With only a month and a half left in the year, I’m doing a little self-reflection to see if there are any habits I want to develop for the remainder of 2016. After a few moments of thought, I realize that the biggest area where I can improve is with my personal productivity.
Working for myself has always been a dream of mine. January 1 of next year will be my 2 year anniversary of being a full-time entrepreneur. Time has gone by fast and every day I’m grateful for the experience. But one thing I’ve noticed is that with my freedom comes a bit of laxity in my work ethic. I’m not as productive as I could be. Sometimes a day will go by and I feel like I didn’t get anything done.
It’s time to change that. I’ve studied personal productivity tricks for years. In times past, I used to have ultra-productive days thanks to the tips I’ve learned from the experts. It’s time to get back to the old way of doing things. I’m ready to become that ultra-productive super achiever who has full control of her day.
The biggest reason why I’m not as productive as I can be is because I am not mastering my time. I allow the day to remain one huge blob of time versus cutting it up into smaller chunks. Time blocking is the #1 productivity tip of them all. Time blocking is basically setting aside a set amount of time to do a certain task. But here’s the thing, we can time block using small or large increments. For example, when I worked in an office, I’d divide my day into two chunks (morning and after lunch). The first half of the day would be dedicated to creative endeavors and activities that require more brainpower. After lunch, I’d do the administrative work.
That seemed to go pretty well until I learned about time logging. This is where you keep a diary-like list of everything you do with your time. I first learned of this method years ago and implemented it immediately. I printed out a timesheet broken down into 30-minute increments. Whenever I started a task, I’d write it down on my spreadsheet. This exercise was an eye opener to how much time I wasted throughout the day. I tend to jump from one task to another so things took way longer to complete. Once I started logging my time, I became hyper-aware of my actions. Time was of the essence. This method was so effective that I transitioned to using planners like this one that broke down chunks of time into 30 or 15-minute increments. These types of planners allowed me to micro manage my time. They were a huge aid in helping me achieve my Corporate America escape plan.
Planning my day in 15-minute increments is one thing, but I needed a tool that could keep me from wasting too much time on one task. Enter the kitchen timer. This adds a layer of accountability to how I manage my day. As I hear the timer ticking in the background, I’m reminded of the limited amount of time I have to get things done. In general, I allow more time to complete a task than it requires. But with the help of my trusty timer, I stay focused longer and get things done fast! I simply set it for 15 minutes and work as quickly as possible to cross an item off my to-do list. Sometimes it takes longer so I set it for another 10-15 minutes. Even if I know it’ll take an hour, I still set the timer for 15 minutes. If I’m not finished, I’ll reset it. Setting a timer for an hour allows too much time for me to get distracted. The shorter the burst of time, the better.
Another productivity hack that I love is scheduling outside appointments during the day. If I have an 11:00 am appointment, I’m more likely to wake up early and get as much done as possible before I leave the house at 10:30am. Same applies for when I set early afternoon appointments. It makes me work faster to finish early since the work day is shorter.
THE DAILY ASSESSMENT
To keep myself in line, I like to do a mid-day check in to see how things are going. If this doesn’t happen, I’ll keep heading down the same path and allow the day to go to waste. I just take a few minutes to reflect on what’s going well so far and what I need to do differently for the last half of the day. My assessment usually occurs mid-day but highly productive people also incorporate an end-of-day review. This is where you compare your actions with your intentions. How much of your to-do list did you accomplish? What do you need to do differently the next day to make it even more effective?
Lastly, I want to talk about the time when I was the most productive ever!
I didn’t employ any tools, timers, or planners. Instead, I decided to implement one strategy to the BEST of my ability. I simply practiced the art of applying FOCUSED ATTENTION to everything I did. My biggest productivity flaw is multitasking. I’m always jumping from one thing to another. At any given moment, I have dozens of tabs open on my laptop. It’s a serious time waster.
One day I told a friend that I would force myself to stay on task with everything I did. Anytime I had the urge to switch tasks, I resisted it. Or, if I found myself distracted, I’d quickly get back on course. This experiment lasted several weeks. I vividly remember calling my friend and telling her how blown away by what I was able to achieve simply by staying focused on one task. Everything in my life seemed to flourish. And results came easily. It required a lot of mental effort so eventually, I slipped back into the old ways of doing things.
I have to reintroduce practicing Focused Attention in my day. The results produced by this habit exceeded all of my expectations. This, coupled with my 15-minute appointment calendar will totally transform my level of productivity once and for all.