Productivity isn’t sexy. Neither is running around like a chicken with its head cut off (which I learned, there’s some truth to that expression.)
Since stepping into my first corporate job as a management consultant, I’ve been obsessed with productivity. I’d ask myself when approaching every task, “Is there a way I could do this better or faster?”
Even now, as a copywriter, I’m always looking for ways to get stuff done for my writing clients while balancing the writing I want to do for myself in the best way.
The 40-hour workweek has always pissed me off. Why do I need to trade exactly 40 hours of my time for a paycheck when I can do what’s expected of me and more in 30 hours? It’s not that I rushed through my work; I just make sure I’m putting the right level of focus on the tasks that matter.
The ultimate goal of productivity might appear to be ticking stuff off my to-do list, but at the heart of it, it’s about building a body of work I’m proud of.
Humans were designed to work. This is not a list of productivity “hacks” (can we stop using this word, please?) Rather, it’s a list of some unsexy ways to get stuff done.
Wake up early. If it’s your jam. I’m the most focused in the morning before other demands have started clamoring for my attention.
Wake up knowing what you need to do. Sitting at your computer staring at your calendar then planning the stuff you need to do is the backward way of doing it. Plan what you need to accomplish the night before, and wake up ready to dive in.
Priority to-do lists. No matter how long your project list is, there are projects that take priority. These are the ones that move your life forward. Sit down and list out all the things you need to get done each day, then, write a list of 3-5 of the most important things to do first. The things that will leave you feeling content when you go to bed tonight knowing they’re done.
Sticky notes. Take your top 3-5 tasks for each day and write them on a sticky note. When the day is over, trash your note, and then write tomorrow’s list.
Own your calendar. Block periods of time on your calendar when you need to focus. For me, this means blocking Monday’s and Fridays and each morning. Clustering phone calls together when possible is a great way to save your creative energy.
Schedule your time. If I know I have 20 hours of client work to do in an upcoming week; I plan those 20 hours. Same for writing a blog post, I plan that time each week. It’s on my calendar like a commitment.
Check your email a few times a day. I know this one is hard. I love inbox zero. We love the satisfaction of seeing a new email in our inboxes. When you spend a few focused minutes answering emails, you get to experience life outside your email.
Turn off notifications. When you’re focused on a task, turn off email notifications, instant messaging, and anything else that will interrupt your focus. Even if you don’t check new messages as they arrive, just knowing it’s there takes your focus away for a few seconds.
Introduce rituals. I give some examples of rituals here. Like having a particular playlist for each type of work, or when you sit down with your morning rocket fuel, you know exactly what task you need to do without thinking about it too much.
Slack off. Yes, build time into your day to take breaks. Even if it’s five minutes to listen to music, stare out the window, or watch penguin videos, you’re giving your brain a break so you can come back to your work refreshed.