- by Typhoon
We all want to be productive and want to get more done, but somehow we seem to always fall short. This is something that I have struggled with for a long while. There are periods when everything seems to flow, and then there are stretches of time where it seems like you may be stuck in a rut. No movement.
So how do you go about improving this and being more productive?
1) Get clear.
This is the first step and it’s absolutely essential. Firstly, if you want to just get stuff done and clear the clutter, you can start by writing down things into a to-do list. This can be an old fashioned notebook or a simple app. I personally use Microsoft To-Do as it it easily integrates with the phone & computer I use and it’s extremely simple to setup.
Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, at this stage, the simpler – the better.
If you’re extremely cluttered, just brainstorm what you need to get done and write them down.
This will tell your brain that these are not just random thoughts that are there to weigh you down, but are things that you can take care of.
You can write big goals and small tasks, it’s all good.
If you have big goals -> break them down to tangible steps and smaller tasks.
Have a pen and paper or the app ready at most times so if you get new ideas on stuff you need to do -> write them down. That’s why it’s important to have a simple app that you can quickly add stuff on.
I personally add my tasks to a general task view and then group them into subsections later on.
So now that we have the stuff that you need to get done, it’s time to prioritize them. Some of these stuff are not that important and you can either do them in between important tasks (shop for a specific item, organize your inbox, read a book you had your eye on for a while). While others may be paramount and very important to you. These you want to get going on ASAP and give them priority time – i.e. uninterrupted focus.
How do you know what you want to prioritize? Set a goal you would like to accomplish by the end of the year that is important for you and motivates you. It can be something about your health, finances, career, or relationship. Whatever it is, do not overwhelm yourself – you only have so much time. If you decide to fix everything at once you may end up not improving anything.
I have health goals that are tied to a few simple habits that I do a few times a week. I give them uninterrupted time and focus and they are the most important thing for me. After I do those exercises, I have a choice on what to do with the free time I have. A portion of that time will go for a career goal that I have. It’s like a secondary goal but I know my priorities here. I will not be focusing on the new skills I want to acquire for a career before I have done my health exercises.
For you it may be different, but it’s equally important to know what you really want to accomplish the most. Otherwise you may be running around in circles not really achieving anything.
How do the small tasks fit into this?
Small things like “do the dishes” and “buy groceries” are equally important for our lives. A simple to do app will allow you to easily track these and get them done so their priority is high by default – you can’t function without food, right? Do them in the meantime.
However, for you to live a fulfilling life, it’s important to prioritize the important tasks, so you do not get lost in doing stuff, but ultimately not accomplishing anything.
Categories are important so you can simplify your tasks and put them in the appropriate setting. If you have books you want to read, and you read books regularly – it doesn’t make sense to put them in a general list. Add them to a specialized list just for that purpose.
Places you want to visit? Make a specialized list for that. They don’t need to clutter your general list.
You have a business project that you’re pursuing in your free time? Make a list for tasks for it specifically.
When you have some free time for reading books – turn to your book list.
When you are at your allotted time for your business project – use your to do list for it to organize your time.
When you’re hanging around and you don’t have that much time – see if you have any small tasks that you need to take care of and focus on those.
Categories help in organizing your life.
Which one sounds better and and is more motivating for you:
“I’m gonna do some tasks from my to do list in the next 2 hours”
“I have some free time and I’m going to focus on my career goals for the next 2 hours. I have a few specific things in that area that I can do and I’m going to take care of them.”
To me – the second one is much more appealing, because there’s purpose to it.
4) Take action
No need for any pump up music (although it sounds fun so you can blast we are the champions if you like). You know what you want to accomplish and you have a few things in your to do list that will move you in that direction. You can get going. Smaller tasks are better.
If you have been putting off reading a book but it will really help you in some way – break it down to small pieces.
You haven’t bought the book yet? Put it in your to do list – Buy XYZ book.
