If you are anything like me, you might find yourself achieving your highest level of productivity and results when you have an overwhelming amount of work on your plate. Personally, things get a little more slippery and dicey when I find myself with more free time…fewer deadlines and looser objectives. Then the browser wanders and I am searching trending hashtags on twitter, checking out the latest free design templates on canva.com or all of a sudden Pinterest will be open and I don’t even know what day it is anymore. Nope, that’s not productive.
It is tricky to harness fast-paced energy without hitting the “I’ve taken on too much and now am overwhelmed” wall, so I’ve been working to find a balance by setting short-term goals increase my productivity. Here are some of the tips that have made a difference in my daily life to getting things done in a measured way:
Wake up a half-hour earlier. Just do it! Have a little “me” time. Have breakfast, watch the news, walk your dog, do your indulgent web-surfing, bend into downward facing dog. Get it out of the way and out of your system so you can focus on the tasks at hand when your workday begins.
Stay on Task. Waking up a bit earlier is part of this process. When it comes down to completing a project, minimize all other windows on your browser. Turn your phone to silent. Set a timer. Make sure you don’t allow yourself to be distracted or persuaded away from the task at hand. If you don’t finish within the time you gave yourself, or if you reach an impasse, look at your calendar and move the task into another part of your day or week with the same amount of time allotted. Then, move on.
Schedule your day to the half-hour. It is almost April, so hopefully you are well on your way to executing the monthly goals you have set for this year. Help yourself achieve maximum results by taking goal-setting a bit further with detailed weekly and daily schedules. This is a key step to getting things done in an efficient way. If something doesn’t make it onto the calendar, you are probably won’t remember to get it done. Still, for me, the daily schedule is nice but I like to give myself even more structure. At the beginning of each week, try to schedule each work day to the half-hour – and be a realist. Schedule food breaks and time to step away from the desk and even leave the office so that you can come back into the game with a clear head. Schedule time to reply to emails and voicemails, don’t just let those important but distracting tasks interrupt your scheduled work flow. Even if you can’t stick firmly to the half-hour schedule, it will help you be mindful of your time and goals each day.
Don’t put off the things that you don’t love to do. I bet in your daily work-life there are items that are consistently back-burnered because “more pressing” issues come up. That’s just the reality of being a busy professional. For me, I always have tried to find ways to justify putting off the analytics of online marketing campaigns because numbers and excel spreadsheets don’t excite me terribly. But, they are a CRITICAL part of understanding my efforts and my results. By pushing off the analysis, I am limiting both myself and my clients. I have worked hard to incorporate ongoing analysis into my daily routine with detailed write-ups when campaigns conclude. By working on this task a bit each day, I am able to quickly analyze results over time and the data is fresh in my mind. I have even begun to enjoy it (just a bit.) If you have sat down and made a plan for the week, it is important that you don’t get into the habit of constant reprioritization. You have to make things part of your routine and focus and if you still can’t find the time to get them done then you need to do more of my next tip….
Say “no” all the time. Ugh this is such a hard one. But, when I am two weeks late getting back to someone on a proposal or even scheduling time to get together, it is so stressful for me. More importantly, it is unprofessional and reflects poorly on my ability to effectively manage my time. We all have so much going on! The meetings, the conference calls, the 12 paragraph emails – sometimes we really do need to say no. And that can be really hard. But really, it can all get to be too much. There are more efficient ways to operate and you will not believe the freedom and extra time you will have when you start turning down requests or meetings. Ask yourself, does (insert thing you usually say yes to) propel me towards the goals I have set for this month? If not, say no. And sometimes grabbing a drink is a great thing to say yes to! Or being included in a meeting on a project you aren’t directly involved with can be educational and important. However, be conscious of how these events impact your overall productivity and goals. The reality is, saying no actually can earn you the respect of your peers. There are some really great ways of saying no, not now, hopefully later or even not ever that can you look like a discerning, thoughtful professional. Honesty truly goes the farthest when saying no, but here are some other great ideas and responses from The Harvard Business Review for turning people down.
If you find articles on productivity helpful, you may enjoy this article from Forbes.com from January that outlines the things “Productive People Do Differently.” Warning: this article says that we shouldn’t use “to-do” lists. What? I am crossing Complete Productivity Post off of my list right now, and I can’t wait for the satisfaction that little red line will bring.