Slow and steady. Progress every day.
When it comes to goal-setting, we know it’s important to break down a big goal into small, achievable chunks and take it one step at a time. But how do we stay productive throughout this process?
Because let’s be honest, we’ve all felt energized about a goal in the beginning, but then we eventually started to lose steam, for one reason or another. We’re only human! And this year hasn’t exactly been conducive to meeting our goals and being productive, to say the least.
It’s okay to go through peaks and valleys when it comes to productivity--in fact, it’s good for you to take breaks and clear your mind. And it’s never too late to revisit your goals.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” This phrase could not be more true during these unpredictable times. When it comes to productivity, it isn’t just about putting your nose to the grindstone. This isn’t sustainable and you’ll only burn yourself out. Now more than ever, it’s important to create a routine that will support and nurture you, as well as set you up for success.
Below are tips and tools to help you get organized, stay motivated, and be more productive, without having to work harder.
1. Understand why your goal is important to you
Want to be more productive? Take a moment to reflect on your goal and figure out why it matters to you.
When you can tie your work to a meaningful outcome, you’ll have an easier time sticking with it. This intrinsic motivation will help keep you going through the challenging times.
One of my favorite features in the Ink+Volt Goal Planner is a weekly section called “Reflect + Celebrate” where you can take stock of your goals and progress each week. This section allows me to revisit why this goal is important to me in the first place, and motivates me to keep going.
So the next time you’re feeling unmotivated by the work in front of you, imagine yourself in the future having done the work and accomplished your goals. That can help you tap into the meaning of the tasks before you and make them easier to tackle.
2. Have a mantra
Another way to motivate yourself and be more productive is to find a mantra that will inspire and empower you.
Define the theme and vision for your year. When you wake up in the morning, what is your mantra? When you’re trying to overcome a challenge, what are the words that will inspire you? When you’re struggling with self-doubt, what are the words that will give you confidence?
This mantra can be a motivational quote or your favorite line from a poem or it can even be your own words. The only thing that matters is that this mantra rings true for you.
Why is a mantra so important?
When you’re setting out to achieve a goal, it almost feels like you have to be your own team, where you have to be your own cheerleader, coach, and most valuable player, all in one.
A mantra can give you the confidence boost you need during the peaks and valleys of your year. When you read these words in your planner, you’ll feel like a coach is encouraging you to keep going or a squad is cheering you on.
3. Write a to-do list and be more productive
If you’re not sure where to start, do a “brain dump” of all the tasks and errands you need to do, as well as any concerns that are occupying space in your brain.
Next, identify your biggest priorities. This could be goal-related activities, work deadlines, appointments, childcare duties, etc.
Pick 3-5 of your biggest priorities--any more than that and you might overwhelm yourself--and schedule those tasks for today. Try to ensure that at least one of these priority tasks is related to your goal, even if it’s super small, like “buy more printer paper” or “listen to an inspiring podcast.”
This way, you can accommodate urgent tasks, but you also don’t have to put your goal on the back burner.
Afterwards, take a look at the rest of the items on your list. Using your planner or pad, schedule any time-sensitive items for the next day. Anything that’s not urgent can be scheduled for the end of the week.
Some experts say that you should schedule your most important tasks for the morning, as it will ensure that you’ll get them done.
Others believe that you should schedule your priority tasks around your peak energy levels. So, for instance, if you’re a morning person, then do your important tasks first thing in the morning. If you’re a night owl, schedule your important tasks for the evening.
You can experiment and see what routine works best for you.
By focusing on your top 3-5 priorities for the day and scheduling them around times that work best for you, you’ll be setting yourself up for success and be more productive.
4. A neat trick to be more productive
Here’s an interesting exercise I learned from one of my favorite food writers. After you write down your to-do list, take 5 minutes to journal about how you feel about your list.
Do you feel excited or stressed? Do you feel worried about a certain item? Writing it out will help you get to the bottom of any doubts or insecurities.
For example, are you feeling stressed about a goal-related task? Take a few minutes to describe why you’re feeling stressed. Maybe you’ll find that you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you’re worried that you won’t succeed. Use this new awareness to adjust your mindset. If you’re feeling worried, take a moment to recite a positive mantra or list all the times you’ve felt confident in your life.
Productivity isn’t just about seeing how long you can work. So much of productivity is tied to our mental well-being. By identifying what’s holding you back, you’ll be better equipped to address any challenges and overcome these blocks so that you can move towards your goal.
5. Keep a journal
If you’re working on a dream goal or big project, you might want to keep a daily journal in order to hold yourself accountable, measure your progress, and stay productive. More importantly, a journal can serve as your own coach and sounding board.
Spike Lee kept a journal while he was working on his movie Do the Right Thing. In reading his published journal entries, you can see how the writer/director motivates himself. In one entry, he talks about how he’s fired up to write and even tells himself that he has to write for at least two hours a day. He also works through challenges in his script and writes down how he’s going to problem solve them.
A journal can be an incredibly helpful tool if you’re working towards a big goal. You can write about your fears, insecurities, doubts and then give yourself a pep talk. This process can help you develop your resilience while also keeping you motivated as you work towards your big goal.
6. Create a daily ritual
If you’re feeling unmotivated or struggling with procrastination, you might want to incorporate a daily ritual.
Rituals are usually associated with religious ceremonies or rites of passage. But rituals are also important in everyday life and can help you add structure and meaning to your day.
And when it comes to preparing yourself to work, a ritual can serve as a cue, signaling to your mind that it’s time to transition into work mode.
You might even be practicing a daily ritual and not even know it. For example, in an interview, Toni Morrison talked about her writing ritual and said, “I, at first, thought I didn't have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come.”
This small act helped Morrison prepare and transition into her sacred writing time.
Maybe you have a favorite pen and notebook that you like to write with. Your ritual can be placing those sacred items on your desk, a cue to start your work.
Or maybe it’s making a cup of coffee or taking a short walk.
A ritual can be a small act that helps you let go of the previous moment and enter a focused state to begin work that’s important to you.
You can experiment with all of these tips or focus on one at a time. See what works best for you and helps improve your productivity. Don’t forget to be gentle with yourself during this process and to celebrate your wins, big or small.