A lot of us want to be more productive, to feel like we are getting stuff done, but a lot of the time we are rushing around completing tasks and running errands. Before we know it, it’s the end of the day and we haven’t done what we set out to do.
We can often create ‘busy work’ for ourselves, which is work that we don’t necessarily need to do, but we do it out of habit or as a way of procrastinating. This post will explore a few ways that we can be more productive in our day, as well as how I, as a habitual procrastinator, have implemented these into my own life.
Set a goal – and review it often
Setting a goal can be an incredibly powerful step in our mission to get what we want out of life. And let me tell you here and now that you do not have to wait until the new year, or the new school year, to set a new goal. You can set a new goal whenever you want.
Some of you may know exactly what you want to achieve whereas others might not know what they want out of life. That is okay. We can go through the process of goal setting together right now.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and start writing down everything that you want in the future. Don’t stop to think about whether it is realistic or not, just write whatever comes to your mind. Maybe set a timer for half an hour or 15-minutes, and keep writing ideas until your timer goes off.
Look through everything that you have written and pick just one goal. (You can do this exercise multiple times with multiple goals, but do them one at a time to avoid getting a tangled web of goals!)
Now, break your goal down. What will it take to get to your goal? Write down all of the tasks that it will take to reach this goal, no matter how big or small the tasks are. These tasks might involve building a website, going to networking events, writing one page per day, reading one chapter per week. No matter what it is, write it down.
Next, group your tasks into things that will take 30 days, 60 days, and up to one year.
What can be really helpful is to then think ‘what do I have to do each week in order to complete my 30 day goal?’ and then set a list of weekly tasks to complete.
Now, look at your goal. It doesn’t seem so daunting now does it? All you have to do is concentrate on the weekly tasks and the 30-day goal. Once you get to 30-days, you can then focus on the 60-day tasks. Once you have reached 60 days, you can then look back and review;
Do you still want the same thing? Goals change, and that’s okay.
Are you on track to reach your goal?
Do you need to do something differently?
After 2-months, you will be able to see your progress, or lack thereof, and can therefore gauge how you need to proceed.
Wake up earlier
Some of you are going to hate me for this one, and a few months ago I would have hated me too, but waking up earlier can help so much with productivity. Not only do you have more awake hours during the day, but there is something about being awake when the rest of the world is still snoozing, that makes you feel more productive – maybe it’s a sense of smugness!
Also, you brain is sharper (once you’ve had your coffee), and no one else has interfered with your day. I recommend not checking emails, messages or social media. Just get up, make your coffee, and start your tasks. Set your priorities for the day before the rest of the world has a chance to pull you away.
For the last three weeks, I have been getting up at least one hour earlier in the morning and getting stuff done. I have done this in the past and it only every worked in short bursts; a week here or there but it was never consistent. What I have found is that whatever I am doing during those hours has to be compelling enough for me to get out of bed in the first place. I get up between 4.30 and 5 am, I make a cup of coffee, meditate, journal, and then start working.
I have found that I feel more grounded during the day and the work day feels shorter (I suppose because it is taking up a smaller proportion of my day). I know myself, and I know that once I get home from work, my time flies by and I am too exhausted to do anything productive then. Now, I am able to get home and relax, knowing that I have done my share of work that morning.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to get less sleep. I’ve done that in the past and it is not healthy and not sustainable. What I am saying is that you need to go to sleep earlier. How many of us sit in front of the TV for one hour, at least, each evening, not really paying attention? Our routines are often so entrenched in us that the idea of going to sleep earlier seems so alien to us. The idea that we might be in bed before 10 pm, without having watched an hour of reality TV seems weird.
This isn’t to say that you can’t sit down with your family and enjoy a series that you have all been watching together, or follow a show that really interests you. What I’m suggesting is that the time that we spend mindlessly flicking through channels whilst scrolling through social media, can be put to better use. You can use this time to go to sleep earlier or to set yourself up for sleep with a better night time routine.
Make use of pockets of time
If you really can’t face getting up an hour earlier in the morning, what you can do is make use of pockets of time. Pockets of time are those moments when you find yourself in between tasks when you could be doing something productive.
We all have moments through the day when we are able to scroll through Instagram for 15 minutes, or we are doing the laundry, or walking to the train station. These are pockets of time, and they are ours for the taking. Maybe your commute takes you half an hour, you could read or listen to an audio book. Maybe you have 15 minutes in between appointments, that is time that you could do some research, catch up on the news, or organise your schedule. Or maybe you are doing your laundry – this is prime time to watch a TED talk or listen to a podcast.