You got the book but haven’t gotten around to reading it? Set it as a goal to read one chapter at a time or maybe even a few pages at a time.
Sometimes big steps seem too daunting but making smaller commitments allow us to take action, and a big step is really a few smaller steps taken consistently.
5) Remove the clutter
If you have added some tasks and you haven’t gotten around them for a while, ask yourself – do you need to really do it? If not – remove it from your list. If it’s important for you – break it down into smaller chunks and take care of it that way.
Don’t overbook yourself – some things are important for you and some are not. This is why we did the prioritization. Example: You work 9 hours a day and you exercise daily. You are also working on learning to play the guitar. Maybe your plate is full and you can’t add learning a new language to the list for now. That is fine.
Although being a productivity machine sounds like a good idea, a healthy work – life balance is key. Life means taking time to relax, spending time with family and friends. Doing some stuff without any sort of end goals attached to them – just because they feel good.
If you want to have that – you need to remove some of the tasks and focus on the important things.
If you only take life as it comes and don’t live purposefully, you will never grow. That’s not a life that I can personally live. On the other hand, if you only focus on growth, growth, growth – you will miss the present. So balance. Have a goal or two for the year and spend time on them. But don’t have so many that you forget to enjoy the taste of life.
6) Create habits
Whenever possible, create a routine. I will take away from the mental drain of having to decide on what you need to do all the time.
What do I mean by this?
A routine can be:
- A specific timeframe everyday or on specific days where you focus on a given topic. Let’s say you work 9 to 5 – if your goal is to learn a new language – every day after work you spend 1 hour learning new words and sentences. That’s all. Now your success in learning the language is tied to a repetitive activity – your daily job.
- Weekends – every Saturday, after I wake up and drink my coffee – I review my tasks and goals, and visualize my success. Now my success in living a purposeful life is tied to a weekly occurrence – my Saturday morning coffee.
- A routine can also be a specific sequence of actions. I.e. if you’re writing an article for a blog – you always research the topic first for 10 minutes, and then brainstorm ideas for 5. Then you freeflow write for 30 minutes without stopping. Then you review and structure your presentation a bit better for 15 minutes.
That’s the way you always do it, and once you have the sequence down – every stretch of 1 hour of free time can turn into a great article. It also allows you to organize your time better.
- Every night before bed you meditate for 10 minutes. Now a daily occurrence – going to bed is tied to an activity that will give you better mental health and more bliss in your life.
If you decide to create routine or a habit – I strongly suggest that you do them one at a time. They are not easy to create so focusing on only one at a time will make it significantly simpler for you. After you got one down (let’s say you’ve done it consistently for 30-40 days) -> add a new one.
7) Review and live purposefully
Last step – try to review your long term goals and to do lists weekly or at least monthly. Remove any clutter and stuff that you won’t have the time to get around to. See if your goal still makes sense to you. I’d say consider updating your goals in 3-6 month stretches. I.e. If you’ve consistently taken action towards a goal for 3 months and now you don’t really want the outcome anymore – don’t be shy to update it.
If you still want the outcome but don’t like the method – consider upgrading your approach.
I wouldn’t suggest updating your goals and methods in shorter time frames unless you’re definitely sure this is something you don’t want, because it usually takes a bit of consistent action to start seeing results. Results are the fruit of all your hard-work, so be consistent enough to get a taste before giving up on that outcome.
I personally try to focus on my overall end results a few times a week, but at least once.
I update my goals or methods if I have consistently focused on them for at least 3 months.
In short – get clear on your tasks by writing them down, prioritize your tasks, categorize them appropriately, take action, chunk tasks down to smaller bits if they are too daunting. Remove clutter and focus on a few key goals yearly, so you can have a happy, balanced life. Whenever possible – try to create routines and habits so it is easier to follow through. Create habits one at a time. Go through your overall goals and tasks weekly or monthly to make sure you stay on track and can drop off the stuff that is unnecessary.