“There’s too much to do, and not enough hours in the day!” How many times have you struggled with this reality?! Getting stuff done is easier said than…well, done. Checking off every item on your to do list may be a critical goal; but it is also a difficult challenge. With all the distractions, alerts, competing priorities, and only so many hours in a day, how do you keep the stress at a manageable or minimal level, and stay motivated and productive throughout the day?
Set the Scene.
Create an environment that keeps you focused, motivated, and free of unnecessary distractions. Know yourself. Elements to consider: Are you more productive in a quiet empty space, or in a busy office or coffee shop with energy around you? What type of music keeps you on track, or takes you off topic into daydreaming? Do you need a clean desk space, computer screen, or blank sheet of paper? Or do you work best surrounded by motivational quotes, inspo images, cute desk accessories, and other items that encourage you to keep hustling throughout the day? Your environment should support how you feel, what you think, and how you behave, to accomplish your goals. I framed one of my favorite quotes in a bright red frame and keep it in full view to keep me pushing through. “Live life believing anything is possible”.
Shut. It. Down.
Turn off every app, site, speaker, ringer, device, and distraction that might keep you from accomplishing your tasks. Multi-tasking is inefficient, disruptive, ineffective, and rude. By setting schedule boundaries for yourself and for the people around you are leading by example, developing systems for efficient communication, managing expectations, and reducing stress for everyone. You can implement some or all of these techniques (depending on your role and workplace of course), to stay super productive.
- Shut off your phone completely – even for brief periods. Start with 20 minutes then work your way up to hours. Sounds crazy and unrealistic? It’s not. Think about all the times you really are unavailable by phone: the world didn’t end; your office didn’t self-destruct; and your bosses, coworkers, friends, and family members didn’t disown you. In a meeting? That’s a critical time to turn off your phone and concentrate on the people and conversation.
- No ready or able to shut it off completely? Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’: people will be less likely to expect an immediate reply.
- Set an ‘out of office’ email for the day. I find this tool very helpful for keeping the non-essential requests away. I also include ‘if your issue is urgent, please text or call, or indicate ‘time sensitive’ in the subject header.
- Shut your door for set periods of time to prevent walk-in distractions. For example, if you get your best writing done by yourself in the morning, reserve that time to produce content. Then designate other time periods for social interaction, networking and brainstorming, and shut off your phone – a virtual door – while you’re in those meetings.
Plan on Being Productive.
It is critical to find, and consistently use, a time management / productivity / workflow system that works for you. Set aside specific time periods for yourself and designate other time periods for interaction. Allocate office hours, drop-ins, coffee and networking meetings – on your schedule. For example, if you get your best writing done by yourself in the morning, block off that time. If you’re an extrovert and human interaction kicks off your day on a positive note, schedule morning networking meetings and brainstorming sessions. Experiment with different productivity systems or create your own. Find what works for you and set your schedule around it. I use my 4P method: Process, Prioritize, Plan, Produce.
- Process: Review everything you absolutely need to get done each day / week / month, before you start doing anything.
- Prioritize: Decide what is critical and rank each project and task.
- Plan: Determine how much time it may need, and how much time you can allocate. Consider which items are due when, and what resources you need to carry them out. Write down the specific steps, resources, timelines, deadlines, and other elements required for each task. Now you’re organized.
- Produce: Use the plan you created and get to work.
You are boss, and that means you make boss decisions. You can’t always do everything by yourself. Figure out where you need help, who you can ask, what tasks would be quicker, cheaper, easier or more effective to outsource. Then get the support you need to get your work done. One of my busiest clients struggles with making his daily networking calls. I stated: “Reaching out to your network is the single most important aspect of business development. How can I support you in getting this done?” He replied: “Well, I can’t ask you to text me every morning to push me, can I?” I smiled and answered: “Yes, you can ask, and I will do it. That’s a fantastic idea!” And at a set time every Monday through Friday morning, I simply copy and paste this message: “Whom are you calling today?”
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.
So you think you can … complete 24 tasks in 12 hours?! Life is the ultimate reality show, and we all deserve a prize for getting through each day. Give yourself an award for each task you complete. Golden disco ball, glitter bomb, applause sound effects, a chocolate crown – whatever motivates you to keep your eyes on the prize. And that prize is career success, a feeling of accomplishment, and the right to say, “I adulted hard today!”
All work and no play make Jack and Jane dull and depressing. Reward yourself for your hard work! That treat might be five minutes on social media, checking your online dating apps, or a coffee break with a coworker. Remember how you turned off all your distracting apps and devices so you could focus?! Turn them back on for a limited time, to catch up on your favorite kitten videos, celebrity style tips, or your friend’s new home renovation. And I do mean *limited* time: set a very loud alarm with a specific message, so that you don’t end up wasting 20 minutes texting your Saturday night date on a Monday afternoon, instead of completing your next to do task.
You Got to Move It, Move It.
You can’t keep your butt glued to a chair for 12 hours straight and expect to stay focused, inspired, (or healthy). Take a walk around your block, around your building, around your floor, or climb a few flights of stairs. Stretch yourself. Stand up, roll your shoulders, get the kinks out of your necks, and every other body part. Make it a habit to perform a series of stretches that work for you: to get your body moving, keep your blood circulating, get your creative juices flowing, and keep your stress in check.
Go with the Flow…
Take a five to ten minute break every few hours and practice a yoga flow. Even a quick flow, or several poses in between project tasks, will encourage you to breathe deeply, relieve stress, stay grounded and calm, and keep your energy and your chi flowing. A yoga flow will help you set your intentions and actions – to stay focused and in your work zone. Namaste productive.
Take a Dance Break!
Dance breaks are my very favorite way to get through the day, and to recharge and refocus. Dance breaks replenish my creativity, my physical energy, and my happy spirit. Find the activities that suit your style and mood. Turn up the volume, and tap, twerk, hip hop, or high kick to a tune from your favorite playlist. Dance break in…. 5, 6, 7, 8!
____________________ (Accept That It’s Okay Not to Finish Everything).
Accept that you are human, and that you won’t always accomplish every single item on your to do list every single day. And that’s okay. Leaving something undone can have unplanned, unexpected, and positive consequences. I truly did not have a 10th productivity tip, and was going to leave this section blank – except for the title – symbolic of an unfinished item. And that very decision resulted in this tip #10, with multiple lessons: set realistic expectations for your human self, embrace the concept that ‘done is better than perfect’, allow for unfinished items, and leave room for happy, productive surprises.