June 27, 2019

How to Be More Productive

Get back on track and accomplish all your goals this year.

As we reach the midway point of 2019, you may be wondering: where did the year go?

It seems just like yesterday we were opening our new journals and setting our intentions and goals for the year. While we can’t stop the passage of time, it’s never too late to maximize our year. In fact, we can use this time of the year to jumpstart our strategies and be more productive.

Whether you’re a person who craves structure and deadlines or someone who feels constrained by a fixed schedule, we have a variety of strategies and tips you can use to be more productive and still make 2019 the best one yet.

Create a routine to be more productive

What do successful authors, Olympic athletes, and even heads of state all have in common? A daily routine. Author Danielle Steel arrives at her office at 8:30 in the morning, and has a piece of toast and decaf coffee for breakfast (this routine seems to work – she’s written 179 books!).  Olympic hockey player Meghan Duggan likes to journal her intentions in the morning. President Obama had dinner with his family every night at 6:30 pm when he was in The White House.

A daily routine gives us a sense of familiarity and comfort. (Think back to your childhood, with school uniforms and scheduled hours for lunch and recess.)  Even if your day has unpredictable deadlines or family emergencies popping up, doing something the same way each day can provide much-needed stability. This could mean choosing your outfits for the week or scheduling a long walk after work or having a no-screen rule before bed.

By doing something familiar each day, you create a strong foundation for the weeks and months ahead. That way, when life throws you a curveball, you have something familiar to tether yourself to and regain stability.

But what if you’re someone who find routines to be monotonous and boring?  Author/entrepreneur Tim Ferriss suggests trying to look at routines in a more positive way:

“Reframe routines as something enabling, it is a a positive constraint that allows you to avoid decision fatigue, and allocate your brain power and creative, competitive advantages to the things that actually matter, which is not choosing what to have for breakfast in the morning or deciding which coffeeshop to go to, etc.”

Personally, I think life is too short to eat the same meal every day. But there are still other ways to incorporate routine in your daily life without sacrificing pleasure. For that, we can look to Vladimir Nabokov – after writing in the mornings, he liked to enjoy hot baths and two hour naps!

Still not sure about routines? Think of it as a sacred ritual to start your day. Modern dancer Twyla Tharp writes in her book The Creative Habit:

“I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning; the ritual is the cab… By making the beginning automatic, we replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine. “

You don’t have to resign yourself to an ascetic lifestyle in order to be more productive. Rather, you can choose activities that nurture and gratify you.  Whether it’s a bike ride or reading a good book before bed, these routines serve as tent poles to your day, giving you the structure you need to ease into your work and accomplish your tasks.

To-do lists and priorities

We all know that to do lists are an essential part of productivity. But how can we optimize a to do list in order to be more productive?

Emily Schuman of the lifestyle blog Cupcakes and Cashmere suggests:

“…identify the top two most important things necessary to accomplish each day (whether the night before, or the morning of) and put them at the top of your to-do list. Picking just two non-negotiables focuses your day around ensuring those two things get done, no matter what.”

And don’t worry if  you’re not crossing out every item on your list. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer says:

“If I did [get to the bottom of the list] it would be a real bummer…Because think about all those things at the very bottom of your to-do list that really shouldn’t take time out of your day.”

Group similar tasks together

Another way to be more productive is to group similar tasks together. This way, you’re not straining your brain power and energy by having to switch systems and tools for every new task.  For example: You can pay all your bills in one sitting. Or power through emails. Or you can pick a day or time to run all of your errands. You could even schedule your errands after a workout,  since you’ll be energized and already outside of the house.

By identifying which activities can be lumped together, you can better manage your time and resources and be more productive.

Avoid perfectionism

In order to be more productive, we must let go of our tendencies for perfection. This is a surprisingly hard thing to do, especially if you’ve always associated hard work with a polished product. But sometimes it’s more important to get the task done, than to do it perfectly.

For example, I once had a senior manager who would send quick response emails with occasional typos or written in all lowercase letters. But, if she had to send emails to a wider audience or addressed to senior level people, then she would devote more time on crafting and polishing her messages. For my former manager, it was all about prioritizing which messages were important and which could be done quickly.

What are some tasks you could do without being too precious about it? Maybe it could even be as mundane as responding to text messages from friends or family. Those can actually take a lot of brain power! Remember: if you want to be more productive, it’s about spending less attention on low priority tasks, and saving your energy and attention for the things that do matter. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Done is better than perfect.”

You can always tweak any of these strategies and systems to better serve your needs and lifestyle. Maybe it’s about deciding to journal in the morning so you can use your evenings to relax or meditate. Or turning off spell check when you’re drafting an email. Whatever strategy you choose,  you’re on the way to be more productive for the rest of 2019.

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