I’m all for productivity — not so much for the sake of turning yourself into a machine that never stops working, but to complete more in LESS time and free up your schedule. When it comes to doing this, we make things harder on ourselves than what is necessary.
The first step in fixing this problem and taking control of our time is to correctly identify areas for great improvement. Here are 5 common reasons we struggle to get things done, along with recommendations for improvement that I’ve found helpful in my own life.
1.You haven’t broken down your to-do list into realistic, actionable steps
All too often, we have a task at hand, but rather than taking literally 2 minutes to plan how to tackle it, we jump right in.
The end result is we soon get stuck because our approach was off. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed, getting easily distracted, or possibly even getting discouraged. In response to these feelings, we might lose focus, start an unrelated task, find a distraction on our phone or computer, and abandon the task entirely, vowing to tackle something else and come back later.
TIP: BEFORE you start something on your to-do list, make a quick bullet point outline of what the effort will require. Start with the over-arching task name, and add-sub bullets for what goes into the task, in the order that they should be completed. It’s usually quick to write out and easy to visualize. I like to do this by hand on a sheet of paper, as it’s extra satisfying to cross things off my list. If you don’t know where to start in creating the bullet point outline, maybe start with something else on your list and come back to this. If you can partially create it, knock off what you can do right now and then come back to it.
2. You always have your phone on hand
OK, who isn’t guilty of this one?? If your phone isn’t directly next to you at all times, it’s probably not far out of reach. And if this doesn’t apply to you, I envy you and tell me your secrets!
All it takes is one notification to roll in, oh I’ll just check that real quick. * Ends up scrolling through Instagram*
We know it’s a distraction, yet we do it all the time. I’m not going to preach and tell you that the only way to be productive is to work with your phone in another room, while completing work on timed ‘productivity’ intervals. That’s one strategy, but realistically, it’s hard for everyone to do. I’m all for sustainable strategies. So instead, I find one simpler thing still works pretty well for me.
TIP: Try putting your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” or turning Notifications “Off” on your lock screen for certain apps that light up your screen the most throughout the day. This way, we can still have our phones on hand, but I’ve found that as I get into my productivity rhythm, sometimes I forget I’ve done either of these two things and it takes me longer before I tap on my screen to check my phone. When I don’t see anything on my lock screen, I don’t open it up. I just get back to work until it’s time for a break!
3. You disrupt your flow
In addition to reason #2 (checking your phone too often), there are other ways we disrupt our productivity flow. Checking our phones is one of the most common ways, but there are others.
Your coworker or partner/spouse or mother/father/sister/brother/child asks you a question. Your dog starts barking.
I’m not saying you need to lock yourself in a boring room to be productive. But sometimes cutting out all distractions for a short span of time, in combination with a strong, focused plan of action enables you to crank out a lot of work efficiently. This then provides you with the flexibility to work more casually around others or in a more distracting environment, or even take longer/more frequent breaks all together.
TIP: For anywhere from 1-4 one hour time blocks throughout the day (depending on how busy you are), do your best to eliminate distractions. To find motivation, mentally visualize how the rest of your day will free up if you leave your phone aside, and do nothing but tackle your bullet point list of essential tasks. I’ve found that with this strategy that I can accomplish way more in less time, and “slack” (for lack of a better term — I like to think of it more as life balance) a little more the rest of the time. It is extremely helpful for my mental health.
4. You don’t leverage tools that can make you work faster
Now that a lot of us are working from home, have you ever thought, man I wish I had a second monitor, a mouse, a keyboard..etc?
Or maybe you insist on creating social media content for your website on an app on your phone, because its convenient and allows you to do so while “relaxing” on the couch outside.
Well, this only drags out the total time that you’re “working” and not relaxing.
If you could invest in a work set up that helps you get what you need to get done faster, why wouldn’t you? If you can carve out just 30 minutes or an hour to sit at a desk, in front of a computer and complete something, rather than let it bleed into quality time with loved ones, why wouldn’t you? Don’t make work harder than it has to be.
TIP: I said it already, but invest in the right work set up for you. You don’t need to go crazy, just make it easier for you to crank out the work you need to do in less time.
5. You multi-task too much, always jumping from one idea to the next before ever completing something
Who can blame you right? You finally got into your groove –so deep in, that your brain keeps coming up with bomb ideas. It was related to what you were doing, which is why you thought of it. And you HAVE to write the ideas down before you lose them right? So you drop what you’re doing, put your progress on hold, write your ideas down.
Then all of a sudden, simply writing it down turns into working on it. Turns into OOPS, I should get back to that other thing I was working on.
Turns into, Where was I again?
Which eventually leads to you finding a way to procrastinate or stall. Your phone’s right there. Let me just check Twitter real quick.
And there went your 5 minutes of productivity. Oops.
Funny story, that happened to me and the result turned out to be this blog post. I was writing something else, when randomly (or not so randomly) I got the inspiration for this blog post.
Only to abandon what I was writing, open up a new doc, and begin this post. Luckily for me, I committed to finishing this all the way through, so I got something out of it. Still, not the ideal way to work.
I should probably go back to that original post…
TIP: Plan a THEME for your days/mornings/weeks, (whatever time period makes sense based off what you do for work) based off the different tasks at hand. In the example of a blog writer, you can say, Monday is dedicated to researching posts and that’s it. Tuesday, to writing. Wednesday, to getting ahead of marketing materials and social media content creation, etc. For your day job, it may mean your morning is focused on one work stream only, and your afternoon on another. In my case (I work as a developer), my morning might be dedicated to working on user stories, and my afternoon to any client facing work or documentation I might have to type up for testing. This allows your brain to get into a flow for the task at hand, allowing you to crank out more in less time.
6. You don’t enjoy what you’re doing
If you really drag through the day, if you procrastinate, not because you don’t know how to complete your work, but because you really have a hard time bringing yourself to do it, maybe it’s a sign that you should consider a career switch.
It may be scary. Or you might think that disliking your job is a rite of passage that you have to take in order to move on to something better. Maybe. It depends on your industry and on how much you like that overall.
But maybe you’re just comfortable where you are, good at it even (when you put your mind to it). There are aspects that you like, but overall it doesn’t excite you.
That’s okay! You don’t have to feel stuck.
TIP: Take some time to really reflect on what you’re passionate about, IN ADDITION to what you’re good at. We’re a lot more dedicated to productivity when we find something we genuinely enjoy.
Some days, we won’t be so productive, and that’s more than okay.
I can’t stress enough that the goal should not be to work work work, and emphasize productivity over our general health, well-being, and happiness. That is not what Live Inspired is about. Rather, efficiency is one tool of MANY that enables us to design a well balanced, intentional life.