Productivity is how effective you are at producing an end result. And being extremely productive seems almost impossible in a day and age where Netflix seduces us with entire seasons of epic shows like House of Cards, and Instagram taunts us with dreams of doing what everyone else is doing, and Youtube gets us with 3 minute videos of everything on the planet. But being productive at what you do, is imperative to building a successful life.
For a long time, I thought productivity was just about being more focused but I never explored what that really meant. I spent more time focusing on why I couldn’t concentrate on my work, and attempting to answer that question would often leave me completely paralyzed. This paralysis would grow as deadlines loomed over my head, leaving me stir-crazy until the project ended. And once the deadlines were met, all I wanted to do was nap for three days straight. After scrolling through my mini-feed, obviously.
So, in my brief moments of sanity, I decided to create a step-by-step guide on how to make my productivity both consistent and anxiety free. I hope this helps you as this continues to help me.
1. Make a Master List
Productivity is often hardest when you know there is a lot to do and aren’t sure where to begin. Creating a master list means writing down every single thing that’s floating around in your head. My master lists change once every couple of weeks and I add new things to it as they come.
2. Call it Quits on BS Tasks
Once you’ve made your master list, get yourself out of the things that don’t actually serve you. If you consistently sign up to do things you think you should do, instead of things you actually want to do, you are going to feel miserable. This was and still is the hardest step for me, because it’s often easier to inconvenience yourself trying to make someone else happy. Learning to excuse yourself from doing things that serve others while killing your soul should be seen as a huge victory.
3. Get Excited
Everything left on that list should be things that get you excited or tasks with an end goal that will get you excited. BTW, you can’t get rid of tasks that help you towards achieving your goal just because you don’t feel like doing them. For those tasks, you can either delegate that task, or you can just focus on the what, where and who. Here is what I mean… I, for example, hate sending networking emails but I know that this is just something that I have to do in order to get the job I want. So instead of focusing on how soul depleting it will be to write that email, I choose to focus on what this is (a tool to help me get a job), who I am writing to ( I attempt to approach everyone I meet/write to as someone who wants to see me succeed and as someone whose success I can facilitate), and where (am I meeting them for coffee? Could I find something fun in that part of the activity?).
Once you have a list of things you could get happy about doing, separate them into the matrix below (also known as the Stephen Covey time management grid). Make sure you’re serious about what you consider urgent. i.e. that pedicure is not urgent, I promise you will get to it once you are done with your real work.
5.Clean Up That List Girl
If something is urgent and important, take care of it immediately (not after you finish this episode, not after reading this post, DO IT IMMEDIATELY). Then write down the tasks that you should start either later in the day or tomorrow. Get rid of anything in the not-important-but-seemingly-urgent box or tasks that are just time wasters (Quadrants III and IV).
6. Kick Ass
When later or tomorrow comes, do not call it quits until you’ve at least started on each of the tasks that you said were important but not urgent. There is a large possibility that this list is way bigger than the time you have to do it. If it is, shorten the list for tomorrow. I for example, used to have 8-10 things to do each day. After months of feeling like I could never keep up with my list, I try to stick to a list of 3-5 things that I try to get to each day. I also have friends who are super productive because they have a set list of things they MUST do and then a couple of other things they will try to accomplish if they have time at the end of the day. Something that usually comes up when most of us try to focus and do our work are distractions. Your phone buzzes, you notice you have a new email, you remember something that is important that you want to take care of before you forget. The good news is, these problems have solutions. First, turn your phone off (not airplane mode) if thats the biggest source of distraction. And if focusing while you are on your computer is where you struggle, consider these resources. Second, tape a sticky note to the edge of your laptop or your desk and write down any distracting thoughts that you know are important, but aren’t a priority at the moment. That way, you’ll make sure they aren’t forgotten about.
7. Take a Break
Unless something truly tragic happens, most days can have a lot of fun infused into them, but it won’t always happen out of the blue… you have to create it with intention. I usually work for 2 hour spurts and take a 30 minute break doing something fun, like getting coffee with my favorite coworkers, or looking up something interesting for the blog, or searching flights to a destination I’ve always dreamt of going. I try not to use all of those breaks to get on Instagram and Facebook because that just reinforces old habits, whereas doing something new or something with people I like improves the value of my time.
*Try not to be a maniac with this rule on how long you should work before taking a break, if you are someone like me who gets addicted to your goals to the point of stress. The amount of time you should work between breaks is entirely up to you. And even though you should work for long enough that you are actually seeing progress in your work, some days that might be 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off while other days, it’s 2 hours on 30 minutes off. I think there is a way to remain extremely productive without being high strung.
8.Treat Yo’ Self
If at the end of the week, you’ve gotten the things on your important and urgent/important list done, do something that you love to do. Go get that pedicure, watch 50 shades of grey, take a pole dancing class, whatever it is, just make sure you are happy to be doing it.
In short, life can be fulfilling and fun but it takes a little bit of an effort; you don’t have to be Type A to get a lot done. Do the things you’ve set as your goals without backing out on yourself. And if at times you feel you just can’t focus, it might be time to re-evaluate what goal it is you are trying to achieve, and if it’s still something you want. Trust yourself enough to know that focusing on what you’ve considered important is worth your attention, but more importantly - Relax, life is meant to be enjoyed.
And, in situations where none of this works, just do like Mindy and channel your inner Bey.