I’m not ever going to call myself a productivity guru. I make mistakes just like everyone else. I mismanage my time, and I don’t always plan to the best of my ability.
But the point is that I try. I always want to improve, and I have a terrible habit of biting off more than I can chew. I’ve had to learn to embrace different methods to see what best suits me, my habits and my quirks.
Keeping an open mind and trying different things is what will help you find what works for you. And to get you started, here is a list of five things that have worked for me.
1. Start Earlier
And I don’t mean you should get up at 5am, though if you’re a morning person and you’re able to, I’d recommend it. But not everyone is. What I mean is that you should start at the beginning of your day, or make time at the beginning of your day. That feeling of achievement first thing in the morning can give you the motivation you need to keep working.
Even if you can’t return to that task, because you’re exhausted or have too many other things on your plate, at least you know you managed to get something done. And you can do it every day. Start 30 minutes earlier than normal and get a bit of work done. It’ll make a huge difference, trust me.
2. Work in Bursts
Sometimes we get distracted. It’s really hard to stay focused with a million and one things now pulling at our attention. It’s something I still struggle with, but to combat that I work in bursts of intense focus. I know my attention will start to wane after about 20-25 minutes, so I try to focus and work hard during that span of time, and then I take a break. Maybe I’ll get up and move around. Stretch. Drink some water. Indulge my easily distracted mind a little before I get back to work for another 20 minutes. This method is very like the pomodoro technique, but I would take it a step further, and adapt it to whatever bursts of focus time you need. If you can do 45 minutes, go for it. If you can only manage ten, that’s okay too.
The app Forest is great for this – it keeps away the distractions and it works like a pomodoro timer, except you can set the length of time to whatever works best for you.
3. Start with the biggest task first
I’ll admit this isn’t always easy to decide, but there are always going to be tasks that take more work and more time than others. You’ll get a lot more done if you start with the bigger ones. And more often than not, the biggest tasks are the most important and demand the most attention. If you leave them until the end you might be too mentally and emotionally drained to give it the attention it needs. Or it’ll take longer because you’re suffering from that exhaustion. You need to use your energy wisely.
But what if you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to it? If you’re like me and you hate switching in the middle of something, then figure out when you have the time and distribute tasks as necessary. Switching tasks can be just as draining as starting with the wrong one. Look at your to-do list and be smarter about how you tackle it. We all get the same 24 hours in a day. What matters is how you use them.
This one might sound kind of obvious but it is so easy to be busy and get no work done. Take a look at what you are spending your time on. Are you spending too much time in some areas that aren’t really getting you any progress? Research and social media tend to fall into these categories, but it can mean a lot of things – spending too long editing that paragraph, spending too long editing those images, etc. Perfectionism can really mess with you.
And it’s not to say those things aren’t important. But there’s no point in editing that image if I haven’t finished the blog post to go with it. If I keep editing the same paragraph over and over again I’m never going to finish the first draft. It is so easy to be busy and not get anything done. It’s something I struggled with for a long time. Ask yourself if what you’re doing is really going to move you forward, and make sure you prioritize those tasks that do.
5. Start a Journal
Wait, adding something to your to do list can make you more productive?
In a way, yes. Obviously you can’t let it take up all of your time, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to lose track or to struggle with where to start. And that’s where the journaling comes in.
Recently I set up a new notebook in my Evernote that would be my dedicated ‘digital journal’. When I have a lot of work to do, I open up a new note, spend a bit of time writing out how I’m feeling, what I need to do, why, and how I’m going to do it. When I’m ready, I get to work. And because it’s digital, I’m already at my computer. The transition is easy. I’ve even done this on the commute from work, so when I get home and get to the work I’m prepped and raring to go. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and organize my thoughts. Starting the day with a bit of clarity has been invaluable. And maybe it’ll work for you, too.
Everyone is different, so it can be difficult to find the tricks and habits that will work for you. If none of these seem to do the trick, take a look at your process. Remember when you were most productive – what were you doing and what helped you focus? What time of day was it? You might be surprised by what you find.
Do you struggle to get stuff done as I have? Do you have any tips that have helped you be more productive? Let me know in the comments!