I love being productive. You know those days when you are powering through your workload, checking off lists and making tonnes of progress? It feels great, right? But sadly not ever day turns out that way. One of my biggest weaknesses, in both work and personal life, is a complete lack of willpower. (Seriously, the longest I ever managed to stay on a diet was 7 hours!) And while I’m driven and ambitious, sometimes actually just sitting down and doing the things I have no desire to do is a real struggle. Over the years I’ve figured out some tricks that work for me to help me to be more productive.
The Five Minute Rule
This is based on a concept in a book called ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen. I remember when I first read it I just thought ‘yeah, whatever’, but for some reason it stuck in my head and I’ve been using it ever since. The original idea is actually a ‘two minute rule’ and it basically says that if you can do something in under two minutes, do it now. So if there’s an email you need to send or a phone call you need to make that is just a quick task, instead of putting it on your to do list just do it straight away and get it out the way. It sounds simple and obvious, but try it for a couple of days and you’ll see what a difference it makes. I extend the rule to five minutes because that suits me better but do whatever works for you. When you just do the little things immediately it allows you to power through tasks and it also makes your mind feel less clogged with all the niggly things you need to get done. Try it, I guarantee it will make a difference.
Set Achievable Goals
Having big dreams is important for making the most of your potential, but in order to do that you have to be able to turn your dreams into achievements, otherwise they’ll always just be dreams. Seeing the bigger picture and envisioning the end goal is a great start, but then you need to work backwards and see what steps you are going to have to take to reach that dream. Decide on specific milestones along the way that are measurable targets you can work towards, like a roadmap to your dream.
For example, it’s all good saying ‘I want to be the UK’s top seller of cat toys’, but you need to set yourself targets along the way like:
– Get first customer
– Launch online shop
– Gain 2000 instagram followers
– Exhibit at two pet trade shows next year
– Achieve £1000 profit next month
– Hire first employee
– etc etc.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll see how much easier it is following a map than wandering aimlessly hoping to stumble into your achievements.
Break Your Goals Down into Small Tasks
The number one problem I hear from fellow business owners is that they have so much to do they don’t know where to start – like they are paralysed by the workload. The trick to not feeling overwhelmed is to take a step back and break everything down into smaller tasks that are a lot easier to tackle. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! So for example, the goal from above of ‘launch online shop’ might seem daunting, but when you break it down into small chunks, it’s actually just a series of small, manageable tasks:
– register domain name and hosting
– choose website theme
– upload product catalogue
When you see those tasks written down you can think ‘yeah I can do that!’ and just work through the list, before you know it you’ll have achieved that goal. In my post ‘Organisation Porn – 5 Vital Business Apps’ I mentioned my number one tool – Asana. Asana is great for this, you can create boards with tasks and then subtasks to track your progress and keep everything in it’s place.
I am the worst for starting a task and then wandering over to look at something else, clicking over to another site, then checking my emails and before I know it an hour has gone and I haven’t gotten any further on my original task. I like to do 5000 things at once, but it’s not good for productivity. I recently started using the Pomodoro technique after having ignored it for years thinking it wasn’t for me. Turns out it is for exactly people like me and it has helped my workflow no end. The idea behind it is that you have a timer that goes for a certain amount of time (typically 25 minutes) and you stay focussed, working on one task for that full 25 minutes, then the timer goes off and you have 5 minutes of a break where you can go get a drink or check your facebook or whatever. Then you start the next set of 25 minutes, either on the same task or on another one on your list. It keeps me disciplined and focussed and allows me to get really in the zone when I’m working on things. There are a tonne of apps and websites that you can use for this. If you are really bad at self discipline then you can also get extensions that will physically block you from visiting certain sites for an allotted period of time, for example you can set it so that you can’t check facebook for the next 40 minutes – perfect for all you social media addicts out there!
Taking Time for Yourself
It took me way too long to figure this out, but actually taking time out for yourself is just as important for your productivity as all these other tips. I used to just work my ass off, burning the candle at both ends until I just completely burned out, and then I was useless. Investing some of your time into your own wellbeing will actually keep you focused and make you more productive when you are working. Don’t believe me? Have a read of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey who talks about the idea of ‘Sharpening the Saw’. The idea is that if you just keep sawing and sawing, eventually your saw will get blunt, and you’ll be expending twice as much energy and getting half the results because you are using a sharp saw. But if you take the time to sharpen your saw, you will get the work done faster and more effectively, with less effort. So don’t ever feel guilty about needing a little ‘me time’ and doing whatever you need to to recharge your batteries.
The last tip is about scheduling out your time. I have always found that I get so much more done when I plan out when I’m doing to do things in advance. Whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed with how much I have to do, I will break down my weeks and days, sometimes as far as 15 minute increments! You don’t have to go that crazy with it, but setting aside slots in the day for certain tasks will definitely help to make you feel more in control, make the workload seem more manageable and help you achieve more in the day.