Do you get overwhelmed with undone tasks? Wonder what the bottom of your in-box looks like? Forget what it feels like to be caught up? Everyone is time-crunched these days and it is truly taking its toll on our stress levels and overall well-being. You might need a complete overhaul of your systems, but these simple productivity tips can help you use your time a bit more wisely and efficiently.
1—Schedule Routine Tasks. Make a list of the things you need to do daily. Include your daily errands (like banking) and tasks (like reports). This minutia that *must* get done is often a source of mental clutter. We think about it too much: When will I go to the bank? Will I finish the report before dinner? The actual task may take five minutes, but we spend countless hours fretting over it.
So, make that list and schedule each item on it. Perhaps you can do these things first thing in the morning, or if not possible, first thing after lunch. That way, they don’t interrupt your work flow and it’s easy to remember when to do them. Once you get these things into a routine, you will be free of constant worry and free to do other, more important and focused projects.
2—Turn off your email alert. Email is a constant interruption for many of us, and we often treat email as if it is an urgent situation. We stop what we are doing to respond immediately, often getting sidetracked from what we were working on. If you only get 20 emails a day (and everyone gets more than 20), that is 20 occasions where something is pulling you away from your work. Schedule times for reading and responding to email and turn it off until then. Trust me, if there is an emergency, someone will call you.
3—Turn off your cell phone and other electronic interrupters. At least put them on silent or “invisible”. Let your close contacts know that you set aside certain hours for work and ask them to only call or text or IM you if it’s a real emergency.
4—Clean your Desk. Desk clutter is a productivity problem. If you have a stack of papers, books or other “need-to-dos” sitting there, they silently nag you each time you see them. If you have to buy some storage containers just to move the junk off your desk, do so. It just feels better to work on a clean surface.
5—Plan your Day. Once you have a clean work surface and some specified working time slots, make a list of what you want to have done by the end of the day. Try to keep it to just a few things that you *can* accomplish. Doing everything on your list, even if it’s not everything you need to do, is very empowering.
You will have to prioritize your tasks, and be ruthless about choosing what to focus on, but you will be working on things that you determine to be important. That is always better than using your time trying to keep up in our increasingly impossible to keep up world.
It is highly unlikely that the world will slow down and allow us all to catch up. We will always want to do more than we have time to do. Making choices about how we spend our time is difficult. But, having those choices made for us is worse. You can take charge and make those decisions for yourself. Start with these five steps.
If you need more tips on time management and productivity, I highly recommend Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. I read this book years and years ago and it has now become a cult classic among productivity hounds. For some, Allen’s systems have become a work life must-have.