Some bright spark once said to me that we all have the same number of hours in the day. While I considered it not helpful at all it is very true. All those you admire and look up to as they seem to get so much done, have just the same number of hours in their day as you and me. But how do they get so much more done? So, to help you and me, I have tracked down simple strategies to become more productive.
Productivity is key to getting things done. Sometimes, though, our productivity isn’t where it needs to be.
Do you work from home like me? If so, maybe you can relate to this scenario. You start your day with the best of intentions. You have a to-do list that at first glance doesn’t seem too long. But as the day goes on, distractions from well-meaning friends and family show up. Other items crop up that must be dealt with. Before you know it, you have only tackled one or two items on your original to do list.
Or maybe you’re a parent with kids in the house. You wake up overwhelmed with everything that you need to get done that day. Laundry. Dirty dishes. Hungry kids. Appointments. You spend your days picking up toys, carpooling kids to various activities and fixing meals. Most days go by in a blur, with you spending most of your time searching for lost items. Rarely do you have time to sit down and enjoy your hobbies or read a book? You crave the organizational freedom of other parents who always get more done and always know where things are.
Or how about this? You work outside the home and can’t seem to get projects finished at work. A typical day might go something like this: You arrive at work ready to start on the big project. You get all set up, only to be interrupted by a co-worker who wants to gossip. You politely listen, all the while knowing you need to be working. Finally, you get back to your project only to realize you don’t have all the information you need. So, you take a break. In the meantime, you come across another project that needs your attention. Finally, at the end of the day, you realize you didn’t get your original project finished and must stay late to finish it.
What Kills Productivity? We all have the same 24 hours in a day, yet some seem to get way more done than others. In this section, let’s look at a few of the more common productivity killers. These can be killing your productivity in either your personal or business life.
Killer #1: Too much on your plate is one of the top productivity killers. We take on tasks even when we already have a full plate. Often, we do this because we are confident and overly optimistic. We believe we can get everything done. Or maybe we just haven’t learned to say no to those things we really don’t want to do.
Killer #2: Which leads to the next killer: You don’t know how to say no. By spreading yourself too thin, your quality of work, your health, and your sanity often suffer. Taking on too much, filling your plate with every request made of you, can be overwhelming and cause you to not get done half of what you normally could.
Killer #3: Not getting enough sleep can kill your productivity. I’m not telling you to get 10 hours of sleep. Everyone’s body is different. But research says most people need 7 to 8 hours to be fully rested.
Killer #4: Not getting enough exercise can kill your productivity as well. Physical activity keeps your mind healthy as well as your body. Just a simple walk around the block can clear your mind so you are ready to start on a task when you return.
Killer #5: Not enough time for yourself. Not only do you need enough sleep, you need time to yourself. This means taking short breaks throughout the day and regular vacation time. This helps your body renew itself.
Killer #6: Not eating a healthy diet. Junk food, sweets, fats and processed foods all make your body weak, overweight and sick while slowing your immune system.
Killer #7: You’re not motivated by what you’re doing. Are you bored with what you are doing? It is hard to get motivated in the morning because you don’t enjoy what the day has to offer? Figure out what you love to do to; being passionate and excited leads to being more productive.
Killer #8: Your personal relationships aren’t in balance. Frustration, fighting, and friction among your family or friends can take a toll on your energy. Find ways to reduce this stress.
Killer #9: Your finances are causing you stress. Financial stress is a big distraction to a lot of people. It takes our mind and time away from doing things we want to be doing.
Killer #10: You rely on your own willpower to get you started. If your willpower is running on low, you won’t get to the tasks done.
Killer #11: There’s no one to hold you accountable. If you aren’t held responsible for your actions, you can easily not get things done.
Killer #12: You don’t know what to do next. You don’t know what your next step should be.
Killer #13: Interruptions are a constant in our fast-paced life. Email, people, phone calls are all interruptions that can affect your productivity.
Killer #14: You haven’t set clear goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely, emotional, and rewarding.
Killer #15: Not planning regularly. Your priorities change and your plan of action should be changing with it.
Not all these things are a problem for everyone. You will have to determine which are affecting your productivity and learn ways to deal with them. You might need to change your eating and sleeping patterns or your financial situation. Whatever is causing you to be less productive can be changed.
Myths about productivity
There are myths and mistaken beliefs that could be preventing you from being more productive in both your personal and work life. Your beliefs about productivity and organization can often prevent you from doing exactly what you want to do and to be in life.
You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you think about these circumstances. Your thoughts, in turn, affect how you respond to your circumstances.
