I procrastinate. I make excuses. I watch a lot of Grey’s anatomy and I’m way too partial to an afternoon nap. But somehow, in between all that, I can be pretty damn productive.
So today I’m sharing 3 simple things that have been complete game changers for me – and I hope they work for you too!
Let’s get to it:
1. PRIORITISATION IS EVERYTHING
While I’ve always loved writing to-do lists (what better way to procrastinate?) I used to write really, really shit ones.
They were too long, too unrealistic and, quite honestly, filled with useless tasks that I knew I’d never get to anyway.
But I’ve finally figured it out: if you want to be productive prioritise the stuff that counts.
I know this might not seem like much of a revelation but trust me – it is. This little piece of wisdom is what differentiates the busy people from the productive people (and just so you know, being busy isn’t what you’re aiming for).
Take when I was applying for finance internships last summer.
Sure, I was busy. I spent two whole days chained to my desk – pouring over my CV just to make sure every word, every bullet point was absolutely perfect. Every sentence was critiqued, re-arranged and critiqued again. Thesaurus.com quickly became my best (and only) friend.
But I wasn’t productive.
After the first two hours it was just procrastination masquerading as perfectionism.
Even though I knew I would feel better about myself if I submitted a ‘perfect’ CV I completely wasted my time. I should have been researching companies so my cover letter actually sounded like I knew what the hell I was talking about and finding out about upcoming network events.
But I did none of that – instead I tried on 18 synonyms for the word ‘efficient’.
So that’s what not to do. Here’s what I started doing instead:
HOW TO DO IT
There is one major thing to keep in mind with prioritisation and it’s pretty simple:
Prioritise according to outcome, not emotion.
We naturally prioritise the tasks we feel like doing but almost always they aren’t the ones that we should be doing (the ones that get big results).
Here’s how I figure out what to do:
- Write a to-do list for the day
- Immediately cross off any tasks that aren’t worth their time (big effort, small result). Hint: there will always be at least one task on your list that you don’t really need to do. Be ruthless; cut as much as you can.
- Identify your first priority. If there was only one task you could accomplish today what would you want it to be? Choose a task that will move you forward and, if possible, choose a task that will yield disproportionate results (where doubling your effort will more than doubles your result).
- Work on this task until it is ‘good enough’ and then STOP.
- Identify your next priority using the same criteria as before. Work on it until it is ‘good enough’.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5
You don’t need to spend 3 hours changing the colour of a button on your blog. You don’t need to spend 3 hours doing a reading for uni if you can’t even remember what the hell it was about 10 minutes after you’ve finished. You don’t need to spend 3 hours on thesaurus.com for anything, ever.
I’m not perfect. I don’t always pick the right tasks to prioritise (and I have spent 3 hours on thesaurus.com before…) but being productive is just like everything else – you need to find what works for you and it’ll take a bit of playing around to get there.
But you will get there.
Once you’ve figured out what’s actually worth your time you can start becoming a productivity ninja by batching tasks.
The good news is you probably already know how to do this – batching is just when you group similar tasks together and perform them at the same time. But if you really want to be productive you need to find as many opportunities to batch as possible (and I’m not just talking about doing weekly meal prep on Sunday night).
Batching increases focus and decreases distraction and this simple little trick can save you a heap of time in almost every area of your life.
Here’s how I do it:
- Start taking notice of the tasks that you perform multiple times across the day/week (like checking your email, preparing meals, making phone calls, texting, social media, studying)
- Determine whether these tasks are urgent or important. Urgent tasks demand your immediate attention but usually aren’t important (like watching Grey’s – so sad). Important tasks are the tasks that have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals (i.e. the kind of tasks we talked about up above).
- Batch important tasks together and complete them in blocks (use the Pomodoro Method below)
- Stop doing tasks that are urgent but not important as much as possible
3. THE POMODORO METHOD
The Pomodoro Method is the icing on the cake.
I heard about this one while listening to an entrepreneurship podcast but it’s nothing new.
Here’s what to do:
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set a timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the timer sounds
- Take a short break (5 minutes or so)
- Every 4 ‘pomodors’ (set of 25 minutes) take a longer break
- BAM – you’re productive
I’ve found that this works so well for me – especially when I’m studying. I really struggle to concentrate for longer than about 15-20 minutes so 25 minute blocks are ideal for me.
But play around with it. If 25 minute blocks don’t work for you make them a little longer, or shorter.
By the way, it’s called the pomodoro method because the guy who thought this up was Italian and his timer was shaped like a tomato. True story.
One important thing to remember
You will probably never feel as productive as other people look.
I’m not saying that to be discouraging. I’m saying that because those other people usually don’t feel as productive as they look either.
This is generally just what happens when we compare how we feel on the inside with how others look on the outside. Just be wary of it. There isn’t some secret that everyone knows that you don’t.
One more thing:
From my experience, productivity kind of comes in waves. Don’t fight it, embrace it. When you feel a slump in productivity have a break and don’t feel guilty about it. No one always feels productive.
Get started now
Just take one thing from this post and implement it today. Play around with it. Figure out what works for you. Then come back and take another.
What about you?