If you’re like me, you have a to-do list that is out of control. You have so many personal and professional obligations that it can be hard to think about planning ahead.
That’s no way to get things done or maintain your health. So, because courage is my theme for this year (and all years), I thought I’d share some strategies I use to be more productive and free up my time for the things and people I love.
If you try any of these, be sure to let me know how they’re working out for you.
#1: Have a List, Keep it Short
Having a to-do list can be a good thing or a bad one. It’s good to have a way of tracking what needs doing and when it needs doing by. But when you put everything under the sun on that list, it becomes so overwhelming that you’re likely to avoid paying attention to it.
Try limiting your daily or weekly list to 2 or 3 key things that really need doing. If something isn’t a priority for that day or week, put it on a longer list of goals for the month or year (and then pull your immediate to-dos from that list as needed).
It’s unrealistic to try doing too much. You’ll only frustrate yourself by not allowing room for the unexpected or giving yourself room to breathe.
#2: Master Your Email and Social Media
Email, conference calls, and social media are probably the biggest time eaters for most of us, especially if they are essential to how we earn a living. But you’ll never be productive if you’re constantly checking or reacting to these things. That’s not how work gets done.
For social media, I recommend having set times each day when you’ll take time for it and also setting a limit for how long you’ll spend (more than 20 minutes at a time is really too much). With conference calls, set a time for how long they will last and have a set agenda that all parties have received a copy of.
When it comes to email, try to check it no more than two to three times per day (perhaps morning, lunch time, and night) and keeping with this schedule for both your personal and professional accounts. In between time, close out your email and definitely turn off any alerts that go off when you get a new message. That’s akin to trying to sleep and having an alarm clock that’s constantly going off.
When you respond to an email, try doing so in 5 or 6 sentences. That will force you to be concise and eliminate unnecessary sentence fillers. The person receiving your email will also appreciate it.
Lastly, if you get a lot of repeat questions or emails (for instance, if you run your own business and get a lot of inquiries about a particular service), have a set response or Frequently Asked Questions sheet that you can easily and quickly forward to someone.
#3: Control Access to You
When you’re at your busiest is precisely when your dog will want to play or your phone will ring off the hook. It will be important for you to figure out what are your most productive times of day and protect those times from distraction. That may mean talking with your kids or your spouse about not interrupting you during that time or working when your kids are asleep or at a play date.
There can be a lot of guilt over shutting your door and working when your family is also home. You may feel that you should be out, spending time with them. Remind yourself that a few hours of uninterrupted work means that you’ll be able to step away and be with your family without worrying about all the work you still need to do. It will also help if you let your family know how much time you need and then stick to that…i.e., if you tell them two undisturbed hours, then step away when that time is up and then give your family the same attention.
#4: Do What You Dread
I love what I do, but sometimes the business aspect of being self-employed isn’t a lot of fun. Tracking business expenses, filing receipts, drafting contracts, website updates, etc., is all necessary, but not joy inducing.
So, try starting your work day with a task you don’t really like doing, but will feel better about once you’ve gotten it out of the way. Maybe you check email and then spend 10 minutes filing receipts before going on to what you love doing, say writing or working on a graphic design project. It’s a similar premise to starting your day with working out (especially if it’s something you hate) so that you know it’s done and can go on with your day.
#5: Take a Break
To be productive, you have to take regular breaks from working. Don’t see these as distractions from work, but enhancements to your productivity.
Best of all, you can use even short 15 minute breaks to take the dog for a walk or have a snack with your kids. Whatever it is, I do recommend that it differ from what you’ve been working on. Meaning, if you’ve been staring at the computer for 2 hours, don’t use your break to stare at it some more while you check Twitter.
Get up, move around and let your brain focus on something else.
These are the five ways I use to get stuff done. I know you will find them useful, now all you have to do is put them to work for yourself.