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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

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 September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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