Time and time again, I have written about the power of to-do lists and why you should make them. To-do lists can help us in more ways than one. Having a list gives you a direction for your day, and you are not running around with no tact. It shows you what tasks are a priority, and what needs to be done when. It highlights the time required for each task, and how you should plan your day.
You start your day with a positive attitude, ready to conquer the world. But most days you have a lot of important things to attend to, that it becomes impossible to prioritize. On days like these, we don’t get most of the things on our lists done, because we are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tasks.
Writing down what you need to achieve can help you have a clear vision towards it. Some people make the mistake of writing too many things on their to-do lists, and that just makes them panicky because it is not possible to complete that many tasks in a day. If something that is meant to help you, ends up making you anxious, then that is surely not good.
If you follow proper protocols… that sounds too technical, doesn’t it? Well, let’s put it this way. If you just keep a few things in mind while making your to-do list, then you will see the kind of positive effect it has on your day, and your ability to do all your work efficiently.
1. Prepare your to-do lists the night before
At the end of the day, you know what you have completed, and what needs your attention next. It is the best time to create a game plan for the next day. It’s like getting a head start. When you make a list at night, you already know what you need to focus on first the next day, what work you can fit in, considering your schedule.
If you wake up early, then you can use that time as well, but before going to bed is a good time to strategize. You don’t have to wake up to the task of planning then. Putting indicators to tasks that are priorities, urgent, or can be put-off, is something that will help you go about your day as soon as you wake up. If you are not an early riser, then making a list in advance will let you know at what time to wake up to keep your day running smoothly.
For me, I make a list of my three MITs (Most Important Tasks). It is advised to make a list of 2-3 MITs and try to achieve them as soon as possible, they are critical tasks that yield the most significant results.
2. Don’t make your lists overwhelming
I understand the urge to fill up our lists with all the tasks that are swarming our minds, but I would discourage you from doing so. It’s not the lists that overwhelm us, it’s what and how much we put on it. Ever heard about not overfilling your plate, this is exactly that.
What I suggest is, writing down everything that’s on your mind. It could be a month’s worth of work, or work that could be completed in a day; just do a brain dump on a paper or your to-do app of choice. I use Things 3 on my Mac, iPad and, iPhone. It’s one of the best to-do apps I have ever used and syncs my tasks across all devices.
Check out my review of Things 3.
After doing that, take things out from it to do each day, and do not look at the main list you made again while going about your day. This will free up your mind from the plethora of tasks that need to be done and will let you focus on what you can do now. There’s no point stressing over the bulk and doing nothing to make a dent in it.
3. Tackle the biggest mountain first
It can be tempting to complete the smaller tasks, and it feels good to strike off things on your list. But, in a way, it is your way of putting off the difficult task. Once you have completed all the easy tasks and only the tough one remains, you start feeling down. The high of striking off things from the list is gone. You feel like you have accomplished enough, completed almost all the tasks on your list, and as a result, you slow down.
Most of the times, the tough things are the important ones. Instead of putting them off, you need to tackle them first. Climb the biggest mountain first, then the others are a walk in the park.
4. Combine easy and difficult tasks
Just because it is a good idea to complete the tough task first, doesn’t mean your list should be full of them. Make a to-do list in such a way that it leaves you some breathing space. Do not fill your days with all the difficult tasks that you can think of, it will become real hectic real soon, and you don’t want that.
Sprinkle easy, if possible fun, tasks in your list and also shorter tasks that can be completed in 5-10 minutes tops This makes sure that you don’t fry your brain trying to do the impossible. It is not possible to do a week’s worth of work in a day. While getting all the big projects out of the way can feel like a good idea, but it is, in fact, a bad one.
5. Prioritize your tasks
It is really important to know what tasks need to be done when. You can use any indicators that make the most sense to you. I divide them into high-priority, priority, low-priority. You can also call them must-do, should-do, would-like-to-do. Give them a number, or assign a letter.
A is high-priority,
B is priority,
C is low-priority,
then write down the letters next to the tasks; now you know which ones to do first. This also helps isolate the tasks to further organize your tasks in a workable fashion.
One thing to keep in mind is to not add more than 2-3 tasks in the high-priority section. Because there is only so much stress we can handle in a day, if you add most of your tasks in that section then you are most probably setting yourself up for failure.
6. Assign blocks of time to tasks
Knowing how much time you require to complete a task can come in handy when making a list. You should assign blocks of your day to a specific kind of task. Suppose you reply to emails faster in the afternoon and prepare reports in lesser time in the morning, then that is how you should plan your day.
