It seems like we all have super busy lives. We’re caught up in work until late at night, then go home to have several other obligations with no time to ourselves. But there’s a big difference between being productive and being busy. HINT: if you’re productive, you won’t be busy.
In this article, I will create distinctions between the two and teach you to maximize your productivity. Here are 4 simple tips that will transform your life for the better.
Do you have an ever-growing list of responsibilities?
With all this weight on our shoulders and everyone expecting us to make them a priority, we’re often left in a time management quagmire. Over time, this leads to physical exhaustion and demoralization. If you want to bring your “A” game, you’re going to need to eliminate both feelings before they get started. The best way to do this is to create simple checklists that help you prioritize.
Before getting caught in the endless work continuum, it’s crucial to consider how your time is spent. At the start of each day, I take 5 to 10 minutes to plan out what I want to accomplish. I ask myself the question: “what can I do to have the greatest impact on my life?” Notice that the emphasis of this question is on the greatest impact, not on how much I can get done. This helps avoid trivial tasks that can lead you down a rabbit hole.
Remember that your goal is to find high impact actions to take. If they are truly impactful, then it should deserve your time and focus above all else.
If you own a business, this most likely means focusing on activities that make you money. As an employee, this means completing the project you were assigned with an impending deadline. When creating my lists, I usually go back to a core belief of mine which is that content is key. So naturally, my lists usually consist of planning new and engaging articles, then writing them. If you have a lot to get done, you can easily end up with 3 things on your list. At other times, you might have the luxury of zeroing in on one thing–don’t put things on the list just to say you have them. On the other end of the spectrum, if you find yourself busy and don’t get something on your list done by the end of the day, make sure that it becomes your priority the following day.
There is also the matter of dealing with necessary housekeeping tasks. Although they won’t necessarily have a major impact, there are just some things you need to get done. Rather than wasting time putting it on a checklist just so you can feel gratified crossing it off, go do it. By the time you finish writing a checklist for all the little things you need to do, you could be done with some of them—there’s no need to write a checklist saying that you should change your objectives for today’s lesson, just go do it.
Checklists are a great way to organize your priorities. Spend a few minutes each day determining your high impact activities to avoid being caught up in unproductive activities. It helps you avoid the endless game of catch up and allows you to focus on what really matters.
Sometimes, easy wins are the way to go.
Wait, didn’t I just tell you to make a list and stick to it?
A disclaimer before I go any further is that you should only use this under major time constraints. When you have smaller blocks of time to be productive, it doesn’t make sense to start a big project–this almost always leads to frustration. There’s nothing worse than getting in the zone, focusing on a major project only to be interrupted by other things you have to do. Instead of trying to cram something that requires time and focus into a condensed amount of time, take care of the little things.
In these situations, try to get rid of as many minor tasks as possible. Envision yourself between meetings or calls with 15 minutes left. Your desk is filled with 2 assignments: a research project your boss gave you and an equal amount of small administrative tasks.
I would be willing to bet that if you chose small administrative tasks, you can crank out a few with little effort. Since you could realistically build enough momentum to eliminate administrative tasks from your agenda in the span of 15 minutes, it just makes sense to get it out of the way. Maximizing your efficiency in narrow time windows will afford you the opportunity to focus on your big project when you have a larger time block to complete it.
Use your best judgement when employing this technique—this should not take the place of my previous suggestions, it should complement them when there are time restraints.
The title of this section will probably cause uproar in business circles. After all, it seems a bit hypocritical to tell people to try their hardest at everything they do, meanwhile I’m doing the bare minimum.
When I started teaching, I used to write custom comments on report cards and progress reports for each of my 100 some-odd students. Since I had so much to say about each student, I wanted to share my feelings with their parents. I thought it would make me stand out more, and it did—but not in a good way. One time after passing out progress reports, I noticed that I was literally the only teacher who wrote comments. I asked a veteran teacher why no one else wrote comments; I’ll never forget his response. He said, “all parents want to see is their kid’s grade.” This 9-word reply resonated with me because I’d lost countless hours of my life writing comments, when the reality of the matter was that no one cared. Now, I do the bare minimum whenever I can get away with it.
As a qualifier, there are things worth spending time on, things that will have a lasting impact on your business or career. In many instances, however, people are burdened with housekeeping paperwork that has minimal value to anyone. With the amount of paperwork people are faced with on a regular basis, it makes sense to as little of it as possible. Spending too much time doing housekeeping paperwork means that you’re doing less big picture tasks than if you just focused on minimal products with high yield.
An example that comes to mind is from my experience going to the dentist. The last time I went, I got my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist–this took about 45 minutes. Then at the end of the cleaning, the dentist came in for less than 5 minutes–what a ripoff, right?
Since there was nothing wrong with my teeth, it wouldn’t make sense for them to waste an hour of their time giving me a cleaning. A dentist’s time is better spent doing what a hygienist cannot do such as performing a root canal (sounds like fun) or something to that effect. Take the minimalist approach whenever you can see greater benefit to using your time elsewhere.
Another way to minimize your workload is to stop taking on more than you can handle. It’s ok to say no to additional work. People are always looking for help with projects and small favors. If you indulge in enough of these mini projects and favors, you’ll end up with a reputation as the person who’s always free to take on more work.
Try to avoid this designation at all costs– it’s easy to lose sight of your own priorities when you’re caught up in someone else’s. Unless you enjoy something enough to give up personal time, stay away from this type of work. When approached about taking on projects, I find it best to say that you are busy. If you’re asked to do something within work hours, emphasize that you are busy on other projects—no one can fault you for that. If it’s an after work commitment, simply say that you have other responsibilities to tend to. Most people won’t push, but if you feel pressured, take no shame in just saying that you don’t want to. It’s your time, so you need to choose how to use it. Eliminating these types of projects will give you more time to focus on more important matters.
If you want to live a happy, healthy, and productive life, choose your battles wisely. By understanding what to do (or not to do) you will free up more time to do the things you love without giving up time after work.