We’ve all heard the expression, “We all have the same number of hours in a day.” And while that’s true, life circumstances often influence how productive we can be. Mastering productivity isn't about adding hours to the day; it's about using productivity strategies to accomplish more and give you more time.
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The biggest hindrance to productivity is procrastination, so if you haven’t tackled that yet, you need to put your focus there. If you think you have your procrastination under control, then it’s time to look at ways to increase your productivity. Becoming more productive necessitates changes in how you do things.
Incorporating a variety of productivity strategies into your routines is the first step to mastering productivity. Here are 9 productivity strategies to consider:
Track your time:
Most of us don’t really know where all of our time goes. This is doubly true if you have time blindness. Many people with ADHD have time blindness, which means they have no idea how long something takes or how long they spend doing a task.
To track your time, you need to write everything down. And I do mean everything. How long did it take to get the kids in the car to drive them to school? How long until you were back home? Did you stop for a coffee? How long did that take?
You don’t need to break it down by the minute, but you should be able to know what happened in each 15-30-minute chunk of time for your whole day. It’s important to know that this is completely judgment free. If you spent 80 minutes scrolling TikTok, so be it. There’s no way for you to be more productive until you really know where your time is spent.
Lying about things (or not really tracking them) isn’t accomplishing anything.
Track your time for at least 3 typical days. Seven days is even better.
Also, be aware that time tracking isn’t a one-and-done. Anytime things in your life change, you should do it again.
Kids are at home for summer? Your schedule will change. Do time tracking. You start a side hustle to make some extra money? Do time tracking.
Once you know where all of your time is spent, you can start to implement tools and strategies to be more productive. Mastering productivity can't happen if you don't know where your time is spent.
Know your peak times:
You might be a morning person or a night owl. Or maybe your best time to get things done is right after lunch.
Once you’ve tracked your time, look over the times of the day when you were most productive. When did you feel good about how much you got done?
Those are your peak times.
When did you spend the most time doing mindless things (like scrolling social media or watching TV)? While it’s easy to dismiss such activities as being lazy or bored, chances are, you just reached a point in your day where you needed a break. Your brain couldn’t be more productive.
Your peak times are the times of the day when you want to plan to get your most difficult tasks done. Because you are more focused during those times, giving a challenging task your full concentration will be easier, which will allow you to be more productive.
Save easier tasks for the times of the day when you are least productive. The tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration or focus should be planned for these times. Laundry? Dishes? Okay, probably most household chores might fit into this category. But you can also consider meetings for work (where you aren’t presenting) or emails and phone calls (unless those stress you out, requiring more mental effort).
Obviously, you can’t control all of the tasks you have to get done in a day and bend everyone else’s will to what you want. If you’re a night owl, chances are that your boss isn’t going to say you don’t have to come into the office until 7 pm.
You are also the only one who can determine what tasks require the most mental energy from you. Sending emails is something I can do all day with little thought. But I hate talking on the phone, so I will always put off making a call.
Know what works for you and what doesn’t and plan accordingly.
Focus on one big goal at a time:
Most people have several goals that they want to accomplish. Choosing just one main goal to work on at a time can ultimately help you be more productive. Instead of starting 3 or 4 goals and taking longer to make progress on all of them, you put your energy toward one goal and start to see the benefits faster.
When working on a goal, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps and tasks. Then create a schedule for getting each of those tasks done. You’ll see progress more quickly with this kind of focus.
For example, if you have to cook dinner for a party and have 8 people coming over, you might not know where to start. Break it into steps: create a menu, buy groceries, prep food, start the main course, make sides, set the table, etc. Having this list will help keep the overwhelm at bay. Just doing one of these things makes progress and isn’t that difficult.
Make a To-do List:
By now, you probably know that I am a HUGE fan of planners. My life gets messy whenever I stop using one. The thing is, you need to find the one that makes sense to you. Your planner might just be a simple to-do list. And that’s okay.
It’s really hard (for some, impossible) to prioritize and plan tasks for your day when you’re not 100% sure of what things you need to get done. You can’t rely on your memory. You need to write it down.
