In a world that constantly demands our energy and attention, productivity can feel impossible at times. As women, we find fulfillment in living with a purpose, but the task of squeezing purpose in alongside work, exercise, groceries, laundry and relaxation feels daunting. How do we decide what is most important on each day’s agenda and make a point of getting it done? More importantly, how do we balance our daily demands without feeling drained?
If you’re like me, you don’t enjoy finding yourself at the end of a busy day wondering where the time went. Yes, life moves fast, but we can move with it. Here are a handful of ways to help you make sure your days don’t get away from you.
1. Make a to-do list: Writing your tasks down is the best way to get them out of your head and start putting them into action. Even if you’ve never fancied yourself a list maker, chances are you’ll find a sense of accomplishment in crossing things off, if not in writing them down. Having a physical reminder of your responsibilities will also eliminate the stress of trying to commit them all to memory.
2. First things first: Start your day by doing a couple of the easiest things on your to-do list. In a culture motivated by progress and productivity, this will give you the boost of energy and motivation needed to keep you plugging away.
3. Prioritize: If you only do the easiest things on your list, some things (usually the most important ones) will never get done. Ariel Gore, author of Bluebird and How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead says that we almost never get to the last thing on our to-do lists. Priorities are important. After you knock out a few simple tasks, make sure the most important ones take top priority, even if they are unpleasant or difficult.
4. Be a not-so-multi-tasker: Doubtless this sounds counterintuitive in a discussion of how to be more productive, but the truth is that multi-tasking has the distinct potential of destroying your productivity. Learn to focus on one task, finish it, and move on to the next one. Otherwise, you may start a lot of tasks, but never get any of them done.
5. Keep a future to-do list: Allow yourself to be aware of future commitments and goals without letting them distract you today. You can do this by keeping an ongoing list of important tasks that are not in need of immediate attention. Call your secondary list something like “Things to do another day,” so that you feel free to address your true priorities as they come.
6. Eliminate distraction: The world is hungry for your attention. What is it that steals yours and causes you to lose focus? Work to minimize your distractions at times when discipline and focus are necessary. If you find yourself distracted by music or media, for example, there is no harm in making time for those at another point in your day.
7. Get comfortable: Environmental factors can have a large effect on our productivity. For many, this makes it necessary to have a “sacred space” for getting work done. Jason Fried, the co-founder and President of 37Signals and author of Rework, points out that for most of us, this isn’t the office. Take time to figure out what external factors either positively or negatively affect your productivity and create an environment for yourself that will help, rather than hinder you.
8. Use technology; don’t let it use you: Facebook. Twitter. E-mail. Cell phones. These can be necessary and useful tools that help you to accomplish your most important objectives. But they can also be your biggest roadblocks. If you’re serious about trying to get things done, this means putting your other conversations on hold. Try turning off your cell phone or disconnecting from the internet and notice how much more you accomplish.
9. Have a plan of attack for email: It’s likely that email is where you receive the most new requests for action or information. For this reason, don’t keep your inbox open in front of you all day. It will seem daunting and discouraging and you will be tempted to respond to requests as they come in, rather than stick to your objectives. Instead, schedule a time of day that you respond to new requests via email. If necessary, you can schedule more than one time each day. For example, spend a half hour in the morning, a half hour at noon, and a half hour at the end of the day. Find a schedule that works for you.
10. Rest: Taking breaks may seem counterproductive, but studies have shown that our brains need occasional respite in order to function to their highest potential. If you find yourself staring at your to-do list or computer screen at 2am, wondering why you haven’t accomplished anything, try getting some rest. Viewed through fresh eyes, your project may no longer appear so daunting.
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