I am almost always on time. I don't miss the opening credits to a movie, I return items before the 30 days are up, and I leave the house earlier than Google Maps tells me to in order to make a lunch. Let’s just say my time management skills are on point when it comes to social and personal responsibilities. Yet in other areas of my life, the struggle is real. I just can’t seem to find the time! These tasks include keeping up on filing, following up with a colleague before they forget where they met me, and putting pen to paper for a new blog post. These jobs are important to me; essential to feeling productive and proud of my accomplishments. So what’s holding me back?
In order to understand my own productivity issues, I must identify which factors hinder and which factors drive my productivity. I found that there were five main areas I needed to utilize. Of course everyone is different, but I hope this list will encourage you to tackle whatever it is that you’ve been meaning to.
1. Engage the One Minute Rule
Often it’s because the little things all added up and took too long to correct that we don’t have time for the big stuff. Little things can mean the cereal dish on the counter, the dress you wore last night left on the chair, or the mail you haven’t opened because you know it’s a bill. All of these are considered little because, in reality, if we had just done the right thing at the time it occurred, it would have taken less than a minute to complete. Now, it’s going to take an hour to rectify them all. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project introduced the One Minute Rule to me, and it has made a difference in giving me more time to focus on what’s really important. The rule states, “I must do any task that can be finished in one minute.” By doing what presents itself immediately and getting it over with, things tend to add up less. Remember that cereal bowl on the counter? Chances are if it’s there, a lunch plate might materialize next to it. So don’t drape the dress on the chair, hang it up. Pay the bill right when you get it in the mail. That way when it is time to sit down and write a blog, you won’t be saying to yourself, “But first I really have to do the dishes…”
2. Make a To-Do List and Then Make a Very Short To-Do List
Lists are obviously great ways to prioritize and remember what we need to accomplish. Often though our lists are full of so many things we might look at it and say, “I don’t have time for all of this!” I suggest making two lists, one for overall goals, and then pull from that list to make another list just for today. I use my iPhone to create lists, because it’s always with me and you never know when something new pops into your mind. When you create your list for today, think about how much time you have and what is already on your preexisting schedule. Be honest with what you know about yourself and what can realistically be accomplished. Perhaps today is the best day to write that blog because you have a free hour at home and it’s not the right time to shop for a birthday present because you’ll need more hours than are available. Plus, a short list of 1-3 items is much easier to complete and will help generate more happy thoughts about what you have gotten done.
3. Be Accountable
When I pay my bills on time, it’s because there are consequences for being late. It’s the same with an assignment. You are more likely to finish your homework because you want a good grade. But what happens when nobody but you knows about the task at hand? You have less accountability and often that equates to more procrastination. Case in point, nobody is exactly banging down my door for a new bog post so I don’t do it as often as I would like. The only way to solve this is to set my own “due date” and then tell a trusted friend or partner when that date is. Even better is when the person you tell is slightly affected by what you are trying to do. For example, if finishing organizing the closet gives your spouse more room for their shoes, they are going to have a vested interest in you completing that goal, and you can be sure they’ll help you remember. If the objective is truly personal, and you aren’t comfortable telling someone, tell your computer! Put in your calendar the due date you have decided and then set pop-up reminders to keep you honest. “Blog Due in 2 Days” might be just enough accountability to help you finish.
4. Set up A Personal Reward System
Unsurprisingly, I often find myself wanting to complete the fun stuff on my to-do list before the mundane. For example, I would much rather go to the market than finish an online course. Both are important, and both were on my short list for today. If I go to the market first, I might be then more interested in looking up dinner recipes than finishing my course. If I use going to the market as an incentive for finishing the online course I am more likely to get the online course done and can then pat myself on the back before going shopping. By delaying the fun stuff until the not-so-fun stuff is done you are guaranteeing completion of your list all while rewarding yourself for a job well done. Using a reward system can also help curb distractions. When I am writing a blog, I am doing so on the same instrument that has GoogleChat, Facebook, and an almost unlimited quantity of hilarious cat videos. If I say to myself, “Write for 30 minutes and then you can take a 5 minute Internet break” I am more likely to push off the fun stuff until after I have accomplished a portion of my goal.
Maybe the easiest thing of all to put off! I often justify to myself that putting aside time to exercise hinders the amount of work I do in a day. But studies have shown that by adding as little exercise as 30 minutes a day can improve your mood, productivity, and cognition. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and that extra oxygen is going to improve your executive functioning and help you finish your tasks. I find that by getting my exercise out of the way first thing in the morning I am able to really see how much time I have left to make my short list for the day. And on those days I only have time for one objective, I can still feel good knowing that I finished that blog and got in my 30 minutes of working out.
This list is in no way exhaustive, and nothing changes overnight. These suggestions are what works for me and even then, they don’t work all the time. I am always discovering new areas I need help with, and at the same time creating new incentives to keep me on track. And being able to congratulate myself when I have accomplished a goal, may eventually be the only incentive I need!