Utilizing your strengths and dividing your day also gives you a chance to not focus on your entire list at once. You can forget the rest, and just focus on the task at hand, because you know that the other tasks have time allocated specifically for them.
Parkinson’s law states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Setting too much time for a task, or too little time can be a cause for failure in completing your list. Allocating more time than needed will make you do your work at a leisurely pace, not leaving enough time for other tasks. Setting less time will make your rush, which can then compromise the quality of your work.
7. Eliminate distractions
FOMO or “Fear of missing out” is one of the things that has been a widespread problem that has come with the excessive use of social media. Nobody wants to miss anything, the result of which is constant pings on your mobile phone.
When you work, it is important to eliminate any kind of distraction that you might face. Distractions take you much longer to do a task, and the constant diversion of attention doesn’t help either.
Close unnecessary tabs, make it a rule to not use your phone in the block that you are working in, I am not telling you to abandon your phone for the whole day, but if you follow any sort of timeboxing then it is easier to put down your phone for a short period of time. Avoid working with the TV on in the background, do not work with constant flowing conversation, and focus only on the work at hand.
For me, I keep my phone in another room while doing my Pomodoros and only check it during the breaks. You can also use apps like Brain.fm and Noizio to focus better. They basically play ambient sounds that help you concentrate and focus better.
8. Insert various breaks throughout your work day
Many people think taking breaks is a waste of time, when time and again it has been proven that taking breaks is actually beneficial and helps you get more work done than if you would have worked continuously.
For time management, many organizations use timeboxing (mainly used for software development) for project management as well as personal time management. How it works is, you divide your schedules into a number of set time periods. Each allocated fixed period has its own attributes: plans, deliverables, deadlines, etc. A more workable form for everyone based on this principle is the Pomodoro technique.
Pomodoro technique is one of the most used techniques. It is a time management technique that uses a timer to break down your work into intervals of 25 minutes each and these blocks are punctuated with 5-minute breaks. This technique is so widely used that you will get a ton of apps and websites with a timer to help you with it.
9. Start fresh every day
There will be days when you won’t complete all the tasks on your list. I would suggest throwing away that list and start a new one every day. When you just add on to the existing list, the next day when you start, you start with a feeling of not having completed the tasks the day before. “If only” can plague your mind: if only I had done the work yesterday, if only I worked faster, and so on. This is not a healthy attitude to begin your day with.
Toss the list and start a new one with the remaining tasks and new tasks, it makes you feel like you have a new set of tasks. Whatever makes you feel positive about your workflow is what you are going to apply.
I have always considered making a good plan to be half-battle won. To-do lists are your daily plans. If you prepare them smartly, and then apply them to the T, you will realize that getting work done is easier than it always seemed.
You have to always consider your strengths, your weaknesses, your schedule, the probability of last-minute tasks, the average time to get a job done, any kind of raw data that can help you get into the habit of making an almost foolproof plan. Follow these steps, and you will get into the habit of making a to-do list that works for you, and then as you go on, you can keep tweaking it to suit your needs.
How to Use Your Calendar to Increase Productivity and Achieve Big Goals
Are you tired of not accomplishing your goals or being unproductive at work? Are you tired of finishing things at the last minute for every project you have? You might have tried many systems and they just do not seem to work.
You may have noticed your peers excelling and getting things done although they have the same amount of hours as you do in a day. Fortunately, there is a great system which may help improve your productivity.
One of the primary reasons why individuals are not productive is because they are constantly interrupted or feel overwhelmed by the goal/task they need to accomplish. The feeling of being overwhelmed causes projects to be postponed until right before the final due date. To avoid this feeling, you must try and break the project into multiple sub-tasks. For example, if you need to repair a fence in your backyard, this can be broken up into the following tasks:
- Buy materials for fence repair
- Remove damaged fence parts
- Replace fence parts
- Paint fence
The overall project should be broken down into mini-tasks to make this more manageable. Although this process will make a project less overwhelming, it still misses another important point, which is getting interrupted by other higher-priority tasks. Therefore, it is important to write these down on a paper or on your phone or computer.
Many productivity specialists say that writing down your goals will make it more likely that you will accomplish them. I have written down goals before and failed to accomplish anything. At work, I was behind on projects and getting interrupted constantly – it happens sometimes.
