I’m going to be really honest with you all for a moment: I never thought I’d be giving advice on how to be more productive. Historically, I have been known to be a professional procrastinator. I get distracted very easily and tend to avoid doing tasks that are less fun until I have absolutely no choice but to get them done.
While this might have worked for me a few years ago when I had few responsibilities, today my life is much different. My daily routine has become more demanding and my work and social calendars compete to take up every second of my life. Before you say it, I promise I’m not complaining one bit. You know me and I love to be constantly on the go! Well, I love it now because I can handle it better now than I ever could before.
I used to get overwhelmed extremely easily. If something popped up in my day that was out of the norm, it would throw my entire flow off and I’d be frazzled. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my days where I just can’t seem to get it together. However, I’ve learned to manage those days better and create habits that help me to start off right and carry that energy through the entire day.
Wake the hell up.
In the morning, I mean. Look, I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too! It’s so easy to just hit the snooze in the morning and get those eight extra minutes of sleep (side-note: why is it 8 minutes? Is there some sort of science behind that? I need answers.)
Here’s how my mornings used to go. I set my alarm for 6:15 AM, but I never got out of bed at that time. I would hit the snooze once, twice, sometimes even three times before I would roll out of my comfy sheets and start putting myself together. If each snooze session is roughly 8 minutes long (for whatever reason) that’s 21 minutes of extra sleep I’d get in the morning. It’s also 21 minutes of my day that I wasted by not waking up when I should have!
I’m not saying you need to hop out of bed the second your alarm goes off and start saving the world. You need a few minutes to come out of dreamland and bounce back to reality. I get it. However, can you imagine the little things you could accomplish if you had an extra 20 minutes a day? Maybe you could actually make a healthy smoothie in the morning, instead of grabbing a Poptart on your way out of the house. Maybe you could do some light yoga to get your day started? Either way, getting out of bed the first time your alarm goes off can get your day started quicker and give you more time to get little tasks done.
My typical work attire is whatever is clean, comfy, and readily available when I zombie walk over to my closet every morning. Most offices in today’s society are much more casual than they were in the past. There was a time where a businessman wouldn’t be caught dead in their office without a full suit and tie on. And businesswomen? Forget about it. Not only were we expected to wear business skirt sets and heels, a full face of makeup and hair precisely styled were practically mandatory.
Thankfully, those days are long gone. Today, a lot of people work from home and never have to see anyone, so those people can work naked for all anyone cares. Then there are folks like me, who still have to report to a building to work but aren’t required to dress to the nines. Jeans and a t-shirt are about as formal as it gets in my office. But I’ve noticed that the days I dress up, even just a little bit, I feel better and am much more productive.
According to Forbes, there’s definitely some truth to the theory that what you wear while working affects productivity. However, the type of clothing doesn’t seem to have the same productive effect on everyone. For example, Mark Zuckerburg wears the same plain, casual clothes to work every single day. He says that dressing down helps him to focus on the important stuff, therefore being more productive. On the other hand, digital marketing entrepreneur Tim Kitchen insists on wearing professional clothing even when he works from home. He says that he feels more professional when wearing professional clothing, therefore more productive and able to focus on work easier.
That’s why this tip is titled “dress intentionally” and not “dress professionally.” For me, putting a little thought into my outfit or doing my hair or makeup before work makes me feel better and work better at work. This is a pattern I have noticed in myself, and have begun to take advantage of. However, this might not work for you! You might work best when you’re comfortable in yoga pants and a huge t-shirt. You might work best wearing a suit and tie. The way you dress as it correlates to your work is entirely subjective. Figure out what to wear that will make you feel and work your best, and then go with that!
Take a damn break.
If you just gasped at this tip, you’re exactly the type of person that needs to hear what I’m about to say. Take a break. As easy as it can be some days to just sit at your desk for 8 hours straight without getting up, you’re doing much more harm than good. As humans, we need a little stimulation to keep our minds sharp.
I used to never take a lunch break. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t sit at my desk for 8 hours straight every day. I would get up and talk to my coworkers and of course, take mini social media breaks as we all do (don’t lie to yourself.) But for the most part, I was in my office staring at my computer from 8 AM until 5 PM. I started taking breaks that took me outside of the office. I would go home for lunch or go for a walk around the mall. I just needed a break from the routine, and guess what? It helps me so much.
I can notice a tangible difference in not only my productivity but my energy levels on the days I don’t take a break versus the days I do. The days I don’t take breaks, my brain feels like mush by quitting time. Sometimes that feeling lingers into the next day, which creates a chain of weird, unproductive days. No bueno.
