Whether you’re trying to accomplish personal or professional goals, many of us struggle to meet those goals. Since we’ve attempted to move on since the pandemic, I’ve noticed that many of us seem to be struggling with getting our lives “back” in order. It seems that our attention is divided and our focus is constantly being pulled in different directions so we’re never quite able to sit and get the things done that we need to get done.
Even as I try to write this post I am bouncing between the writing of it and weekly planner sheets I designed to try and share it with you but as I bounce between these two activities they both suffer. Neither one is getting my full attention so it’s actually taking me longer and I’m doing a poor job with both of them instead of telling myself to focus on one task, finish it, and then I can focus on the other. So here I am trying to focus on the top five tips I’ve found helpful to make the most out of the time I have to get $hit done.
- Prioritize tasks — one of the things I’ve realized that keeps me from maximizing my productivity is that I think all tasks are equally important and deserve to be treated as if they are the most important thing to do. This is a fallacy that keeps me from getting things done in the best way possible. All tasks are not created equal — some are big and time consuming, some are small and time consuming, some are big and don’t really take a lot of time, and so on. By treating all of the tasks on your to-do list with the same weight it feels like there is a lot more on your plate than what’s really true. By prioritizing or categorizing tasks based on their importance and their time commitment you can get things done in a way that matches your energy availability and time to spend to get the most bang for your productivity buck.
- Use time-blocking — Time-blocking is a method where you block out your calendar in such a way to maximize your time. Once you’ve prioritized your tasks based on how important they are and how much time they’d take up you can put them into your time-block and work on them. I explore that more in this post where I talk about how I’ve divided my preps up into creating new content and grading (the two most important and time consuming tasks for any teacher). By using my prep to focus on just one of those things at a time I get more done because I’m not switching gears and my brain isn’t getting lost in the process. (Just like telling myself to stop trying to share the weekly planner designs so I can actually WRITE the post).
- Take breaks — We have been conditioned to just WORK, work through the block, work through the need to pee, just keep going but the research shows that breaks can be just as important for creative and critical thinking as well as overcoming roadblocks. I personally really love the Pomodoro Technique where you work for a set period of time (I generally use twenty minutes in class) and then take a five minute break. I discuss this technique more in this post. Some of the students don’t take the break but you can see the ones who’s focus is about to crash at the end of the twenty minutes and the relief when they get their breaks. It also generally keeps them off their cell phones because they know the opportunity is coming which leads me to number 4….
- Eliminate distractions — We like to believe that we can multitask but the reality is every time your attention switches from one activity to the next you have to mentally reorient yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean listening to music or other background noise (although when I write I prefer lo fi beats on Spotify so the lyrics of the music aren’t competing with the words I want on the page) but don’t try to do too much at once. As you switch from task to task without ever finishing one, it gets harder and harder to keep each one straight; focus on what you’re trying to do until you’re done.
- Learn to say no — One of the problems I see with a lot of people is that they try to do too much or agree to too many things (or their kids). There was a period of time when all humans did was facilitate survival (hunt, gather, farm) and rest. Meals could be slow social affairs, we sat around fires telling stories, and just generally being with each other. In today’s modern world of go-go-go we’ve lost these moments and by saying no you might be able to bring some more of those moments back which help us recharge and be ready to tackle another problem on another day.
Being productive doesn’t mean having to work all the time, and I’d argue that we shouldn’t work all the time. I know I’ve felt like a confused, distracted mess who can’t get anything done because I’m often trying to do too many things at once. By prioritizing tasks, using time-blocking, taking breaks, eliminating distractions, and saying no when I had to I’ve become more efficient with my time which allows me to work smarter, not harder. These tools allow me to get more done when I need to so I can have more time for the fun things I want to do.