Pockets of time are incredibly useful to identify, especially when we think we are too busy to possibly fit any more in. The time is going to pass anyway so we might as well do something productive with it.
Get rid of distractions
As a society, we are very easily distracted, and lots of companies take advantage of that. Think about all of the electronic billboards that are designed to catch your eye, the pop-up ads, the sponsored Instagram and Facebook posts.
Many of us grew up with the idea that multi-tasking was desirably skill, especially as women. That being able to multi-task was a sign of intelligence and prowess. In actuality, it is the ability to focus on one single task at a time that will really get us ahead in life. Isn’t it better to get one task done to a high standard than to get three tasks just done, regardless of the quality?
At our core, human beings are single core processors. We only have a finite amount of attention and energy at any one minute, so if we are trying to do two or three things, everything suffers, whereas if we focus everything on one task and then move on to the next, we will see our competence levels and efficiency increase.
Try this; set a time for that next assignment or piece of writing or project that you are working on. Turn off all notifications on your phone for that amount of time or use an app like ‘forest’ which will both set a timer and not allow you on any other apps. Grab a piece of paper or post-it note and a pen and put these to the side of your work space. For the allotted amount of time, work only on your designated project. If a thought pops into your head of something that you need to do outside of that project, write it on the post-it note and then get back to your project. That task can wait until your allotted time is up.
Not everything is urgent.
Change your pain/pleasure thinking
Edward Young stated that “Procrastination is the thief of time”. Procrastination is also fear, and it is resistance. A lot of the time we aren’t procrastinating because we don’t want to do whatever it is we have to do. A lot of the time it is because the thing that we have to do is so important that we are scared of getting it wrong. We are scared of failing. Sometimes we are even scared of succeeding.
Something that I have learnt recently is that the art of procrastination rests on our internal pain-pleasure thinking. We procrastinate when the perceived pain of doing the task seems worse than the pain of not doing it. In other words, there is no looming deadline and no imminent punishment for not starting the task, so we would much rather sit back and enjoy a movie on Netflix.
However, all of this shifts when we start to get closer to the deadline. The scale begins to tip, and the pain of not doing the task becomes greater than the pain of doing it. Suddenly the deadline is looming and we realise that we will be in trouble if we don’t get it done, or something bad will happen.
Perhaps we have been putting off renewing our car insurance, and suddenly we realise that if we don’t do it, we won’t be able to use the car. Or perhaps we have been putting off studying for a test, and as we approach the test date, we start to think about what would happen if we failed the test.
The pain scale tips and we suddenly feel a sense of urgency about getting our work done.
But wouldn’t it be so much easier to do the work earlier? Surely if we start studying earlier, we would have more time to memorise more information. Surely if we make the phone call to renew our insurance, we could then sit back and enjoy Netflix that much more, knowing that we have done something beneficial today.
So how do we get over procrastination? Set your own deadlines. Set your own timetable. And have someone hold you accountable. Lets say you are studying for an exam, or you are working on a big project at home:
Take a step back and look at all of the work that you have to do.
Break it down into smaller chunks, and set a deadline for each chunk.
Be smart about this, there are some things that, once done, might eliminate the need to do other things. What I mean by this is that if you are studying, there might be some topic that you can work on first that would make the studying of later topics much easier or even unnecessary.
Write all of this down into a time table or a schedule and tell someone about it. Tell your housemate, a parent, a friend, or a partner. Make sure that you tell someone that will hold you accountable, rather than someone that will try to distract you.
Before you know it, you will be well on your way to completing the task, without the added stress of trying to get it done in the last few days.
Remember that you take in everything that you surround yourself with, so make sure you are surrounding yourself with good and positive messages.
For example, I used to eat my breakfast while half-watching Netflix shows. I now eat my breakfast while watching positive videos on YouTube or informative TED talks. I have started un-following accounts on social media that don’t serve me, I have started unsubscribing from mailing lists that bombard me with unwanted adverts.
I want to caveat this post by saying that you, by no means, need to do all of these things all of the time. Do not take all of the rest, relaxation, and fun out of your day. But if you have a specific goal or deadline that you are working towards, these can be helpful tips to follow.
Becoming more productive has been a long-term goal of mine. I am always trying out new planners and different techniques. Buying copious amounts of pretty stationary – giving myself the illusion that I am being productive. However, what I have found to be the most helpful in recent weeks is to make these small changes.
Small action leads to big results.
As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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