Being busy, and being productive are two different things.
Being productive means working smarter, not harder. It’s something that I’ve struggled with for the longest time. You could always hear me say “I am soooo busy” but at the end of the day, I’d do a quick recap and realize that I really didn’t get as much done as I thought. I’d feel exhausted, but in reality, I really haven’t done anything very productive.
I’m sure you know that feeling. You’re sitting down to work, or plan on doing something. Then you get that notification on your phone. Is it an email? A text message? You pick up your phone (oh…you know…”real quick“) and boom. You’re distracted.
You can say that when you procrastinate and put things off to be done at a later time, you’re stealing. You’re taking something away from yourself. Something you can never get back.
Think about it. If you were to spend only 20% of your time really focusing on those most important tasks and give 100%, you’d have more time. More time to do things you enjoy, more time to set new, bigger goals, and more time to take care of yourself (like working out or making a nice meal). You might tell yourself that “you’re busy” but how much of that time do you actually spend doing something productive?
5 WAYS TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE
1. PLAN AHEAD
You think you can keep track of everything you need/want to do in your head, but the truth is- you can’t. Keep a journal, write down your thoughts and ideas. Having them written down will let you go back and re-visit them, improve them and build on them. It will also let you plan a lot better and prevent you from forgetting your ideas as well. You never know when inspiration might hit you- that’s why always having a journal (or a planner, notebook) with you will let you write them down as soon as they come to you.
I love planning out my day ahead. Write a list of things to do the next day, before you go to bed. I found that doing this at night works out much better than making the list in the morning (which I used to do). When you have a lot of energy in the morning, you often feel like you can fit a lot more into your day than you actually do. After making your list, separate your tasks according to priority. You can take it even further, and schedule everything in your calendar, using 15-20 minute blocks.
2. PRIORITIZE + START WITH THE MOST DREADED ACTIVITY
We all have those tasks that we just don’t enjoy doing very much. To me, when it comes to work- it’s making phone calls (especially when I know I’ll have to deal with a difficult client); when it comes to my “home” life- it’s a tie between working out and dusting (seriously, I could do dishes all day, I sometimes vacuum just for fun, l love doing laundry, but dusting I can’t stand). There are also days when the last thing I want to do after getting home, is stretch and do my therapy workouts for 30 minutes.
So what do I do?
As soon as I get home from work, I take my dog for a quick walk, I take off my makeup, change and get my physical therapy workout in. It’s really one of the first things I do when I get home- I don’t even think about doing it, I just do it automatically, and by the time I realize, it’s 30 minutes later and my workout for the day is complete.
If, I avoid doing it or keep putting it off (“let me first check the mail“, “maybe I should think about dinner first“, “omg I missed my dog so much, I’ll just cuddle with him for an hour“) I usually either end up not doing it at all, or doing it, but not giving it a 100%. The same thing goes for everything else in your life. If there is something that you really dread doing, just do it right away and get it over with. If you keep putting it off, it will just hang over your head and make you feel uneasy-both of which can lower your productivity.
Sometimes you just have to be real with yourself- you don’t have to talk yourself into thinking how excited or happy you are to do the things you dread doing. Let’s not pretend that every single part of life is fun or exciting. With some things or tasks, you just have to get it done and get it over with, without thinking/saying how much you hate it.
3. TIME BLOCKING
One of the other ways to be more productive is time-blocking. As soon as you start your day, or as soon as your schedule allows, spend 20 minutes “unprocrastinating” and working on your first, most important task. During those 20 minutes, you are not allowed to browse the internet, check your phone, or turn on the TV. After the 20 minutes are up, you can either continue working, or allow yourself a 10-minute break, during which you can check your email, Twitter, or Instagram feed. This will be your reward for doing your work. Once the 10 minutes are done, go back to working on your task for the next 20 minutes, and so on. Sometimes a 50-minute block of working on your tasks works out even better.
To help you with this, you can set up the timer on your phone that will let you know when the time is up, or use something like this. When doing this, it’s important to stay mindful of any distractions or urges to stop. This is based on the Pomodoro Technique– an idea that when working on a large, involved task, breaking it down into short, timed intervals that are spaced out with short breaks will help you be more productive.
4. THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT
I already mentioned this app a while ago, but I still use it all the time. Forest is a great app if you find yourself being constantly distracted and reaching for your phone while working. Also, kind of cute solution to the problem: you set the time- let’s say 30 minutes- you plant a tree and put your phone down. During those 30 minutes, you cannot reach for your phone- otherwise, your tree will die. The key is to eventually build a forest, which gives you an awesome sense of achievement. Seeing your tree wither and die away is a bummer and you feel a little guilty, so it’s a way to trick yourself into not reaching for your phone.
5. SET BOUNDARIES + DE-CLUTTER
Another tip for cutting out distractions is setting up boundaries– especially when it comes to working. When working on something important, communicate with your colleagues. Let them know you’re on a deadline and you’ll be less likely to be disturbed. Minimizing noise helps a lot when it comes to staying focused, too.
Get rid of those old invoices, a bunch of papers you no longer need and all your junk mail. I know that a lot of us love to have that “organized chaos” but the truth is, you can’t expect to be productive if you have a messy desk. The same thing goes for your email inbox and laptop- digital mess can be a distraction, too.
The truth behind being more productive is that you can’t always trust your future self. Have you ever bought a fridge full of veggies and thought “okay, starting tomorrow I’m eating healthy,” only to have to throw them all away a week later? Yeah, your future self (just like my future self) is pretty unreliable. Which is why “I’ll just do it tomorrow” or “I’ll make up for it later” doesn’t always work.