I am a sucker for productivity books, guides, blogs and speeches. I love the idea of getting more done every day – of squeezing the value out of every single second. I want to be able to hold a job, be a stay-at-home mom, cook dinner every night, read books to my kids, play the piano, take the kids to story time, garden, exercise, keep my house clean, finish Anna Karenina (the book, not the movie), watch a little TV, hang out with my husband and get enough sleep each night.
I really do want it all.
I know, I know -- you’re probably thinking “You’re crazy. There’s no way you can do all of that.”
But in my experience there IS – yes, even when your spouse is deployed and you’re doing it all alone. And yes, it can be done without burning out. And while I definitely fail some weeks (like this last one, for example), I know this can be done – because I’ve done it.
How? By following these ten rules that can help you maximize your productivity. I didn’t discover them, but they work for me. And maybe they'll work for you, too.
Know your priorities. In my experience this is the most important factor. If you don’t know what the most important things to you are each day, week and month you cannot make sure they happen. Keep this priorities list small. I find the tips laid out in the book are absolutely true – I can’t have more than two most important things in my life at a time or more than several things on the secondary priorities list. The most important ones are the things I need to get done in order to be able to accomplish the secondary goal. Keeping them is the key to everything else.
Confused? An example of a priority on the short list could be getting enough sleep. An example of a secondary priority could be cooking dinner every night. If all else fails, you can order a pizza. But your whole day may go to the dogs if you don’t get enough sleep. One is a nice to have, the other is key to thriving.
Get enough sleep. As you probably guess from the above example, this is one of my top two priorities. I find that it is only when I am well rested that I can focus. Even if you think you are the type of person who only needs five hours of sleep a night, try to get six anyway. I bet you’d be surprised by how much better you feel and how much more you can get done.
Do you have good sleeping intentions but just can’t get yourself into bed by a decent time? Set a bedtime and stick to it. Around here we are morning people and are in bed by 9 p.m. and up at 5 a.m. If you’re a night owl bump the schedule to the right a few hours. When you go to bed and get up is not what really matters – it’s how much sleeping you do in between.
Move your body. Exercise has been shown to increase productivity. It definitely helps me. And even if you’re not a gym rat you can still reap the benefits by simply taking a walk or spending a half hour in front of a relaxation yoga DVD. How hard is that?
Make to-do lists. I don’t care how you do it – just do it. Iphone, on the back of junk mail or in a little notebook that you haul around (my preference); if you cannot remember what needs to be done or the things you want to do when you have a spare moment, how can you do them? And even if you don’t look at the list again all day, the simple act of writing it out will help you get a handle on what’s to come. In my day lists keep me grounded.
Break down your schedule into 10 minute increments. This is a habit I keep for my busiest days. Those are the times I find the best way to make sure I get everything done is to write it all down and then schedule it all out. I do that for every task, including making breakfast for my kids, checking my email and even cruising Facebook. It may take me 10 minutes to write the schedule but that time is more than made up for during the day as I stay on task.
Even if the time you allot for a task ends up not being enough, put the task aside when time is up. You’ll finish so many other things so much faster because you are focusing on one thing at a time that you’ll probably have extra time at the end to come back to those other half-way done tasks. Again, this isn't something I do every day. I keep this habit for the days that are so jam-packed with errands, deadlines and to-dos that I’ve got to juice each minute for all it is worth.
Schedule in some fun. It’s not all work and no play here and my to-do list doesn’t just read “chop veggies, slave over SpouseBuzz, bathe children” (although those are all things regularly on it). To keep myself motivated and free from burnout I also schedule in some fun, whether that is 20 minutes with my book, 15 minutes playing the piano or 40 minutes in front of the TV. I also keep my top priority of exercising in the mix so I know I always have at least an hour mental health window several days a week. The key for making fun happen is, just like everything else, to put it on the to-do list. If I don’t I’ll get distracted with other “important” but draining tasks.
How to stay on target? Wear a watch. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the days I remember to wear a watch are twice as productive as the days I do not – but they are definitely better. There’s just something about having the time right there in front of you that makes things go that much smoother. And no, the clock on your phone doesn’t count. You need the time right where you can see it at a glance.
Keep an organized work space. Please do not think I’m telling you to clean your desk (or what Real Simple would call your “command center.”) I’m not. But I do think you should have an organization system in place that works for you. Know where to find your important pieces of paper. Be able to find a pen when you need one. Some of the messiest desks I’ve ever seen (and as a journalist I’ve seen some doozies) are also the most organized – at least according to the people who own them.
Own a calendar – and use it. This is the tip I’ve seen at work but am currently trying to implement in my own life. I cannot tell you how many appointments and deadlines I’ve almost forgotten because I’ve failed to write them down. SpouseBuzz contributor and organization queen Raleigh Elizabeth recently recommended a date book system that I’m about to start using. I know that if I can just grasp this little tip I’ll be able to harness a ton of lost time – and sanity.
Learn how to say “no.” This is another hard one for me. You want me to pick you up from the airport? Of course I can! Help you organize that event? Absolutely. Make cupcakes for the preschool class? Heck yes. But while each of those may be nice, worthy or good things – they may not be the thing I need to be doing in order to get the most out of my other priorities. While I do believe in scheduling in some helper-person time when I can, I am working on saying “no” to things that push me to the limit of reason.
What do you do to amp up the productivity in your life? Let me know in the comment section so I can add your habits to my life. Because you know I'm always looking for ways to be more productive!