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Productivity

Are Your To-Do Lists NOT Working? Here’s Why

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Are Your To-Do Lists NOT Working? Here's Why

Time and again, I have talked about how essential to-do lists are for productivity. I know many people who start using to-do lists but do not know how to use them efficiently and end up failing with the lists. They then stop using the lists. While lists might not be for everyone, knowing how to use them correctly is important before giving up.

Here are some of the reasons why to-do lists might not be working for you.

1. You are putting too many things on your to-do list

This is one of the most common traps when you make a to-do list. You have to be realistic about how much work you can complete in a day. Although it is tempting to aim higher and try to achieve more on paper, it becomes counterproductive more often than not. Having too many things on the list can also be intimidating, and if you fail to achieve them all, it can quickly turn into disappointment.

2. You are not categorizing your tasks properly

When a task goes on the to-do list, it has equal importance to the other tasks, which is why it must be categorized suitably. For example, if buying apples from the supermarket and doing art homework is on your list, then you have not successfully broken the tasks down. Buying apples is one singular task which cannot be broken down further whereas the art homework can have several parts to it like researching the topic, writing down a draft, proofreading, etc.

The tasks going on the list should be simple and not ambiguous or containing several subtasks. All the tasks should be broken down and planned correctly before going on the list.

3. You are using the to-do list as a standalone tool

This is another popular trap of the to-do list. A to-do list is generally a tool you use to measure the productivity of a day. The problem arises when you make the to-do list on the morning of the day; it leads to haphazard and poorly designed lists. Your tasks should be set for the month which you can break down into weeks and then days.

Which is why I advise working on the lists in the night so that you can pay more attention and add new tasks that need to be done in addition to your goals. The activities you are doing every day should match your eventual goal. The to-do list is not supposed to make sure you are being productive and moving in the right direction; it is supposed to make sure you complete the tasks which were set out for that particular day.

4. You are mixing tasks from different goals in the same list

If you have tasks concerning your house chores and work mixed together in one to-do list, you might look at them equally and hence tend to procrastinate on some of them. It is a great technique to segregate tasks into different to-do lists and make sure all the tasks in one to-do list contributes towards one specific goal.

For example, you can have a separate list for ‘Daily Chores,’ ‘Work,’ ‘Books I want to read,’ ‘Skills I want to learn’ etc. Organizing your lists in such a manner gives you a more unobstructed view of the overall progress.

5. You are not considering the breaks, interruptions, and other obstacles

You need to be smart when you construct your to-do lists. We tend to not consider the time we spend on things that we didn’t or couldn’t predict on that particular day. Also, we don’t take into account our daily routine while making these lists. You need to consider the breaks you take, your commute, your other commitments, etc.

6. You blame the idea of a to-do list when you fail to complete it

There might be a variety of reasons including the ones mentioned above for why you failed to complete your to-do list, and it might not be lack of effort. You might need to think about the ways you can change your planning and scheduling or even the number of tasks to be completed on a daily basis before concluding that ‘to-do lists are just not for me.’ You need to start looking at to-do lists as a part of a bigger process of productivity. Also, make sure your lists match how you work as there is no one technique that works for everyone.

If these things can justify why you haven’t been getting success with to-do lists, then you might want to reconsider your approach. I have an article on tackling your to-do lists on a daily basis. This can help you begin using to-do lists in a better way. The main thing to remember is that a to-do list is just a tool to help with your productivity; it doesn’t matter if you have fewer things on the list. The point is to complete all that you have to. That is how you get productive with the list.

Productivity

How to Use Your Calendar to Increase Productivity and Achieve Big Goals

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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:

  1. Buy materials for fence repair
  2. Remove damaged fence parts
  3. Replace fence parts
  4. 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? 

How to Use Your Calendar to Increase Productivity and Achieve Big Goals

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. 

Takeaway:

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!

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Mindfulness

5 Tips to Increase Your Focus

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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.

1. Meditate

5 Tips to 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

5 Tips to Increase Your Focus

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

5 Tips to Increase Your Focus

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

5 Tips to Increase Your Focus

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.

Takeaway

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.

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Productivity

7 Easy Productivity Hacks to Make More of Your Day

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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

7 Easy Productivity Hacks to Make More of Your Day

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

7 Easy Productivity Hacks to Make More of Your Day

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

7 Easy Productivity Hacks to Make More of Your Day

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.

In conclusion

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.

Resources

“Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported … – NCBI.” Accessed June 7, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29450241.

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