To become more productive and better at time management does not need you to sacrifice your social life.
This week, on my podcast, I shared five tricks anyone can use to boost their productivity and start getting the important things done. None of these ‘tricks’ requires you to be doing work all day — You still have time for those more pleasant activities and time to get the important work done, all you need to do is be aware of what is going on in your life.
To get to this level of productivity does require a little planning, you need to know what is important and where you need to be spending your time. The problem for most people is they do not know what needs to be done and by when. This leads to last-minute cramming and feeling stressed, busy and out of control. Leaving work to the last minute defies what is possible for your brain to do. Trying to sit down for six hours straight to cram in some last minute revision for an exam, or to prepare the report your boss asked for is not possible. Your brain is incapable of focusing on work for that length of time. At best you have twenty to thirty minutes before your brain will wander off and be distracted no matter how well-intentioned you are. After ninety minutes, the quality of the work you are doing will begin to drop rapidly. Pushing on, because the deadline is almost upon you, is just going to cause panic and stress which results in a further decline in the quality of your output.
However, when you do know what needs to be completed and you have scheduled time to get it done, you feel surprisingly relaxed and find yourself looking forward to the day ahead.
Take for example my day today. I have two things I want to get done today. The first is write this blog post and the second is to go for a run. These are what I call my objectives for the day. I have scheduled time for both these activities. This morning, I will write this post, and at 2 pm, I will go for my run. By 3 pm today, I will have completed my two objectives for the day. I do have other work I would like to do today, and I have a number of classes to teach and I will get these done, but apart from the classes, the other work is not that important and it wouldn’t be a crisis if I didn’t do them and I can do those after I have completed my objectives.
When you know what tasks need to be accomplished for the day, once they are done, you are free to do anything you like. Take your dog for a long walk, spend an hour chatting with your friends or just going to a local coffee shop with your favourite book or magazine. If you are “in the zone”, you may wish to start something else you had planned to do later in the week.
To achieve this level of relaxed productivity doesn’t require much work either. But you do need to be aware of what’s going on in your life and the deadlines you have. Without that knowledge, you will have a constant nagging going on in your head telling you that you need to be doing something important, but because you have not identified what that is and decided when you are going to do it, your brain goes into a cycle of panic and stress. You need to put a stop to that cycle and get yourself organised so you know exactly what needs doing.
This is why one of my top five tips is to do a weekly review. Whether or not you are a Getting Things Done follower or not, that weekly review is where you can take stock of what you have going on in your life and plan where and when you will do the work that you need to do. You can use your calendar to schedule the time to get that work done. On your calendar, you can see an overview of what’s going on in your week, where your meetings or lectures are and fit time around those to do the work that is important. As long as you practice a small level of discipline each day and you stick to what you have scheduled, you very quickly begin getting those important things done and find that cycle of panic and stress disappears. You are getting work done, work that matters and work that is important to you.
So, if you really want to level up your productivity and reduce the stress and panic in your life, start doing a weekly review on a Sunday. Spend thirty to sixty minutes identifying what needs to get done next week so you are on top of everything going on in your life. Then at the end of every day spend ten minutes or so, identifying what two things you want to get done tomorrow. Write them down and schedule time on your calendar to do them. This small practice mixed with a tiny amount of self-discipline is really all you need to remove the stress and panic, get the important work done and allow you time to do the things you enjoy doing.
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My goal is to help show you how to live the life you desire. To help you find happiness and become better organised and more productive so you can do more of the important things in life.