Ah Productivity! That nebulous monster. It has a different meaning for all of us. An artist might spend all day staring at their canvas and barely make any strokes with their brush, but they might consider it a productive day. Across town an accountant might do work for 10 clients and call it a loss. Regardless of your field when you sit down to work I’m sure you aren’t saying to yourself “gee I’d like to sit here a long time but not get anything done.” This article strives to help you be more productive when you sit down to work so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment and waste less time.
For the purpose of this article we’re going to use the dictionary.com definition of productivity.
While there is plenty of work outside of the actual production of goods and services – for example work with a creative scope like a brainstorming session or creating new art – for our purposes here we’re going with deliverable type endeavors. And even if your job is pretty much exclusively creative, I’m betting at some point you still have to send emails, bill clients, or write a report. So here are 5 life hacks to help you get more done in less time.
1. Consider what only YOU can do
When we consider all the things that need to get done for our lives and our jobs we tend to look at them as our to-do list. And even if we step back and think about who would be BEST at accomplishing all of these things on our list we would probably put ourselves as that person. But when it comes to truly making the best use of our time we’re asking the wrong questions. Instead ask yourself
What can ONLY I do?
As a small business owner I could look at all the things I need to do – finding clients, coaching clients, billing, marketing, social media, website and go crazy trying to get them all done. But does that make sense? Sure I’m probably the BEST person to update my website, but I can hire someone else to do this. What I can’t do is hire someone to find and coach my clients. In the interest of growing my business and keeping my sanity, it makes more sense for me to focus on this part and outsource the rest.
You can use this concept in your personal life as well. Of course you are capable of doing your own laundry and cleaning your house, but you can also hire someone to do those things instead. However you can’t hire someone to go to your kids football game or band concert.
2. It’s not about hours spent, it’s about work accomplished
As much as our society worships at the alter of busy, cutting back on sleep, upping caffeine, and working 80 hour weeks, NONE of these factors mean that you’re getting anything done. I have seen plenty of work environments where employees were at work 60 hours a week, but spent more time at lunch, around the water cooler or surfing the web than actually working. How many hours you’re in the office has little to do with productivity.
So instead of going to work just to put in the hours, go to work to get things done. Before you leave at night make a list of what MUST be done in order for the next day to be productive. Once you get in, start there. Don’t check emails or voicemail before you give yourself time to get some must dos complete. This ensures that you’ve had a productive day even before someone has had a chance to hijack it for their to do list.
And if you work from home (particularly if you have kids home with you) make sure you’re scheduling your working hours when you can actually work. Use naps or activities or independent play time to crank things out. Or make arrangements with your partner or other care givers so that you can have quiet, focused time and to work instead of distracted time that’s neither good for business nor good for your family.
(I speak from experience. We will not discuss how much longer this blog post took due to catering to the ever changing whims of my 3 year old!)
3. Plan first. Work second.
One of the ways to plan is covered in the last topic of making a list of MUST dos for your day. You can do it the night before for the next day or the morning of BEFORE you get to work. But the list of tasks isn’t the only thing that can be improved by planning.
Consider the last time you received a rambling email from a coworker or client that could have easily been boiled down to the last couple of sentences. Imagine the amount of time they wasted on their end and your end that could have been saved by having thoughts organized before they set out to write.
Before you go to write that long email, memo, marketing campaign or blog post consider an outline. Yes that thing you vaguely remember from your 8th grade English class. It doesn’t have to be fancy or contain roman numerals and a bullet system (unless that’s your jam). You can scribble ideas on a piece of paper, or hell a napkin if you’re in a pinch. Just put down your primary ideas or topics you’d like to cover and the key points in those areas. When you have those laid out, consider writing your concluding paragraph first based on what you have in your outline. If your final paragraph isn’t highlighting everything you need to cover, then you can go back and add it to the outline. That’s much easier than rewriting an intense email that went way off track.
Hint: for even longer form items for which you have lots of topics, ideas, and research consider writing each thought on a separate note card. This way you can easily add, reorder, and reorganize the structure of the talk or message without crossing things out or editing a document over and over.
4. Quit multi-tasking.
As a homeschooling mom of 2 who is also a entrepreneur the thought of quitting multi tasking seems like an impossible (and laughable) request. When I first read about how multitasking being less effective than single tasking I thought “that’s nice buddy, what dream world do you live in?” But the problem is the science here is strong. You can lose up to 25% of overall time spent due to “switching time”. This is the time that your brain takes to switch gears between things that you were working on before and what you’re trying to focus on now. Who wouldn’t like their work to go 25% faster?
Consider this, though. When you think of multi tasking are you picturing waiting on hold on the phone and writing an email? Sure that might be an effective use of time, but multi tasking is also bouncing between projects before they’re complete. And this includes texting and writing an email or responding to comments on your social media post and writing a proposal. As much as we’d like to think that we’re getting so much done while we’re waiting for the other person to respond, we’re really just wasting our time and brainpower.
When you sit down to check off your next to do, turn off those notifications on your computer, put your phone on silent, and knock that task off your agenda in less time. Then you can use the time you now have to take a break to respond to notifications and text back your friends.
5. Keep it simple
The less you have to think about and make decisions in your day to day life, the more focus and energy your brain will have leftover for the rest of the day. Decision Fatigue is a real thing, and it sucks up your will power and ability to make good decisions. The way around this? Keep it simple.
Pare down your daily wardrobe to reduce the number of decisions you need to make in a morning. Consider having a capsule wardrobe put together so that everything you could want to wear will go together. Or if this is an insult to your fashion sense, at least lay out your clothes the night before.
Another place to cut back on decisions is breakfast and lunch. Many people eat the same thing every day for each of these meals and while it may seem boring, it’s actually time and brain power preserving. And the same goes here, if you’ll get bored with the same meals, most things can be prepped the night before.
Taking the decisions out of your routines will help streamline your day and give your more focus and will power to be productive and focused when you need it most.
And there you have 5 ideas to help boost your productivity. Please feel free to put more ideas that you have in the comments.
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