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

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

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.

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

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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