Sometimes it seems as though you’re just plugging away for hours at a time but not getting anything done. Read on to find a few tips for becoming more productive and making better use of your precious time.
1. Plan ahead
One of the things we tell ourselves when we have a lot to do is that we don’t have the time to put together a schedule because it takes up precious minutes of our already busy day. But organising your time can help you both remember what needs done and ensure you don’t spend a disproportionate amount of time on one task, therefore losing time on your other work.
Different people like to plan at different times. Most prefer at the beginning of the working day. I, personally, like to organise myself the night before, right before I go to bed. If I have a particularly busy and stressful day ahead of me, this helps me arrange my thoughts and assure myself that I DO have enough time to get everything done, which in turn helps me relax and therefore sleep better. If I have a lot of things going around my head, I’m restless all night and can’t do my best work the next day.
So here are some steps for putting together your daily schedule:
- Make a list of everything you know you need to do.
- Download this planner.
- Work out which of the items from step A need done at a specific time (for example, do you have an appointment scheduled?) and add these at the correct time.
- Decide when you’re at your most productive – are you a night owl or a morning lark? – and schedule your most difficult tasks at those times.
- Put the work that takes less thought at your least energetic times.
- Give yourself a buffer. You likely won’t stick to your times exactly, so it’s good to have an hour spare in the day to cover those times where you run over.
- Make it a habit – don’t do it for a few days and then give up. Persevere and you’ll see how much more you get done in a day.
2. Tackle your most difficult work first
If you know that you have a particularly difficult task to get through, it can be tempting to do everything and anything to avoid it until you’re either out of time or out of energy. The trick is to tackle the hardest thing first off. By doing this you’re starting on a strong note and everything else you do during the day will seem so much easier. By sorting out the most complex jobs first, you also don’t end up racing the clock in order to hit a deadline at the last minute, which will greatly reduce your stress!
3. Get plenty of rest
We’ve all had those days where you’re so tired that you spend minutes at a time just staring at a screen without actually doing anything, or you take ages to do a basic task because you can’t focus on the job at hand. It may seem as if working late into the night is a great way to get through everything you have to do, but the more you do that, the less sleep you get and the more sluggish you become, making you much less productive. It’s a vicious circle where the more tired you are, the less work you get done, the later you stay up to finish, the less sleep you get, the more tired you become…
Similarly, if you power through a day without stopping for a break, it’s going to become more and more difficult to focus on what you’re doing. Yet studies have shown that taking as little as one minute to step back and clear your head can help you find clarity and reset.
Try anything from a 5-minute chat with a colleague to a swim during your lunch break because the break will help you be more productive in the long run. Find what works for you and weave it into the schedule you created at point number 1 so that regular breaks become part of your daily routine.
4. Set specific, achievable goals
A common tactic of long-distance runners is to break down the mileage. Take a marathon, for example; instead of focusing solely on getting to the end of the 26 miles, competitors often think in smaller sections: “let me just get past these next five miles”. Not only does this make the route seem more achievable, but every time a goal is reached, the brain releases “feel-good” dopamine, giving you a bit of a boost and making you feel better about your achievement.
This works for your productivity, too. By breaking down a large, complex project into smaller, manageable tasks, you avoid becoming overwhelmed. The sense of achievement you get from completing each stage will encourage you to keep going and, ultimately, help you achieve more than if you were to focus solely on the end-goal.
5. Lose the phone
People get very protective of their phones and, as a result, make a lot of excuses for why they can’t possibly put them aside. But take a moment to think whether you really need your phone within arm’s length at all times. If you expect calls that it’s important to pick up straight away, put your phone on loud and then put it out of reach. That means you’ll hear it if it rings but aren’t constantly reaching for it out of habit.
Mobile phone use is often an addiction but there are lots of apps out there to help you curb the habit. Do a quick search on Google and find what works best for your situation.
Sometimes you will spend hours on a task that either you hate or that you don’t have any real knowledge in. That’s fine if it’s for something that you particularly want to or need to learn, but nine times out of ten there will be someone out there who can do it for you more quickly and more effectively. You’re not cheating by delegating the work and, although the upfront cost may seem steep to you, think of it this way:
A small business owner needs a website and she decides to create it herself in order to save money on the cost of a professional website builder. She spends weeks trying to create something without the proper knowledge and the result is a sub-par website. If she has spent 50 hours doing this website and her usual hourly rate is £50 an hour, she has wasted £2,500-worth of her own time and lost those 50 hours where she could have been bringing in income from doing the work she’s good at. Her unsatisfactory website has effectively cost her £5,000.
If she had spent £2,000 on a professionally-built website, she would have saved both money and her time.
I bet you can think of examples where you’ve done exactly this kind of thing, so take an hour and work out a delegation plan. Write down a list of all the things that you don’t have the expertise to do and another list with all the things that someone else can do. These are your ‘delegatables’. Even if you can’t afford to get someone to do them all at once, start small and gradually build up. You’ll be amazed at the amount of other things you can get done.
These are hopefully just a few easy tips to help you make a change to your day-to-day life.
What are you top tips for keeping organised? Send me an e-mail with your tips or if you have questions about anything you have read in this blog.
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