Getting things done is awesome. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishing a task after putting in work, or achieving a goal after a long and laborious struggle. You feel a lot better about your work, your life, and yourself.
However, getting things done is not that easy. How many times have you promised yourself to finally start working on that secret project of yours, only to find yourself shelving it like you always do?
How many times have you tried your utmost to focus on the task at hand, only to be distracted by loud email notifications, obtrusive phone calls, unwelcome meetings, and whatnot?
How many times have you started your day with the best of intentions, only to end up lying in bed at night feeling tired and depleted, wondering why you can’t seem to get anything done?
But today is going to be different. Today is the day you roll up your sleeves, smear your face with war paint (because why not?), and finally get to work. Here are the best ways to help you be more productive and actually get things done.
1. Create a to-do list
It’s a lot easier to get things done when you know what things actually need doing. Creating a to-do list is the first step to help you be more productive and bring you closer to your goals – whatever they are – one task at a time.
A to-do list is your agenda. It is a catalog of all the tasks that you need to carry out, from daily household chores to long-term projects. While it may seem incredibly simple, a to-do list is actually a very useful tool.
When you have a lot of work to do, but so little time to do it all, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and so be paralyzed into inaction. Your to-do list helps you organize your workload and make it more manageable. In fact, just the act of writing down all the tasks that take up your thoughts can help ease the burden of an overcrowded mind.
Your to-do list helps you maximize your efficiency. Having a clear outline of all your tasks, arranged according to priority, enables you to focus your valuable time and attention on the tasks that matter most.
Your to-do list serves as an external memory aid. When you have a lot of stuff to work on, you are bound to forget some of the tasks. It happens. Your memory can only hold so much information. Having a to-do list allows you to effortlessly keep track of all your commitments, so long as you remember to look at your list!
There is more to creating a to-do list than just writing down all the stuff you plan on doing then hoping that you can cross off as many as you can. Making a to-do list is simple enough, but it can be surprising how many people fail at this part!
When outlining your agenda, aim for quality, not quantity. Don’t just list tasks for the sake of listing. Write only the tasks that are relevant and actionable. Don’t simply set down vague ideas. Be specific as much as possible. Put in the necessary time and effort to your list to ensure that it is carefully designed and properly structured.
Remember, do not unnecessarily burden – and so unwittingly overwhelm – yourself with an unreasonably high workload. If you do that, you’re only setting yourself up for failure.
Instead, make sure you prioritize your tasks. Decide what tasks are most important, those that will yield the most significant results and bring you closer to your goals. Determine what work needs to be carried out now, and what can be left for later.
Look, as much as we would like to get everything done, we simply can’t. We are human. We have limited capacity. Accepting that we can only accomplish so much at any given time is not tantamount to succumbing to our limitations, it only means we are acknowledging reality and adjusting our plans accordingly.
2. Schedule tasks
Once you have your to-do list, your next step is to schedule your time – hour, day, week, month, or even year – according to your tasks.
A schedule is essentially a timetable of your activities. It is an outline of what specific tasks you plan on doing during what time periods. It’s like a budget, though instead of money, it’s your time that you are apportioning.
There are plenty of benefits to having a schedule. Planning your activities beforehand can save you valuable time. Sticking to an already predetermined routine eliminates the need to constantly figure out what you have to do in your every waking moment. Instead of wasting time on guessing, you get straight to working.
A schedule enhances your productivity and lets you get more meaningful work done. It helps you avoid a backlog of unfinished tasks, and facilitates moving from one task to the next faster and with little difficulty. Plus, it enables you to track your progress as you work towards your goals.
A schedule gives urgency to your commitments. Setting a deadline motivates you to focus on your tasks and finish them within the set amount of time. Without a deadline, there will always be other things that will compete for your time and attention, leaving you unable to focus on – and finish – any given task.
More important, a schedule empowers you to organize not only your workload, but your overall way of living. Prudent management of your time allows you to achieve a good work-life balance, so you always have time to work towards your goals while still leaving enough for pleasure and personal development.
There are certain tips that can help you set an ideal schedule. One such tip is to know how much time each task can take up. This enables you to plan your schedule more efficiently, and see to it that you are allotting enough time to the more important tasks.
Try to plan your essential work on hours when you are most productive. Some people are more efficient in the morning, others during the night. Your body has more energy during certain times of the day, so try to schedule your high-priority tasks on those times.
Since tasks will often take more or less time than expected, it is important to make sure that your schedule is flexible. It is always a good idea to put contingency time between tasks in case of emergencies and interruptions, like a delay in a project or an unplanned last-minute task.
Keep your schedule as reasonable as much as possible. You can’t spend all your day working. You need to take short, regular breaks between tasks and during long tasks, so schedule those as well.
Remember, if time is gold, then you need to start treating it as such. You only have so many hours in a day. Make sure that they all count.
3. Break tasks into doable parts
Getting the smaller, simpler jobs done is easy enough. But what about the bigger, more complex tasks, those that demand no small amount of effort and take days, weeks, or even months to finish?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have to deal with difficult tasks. Such tasks can be hard to get started on. There seems to be endless other things that you would rather be doing, things that are smaller, simpler, and more fun. Plus you get easily distracted even by the tiniest diversions.