If you don’t have the privilege of leaving your office at some point during the day, take a moment and go outside. Get up from your desk, and enjoy a moment in the fresh air. I promise it will make a difference in your day.
Lists, lists, lists.
Okay, so I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I know I go overboard on the whole ‘list’ thing. I constantly write lists. I mean, constantly. I have four notebooks that stay on my desk all the time with lists, notes, and ideas. I keep another notebook in my car so I can take notes when listening to podcasts (which I realize is very unsafe, thank you.) My planner is actually two planners and two calendars, one at home and one at work. Oh, and if for whatever reason I’m away from all of those things, I have several lists in my notes on my phone.
Yeah, I know.
You don’t have to take your list-making to this extreme. This is just how I work and how I make sure I don’t miss a single thing. This process works for me, but it definitely won’t work for everyone. But, not every list taking experience needs to go quite this far.
My list-making obsession started off as a way for me to compile my thoughts into one place. I get scatterbrained at times and would begin a project and then get sidetracked and start something else and end up not accomplishing anything. It’s also helpful for keeping track of ideas. If I hear something on the radio that strikes me or I’m dealing with a situation at work and I have a great idea, I immediately write it down. I can’t always address these ideas when they come to me, so writing them down gives me a chance to get it out of my brain and go back to it later.
Creating lists is my way of keeping myself accountable for the things I need to do. Plus, its extremely satisfying to cross tasks off a list. Try it yourself! Start keeping a small notebook with you, like these, and write down things throughout your day to help you stay on track.
Keep a schedule.
In addition to my endless lists, I have quite a few planners, schedules, and calendars that help me keep my life together. You probably already have some sort of calendar or planner situation. Most people do. Its how they utilize this resource that matters.
Most people use their calendars to keep track of holidays, birthdays, and important events. While my calendar is full of those things, it is also full of silly projects and tasks that I want to get done by certain dates. I create deadlines on myself for various tasks and goals I make.
I keep a schedule of when and what I post on my blog. Around the holiday season, I might share a post about how to make amazing gingerbread cookies or how to keep Christmas magical into adulthood. During the summer, I might post something about how to beat the heat without breaking the bank or some of the best summertime travel destinations. These posts are all scheduled according to when I want them to go live. I write them down in advance, and make sure that they’re finished before my deadline.
I used to do this a lot when I was in college too. The first week of the semester I’d sit down with all of my syllabi and create a master personal schedule of all the assignments I needed to complete for the entire session. While this might have been a time consuming task, it made it so freaking easy to see what I needed to complete and when. I was even able to get ahead in a lot of my classes by completing multiple assignments in my schedule at a time.
Get the tough stuff out of the way first.
This is something I started doing when I began working full time in my family’s business (more on that another day.) Every day I would come into work and get started on a routine I had fallen into. I would do all the things I had to get done for the day first, and then move on to menial tasks. While this might sound like the best way to do it, I found myself neglecting those little “speed bump” tasks that pop up unexpectedly. AKA, the stuff I really didn’t want to do.
Remember when I said I was a professional procrastinator? This is what I was talking about! I would constantly put off calling a customer, checking up on something, or replying to an email because I just didn’t want to be bothered. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, therefore I waited until I had put it off for too long and was forced to confront the task.
This was getting me nowhere.
That’s when I decided I needed to change my habits. I would start my day with the annoying stuff. Once I got those little tasks out of the way, I was free to work on the everyday tasks that I had down to a science. Not only did this make me more productive, it actually made my days better because I wasn’t stressing about tasks I knew I had to do but didn’t want to do.
Keep your space organized.
If any of my coworkers are reading this they are probably laughing their ass off right now. My desk is hardly ever a tidy space. I have papers, binders, highlighters, pens, and of course all my notebooks we talked about earlier, all over the place. Sometimes I take a step back and am like, “WOW. How does anything get done here?”
But seriously, don’t you just feel better when your space is organized? Whether you work from home, have an office, or just a tiny desk among your coworkers. Your space should be tidy enough that you can work efficiently.
I recently brought a small file cabinet from home to my office. My desk doesn’t have drawers and the bookshelf I have was slowly starting to overflow with random stuff. The file cabinet gives me a place to put all my papers, binders, and highlighters. My notebooks are still on my desk for easy access in case I get a brilliant idea. The file cabinet has totally transformed my workspace and made me feel like I have more desk space to work.
Anyways, those are my few tips on how to be more productive. Now, let me know what your tips are in the comments! Until next time, folks!