70,000. That’s how many thoughts you have every day. And you’re supposed to be productive? Ha! Good luck with that! Between: schedule carpet cleaning, sign up for field trip, pay overdue phone bill, groceries, oil change, check email, vet, stupid quarterly report, PAY for field trip, pick up the package at the post office, song you want to remember to download, groceries (again??), talk to spouse about junior’s grades, go for a run, get the recycling out – wait, was that last week?, make reservations, get the kids to tae kwon do, check email, 8 AM Eastern teleconference (not my time zone) and water the plants… being productive can seem impossible. It’s easier than you think!
No matter how chaotic your days are, you can squeeze the most out of the time you have, get more done and have time left over.
1. Don’t multitask.
Multitasking is nothing more than a form of distraction! You can’t do a good job at anything if your brain is being pulled in several directions. Doing too much at once actually makes you 20-40% less productive because your brain has to “reboot” every time it jumps from one task to another; it has to remember where you left off, what you were thinking about… what a waste of mental energy! Do one thing at a time. Give it 100% focus and 100% effort. Be satisfied with your results, and move on. Take advantage of your brain’s amazing ability to focus and leave multitasking to people who want to look busy without actually accomplishing much.
It seems obvious, but few people do it! Get rid of excess stuff (think of all the time and effort you sacrifice to make the money you need to store, insure, care for and repair your possessions, even the ones you don’t use). Simplifying your home immediately frees up some time – less trips to the hardware store for parts; less cleanup; less maintenance. What a relief! Eliminate social obligations that don’t put a smile on your face. If you have even a slight twinge of resentment about showing up to do your part at some function, don’t commit. You’re not doing anyone a favor by being a warm body wishing you were somewhere else. It’s better to bow out gracefully.
Instead of an overwhelming to-do list, create a “daily hit list.” What makes you feel productive? Having a clean house? Getting your calls done before noon? 20% of your actions generate 80% of your results so focus on that 20%. It’s probably only two or three tasks on any given day: it might be cleaning the kitchen; or sending a dozen emails to prospects; whatever it is, concentrated effort has a huge payoff.
4. Urgent or important?
It’s easy to get distracted, mistake “urgent” for “important” and allow daily emergencies to distract you. But, just because someone is clamoring for your attention doesn’t mean “drop what you’re doing and go take care of it!” Calmly decide which is most important and take care of that first. Drama does not equate with emergency.
5. Chunk it.
Pop quiz: will you get more done in 8 hours of steady effort or in four 30 minute microbursts? If you focus and do not allow ANY distractions for 30 minutes, you can achieve more than you could in several hours of distractions. Break up large tasks into several short microbursts of energy. If you can immerse yourself in something for even a short time, you are more productive than if you deal with constant interruptions. Not all jobs or tasks are conducive to this; however, you can still break up your big tasks into intense chunks of activity.
6. Work your rhythm.
Do demanding things when your physical and mental energy is naturally high. Your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day and you might be doing the wrong things at the wrong time – like trying to do creative writing when you’re sleepy or trying to focus on building a miniature model when you’re antsy and need to expend some energy. If possible, work with your natural rhythms. Morning people, schedule your most intense mental and physical work in the morning when you’re buzzing around like a hummingbird (while the night people glare at you balefully). Just wait… long after you have faded, night people are energized and rocking the house (or office) until the wee hours.
7. Turn off the bings, beeps, blips and buzzes.
They distract you. Schedule two or three email/voicemail-checking times during the day… and DO NOT open any non-essential email until after your hit list has been taken care of. Does your phone need to shatter your concentration with an electronic version of an 80s pop song? Turn it to silent mode when you need to focus. It will still light up and let you know someone’s calling.
8. Schedule “no-call” times.
You don’t need the distraction of personal calls. Instruct friends and family to please not call you during business hours except in case of emergency. If they can’t respect that, don’t pick up. Check the voicemail and deal with emergencies; otherwise, don’t return the call until after business hours or when you have time.
9. Take care of yourself.
Take breaks and brisk walks to restart a sluggish cardiovascular system. Eat nutritious food and snack carefully – avoid sugar, stimulants and junk food, all of which ultimately decimate your energy. You can’t be productive when you’re asleep at your desk! Get up frequently, move around, and eat foods that give you lasting energy.
What?? Yes, meditate. Sometimes, doing nothing is the most productive. Meditation opens your mind to ideas and concepts that might otherwise not come to you, or can’t make it past the filter of your logical mind. Learn how to meditate using the Silva Method. Just 10-30 minutes a day will center you, relax you, clear your thinking and intensify your ability to focus.