tasks (Facebook, Pinterest, cleaning the house house may fall into this category).

Set aside a couple blocks of time each day to tackle those. Do not devote time to them outside of their block. How does this help? "Oh, you sent me an urgent email that needed answering right away? I'm sorry, I only check my email at 9:00 AM and at 3:00 PM."

If you are afraid you will forget something, take 10 seconds to jot it down on your to do list. If you want to look at Instagram, but find yourself getting lost there, set your phone timer.  A mom I know grabs her mail on the way to her kids ballet class and sorts through it there. An excellent use of down time twice a week.

Do you find it hard to say "no" to people? 

Set yourself up so you don't have to say no. Blocking out time proactively trains people when you will (or won't) be available, and you don't have to say "no", and they are happier too. Instead of telling people what you can't do (which no one likes), you get to say what you can do. (Win-win).

For example, I volunteer as a treasurer at my kids' school. I have scheduled two days a week where I will work on that. Previously, the position would just do it when anyone had a need (or didn't plan and waited until the last minute.) At the beginning of the year, I shared my schedule for when I would be working with all my "customers", so now they know what to expect and I don't have to answer requests or give status updates constantly. I have only had two "emergencies" all year.

Time blocking is not only a useful tool for you, but it also is helpful for others because they know what to expect from you and when. This leads me to the concept of batching.


Batching is grouping similar tasks together.  Like running errands, grocery shopping, and it can aslo apply to work tasks. Maybe you call all your clients on one day, review proposals on another.  Some people batch housework, dusting, even cooking, packing lunches or snacks for the week or laundry (I'm trying this batching laundry thing today, but I think I prefer one load a day. What works for one person might not work for another.)

The point is, start looking for similar things and see if you can't batch them together in one of your time blocks.

What About Multitasking? 

Some advice says to never do this.  It takes a long time to for your brain to switch back and forth between tasks. I say, never say never, but know your limits.

Some of us just can't multitask well.  My husband is one of them (women do multitask better than men, in general). He will stop talking to me in the car to put on his turn signal and turn, then resume the conversation. That's where we are.

However, if you are doing a mundane task that does not require you to pay close attention, then I say multitask away.  I think you can handle folding laundry and watching TV or prepping veggies and listening to a Podcast, music, or an audiobook.

I will say, though, that practicing mindfulness on mundane tasks can put you into a meditative state, and give you the same benefits as meditation.  Consider that multitasking, for example, meditating and washing dishes.

When you really focus on what you are doing, it does give your brain a rest.  Sort of like a brain nap, and who couldn't use more of those? (Plus, I notice the kitchen is strangely empty when I am in there washing up, so it's also very peaceful.)

Other Tips I Came Across for Increasing Productivity that You Can Experiment with:

  • Stick to a schedule
  • Become an early riser
  • Make a drink before you start (I mean coffee or tea, but hey, whatever works for you)
  • Clean your desk off or your workspace
  • Set yourself up for success by making it easy for you to do what you have been putting off. Lately, I have been decluttering. So, I have a box in a couple of rooms, and as I pass through I put something in the box. Baby steps. Set yourself up for success. If you want to eat breakfast int he morning, get as much as you can ready the night before. Work out, set your shoes where you will trip over them on the morning (not really, but you get the idea). Keep cleaner in every bathroom or room.
  • Snacks, chewing gum, sunshine, smelling lemon and/or peppermint, having a plant in your workspace all help boost productivity.
  • Silence your phone
  • Get dressed in the morning and ready for your day even if you aren't leaving your house.
  • Know when you are at your peak and do your most important tasks then (morning or afternoon?)
  • Get enough rest.  I've talked about the value of sleep before, but if you need some incentive, click here: THIS ONE THING CAN CAUSE SADNESS, HEADACHES, FORGETFULNESS AND OTHER WOES
  • Use one tool. Admittedly, I use two, the iCalendar and a bullet journal, but you shouldn't  have sticky notes strewn about and call it a system. 
The most important tip I can offer under the happiness banner, is make time for friends and family. People often regret working too much, and always wish for more time with loved ones.  At the end of the day, it's all about balance.

If I missed a great tip you use, share it with the rest of us in the comments below!!

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