I rarely find anything more satisfying than ending my day feeling like I accomplished what I wanted—apart from accomplishing more than I expected. Time is the resource we desire the most of, but we handle it so badly. Many of us in our youth never really accept that deep-down knowledge that the four hours spent doing quite literally nothing are hours we will fight tooth and nail to gain back. But we never will; time doesn’t work like that.
Being productive sounds daunting and downright preachy to many. It’s pushy. It’s guilt-ridden. I could give you an infinite amount of stories about how people who know they have no time left have accomplished so much with so little. But that’s not what you need to hear.
It’s not hard to make incremental moves towards freeing up hours of your day—hours that turn into days and weeks that you can proudly say you earned. Before you step onto the highway of Evernote, GTD and Scrum, start the little things that build towards a real and permanent change in your use of time.
1. Buy in bulk, cook in bulk
Every day on the way home I see the same people queuing at the supermarket at 6pm with one or two items essential for making their dinner. The queue at this hour is unbelievable—at least 15mins, but usually more. Add that up over 5 days and in just a single week you’ve spent at least 1hour 15mins in a bloody SUPERMARKET QUEUE! Do math and count how many days a year that is. Then there comes the food prep. It’s ridiculously simple to add or double the ingredients and store it for eating the next day or day after. I usually bulk-cook on Monday (for Wednesday) and Tuesday (for Thursday) and so on. This way I don’t have to eat the same thing two days in a row, AND I only need to cook every second day. That’s 2 – 3 hours a week saved, plus half the washing-up to do.
Action: Do a huge shop one day a week for perishables and once a month for non-perishables. Buy foods that can make multiple kinds of dishes so you don’t get bored. Don’t choose dishes where you have to buy specific ingredients just for one serving. Go with a potato dish, a pasta dish, a salad dish, a fish dish, a rice dish, a pie dish, a wrap dish etc. that involve ingredients that can be mixed and matched.
2. Keep spares in strategic places
…and I don’t just mean a spare tyre. This is unique to everyone, and I will describe how I do it for myself. Have an overnight bag of essentials in the boot of your car or under the desk at work. I would also recommend a change of top/shirt in case of on-the-spot meetings, a spontaneous night out or a spilt coffee. Nothing stops my productivity more than the stress of feeling unprepared.
Action: Identify three or four repeated instances in the past where you had to rush off to buy something, or you were otherwise caught unawares. Prepare something to solve that issue.
3. Use your commuting time wisely
Commuting time is useful time. It is not just about the trip from A to B’; trip time of over 15mins is especially easy to convert to productivity if you have the equipment.
With your smartphone, get a bunch of emails out of the way, set up social media content, browse for info/content to read later or create your to-do list for the day on whichever app you use. A trusty Moleskin diary can also be used to map out your day and maximise the use of it. By the time you hit the office you’ll be ready to hot the ground running.
4. Take breaks
When you are setting up your to-do list for the day remember to place breaks at regular intervals to refresh your mind. Be strict about ensuring you get enough stops to re-energise your thoughts. 90 minute sprints with a 5 – 10min break work really well. It depends on your task, of course, to know what is possible. Just don’t make it a one-hour break after an eight hour marathon—that is counter-productive!
5. Regular sleeping hours
Not to be an old granny… but I find how screwed up my to-dos can get once the routine has been upset. Working whilst tired is not fun, and we’d all rather be happy at our jobs. Being rested is a major contribution to the happiness of our jobs. And the quality. I’m not against a good party—hell, we need to cut loose every now and again! Pro tip: start the cocktails earlier, finish earlier, and things will work out better than a late-night collapse of exhaustion into bed :)
6. Eat well: no highs or lows, just steady energy!
The stench of a vacuum-packed microwaved curry often hangs around the office kitchen space. One glance at the label is enough to give anyone the jitters, which is probably why they are bought guiltily and the wrapping hastily ripped off. Do your utmost to make them an honest once-off. The salt content alone will drive your blood pressure through the roof, let alone all the other rubbish. Keep snacks like raisins, apricots, fruit and nuts nearby (yes, to stop you from popping out for a bag of fries as a quick fix!) and bring bottles of juice and yoghurt to change up the tastes. And yes—bring a salad for lunch!
7. Organize as you go
I don’t mind labelling emails as they come in, but sit me down to 100 for labeling and I get seriously cranky! To make a comparison, it’s more daunting to clean a week’s worth of pots and pans at once than to simply do the dishes daily. Do all that little stuff in chunks during your day and save yourself the mountain of a repetitive mundane task once a week.
8. Add positivity: celebrate the little achievements
There’s nothing that gives a person more energy than feeling like they have accomplished something. Milestones give hope and satisfaction in a very personal way, and the good feelings influence our actions. Personally, I don’t have many huge accomplishments to celebrate every week, but I do have little milestones that I give myself a pat on the back for. Completing a part of a project, passing an exam, losing weight at the gym… it doesn’t matter. You did it! Remember to congratulate those around you for their achievements too. It may well brighten their day.
9. Turn the wifi off
If blocking software doesn’t work for you, get the router plugged out of the wall. If you work a lot on the internet, this can be tough. If you have an offline option for the tools you use, it might just be that you need to spend a portion of your time in technological isolation so as not to get distracted.
You can handle being off the internet for a few hours, I promise :)
10. Tell yourself that you can do it
A simple but oft-overlooked productivity booster is convincing yourself that you can do it. Demotivation and low confidence are productivity blockers that you yourself can overcome. As someone once put it to me “How hard can it be—people do this [task] every day!” He was absolutely right. If you do find yourself in over your head on a task, and you truly do not possess the required skills to do it (like when I tried to rewire a socket…) let it go. Do some research or find a colleague who can get it done.