Have you ever struggled with productivity and felt that you are no longer able to reach your goals? Are you worried about not making enough progress? Do you wonder how to be productive without burning out? Many of my clients have asked themselves these questions more than once and the truth is that there is no magical solution to being productive, it just takes some good habits and discipline.
Most of the entrepreneurs I work with are high achievers. They are doers and problem-solvers. If something important has to be done, they go for it. No excuses. This type of entrepreneur won’t settle. They are never fully satisfied with their accomplishments and often will look for a new mission as soon as they have accomplished their previous one. They don’t take a “no” for an answer, they hustle until they get what they want. High achievers really value their time and they don’t like to waste it. That is why being productive throughout the day is extremely important for them. And getting distracted is something they need to avoid at all costs. Can you relate?
So how can we maximize our time without having to work long hours every day and eventually burn out? (life-work balance anyone?)
The key is to understand that our brain can’t operate at peak performance all day long. So that is why we need to “trick” our brain to work in our favor.
Today I want to share with you 3 productivity techniques that I use for myself and that I have seen my clients implementing successfully. By following them you will be more likely to reach your goals and to feel accomplished by the end of the day.
PRIORITIZE LIKE YOU MEAN IT
Every night before going to sleep make a list of all the things you have to tackle tomorrow. Write down every single thing. This will free up the unnecessary space in your brain that you are using trying not to forget what has to be done tomorrow. You can use an agenda, a fancy planner or a notebook. My advice is: do not open the computer. Write it down in a paper. Being in front of a screen before going to sleep will tell your brain: “Hey! we are still working here”. You won’t be able to relax and it will be harder to fall asleep.
Once you have your to-do list for tomorrow, go through every single item. Let them sink in. Now ask yourself: “If I could only do one task tomorrow, which one would it be?”. Pick something that it is important AND urgent. A task that you absolutely have to get done tomorrow. You may not like it very much, but it has to be done.
Highlight that task or write a number 1 next to it. That’s your main focus for tomorrow. If you manage to finish that task, you would have had a successful and productive day. Depending on how big task number 1 is, you can also pick one or two more. Make sure you break down your big tasks into smaller ones or actionable steps. If you can delegate some of them, by all means, do so!
The key is to prioritize, not to try to do everything. There will always be items on your list that won’t get done and that you will have to tackle the day after. And you know what? That’s ok! As I said before, our brain is not able to focus for the whole day. So better get the urgent and important tasks out of the way first.
USE THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
Have you ever heard of it? The Pomodoro technique is a time management method that was invented in the 80s and it is widely used by software developers.
This is how it works:
- Pick a task you need to work on. It doesn’t matter if it is big or small.
- Set your timer for 25min. You must not be interrupted during this time.
- Work on your task for 25min.
- Once the timer rings, take a 5min break.
- Every 4 Pomodoros (chunks of 25min) take a long break of 20min.
Many people use this technique but not many people take proper breaks. Once is time for your 5min break, make sure to stand up and walk around. It is by moving that we can better unwind and relax our brain. Movement is everything. Plus you will be helping your body not to feel so tight after the day. Your joints need movement and taking short walks will dramatically improve your physical health. If you’ve been working in front of the computer for a few years now without taking proper breaks, you may have experienced back or knee pain. This happens because we are not moving enough. If your body hurts, you will not be able to work at full capacity.
During your breaks, try to avoid screens. If you are waiting for something important, have a quick look at your phone and then put it back down. Then go back to your walk, go to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee (or tea if you are like me). The more breaks you take, the longer your concentration will last. This is how we “trick” our brain into working for a bit longer and with focus. Less is more. It may seem counterproductive at the beginning, but if you want to be more productive, you need more breaks. Your brain will thank you.
Instead of a timer, I use the Marinara Chrome extension. You get the Pomodoro timer in your toolbar and it’s highly customizable. Click here to check out the details and add it to your Chrome –> Marinara Pomodoro Assistant
HAVE A ‘TO-DON’T’ LIST AND A ‘DONE’ LIST
It is a great productivity strategy to have a To-Do List to guide our focus during the day but it is also important to have a To-Don’t List. In this list, you will include things that suck your energy and waste your time, but that somehow you still keep doing them. This list is complementary to your To-Do List, because how are you going to tackle important and urgent tasks if you are getting distracted by things you should not be doing?
Some items that you can include in your To-Don’t List are:
- Do not check emails in the morning. This is when your brain is fresher and when you can do more creative and complicated tasks. Your emails will distract your attention. Believe me, they can wait.
- Do not check social media in the morning. What’s the point? Do you really want to start your day by looking at how others are allegedly having the life of their dreams, traveling and doing all the cool things while you have to get to work? Don’t sabotage yourself.
- Avoid meetings at all costs. Meetings are generally a waste of time. One meeting a week should be enough to catch up with your team. Use online communication tools to Slack to get updates from them.
You can also include more “personal” items such as:
- Don’t interrupt people while they are talking.
- Always assume good intentions.
- Give honest feedback.
The third list you can create for yourself is the Done List. This is especially effective if you have a tendency to not give yourself enough credit for your accomplishments.
This comes from the book “The Progress Principle“. They found in their research that the biggest motivator on the job is making progress in meaningful work. The problem is that we often don’t remember what progress we’ve made because many times we don’t keep track of it. This is why we can use a Done List.
At the end of the day, write down what you have done that day. Keep it in a notebook or somewhere else. To avoid forgetting doing this, you can use a pretty cool app called I Done This. Every day you get an email asking what you have done today so you don’t have to keep track of it yourself. The key here is to get feedback on what you are doing and establish a progress ritual of writing a Done List at the end of the day.
By doing that, you are going to feel a great sense of progress and your motivation will increase.
So that’s it! I hope that these techniques help you take better control of your day and increase your productivity levels. Do you have any other productivity tips that are working for you? Leave them in the comments below.
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