Faced with an intimidating and seemingly insurmountable workload, you might be paralyzed into inaction, be tempted to waste the hours procrastinating, or worse, be forced to give up.
It’s a lot easier to accomplish big tasks when you break them into smaller parts. Smaller tasks are more manageable and easier to get started on, focus on, and finish.
Plus, breaking complex activities into a series of simpler actions increases your motivation to get the work done. Because there is visible progress when you finish one small task after another, you are more inspired to keep up the momentum until you complete your main objective. Each small win you achieve motivates you to go for the overall victory.
Not all big tasks can be easily divided into smaller parts, however. For those that you can, break out the parts that logically go together. Make sure that the parts are actionable, specific, and sequentially related. Each part should take you one step closer to accomplishing your primary goal.
There are different ways to break big tasks into smaller ones. For instance, large projects spanning weeks or months can be divided into weekly or monthly milestones, with each milestone representing a significant stage of the project. You can further divide each milestone into smaller, specific steps or actions. Once you finish all the steps, you complete the milestone and move on to the next one.
Another way is to split lengthy and complex assignments according to the categories of the component tasks. For example, when planning a party, you can split tasks into categories such as food and beverage, entertainment, invitations, and whatnot. Under each category are smaller, specific steps or actions, like cooking this certain recipe and buying this bottle of wine under the food and beverage category.
You can also divide extensive tasks according to the areas where the component tasks will take place. A perfect example is when you decide to clean your house. It’s certainly a challenging prospect, especially if you have a huge house. But the work becomes more manageable if you divide it according to the sections of your house.
You can start with your kitchen, then move on to the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. Again, there are smaller, specific actions you do in each area of your house, like removing the stains from the couch and vacuuming the carpet, among others, when cleaning your living room.
4. Focus on one task at time
When you have so many things to do, but so little time to do it all, would it not make sense to work on all your tasks simultaneously? That way, you would get more work done in the same amount of time. Or would you?
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t. Multitasking – executing multiple tasks simultaneously – sounds attractive in theory, but in practice, can actually cost you valuable time, effort, and productivity.
Multitasking prevents you from directing your undivided attention to any one task. The quality of your work will suffer as a result. Because your time, effort, and energy are spread thin across multiple tasks, you end up doing a mediocre job of everything.
Multitasking reduces your efficiency. When you multitask, every task you do seems important and requires equal attention. This prevents you from committing the necessary time and effort to tasks that actually matter.
It’s easy to get distracted when you multitask. Switching back and forth between tasks means you constantly lose focus. When you get back to your original tasks, it takes no small amount of effort to refocus your brain and pick up where you last left off.
You also end up taking more time to complete your work when you multitask. Switching back and forth between tasks costs you time. You also waste time just by trying to keep track – and staying on top – of everything you do.
Besides, multitasking is stressful. Taking on too much work at once is a sure to way to get overwhelmed. It’s incredibly frustrating when your focus keeps getting interrupted as you stop your work on one task to work on another. Not only do you end up feeling more exhausted, you also end up accomplishing less.
Finally, multitasking deprives you of the joys of accomplishment. When you complete one task, you are more motivated to proceed to the next with more energy and enthusiasm. When you multitask, however, you only end up seeing a long line of half-finished tasks, which is demotivating.
A better way to be more productive and get things done is to singletask. Focusing on one task allows you to direct your undivided time, attention, and energy, which benefits the quality of your work. Singletasking allows you to work more intensely, think more creatively, and find more meaning in each task.
Staying focused is a difficult thing, however. The key is to train your mind by constantly practicing directing your attention to a single task. Start with the smaller, shorter tasks, then work towards the larger, longer tasks. It’s important to minimize distractions, and use only the tools that will actually help you in your work.
When singletasking, it’s crucial that you know how to prioritize. Not all your tasks are as important as the others. Some require more time and effort, and you need to focus first on those. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can do both important and trivial tasks simultaneously, Instead, work your way from the most important task to the least. In doing so, you spend your time and energy efficiently.
5. Remove distractions
Isn’t it frustrating how when you’re supposed to be working, there seems to be plenty of other things you’d rather be doing? There is always an endless stream of distractions vying for your time and attention. You spend a minute here, another there, and before you know it, you’ve gone through the whole day without getting anything important done!
It’s impossible not to get distracted. An email notification, a phone call, an emergency meeting, not to mention the incessant urge to check social media every few minutes or so – all these and more can easily ruin your focus and throw you off from whatever you happen to be doing.
Eliminating distractions altogether is perhaps not viable. The key is to minimize distractions whenever and wherever you can to enhance your focus and improve your efficiency.
However, reducing distractions is easier said than done. So, you need to be proactive. You cannot expect to simply happen upon a distraction-free environment conducive to productivity. You have to create it.
You can start by decluttering your workspace. It’s easy to get distracted when there are numerous unnecessary objects that can catch your attention. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed and feel suffocated when your workplace is an utter mess.
