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

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

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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

Everyone of us has one or more tasks on our to-do list that we dread doing. 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.[1]

But many people instead of doing the tough tasks first, they do the easy ones. 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.

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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. 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. Find out here 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!)

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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.

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?

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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.

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.

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

More Resources About Time Management

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Michael Hyatt: Slay Your Dragons Before Breakfast

More by this author

Laura McClellan

Passionate about encouraging women in their roles as wives, mothers, friends, and workers.

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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.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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