Do you find yourself thinking, “How can I get more things done?”
You’re not alone. These thoughts especially crop up when we’re overwhelmed, tired, and stressed. It’s like a seesaw, trying to find the ideal balance – how can we do less and achieve more? Let’s break it down on each side so you can figure out how to find your best equilibrium.
Ways to Do Less – Productive. Not Busy!
Figure out where your time is actually going.
People often think they know where their time is going, but can you replay the last 24 hours from memory, hour by hour? Probably not and that’s totally understandable. This is where tracking comes in handy.
Track your next 24 hours, starting right now. Write down or type in an app what you spend your time doing.
Did you surf blogs like this one for an hour? Two hours in spurts throughout the day?
How much time did you actually end up watching those Game of Thrones episodes?
Did anything surprise you about your day?
Was this a typical day?
The simple act of reflection on tracking helps you get ready for the days ahead of you.
Think of a small tweak you can make. Don’t aim to “perfect” your schedule immediately. Make slow and steady progress. Maybe instead of spending 3 hours on Facebook, try to aim for 2 hours instead. See how it goes for a week.
If you make that one, small change, we’re already talking about reclaiming 5-7 hours of your week! It adds up quickly, doesn’t it?
The more you track, the better you’ll get at seeing the overall patterns.
I know I need to do difficult tasks in the morning, when my brain is fresh and energy is high. Repetitive and easy tasks need to happen in the afternoon. You may find you have the opposite pattern.
Maybe you realize you get the same distraction every Monday morning like clockwork and it throws off your whole morning. Recognizing it allows you to make changes in preparation for the following Monday. One thing I see it all the time with my coaching clients is,
Small changes can really be big game changers for people!
Assess what you don’t actually have to do.
I hereby give you permission to not do everything for everyone all the time.
Yep, I said it. Now do you believe me? If you need more inspiration that you don’t need to do everything, especially if you’re a busy mom, check out Tiffany Dufu’s book, Drop the Ball. She discusses making lists of tasks that you think only you can do and then stepping back to see if that’s really true.
Delegating and outsourcing tasks can feel overwhelming, so be sure to seek out others who are doing it well.
If you struggle with making change on your own, I highly recommend working with a coach to commit to following through on making improvements. Delegation has many levels to it and there are always ways to improve your systems. I recently discovered the joy of outsourcing personal tasks like meal planning and organizing digital photos. I was spending entirely too much time doing it myself and I wasn’t even enjoying that time!
Sometimes doing less means saying “no” to new opportunities.
Many of us overlook this as a way to do less. I know I struggle with saying no when a new, shiny opportunity comes along. “Why yes, I would like to work on that new project!” Sometimes I instantly regret it. Other times I only start to regret it when I’m in the middle of the project.
The solution – don’t leap into the immediate yes. Tell someone you’ll get back to them before you commit.
You need to look at your schedule and evaluate how saying yes to something new will change your priorities. Are you saying yes because you want to avoid working on an older project that is tougher? Or are you trying to please someone important? Taking the time to pause and reflect before you say yes can make a world of difference for your time.
Yes, you can do less and be more effective!
And it’s FREE too!
Achieving More – Are you a Goal Digger?
How can you get more done on a regular basis?
Just like tracking was such a foundational step for doing less, there’s a basic bedrock for achieving more.
Take the time to really think about what you want to accomplish within a specified time range.
I love this activity, so I regularly do it for the year, quarter, month, and week. I recommend starting with the quarter if this practice is new to you.
Ask yourself – in the next 90 days, I want to:
Change something in my family life?
Improve my physical or mental health?
Fast-track my career trajectory?
Add other or more specific areas that are relevant to your life, like spirituality, nutrition, the way you parent, sleep habits, etc. With a specific 90 day goal, then you can start to work backwards on what needs to happen to accomplish that goal. You have three months to make the change. As you list out the smaller tasks that lead to the goal – is it realistic? Do you actually need six months instead of three months to achieve that goal? Break it down into manageable chunks.
Keep an eye out for barriers when you’re trying to achieve more
I’m a professor, so my calendar follows an academic pattern. I have more time in the summer to accomplish big goals and I have very little time in the last quarter of the year (October, November, and December). Instead of trying to fight these patterns to achieve more, I plan accordingly. I’m very strategic about what I want to get done in each of those “seasons” of my life.
Does your life follow a set of patterns? Have you been able to figure out which times of year are more productive for you than others? Wanting to start a running habit outside for your physical health might not make that much sense if you have a cold, snowy January.
Recognizing the roadblocks helps prevent you from making goals that are too big or don’t make sense with your lifestyle.
