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How to Make Every Day More Productive (and More Meaningful)

How to Make Every Day More Productive (and More Meaningful)
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I don’t need to tell you you’re busy. We all are, and while there’s much to be said about making time to relax and implementing ways to manage stress, we can’t just ignore our to-do lists, right? We’ve all got a lot on our plates, and we’re all doing our best to juggle responsibilities carefully and keep all balls in the air. It logically follows that it would behoove us to find a way to work more efficiently in order to get a ton of stuff done in a day.

But why stop at getting a lot of things done? Why not map out a strategy that ensures you’re getting a lot of high-impact, purposeful things done as well? It sounds like a lofty goal to aim for oncelet alone dailybut with a little planning, it’s relatively easy to ensure you’re spending your time wisely every day. Here’s how:

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Determine When You’re at Your Best

Consider your typical day, from the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep—when are you on your A-game? Most of us are naturally more energetic, creative, motivated, etc. at a specific time of day than any other, and it’s a predictable time slot because it’s the same over and over again. Some of us do our best work immediately upon waking, while some of us need coffee and a bit of time to wake up to get cranking at full speed. Others don’t hit their groove until the afternoon or evening hours, and, of course, the night owls among us pump out masterpieces while the rest of the world sleeps.

Knowing when you’re most productive is fantastic self knowledge to have, and you should be taking steps to maximize the potential this block of time affords. This change alone can have a significant impact on your daily output.

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Outline & Prioritize Your Goals

In an overall, big-picture sense, what are you trying to achieve? It’s best to consider your long term goals—as opposed to small, daily to-dos—to make the very best use of your time. Why fly through your list only to realize you’ve made very little progress in the areas you truly care about?

A one-year timeframe might work well here in choosing the right kind of goals to focus on. Examples of aspirations that fit with this exercise would be scoring a promotion at work, making progress in a fitness or weight loss pursuit, or getting some creative projects into production.

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Once you’ve identified what you’re shooting for, you’ll need to prioritize, and rank your goals in order of importance.

Plan Accordingly

This is as simple as matching your best self to your most important goal, and repeating the process until you’ve structured your most productive day. Let’s imagine your goals rank like this: 1) weight loss 2) creative projects 3) promotion at work. Let’s also imagine you’ve determined you’re at your very best in the morning, after you’ve had some time to wake up.

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Your re-worked schedule might look like this: Wake up extra early, have some coffee, and spend some time reading, listening to music, or whatever gets your creative juices flowing. Once fully awake, hit the gym and give it your all (best self). Afterward, spend an hour or two on creative endeavors (second best self) before heading into work (third best self).

This is a basic, yet often overlooked practice to put in place, and it’s easy to see how doing so can help you squeeze the most out of your day.

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Do you structure your day mindfully? What else can we do to hack our schedules?

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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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