Do you ever wish there were more hours in a day? Do you often work your butt off but feel like you’ve accomplished nothing? If so, you’re not alone! In fact, I would have answered “yes” to both of those questions for most of the past four years.
I hit my breaking point last summer when I wrote a to do list of five or six simple tasks only to have them go unfinished for over a month. Some were simple, two-minute items like giving our handyman a call, and others required at least one full day, like doing new client outreach. Yet I never seemed to be able to find the time; I was always too busy.
This slowly devolved into a general sense of disorganization and a feeling of martyrdom that just didn’t feel like me. I have always felt empowered to take control of my own life, so why did it feel like my days were running away from me? I needed to take back my time!
I wanted to find ways to be more productive, but I didn’t know how. So I decided to slow down, give myself some grace, and start recording every little thing I was doing each day on a Google spreadsheet. After about three months, I was able to identify which habits were holding me back and find solutions. I implemented my new strategy in the beginning of this year, and in the past six months in I have:
Achieved every professional goal I set for myself while also reducing hours worked
Had my biggest Q1 since James was born
Stopped letting small household to-do’s slip through the cracks
Begun planning ahead farther and more effectively
Become a more active member of my community
So how did I do it?
Here are Six Simple Ways To Be More Productive:
It’s one thing to have the dishwasher going while you’re simultaneously doing laundry, but it’s quite another to be listening to an audiobook about SEO while working on a copywriting assignment and responding to text messages. While it may feel like you’re juggling successfully, your brain takes time to reset between tasks. In fact, studies show that most people are more productive overall when they focus on just one thing at a time. Even worse, switching between multiple media may cause brain damage.
I found that focusing on just one thing at a time enabled me to work more quickly and at a higher level than when I was multitasking. What’s more, I also found that my memory and attention improved, so I dropped the ball on little things less often.
Turn Off Notifications
It’s impossible to stop multitasking if you’re constantly distracted by email, text, and social media notifications. I turned off all of those things on my computer and I don’t work with my phone sitting right next to me unless I’m expecting a call. This was scary at first, as I was worried about missing communications or seeming unresponsive. But it turned out that allowing my day to be constantly interrupted meant I was responding to everyone else’s to-do’s instead of managing my own. In other words, I was going about my day reactively rather than proactively. Once I stopped doing that, I found I was actually more present for my work, my colleagues and my family.
Try Time Blocking
The reason I’m not worried about missing communications is because I block out dedicated periods of time to respond to emails, texts, and social media messages. In addition, I also have time scheduled for specific clients, content creation, accounting, analytics, running errands, and even selfcare. I’m flexible with how I block my time, adjusting my schedule weekly according to my needs. Once it’s on my schedule, though, it’s set in stone.
At first, this felt unnaturally rigid. But when I loosened up, I caught myself multitasking and falling back into disorganization. There was also a learning curve when it came to figuring out just how much time I needed to block for any single task. In the beginning, I tried to squish too much into too short of a time period and would then end up either not completing the task, or pushing off something else. Over time, though, I learned exactly how long it takes to do most things. When something does take longer than expected, it’s easier to roll with it because I know I’ve given it my best effort, and things tend to balance out in the end.
Batch your work
I immerse myself in the same kind of task for several days – or even a week – at a time. For example, this week is a writing week. I’m delivering any written work I’ve promised to clients, and writing blog posts and social media captions. When I pair this with time blocking, I’m able to effectively manage expectations and set boundaries in addition to completing my work. This means I’ve had to become an active participant in the deadline-setting process when it comes to client work, which is a little scary for a people pleaser like me! Previously, I’d agree to a deadline if I thought there was any way I could pump out the work by whatever date the client said she needed it. As a result, I was often stressed out and rushing to meet a deadline.
While I do work well under pressure, I’ve found that I can actually take on more, provide better results, and avoid late nights in front of my computer when I work in this way. I find most people are very receptive when you express a desire to provide top-quality work while suggesting a collaborative approach to deadlines. Once clients have worked with me, they learn that I not only deliver on my promises, but am also able to give them personal attention that someone else may not be able to provide.
When I’m making my weekly schedule, I also make sure to account for breaks. I try to give myself a 10-minute break every hour. This helps me avoid computer eye strain, gives me an opportunity to stretch my legs, and keeps me from feeling burned out. In fact, some of my best ideas come during these breaks – a result that’s backed by a ton of research. I generally use this time to fill up my water glass, make sure I haven’t missed any important calls or texts (I keep email and social off-limits), and tidy up my workspace. I then return to the task feeling refreshed, inspired, and organized.
Learn To Say No…And Mean It!
There’s no such thing as “having it all.” But over and over again, I have found myself wanting to be everything for everyone. While I do genuinely enjoy serving others, I can’t do it effectively if I’m overextended. Instead, I find myself unable to deliver on my commitments, which isn’t good for anybody.
Of course, saying no sometimes means that the person on the receiving end will get angry, and/or suggest a way for me to do the thing I just refused. While I do listen to these supposed solutions with an open mind, I also find it equally important to consider that this person may be unable to hear the no. But that’s not my problem. My only responsibility is to communicate my abilities and needs effectively. While my point of view may change, those two things will not. Sometimes, there’s just not enough overlap to make things work – and that’s not anybody’s fault.
If you decide to try my tips for increasing your productivity, I’d love to hear how it’s working out! Leave a comment, or hit me up on Instagram (@freshandlively).