Once it’s written, you can prioritize. What things have to get done first? Which are most important? Which require a lot of mental energy?
When you can accurately plan your day, you’ll be able to accomplish more.
Use time blocking to get tasks done:
When you’re faced with a long to-do list, it can feel overwhelming. You know what needs to get done, but you’re not sure how to make it happen.
As I mentioned, break larger projects into smaller steps. Once you have your list, use time blocking to get it done. The Pomodoro Method is probably the most recognizable time-blocking method, but you can alter it to suit you. The Pomodoro Method is structured so that you set a timer and work for 25 minutes, totally focused, no distractions. Then you take a 5-minute break.
You repeat this pattern 3-4 times and then take a longer break. The shorter bursts of focused work tend to be really productive.
If 25 minutes is too long for your attention span, adjust what your time block will be and use that.
Rinse and repeat.
Ah, the great concept of multitasking. Those of us of a certain age became adults during a time when women were told we could have it all and do it all. We claimed to be excellent at multitasking because we had to do it all.
In all honesty, I think most women just ran themselves ragged and then burned out. Multitasking isn’t inherently evil. It has a time and place, but it’s not something you should use as a means to think you’re being productive.
Often, we start 5 different tasks on our to-do list to show how productive we are, but even though we might make progress on some (or even all) of them, none of them are complete. We are extremely busy, but not accomplishing what we need to do.
Recent studies have shown that multitasking tends to make us less productive. *See unfinished tasks above* Another thing that slows us down with multitasking is context switching. When we bounce from task to task that have different requirements, we have to readjust our thinking and that takes time.
You’re better off focusing on one thing at a time.
The exception to this are the tasks that don’t require a lot of focus. You can watch TV and fold laundry. Or talk on the phone while sweeping the floor. Or listen to a podcast while doing dishes. Those are good ways to multitask.
I mentioned context switching and how that can waste time. For this reason, I recommend batching similar tasks. If you have to write weekly emails for a client, instead of just writing the one for this week, draft all 4 of them for the month. When you’re in email-writing mode, it’s easier to just keep producing than to switch to a different task.
Use waiting time:
Any time that you’re not actively engaged in something important can be considered waiting time. If you commute on a train or have to sit in the doctor’s office waiting to be called, these are times you can squeeze in completing some extra tasks.
When my kids were little, I decided I wanted to start writing. But you know that young kids require a lot of attention. There was no way they were going to let me sit at a computer for a couple of hours a day. Instead, I used the time that they were in activities and didn’t need me: swim lessons, tae kwon do, football, ballet, etc.
For years, this was how I wrote my novels.
Not everyone can do that. The idea of sitting down to write and knowing that you only have 30 minutes might not work for you. But what can you do in 30 minutes?
- Place your grocery shopping order?
- Make some phone calls you’ve been putting off?
- Do some research on your phone?
Instead of focusing on those snippets of time not being enough to get something substantial done, consider what you can get done.
Delegate when possible:
When you’re doing a million things, you really don’t have to do them all yourself. You might not be able to delegate much at work if you don’t have a team or subordinates. But you can probably delegate some stuff at home. Have the kids and spouse pitch in. Even if the kids don’t do a task as well as you like, as long as it’s good enough, it’s one less thing for you to handle.
If you don’t have people you can rely on, can you hire some things out? Instead of killing yourself trying to cook dinner every night, can you do a meal plan service? Can you hire a cleaning lady or drop your laundry off for service?
While taking things off your plate might not automatically make you more productive, it will definitely free up some time for you. What you do with that time is up to you.
And remember, self-care is being productive. You shouldn’t feel bad if you pay someone to clean your house so that you can come home, kick off your shoes, and relax.
The idea of being more productive is an alluring one for most of us. We want to do more. I prefer to be able to be super-efficient so that I can have more time for things in life that I enjoy like hanging out with my kids or reading a good book, without stressing about the tasks that I didn’t finish.
Using these productivity strategies can help you reduce the stress in your life while staying on top of your to-do list.
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