Whether you consider it a life hack, a work hack, or plain old self help, sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help you get on track at home, at work, and throughout your day. Some people naturally have what it takes to flow from one task to the next, but if you find yourself struggling, the tips in today's post will be a great starting point for making your day a little easier.
Tip: Time Blocks
Whether you love to-do lists or hate them, they have an unquestionable impact on your organization at work and at home. The problem, of course, is that when tasks get pushed off, your list gets longer and longer. There's nothing about a to-do list—at least, in its most generic form—to help you ensure you'll get your tasks done. That's where time blocking comes in.
Utilizing time blocks forces you to integrate your to-do list, your clock, and your calendar. This makes deadlines more clear, whether it's finishing a craft project before your significant other's birthday or having tasks done for managerial review. But, it also helps you understand how you're spending your time every day more intimately. It should also help you become more aware of those things that seem important in the moment but actually detract from your real goals. To be fair, sometimes they are important in the moment, your crying child for example, or the boss walking in to talk to you, but many times, things can wait (e.g., emails, social media).
Part of drafting your time blocks needs to involve informing those around you that it's going to happen (e.g., so your boss knows to come back later unless it's something critical, or your spouse won't get angry if you don't answer the phone right away.) Time Blocking is a way of developing times when the answer to any distraction is "no," giving you the freedom to actually finish the task that requires your focus. Remember, sometimes that task is having a quiet moment to yourself, special time with your kids, or other any other activity that doesn't sound important to everyone else. Some things in your life deserve to have time made for them, rather than allowing them to be relegated to the spare time between other events.
Note: This technique also works well in coordination with other productivity techniques, such as accountability and self-reward systems.
Tip: Important Tasks First
This tip, as well as the next two, are both important in and of themselves as well as in relation to the first tip specifically. Procrastination comes in many forms and happens for many reasons, and for many people, complicated projects, multi-step tasks, and time-consuming tasks are things that people put off. As we mentioned, it isn't enough to simply have a to-do list—the list itself ought to offer you more meaning and organization than simply existing as a list of things you need to get done. Time blocks will help reduce this procrastination, since everything gets your attention in turn, but that's not enough. You also need to prioritize, and that means doing the most important tasks or projects first, preferably right after you wake up or right after you get to the office. (Again, we feel it's worth noting that priority shouldn't always necessarily be immediately assigned to work—having breakfast with your spouse or your kids may also be a high priority that deserves to have time carved out for it.)
There's a few key benefits to doing the most important tasks first. For one, it allows you and others to see your dedication in a particular area or progress on a particular project. There's also something concrete and gratifying about achieving steps toward a goal that improves your motivation and offers momentum for the rest of your tasks as well. And last, since the most important tasks come first, if you end up needing to reorganize your day (or week) to accommodate extra time for that task, you have ample time to look at your schedule and your time blocks to make the necessary changes without undue stress. Plus, you aren't building up dread about having to finally tackle the important stuff later.
Tip: Simple Tasks First
We recognize that "morning" is not optimal for all people. If this is the case for you, you need to determine when the strongest part of your day is and put your important tasks as the leading tasks in that time. If that's the case, or if the most important tasks to start your day have sub-tasks that require prioritizing, then how do you determine where to start?
In many cases, the answer is going to be selecting the simplest task. That's because of two reasons: you save the mental heavy lifting for when you're "in your groove," and small successes help build momentum, motivation, and confidence for working on longer, more difficult tasks. It can also clear out the overall volume of tasks you need to complete. However, it's important to note that some small, simple tasks are a form of productive, constructive procrastination. In some cases, that's okay, but in others, you'll be perpetuating the very problem that's hurting your productivity to begin with.
Tip: DON'T Multitask
The problem with multitasking is that it can make you feel extremely productive while actually lowering your productivity (i.e., actual task completion, time necessary to complete tasks) in a thousand small ways. That's why time blocks should be devoted to a single task that is given as much of your focus as possible. To be sure, multitasking is, at a point, unavoidable, however, there's very compelling reasons why you should minimize the amount of multitasking you're committing to:
- Multitasking can cost you as much as 40% of your productivity
- You're more likely to make errors, and those errors get worse as the tasks you switch between become more complex
- Information recall is severely diminished
- It uses more parts of your brain than task focus utilizes, increasing decision fatigue and overall ability to focus
- Tasks you work on while multitasking take more time, and that time expands based on the number of tasks you switch between
Tip: Processes, Procedures, Instructions
Whether you're developing them for yourself or for others, documents that outline steps for completion, requirements, and steps already taken make it easier for you (or your staff) to jump right into new, frequent, or continuing projects or tasks. This is especially true for anything that needs to adhere to any form of quality control. These documents not only an aid in creating a consistent product, but they also offer a way to measure performance. Furthermore, it gives you a concrete way to better develop and improve your task completion processes, especially when reviewed and edited in light of real work experience.
Remember, change can take time, and sometimes seeing the benefits of change can take time too. With these real life productivity tips, you'll be positioning yourself—and your business—for optimum productivity and much less stress.