After much investigation, I realized that I was missing a core element and that was a reminder system. I could write down my goals and put them on my computer but if I did not review them, the lists would be useless.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem was at my fingertips. I decided to take these lists and add them to my calendar on my phone. I would dedicate at least a 30-minute block to the tasks I wanted to do and set a reminder time at least 5 minutes before the task. Start your day doing this and block off all the hours in your day on your phone’s calendar. If you get interrupted, you can simply move tasks to other time blocks.
You can also combine it with the Pomodoro technique to increase your productivity along with your accountability that will come with setting up the reminder.
Why does this work?
This works because you are telling your mind that you need to work on a task during this time period. The reminder from your phone/computer reinforces this and allows you to focus. Paper-based systems failed for me because I did not review the tasks I had written down. As soon as a higher-priority task came up, I did not accomplish what I wrote down. Instead of relying on myself to do a “review”, the phone’s calendar does it for me.
It also gives me a sense of accountability, because I know that I am supposed to do the said things in the determined time block or else everything else will also suffer. It works like a pang of mini guilt for me. It also gives you deadlines to complete your work, nothing works better at making you feel accountable than a deadline.
Breaking down big goals into smaller goals is something that almost all of us know. It is one of the basic steps that anyone mentions when they take about achieving your goals. But, sticking to accomplishing to those smaller goals to achieve the bigger one is where people fail. This is one of the simplest ways to hold yourself up to the completion of the task.
Creating a sense of accountability is very important. When we feel responsible for something, we tend to be more serious about it. Written goals make us accountable and constant reminders keep us on our toes, making us answerable to ourselves.
If you are tired of writing tasks down or wanting to do major projects and not getting anything done, then you may want to try breaking apart major tasks and add these tasks to your phone. You may find yourself accomplishing things you never imagined!
5 Tips to Increase Your Focus
Low attention span or difficulty in focusing is becoming a common problem for many. With so many entertainment options readily available, it has become easy to be distracted and to procrastinate. Our work takes the hit and that, in turn, makes us feel bad. Instead of dismissing your lack of focus as something you have to deal with, learn to increase it.
Like our body, our mind needs exercise too. The areas we consider to be weak can be built up if we put our mind to it. Just because our focus isn’t as strong as we would like it to be, doesn’t mean you have to accept the fact and do nothing about it. Try to better it. There are things, practices, and exercises that if done regularly, can help you increase your focus.
If you didn’t know, meditation has different types that focus on different areas. Mindfulness meditation can help you boost your attention span significantly. Not only that, meditation in itself can help you relax, and become calm and collected. Now, that your mind has relaxed and is free of a thought jumble, it becomes easier to focus on things that actually matter.
Meditation for just 10 to 20 minutes a day will help you increase your focus and attention span. Start your mornings by focusing on your breathing for a few minutes, followed by your meditation ritual. You can also do some light breathing exercise just before doing something that requires focus to clear your mind.
2. Include practicing mindfulness in your day
While mindfulness meditation helps you become more aware and helps increase your focus. Practicing mindfulness throughout your day will help you fight distractions and focus on the tasks at hand. Mindfulness simply is being very attentive to every aspect of the task you are doing, and also noticing every small detail about your task.
It can seem like it isn’t easy, but it is. What I do is that I imagine I am writing about whatever I am doing – not informative writing but descriptive. So, suppose I am eating my lunch, I will pay attention to the cutlery, the color of my food, the smell, the taste, the texture of each ingredient. I will focus on chewing and swallowing, on the feeling it gives rise to.
What we usually do is that we focus on distractions while eating, and our primary task somehow becomes secondary. Our focus shifts towards our phones or the shows we are watching. This is what happens with many of our tasks.
3. Don’t listen to music while working
Many of us have the habit of listening to music while working on something. While it helps people most of the times and can be a good thing, it does the opposite for people with poor focus. If you know the song, then you are most probably going to sing along, and that stops you from giving your all to the task at hand.
Let’s say you are doing something that is going to be using the same parts of your brain, then will doing those things together make sense? No, right? When you are doing something that uses motor functions like your household chores, then listening to music is fine, but not while reading if you don’t have a high focus level.
4. Build your willpower
Willpower will allow you to ignore distractions like playing songs or using your phone and will help you to stay focused on the task at hand. Consciously saying no to yourself whenever you feel like doing something else is very important and a skill that you should definitely develop if you want to increase your focus level.
Your attention span will be served well with intentionally trying to focus and also having strong willpower isn’t only good for building your focus but also for being productive. At the end of the day, what you do or do not do boils down to your willpower, saying no to distractions depends entirely on your willpower.