Let’s say you’ve made it to the point where you have a specific goal and dedicated time to work on it. You’re ready to conquer the world and achieve more! You’ve thought of all the ways that you can make it happen. But then you sit down to your computer and get distracted by an email that comes in. Or a text message. Or a child needs attention right now. There are so many distractions that pop up when we are trying to achieve more in our lives. Can you minimize those distractions?
Ideas to minimize distractions:
Keep your phone in an entirely different room.
Go to a new location where no one can distract you, if it’s possible.
Download apps that can help you do this.
designed to help you limit your time on social media.
Set a timer to keep yourself focused on the task at hand.
You may be thinking, “Oh, I don’t get distracted that much.” But that’s probably not being honest with yourself. Cal Newport, Ph.D. talks about these issues extensively in his book titled, Deep Work. It’s my favorite resource for reminding me how important it is to avoid distractions so I can achieve more in my day.
Achieving more is also strengthened by an accountability partner
Can you find someone who has the same goal as you do? Is there a colleague or a new friend in a Facebook group that can help you stay accountable? Experiment with a system that works for the both of you. Do you want to check in daily or weekly? Do you want them to encourage you no matter what or be strict about their praise on your progress?
As you find new tools and resources to help you minimize distractions and achieve more, it’s important to remember that you can always iterate and continue to try new things.
Often people ask me what is my ONE strategy or ONE tip for being super productive. But it really isn’t about ONE thing or tool. I’m always trying new ways to be more productive. Sometimes the new thing sticks for decades and sometimes I give up on it immediately. I don’t view it as failure, I view it as experimenting.
Constantly experiment with finding what works for you
I do this all the time and find it very effective. And that doesn’t stop just because I help others with purposeful productivity. I highly recommend continuing to try new things after you implement some of these tips. Revisit something you tried once and gave up on too. Maybe this new season of your life is ready for that resource. It doesn’t usually hurt to try.
So what’s your next step on your purposeful productivity path?
Tell us below in the comments so we can learn from each other as we all strive to balance the seesaw on the playground of life. I’m looking forward to hearing what works for you!
This is a great read. I think I need to really sit back and take a look at my daily structure to see if I can improve on it at all. I bet I can!
Nice reading about your experiences and the fact that you are enjoying life to the fullest with these nice and smart tips to enhance productivity.
Learning how to say ‘no’ is a great achievement for me I’d say and totally liberating!
this is one habit i have happily adapted to. hittimg all of the important things first matters
These are some great tips especially when it comes to figuring out what tasks hold the most importance to complete. I have been pushing off new opportunities as a way to complete tasks that are already nearing due dates and it has removed some of that additional stress from my everyday tasks. Great article.
Goal digger haha love it! And also the ‘Assess what you don’t actually have to do’ one. Both of those definitely lead in to the are you just busy or are you actually being productive. Eye opener!
That’s right, I’m a goal digger. LOL I love the efficiency checklist. These are all great tips.
Thanks, Lisa! I love that term – goal digger! 🙂
I really needed these tips. I feel like I’m constantly overwhelmed trying to achieve everything and overdoing everything!
So glad you found these tips helpful, Tiara! That’s why I’m on a mission to share tips like these – we don’t need to feel overwhelmed and overdoing everything! Keep me posted on your progress. 🙂
Thanks for the great tips I really need to sit back and start thinking about this.
Great, Jia! Of course, I recommend having someone hold you accountable. Send me a note if you need one-on-one help! 🙂
These are such helpful tips. I particularly like the one about figuring out where your time goes. Will be using these!
Excellent, Lucy – keep me posted on where your time is going!
Great tips – I think achieving and having certain goals in your life is so important. Sometimes saying yes to the opportunities you find are great, but at the same time you should learn when to say no as well.
Thanks, Claire! Saying no to new opportunities can be a challenge, but so worth it!
I love the tip of learning to say No. You don’t have to be the one that always says Yes. It took me years to figure that out, and I still struggle with it occoasionally!! You have some great insight on this article!! Thanks for posting
Thanks, Sandy! I still struggle with it too, sometimes, but it’s so powerful! 🙂
You are so right! We need to constantly tweak what works for us. There is no right answer. It’s just its difficult to prioritize time management when there is so much that demands your time besides work too- family, friends etc…
Absolutely, Avery! Finding that balance can be tricky, but making those small changes to one area at a time can really add up quickly.
I love the fact that you separated the difference between productive and busy! Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t understand that. But thanks for sharing your tips, I I will be putting these to good use.
Thanks, Nicole! Keep me posted on how it works for you!
Very very Timely. Thanks for penning these!
Thanks, Ana – keep me posted on how it helps you! 🙂