At 32 years of age, I think I can finally admit that I'm a workaholic. I'm one of those people who loves what I do and gets lost in time. When I sit down to work, I can bang through hundreds of emails and look up, hours later, only to realize that I've missed something else I was supposed to do. And for a while, I thought that being busy meant that I would be successful. Still to this day, my first response to the question "How are you?" is "Busy, but I guess that's a good thing." And while I still have a long way to go, I'm learning to rehab myself into finding ways to be more productive so I don't have to be so busy.
Imagine that - a world where you can get stuff done, without always having to be "busy". So - how can one achieve this? Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.
- Schedule your email. Rather than attacking your email as it comes in throughout the day, schedule an hour in the morning, 30 mins in the afternoon and another 30 mins at night to tackle as much as you can in your inbox. Don't get bogged down in major tasks or priorities - just respond to emails.
- Move tasks to a task management system. I developed the horrible habit of using my inbox as a to-do system so it was always full of things that needed to be done. Rather than holding on to emails, respond to the email letting the sender know that you received it and when you will get the project done. Then, assign the task to yourself in a task management system (we use ToDoIst) and then set a due date.
- Speaking of task management, prioritize your tasks. First, make sure your tasks are organized by project. But within each, by priority. Then, by size. I like to tackle one or two BIG projects each morning right after I've gone through email. Then, I can manage smaller tasks throughout the day. This makes sure that I'm productive before the morning is even over.
- Take breaks. Get outside and take a walk. Call a friend. When you schedule your work, you'll have more time to take a break.
- When you feel the stress setting in, make a top 3 list. Quickly write down the top 3 things stressing you out. Then, focus on getting those things done first. This will lift the stress and help you feel in-control again.
- Share the workload. If you're really busy, hire an assistant who can help with your to-do list. You want to find someone who is great with systems and can help you think about how you can systematize the things that need to be done day in and day out so that you can share your workload.
- Make friends with your phone. I know we're all tech-ed out, but sometimes a phone call does more good than a thousand emails. If you're feeling overwhelmed by a project or task, get on the phone and work it out.
- Pursue your passions. Life is throwing a million arrows at us everyday and it's easy to get distracted by TV or a million Youtube videos. Rather than getting lost in the little distractions that take your time every day, make a list of a few things you really enjoy doing. This could be watching TV or being out with friends or simply reading a book. Then, schedule these things into your life. Build fun (and other important things like exercise) into your actual schedule so that you make time for things that will refresh you rather than getting dragged into unproductive things that will just drain you more. This also gives you something to look forward to.
- Do Not Disturb mode. If you are an Apple user, put your phone on Do No Disturb mode every once in a while, and definitely at night. Give yourself a break from the constant distractions of text messages and phone calls. Allow yourself to focus on the task at hand. Sometimes, multitasking isn't so great for your productivity levels.
- Give yourself a break. You aren't going to always be perfect. Not everything can get done in a single day. When you need to run late, just make sure you communicate as far in advance as possible. Let people know what you can or can't do, but always communicate.