Having a chaotic workplace can cost you precious time. Nothing can slow you down more than not knowing the location of the things you need, and having to rifle and rummage through all your mess just to find whatever it is you’re looking for.
So clean up your workspace. Remove anything that is not in any way related to your work. The less objects there are to capture your attention, the less chances you’ll get distracted. Remember, if it’s out of sight, then it’s out of mind.
Keeping your workplace clean, simple, and organized helps you focus on the task at hand and so enhances your productivity. It also affords you a breathing space, literally and figuratively, which helps you feel calmer and less suffocated.
If you’re working from home, then you need to establish a proper and dedicated workspace. It should be a quiet and organized place, removed from the distractions commonplace in households. You also need to define what your working hours will be, and separate them from time you spend on doing laundry, cooking dinner, or other household chores.
It’s critical to rein in your social media usage, especially if it’s not part of your work. Social media is one of the biggest sources of distraction today. Checking out your friends’ photos on Instagram, watching a few videos on YouTube, sending out a couple of tweets and responding to some, and commenting on several posts on Facebook can rob you of valuable time and productivity.
Limit your phone usage overall. If your phone does not have anything to do with the task at hand, then keep it out of your sight and reach. Only allot time to check your phone for emergency calls and other important notifications.
6. Take breaks
It’s impossible to keep working for hours on end without taking any breaks. Your brain can only take so much before it starts to stress out and fatigue, leading to a reduced job performance and causing the quality of your work to suffer.
Contrary to popular belief, not taking breaks actually decreases your productivity. When your brain is forced to exert continuous pressure for extended periods of time, its performance eventually deteriorates. Monotonous work without scheduled interruptions causes your mind to wander and lose focus on the task at hand, which could lead to more errors.
You are more likely to suffer from mental exhaustion, leaving you overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and no longer able to meet the constant demands of your work.
Not only does skipping breaks affect your mental state, it also impacts your physical health. Sitting at your desk for too long takes a toll on your blood circulation and can distort your posture. You are also more likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Staring at your computer screen for prolonged periods can cause headaches and eyestrain, and can eventually lead to poorer eyesight.
It is important to take breaks when working. You need to take breaks between tasks, and during long tasks.
Taking regular breaks heightens your productivity. It allows your mind to rest and recuperate. Breaks reduce mental fatigue, boost brain function, refresh attention, and sustain concentration. Breaks restore your brain’s optimal performance, which leads to better decision-making and increased productivity.
Moreover, taking regular breaks enhances your creativity. When you allow yourself a breather every now and then, your mind uses the downtime to better process and consolidate information taken in – in short, your brain is trying to make sense of what it has just learned. Once refreshed, you are able to think of new ideas and creative solutions to the task at hand.
Taking regular breaks benefits your physical health as well. It affords you enough time to stand, stretch your muscles, walk around, and do some exercises to improve blood circulation and increase blood flow to the brain. It gives you a chance to rest your eyes, too. Plus, you have time to grab nourishing food or drink and ensure that you’re getting enough sustenance to keep your mind and body at peak performance.
Taking regular breaks also makes you feel happier and increases your enthusiasm for your job.
So make sure that your schedule accommodates short, regular breaks between tasks and during long tasks. Even five-minute breaks for every hour of work can do miracles and help you be more productive.
Don’t forget to take longer breaks from work, too, like a vacation or a holiday. Just like short breaks, longer breaks from work benefit your physical and psychological health, and help you achieve a good work-life balance.
7. Reward yourself
When you need to remind yourself why you work hard, thinking of your long-term goals sometimes isn’t enough. You also need to think of treating yourself every now and then.
Celebrating your triumphs, big and small, is important. For every meaningful task that you accomplish and every goal that you achieve, it’s good to reward yourself.
Rewards, however tiny, can help you stay motivated to keep working towards your goals. Rewards make it easier to stick to habits, especially when you’re developing good habits to enhance your productivity. Rewards also help reduce stress and tension, and make you feel loved and appreciated.
So don’t be too hard on yourself. Go ahead. Reward yourself when you accomplish something big and important. Take yourself out to dinner or go to the movies. Treat yourself to a vacation. You deserve it.
Just don’t overdo it, though. Otherwise, rewards lose their value and their original purpose, and rewarding yourself will actually stop helping you be more productive.
8. Plan for failure
There are days when you just can’t be productive, no matter how hard you try. Some mornings you wake up and feel too exhausted or stressed to work at all. Some days you just want to go home and lie on your bed and wonder why you can’t get any work done. It happens. And it’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
Things go wrong every now and then. So, plan for it. Plan for when things go wrong. That way, you are prepared for failure and know exactly what to do next.
Developing productivity habits take time and effort. It demands no small amount of patience and discipline. You can’t expect to be more productive overnight.
It will be a struggle, a trial-and-error. Some habits will work, some will not. You will make mistakes. You will fail. Over and over again. But that’s ok, so long as you pick yourself back up. And remember, always be kind to yourself.
Learn to love each small victory, and let it motivate you to keep struggling. Above all, learn to love the struggle – it is what moves you forward.