How many of the following myths about productivity keep you from being an effective, productive person?
- Being organized means being clean. People often believe that being organized means they live in a cold, sterile, unused space. But that’s not really what organized means. An organized space is one in which things are where you most need them and close at hand. The things you need the most often are easy to find and the things you don’t need very often are put away but easily retrieved if you do need them.
You should be able to find what you need in your office, or room or kitchen quickly and easily. If the clutter isn’t working, take the time to organize it so that it does work.
- You don’t have time for a system. The reality is that systems do take the time to set up, but once you begin using them the amount of time you save makes up for the set-up time.
- Systems can be rigid and inflexible to use. No one’s life is so chaotic and unpredictable that it won’t fit into some sort of system.
- Being productive means doing more work. This seems to be the fear of many. The idea that if it takes you half as long to do everything in your life right now then being productive means you will be doing twice as much.
Being productive means having more time to do the things you enjoy like spending time with your family or taking vacations or writing a book.
- You’re too creative to use a system. Productivity isn’t just for business people. Creative work is still working and often can be subject to procrastination, poor planning or rushing to complete. You also have to take care of all the records, clients and taxes that come with being creative. The same is true for those taking care of personal space. You need a system in place to pay your bills, file your taxes, plan your meals and shopping, and keep track of appointments.
- You work best when you’re under pressure. Many people believe they thrive under an impending deadline. Most of the time that’s not true. It’s an excuse they use so they don’t have to say they messed up and didn’t get started sooner.
Being in a high-stress, the always-urgent mode isn’t good for your health, your business life or your relationships.
- You need the inspiration to be productive. Inspiration isn’t what gets the work done. Write down your ideas to capture them for later.
- Multitasking is common for everyone. Multitasking slows down our productivity. It makes you prone to making errors. And it often keeps you from completing one task completely and well.
Don’t mistake flexibility with multitasking. When you’re flexible you can move on to another to do item when necessary. You do the job until you get to a stopping point then move on to another task if necessary.
- I don’t need a schedule. I can go with the flow. You can have little structure to help you clarify your goals and what needs to be done each day. It doesn’t mean you must write down everything in detail, just use a broader list.
Admitting you fall prey to any of these productivity myths can be tough. In fact, you might even deny it by procrastinating or with indignation but if you’re honest with yourself you will eventually accept it and take steps to improve.
What to do instead:
Now that you’ve identified your productivity flaws you need to ways to change them. It might be that you just need better systems in place. Or maybe you need more in-depth help.
Here are a few choices to get you started:
- Estimate how long you need to complete a task. Then set up a time to do it.
- Tell everyone what you’re doing and ask them to not interrupt you for a certain amount of time.
- Get enough sleep the night before you have a big, productive day planned. Getting enough sleep, preferably 7 to 8 hours, helps your body restore itself and be rested to take on what it needs to do.
- Along with the previous item, eat a healthy diet. Fill up on whole foods, rich fruits, and vegetables and eliminate sweets, fats, and processed foods. Get in plenty of exercise to keep your body at peak form.
- Enlist the help of others. At home, enlist your kids to help do a whole-house pick up every evening before bedtime. Pick up everything in sight. Make a game of it.
- Meditate to calm your mind. If you have a lot on your plate, beginning with a calm mind can go a long way in keeping your centered and moving forward.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off the television, phones and social media and anything else that distracts you throughout the day.
- Plan on being productive. If you put it in your schedule to accomplish, you are more likely to do it. The more you plan to accomplish, the more you will accomplish.
- Create a routine. Everyone has a unique routine. Create yours and stick to it as much as you can. Say no to the extra stuff that takes you away from what you need to be doing.
- Tackle the job a little at a time, breaking it down into smaller chunks. If you’re cleaning and organizing your house, take several things with you when you go upstairs. If you’re working on a large project for a client, break each section down into a small chunk you can do in 15 minutes or so.
- Focus on one activity at a time.
- Work when you are at your peak. If you’re a morning person, get the bulk of your productivity done then. The same is true for night owls or afternoon workers.
These are just a few of the ways you can combat loss of time and get on the right track towards being more productive. Find your peak work time, get organized, follow systems and become healthy.
What to Do Next:
Being productive takes planning and time. We often want to find an extra hour or two a day to do certain tasks. But if you put into effect systems and get organized in your daily life you can get a lot more done each day. Parents can easily fit in more fun time with their kids when they organize their day and their home and learn to say “no” more often. Work at home workers can be more productive by eliminating distractions from family and friends. Employees can be more productive by planning a project and working on it in chunks. These little changes can make a big difference in how productive you become.