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Last Updated on July 13, 2018

Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind

Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind

Do you know anybody who’s not busy?

Most of us wake up each morning facing crammed calendars and mile-long to-do lists. As a lawyer/wife/mom/writer, I know I certainly do.

Out of nerdy fascination and sheer survival instinct, I’ve made a lifelong study of productivity and time management. Here are the top ten tips that help me get done the things that I must or want to do without losing my mind:

1. Write it down

Every task, every commitment should be written down. This frees your mind from the energy- and attention-sucking job of trying to remember.

In his seminal book on productivity, Getting Things Done, David Allen points out how uncompleted commitments take up psychic energy, each one making you just the tiniest bit more tired, more distracted, and therefore less productive.

He emphasizes that the first step to managing your life and time is getting every commitment, large and small, out of your head and into a trusted system.

I use OmniFocus to capture these commitments, but you can start with a simple pen and paper.

2. Get a head start

The best way to hit the ground running is to start the night before.

Before leaving your workspace, or before going to bed, take ten minutes to look over the next day’s commitments.

What appointments can’t be missed? What do you need to have with you for those appointments? (Make sure you’ve gathered those materials and have them ready to go.) What three to five tasks must get done?

Decide what you’ll do first. Look at that to-do list and decide whether any tasks on it can be delegated to someone else (see number 9 below) or, even better, crossed off the list altogether (see number 10 below).

The busier your day, the more important it is to do this quick survey the day or evening before. It means you waste no time in the morning deciding where to start, or gathering materials (and maybe discovering a crucial item isn’t available when you need it).

3. Do your most dreaded task first

Every one of us has one or more tasks on our to-do list that we dread doing.

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Maybe it’s that unpleasant phone call you don’t want to make. Or that blog post you’ve been putting off writing because you don’t know how to start. Or that project that just overwhelms you because it’s so massive.

Whatever it is, it hangs over your head, distracting you with guilt because it keeps getting pushed to the next day and the next. It’s time to end that cycle.

Do it first thing. Writer Michael Hyatt talks about slaying your dragons before breakfast—there’s nothing more motivating for the rest of your day than crossing that monster off your list first thing in the morning.

But many people instead of doing the tough tasks first, they do the easy ones. But if you really want to be productive, there’re some tasks you shouldn’t do first in the morning:

To Be More Productive, Never Do This To Start Your Morning

So make that call. Pull out a piece of paper and brainstorm ideas for that blog post.

Do something about that overwhelming task—maybe you can’t finish it in one day, but you can at least get started. Whatever it is, just do it.

Then let the satisfaction of crossing it off your list carry you into the rest of your busy day.

4. Turn off distractions

One of the major productivity killers is the distraction of constant interruptions: emails, phone calls, people appearing at your door…

The technology that can (and should) make our lives easier and better also can make it virtually impossible to maintain the kind of focused attention that’s necessary to work efficiently and effectively.

But here’s the thing: you can control that technology.

When you’ve got an important task that requires attention and focus, create the space to give it your best.

Whether it’s a meeting with a client or colleague, or an important letter that needs to get written, or a piece of art you want to create, schedule a block of time to focus on that commitment, and then turn off all distractions.

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Shut down your phone (or at least turn off the ringer). Silence your email alerts. Disconnect the internet (or at least Facebook and Twitter). Close your office door.

Just for that hour (or thirty minutes, or half day), turn off all outside communications and give yourself the necessary luxury of undisturbed time to really focus on the matter at hand.

Learn more about How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done.

5. Take breaks

There’s a limit to how long anybody can devote deep focus to a task.

No matter how busy you are, after a certain amount of time the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and fatigue—physical and/or mental—starts to impair your effectiveness.

Schedule breaks periodically even during the busiest days. Take ten minutes to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, walk around the block.

You’ll return to your work refreshed, both mentally and physically, and ready to be even more productive.

If you’re not convinced yet, read this article about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

6. Batch process

If the demands of your day include routine tasks, try to group similar tasks and schedule certain times during the day to knock them out.

Answering emails? Returning phone calls? Entering expenses into a spreadsheet? Instead of interrupting your other tasks to do these things piecemeal, batch them.

Set two or three or five times a day to check and respond to emails. Return phone calls at 11:45 am and 4:45 pm (or, if you want to avoid getting sucked into long phone conversations, return them at 12:15 pm while folks are at lunch and 5:15 pm after they’ve left for the day, and just leave a message!).

By batching similar tasks, you save the time lost to ramping up multiple times a day and reap the benefits of momentum.

7. Eat a healthy breakfast

Do I need to explain this? There are countless studies confirming the importance of breakfast for maintaining our health.

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Healthy people are more productive. No matter how busy you are, eat a decent breakfast. It’ll fuel you for a terrific start to your day.

For more breakfast ideas, check out this:

31 Healthy Breakfast Recipes That Will Super Boost Your Energy

8. Get some exercise

Not to be too repetitive, but healthy people are more productive.

Exercise makes you healthier, so be sure to get some exercise every day.

You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to get the benefit of this; take a walk around the block, or do some isometrics at your desk.

Try these 29 Exercises You Can Do At (Or Near) Your Desk or 15 Simple And Quick Office Stretches To Boost Work Efficiency.

Just do something to get your heart pumping and your blood racing. It will enhance your general well being as well as your ability to think more clearly.

9. Delegate

I’ll confess: I stink at this. I hate to ask for help, and often it seems more trouble to explain a task to someone else than to just do it myself.

But not everything that needs to be done in your life must be done by you.

Evaluate that to-do list carefully. What tasks could someone else do, thereby freeing you up to focus on the things only you can do?

Look around you: who is available to do some of those tasks? A secretary? A colleague? A family member? A paid helper?

An important key to productivity is doing only those things that only you can do, and giving somebody else the opportunity to contribute by doing those other tasks.

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Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to delegate work effectively, take a look at his guide:

How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

10. Say No

How many commitments have you made that don’t really need to be kept at all?

Have you taken on tasks that don’t actually matter to you or anybody else?

Is your calendar cluttered with meetings that don’t accomplish anything for organizations that you no longer care about?

Has your day been hijacked by somebody else’s priorities?

If your calendar is jammed, if your to-do list is miles long, take ten minutes or so to look at each item with a careful eye. Can any of those appointments or tasks simply be crossed off to create some reasonable margin in your life?

When someone calls or appears at your door with a request for your participation in some activity, take a breath and consider whether it fits into your own priorities (which priorities, of course, might legitimately include keeping your boss or spouse happy).

If the answer is no, then just say no. Practice it ahead of time: “Thank you for inviting me, but no.” “Thank you for asking, but no.” “Thank you for thinking of me, but no.”

As a wise person has said, “no” is a complete sentence. No explanation is necessary. Just no.

You may want to learn from Leo Babauta The Gentle Art of Saying No so you can set better boundaries for yourself.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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