When it comes to productivity, slow and steady can win the race.
Our society tends to glorify productivity beasts and anyone who can work 24/7. But that doesn't necessarily mean that working long hours is the only way to achieve great things.
For many of us, working long hours isn’t an option. Between work, personal responsibilities, and wanting to have an actual life outside of the office, we have to be selective about how we spend our time—or risk burning out.
Although it may seem like it, productivity isn’t about working long, intense hours every day of the week. It’s about harnessing your time and energy when it matters.
If you’re someone with a limited amount of free time, or if you prefer to work in short sprints versus a long marathon, here are tips you can use to spend your time wisely and be productive—on your own terms.
Use time blocking to maximize your time
We all have the same amount of hours in the day. But it’s how we manage our time that separates a productive day from an unproductive one.
You probably already know that you need a to-do list to help you be more efficient with your time. (Read this guide if you need a quick primer.)
Now, to make your to-do list even more effective, you’ll want to combine it with a surefire productivity technique: the time blocking method.
With the time blocking method, you’re organizing your work into specific blocks of time.
For example, if your to-do list includes tasks such as creative work, meetings, exercise, and chores, using the time blocking method, your day could look like this:
- Early morning: creative work
- Afternoon: meetings
- Early evening: chores and exercise
If you want to make your time blocks even more structured, you can give each task a specific time limit.
Example, you would allot one hour for creative work, two hours for meetings, 15 minutes for chores, etc.
Time blocking is such a productivity booster because you know exactly what you’re going to do and when. It helps you plan your days better by forcing you to actually think through how long you want to spend on a given task. And the more mindful you are about your time, the better you will be at spending it.
And for those of you who prefer to work in short sprints, time blocking is your friend. Instead of feeling pressured to be productive all day, you can work at a high intensity during a specific time block dedicated to important work.
Now, soon, or later
In this episode of The Screenwriting Life podcast, producer Ted Hope discusses his productivity method for managing multiple projects. He does this by categorizing his work into three boxes: Now, Soon, or Later
The “now” box is for work you have to do this week. Examples: work deadlines, preparing materials for meetings, house chores, etc.
The “soon” box is work you will get around to this month. These tasks are important but not super time sensitive. Examples: working on a draft of your novel, making vacation plans, creating a budget, etc.
The “later” box is work that doesn't have a firm deadline. You have no idea when you’ll get to it but you know that it’s important enough to file away for later. A lot of your big dreams and projects might fall into the later category.
The great thing about the now, soon, or later method is that it works with the time you currently have. Maybe you don’t have a lot of time to get to your big projects or creative work, but you know that you’ll get to it eventually.
There’s also something so reassuring about placing your tasks in the “later” category. We’ve all had those tasks that we’ve been meaning to work on but haven’t gotten around to yet. Working on that novel. Or finally working on that house project. And because we haven’t taken action on them, those unfinished tasks float around in our mind, and create a sense of mounting anxiety.
But filing away those tasks in the “later” category will help you put less pressure on yourself. You don’t have time for that big project now, but you know that you can always get to it when the timing is right.
It’s also important to note that many projects and goals cannot be bound to a strict deadline. Creative projects like art and writing, and big projects that require collaboration and problem solving, often require long periods of brainstorming and contemplation. Those big ideas need room to grow. Sometimes you won’t start working on those big ideas until a year or even ten years down the line. And that’s okay. Put them in your “later” category to help you stay committed to them.
Make the most of 15 minutes
The next time you need to get something done, use a timer to help you stay focused.
You don’t need to block off an entire day to get things done. You’d be surprised by how much you can accomplish in just 15 minutes with the help of a timer.
Using a timer can benefit you in a variety of ways.
- You’re less likely to procrastinate when you have a time limit.
- Your inner critic or perfectionist won’t have time to fixate on typos or word choice.
- You’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by the task at hand when you don’t have much time to dwell on it.
So think about the tasks, chores, assignments that are gathering dust on your to-do list. How can you break down those big tasks into small, 15 minute segments?
Here are some examples of how you can reduce a big task into a smaller, more approachable one.
- Big task: Work on my novel
- 15 minute task: Write one to two pages as quickly as I can
- Big task: Declutter my house
- 15 minute task: Toss out expired food from the fridge
- Big task: Update my LinkedIn profile
- 15 minute task: Edit my Linkedin bio
- Big task: File my taxes
- 15 minute task: Gather my W-2s and estimated tax payments
- Big task: Dispute a bill with my health insurance company
- 15 minute task: Assemble the necessary documents, highlight salient details, and schedule a call on my calendar
By working at your own pace and channeling your focus during key moments, you will make progress and stay productive.
Written by JiJi Lee