In this season of life, I’m wearing a lot of hats. My daily to-do lists are constantly all over the place. For example, some of today’s to-do’s include re-writing product descriptions for the shop, laundry, writing this post, more laundry, finishing Ephesians 4 and taking notes in time for our small group later tonight — and picking up 3 pizzas on the way there.
Not so long ago, my attempt at juggling life got to the point where I would often go to bed, think back on my day, and realize that despite working all day long, I didn’t feel like I had actually accomplished anything. My mind was in a million different places, and the concept of real productivity had flown right out the window. Realizing this is something I can easily fall into, I’ve really had to make an effort to be more productive and focused with my time. That way, when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I can look back and feel good about how I spent my time that day. For me, that means a better night’s sleep and a much lower anxiety level.
In an effort to help any of you that might be in a similar boat (I know I’m not the only one!), or if you just want to be more productive in general, here are five things that have helped me restructure my days to be more productive:
01 / Write it down the old fashioned way. Even though I love Google Docs, and I'm a huge advocate for Evernote, I’ve found that when it comes to my daily to-do’s, I work best from a list that I’ve written down with pen and paper. I use my daily planner for deadlines, birthday reminders, events, appointments, “big picture” to do’s, which helps me plan out my week’s major plot points. For all the things in between, I have what I call my “Brain Dump Notebook”, which I’ll get to the details in #4. All in all, there’s nothing more satisfying than crossing out each task you’ve accomplished one-by-one. If I get something done that wasn’t initially on the list, I write it down just to cross it off. It's a huge morale booster when I look at the list and see everything I've accomplished that day. (I can't be the only one that does this, right?!)
02 / Set a timer. Since I work from home, sometimes it can be difficult to balance "work-work" and "home-work". If I’m not careful, I’ll work for hours at a time and totally forget about the clothes sitting in the washer. That being the case, setting a timer (or “timeboxing” as Greg calls it) has totally transformed my work days at home. Once I have my day planned out (which I try my best to do the day/night before), I go through the list and jot down an estimate of how much time it should take. For larger projects that will take 4-6 hours (like logo concepts for instance), I break them up into smaller tasks that coordinate with my project workflow. On a normal morning, the first thing I do after my morning routine is set a timer for 30 minutes and focus on nothing but answering emails. Once the timer goes off, I’ll set it for 10 minutes, take a "break", and put a load of laundry in the washer, freshen up the half bathroom, or do a bit of light pickup around the house. When the timer goes off again, it's time to start re-writing product descriptions (for example). Not only does this break up the monotony of the day, but it ensures that you actually get things done.
03 / Initiate "Do Not Disturb" Mode. I used to think I had the market cornered when it came to my ability to multitask. It wasn’t until recently that I had a startling revelation: I’m actually horrible at it. Absolutely horrible. A few months ago, for some reason or another, I decided to “semi-unplug” for an entire work day. By the end of the day, I realized I was slaying my to-do list! Honestly, I think I got more done in that one day than in the three previous days, combined. Thinking back on my normal day-to-day, I realized that the biggest culprit was my cell phone and notifications. By simply using the “Do Not Disturb” function on my iPhone and laptop, I can instantly increase my productivity levels and stay focused on what I have planned for the day. (If you haven't explored that function your iPhone, go do it now! It's a game-changer.)
04 / Start a “Brain Dump Notebook”. About three years ago, I unintentionally designated a plain kraft spiral notebook to serve as a catchall for my brain. Three years and five filled notebooks later, I can tell you that it has been one of the best things I have ever done. It’s where I keep my “Master To-Do List”, scribble out product ideas, jot down notes while I’m on the phone with the insurance company, write down so-and-so’s number that I need to pass along to someone else, etc. The important things eventually get transferred to Evernote or my planner, but when I’m in the moment and just need to write something down quickly, I don’t have to stop and think about where it needs to go. I’ve found this method to be much more productive than trying to file things in my brain or keeping track of a bunch of individual notes floating around my workspace, kitchen, purse, etc.
05 / Re-fill your tank on the regular. Finding rest in the everyday and “filling your tank” regularly is vital to your productivity level. Being in “work mode” 24/7 can ultimately result in burn out and not getting anything done at all. Intentionally carving out time in the day - even if it’s just 10-minute break in between a project - and taking a quick walk, reading that article you pinned a while back, or doing whatever you find fun and fulfilling, can be a game-changer when it comes to your productivity level. Stepping away from work (or whatever it is you have going on) for even just a short amount of time gives you a fresh perspective; helps you work better faster and smarter; and ultimately creates time for the things that are more important. For me, having these breaks (as well as taking a whole day off every week for those "more important" things) has given me peace and rest in the midst of the insanity of everyday life.