5. Increase your focus gradually
Like any habit, you need to start slow. Like when starting exercise, you are advised to start slow because your body might not be able to take it, the same goes for anything mental. The best way to stay focused is for you to start using the Pomodoro technique. This lets you start working in bouts so that you can start with a short amount of focusing time.
You traditionally work for 25 minutes and then take a five minutes break. After you have repeated this four times, you can take a longer break. Because you know that you have to work for only 25 minutes, it becomes easier to focus. This is a great way to start out.
All it boils down to is will power and persistence. If you are really dedicated to increasing your focus, then you will find it easier to do things to help. I would say, convincing yourself is the hardest part, so start out by taking small steps. Don’t decide to start being completely focused for the whole day, that isn’t going to happen. Use these tips to slowly but gradually increase your focus.
7 Easy Productivity Hacks to Make More of Your Day
A lot of people still believe that by trying hard and pushing their limits, they will be able to get more work done in the day. This is not true. By using all your willpower to get more done, you will feel jaded at the end of the day. Willpower is a limited resource. If you go by your day without learning many tried and tested methods to increase productivity, your body and mind will eventually break down.
According to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in American workers has been decreasing at a steady rate since 1973. The 2007-2018 decade has seen some of the lowest levels of productivity. This is a worrying fact.
Here are 7 easy productivity hacks to make more of your day.
1. Follow a morning routine
Starting your day with a preset routine gets you into work mode right away. Morning is not a time to think and ponder. Get out of the bed as fast as possible and begin your morning routine. I know some people like to plan their day in the morning, but I feel that it puts you into a contemplative mood. It is something you want to avoid getting into. Especially, if you want to take massive action.
The best time to plan your day is the night before. A morning routine should consist of things like working out in the gym, a quick meditation session, a morning walk, filling up your gratitude journal, etc. A morning routine is a productivity hack that indirectly affects the quality and quantity of the work you do through the day. Hence, it is regularly practiced by productive people.
2. Keep your phone away during work hours
Productivity in human beings has always suffered due to many distractions. Even before the advent of smartphones, there were distractions like emails and phone calls. But they were quite manageable and the degree of damage wasn’t that severe.
In today’s world, smartphones are the major cause of lack of productivity. It’s impossible to get good quality work done with a smartphone beside you. A study done by the University of London identified the link between smartphone overuse and loss of productivity. They concluded that constant checking of smartphone for new notifications is hurting the level of productivity in the workplace and at home.
3. Batch your work
It takes a lot of time and effort to switch from one type of task to others. Human beings are creatures of habit and we like to cut effort wherever possible. Batching minimizes the effort and energy wasted in task-switching. This productivity hack has been implemented in all kinds of industries. Moreover, it also increases your concentration as you have fewer things to think about.
4. Plan ahead
Planning is a lot more than creating a to-do list or an action plan. To plan and do all the things in a day, you need to first brainstorm ideas and also have a clear vision of what you want. As I already said, these things should be done a day before so that you are in work-mode at the time of execution. Day planning is different than project planning. Factors like your energy levels, possible distractions, and your surrounding environment should come into consideration before writing an action plan for the day.
5. Use technology to boost productivity
Productivity apps like ToDoist and Toggl are helping freelancers and entrepreneurs to become more aware of how they are spending their working time. These apps can change your perspective on work in a matter of weeks. I use an app called Trello to organize and rank my tasks with the help of boards, lists, and cards.
6. Learn to say “no”
Are you one of those people who say “yes” to every request that you get from other people? You feel guilty when you stand up for yourself and put your own interest on the line. You are brought up the self-critical parent who have drilled into you that you need to be good at everything in life and that you are a bad person if you fail to do so.
If this sounds and feels like you, you need to learn to say “no”. Once you understand how saying “yes” to everything is keeping you occupied in mundane tasks which you shouldn’t be doing, you will learn to say “no”. Saying “no” is a modern day productivity hack that every one of us should learn first-hand.
7. Listen to music
A Canadian study says that listening to music while working puts you in a positive mood and, as a result, increases work quality. The quality-of-work was lowest when the participants of this study performed the task assigned to them without listening to music. With all this research proving music to be a productivity hack, it is imperative for you to listen to non-lyrical music while doing your work.
It’s great to keep all the above-mentioned productivity hacks in your repertoire. But you should also put them to use as soon as possible. For most people, starting a project is the hardest part. They spend days thinking about things that can go wrong or why it won’t work. By starting early and failing fast, you will always be miles ahead of your competitors.
“Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported … – NCBI.” Accessed June 7, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29450241.
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