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How To Get More Done In a Day: 7 Ideas That Really Work

How To Get More Done In a Day: 7 Ideas That Really Work
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Many of us have the urge to reach for more caffeine, work longer hours to get it all done, and feel defeated before even reaching the computer in the morning. That’s just the reality of modern workloads, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it’s possible to get more done in a day without feeling overwhelmed or defeated by the herculean effort you put in. When you follow these simple suggestions, you’ll be able to reclaim more of your energy and maybe even take some much needed time away from your work on a regular basis.

1. Start with a Full Tank

The most important piece of the productivity puzzle is how you enter the ring, are you already tired and zoning out? It’s totally normal to have off days and to feel burned out if you’ve been going at it without proper rest for awhile. Do you ever wonder why you get more done after you come back from a vacation? It’s because your tank is full, and you’re able to work at an improved energy level.

What if you can’t take a vacation right now, or you’ve got a pressing project that needs to get done? Take time away from work by fully unplugging in the evenings, and getting a solid 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Most of us run on far too little sleep, and the day to day meetings, tasks, and other demands can really take a toll.

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Another idea is to take a fully unplugged day per week, like Saturday or Sunday, where you don’t check email, social media, or do any work. It can be difficult if you’re not used to it, but you’ll come back with more energy for your work every time.

2. Don’t Overcommit

As humans, we constantly overestimate what we can achieve in one day, and underestimate what we can achieve in one year. Set big goals for yourself in life, but set small achievable goals for your day to day activities.

Breaking down bigger projects and tasks helps you do the hardest thing of all: start it. Once you start on a project, you’re more likely to finish and to feel good about your progress. This is more motivating than writing down the same task you were supposed to do yesterday on tomorrow’s to do list, because you underestimated how big it was. I’ve been there, with a big task showing up on my to do list day after day for weeks, when I should have just taken the first step, then the next, etc.

3. Focus on Fewer Projects at a Time

This one is important, and we’re all guilty, but once you start putting it into place you won’t look back. To explain this idea, let me use the analogy of a highway. When you have a highway with just a few cars on it, everyone can go fast and get to their destination. But once you add more cars, things start to slow down until you get a traffic jam.

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It’s the same with the number of projects we take on at any one time. If you’re trying to work on too many projects at once, they will each progress at a slower pace than they would have if you had taken them on one after another.

This doesn’t mean that you can only have one project at a time, but it does mean not biting off more than you can chew. Do you really need to have 5 major endeavors happening simultaneously? Or can you schedule 1 for the next few weeks, the next two in one month, and the final two a few months from now?

Once I really “got” this in my life, I started to put everything on a big wall calendar in my office so I could see what major projects I had in the works during each part of the year, and it changed everything.

4. Schedule Chunks of Uninterrupted Time

Disruptions are costly. According to a study by Microsoft, it takes the brain 15 minutes to re-focus after losing your train of thought during your work. Every time you’re interrupted, whether it’s by a “ping!” from your email or a text message, someone calling you on the phone, or you checking your stock prices… you’re robbing yourself of the focus you need to get the work done.

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There are ways to get around interruptions, even if you’re responsible for them, by installing simple scripts on your computer to block the internet like Freedom or Concentrate. You can also start to train friends and family members to use asynchronous forms of communication, which means they can leave you a message and you’ll get back to them after your focused chunks of time. The key is to stick to your own schedule, so that people take your boundaries seriously and don’t expect to get an email or a call back within minutes of leaving a message.

5. Use the Pareto Principle to Eliminate Overwhelm

Any discussion about getting more done in the day needs to cover the high priority tasks, and not just the busy work. Busy work is the reason most of us feel so overwhelmed, and why we look back at the end of the day and wonder why we didn’t get anything of real value done.

By applying Pareto’s principle and focusing on the 20 percent of the tasks that yield 80 percent of the results in your work, you can prioritize the important work first. We all have tasks that need to get done, but that honestly don’t bring a lot of value to our work. Maybe it’s getting back to your vendors about some questions they had, filing your taxes, or writing reviews. If you schedule these toward the end of your day, you’ll be prioritizing the high impact work that will move the needle in your business and career.

6. Close The Loops & Capture Stray Thoughts

One easy tip for how to get more done in a day is to make space in your mind, so you can focus. Sometimes while you’re at work, or maybe before you fall asleep, you’ll have a stray thought: remember to finish XYZ, or follow up with ABC. These are important little bursts of thought, and if you don’t write these things down then a part of your brain will be working hard to make sure you don’t forget.

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Instead of keeping these stray thoughts in your head as you go about your day, or hoping you’ll remember when you wake up in the morning, jot them down in a notepad. Then each morning or evening, simply review your notepad and transfer any ideas or tasks into your regular to do list system. This way, you’re sending a strong message to your brain that you’re taking care of business, and to keep sending these important reminders, but not to worry because you’ll get them handled.

7. Leave Breadcrumbs for Yourself

This is a tricky one: have you ever found yourself working on something, then needing to do some research to complete the task… and losing track of where you were when you left off?

The simple solution is to leave breadcrumbs for yourself, so you can come back to your original work without having to start from the beginning. This often happens to me when I’m programming: I need to look something up, and when I resurface from my research haze, I forget what I was originally trying to solve or achieve. Now that I leave breadcrumbs for myself, I don’t waste any time jumping back onto my original train of thought.

Which of these 7 ideas are you going to implement to help you get more done in a day? Which ones were you already doing? I’d love to know, leave a comment below.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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