Are you really busy but not getting much accomplished? If you’re like me, apparently time flies when you’re Not having fun too! So, here we are in March (for crying out loud) and if you think about it, what have we done that we really wanted to do? Being productive, it turns out, is a skill that no matter how good we are at it, we can always learn to do better.
And learning we are.
Modern life and its busy culture demands that we make room for everything but “the good stuff.” But what those of us who want our lives to matter are learning is that if we let the world run us, we’ll never get to the good stuff. You will never find the time to write that book, learn that new language, start that community garden, that non-profit, or any of the amazing things that would give your life more meaning. And more meaning is what we all really want, right? Otherwise, life can feel like a series of chores with a few nice moments thrown in.
By focusing on being productive, not just busy, you and I can get to more of the good stuff. Here are 10 ways to help us make that happen.
1. Annual Scheduling
For a few years now, in the month of December, I’ve been in the habit of scheduling most of my recurring meetings all at once, and I can’t tell you how much time it saves me. I will schedule all my recurring appointments like medical checkups and even vacations all at once and for basically the same dates every year. This makes scheduling easy and by January 1st, I have a whole bunch of things checked off my to-do list.
I will schedule…
- My annual checkups around my birthday (in February).
- Dental appointments in May and November.
- The dermatologist between late April and early May.
- Spring cleaning in April.
- Gyno check-ups in September.
- Vacations in early fall.
2. Put Everything on the Calendar
One of the easiest ways to “get it done” is to put it on the calendar. I even put phone calls on the calendar. Thanks to the alerts, I remember to call and come off looking like the thoughtful organized person I’m trying to be.
3. Stick to Your Schedule
One way we invite chaos into our lives is by being too flexible toward everyone and everything. I try not to change my plans to suit new things that come up and instead, ask others to adjust their schedules to mine. What I’ve learned, is that most people and situations will adjust if we insist on it. So, before you flex your schedule to anyone or to unplanned situations, make sure it’s worth the time it’s going to take to rearrange yours.
4. Get Help
Where help is available, I say take it. Use house cleaning services like Handy once a month to give your bathtub, refrigerator, and floors a good cleaning. Invest in a “Roomba” or the mopping version to do routine floor cleaning. Use laundry services, grocery delivery, and hire a “TaskRabbit” repairman to put together your Ikea dresser. Got kids? Put them to work; it’s good for them.
5. Healthy Multitasking
If you’ve been following me or reading my work for a while, you know I am not a fan of constant multitasking. Much of the multitasking we do is counterproductive, not productive. That said, certain daily tasks can be easily grouped together. Like when I sketch out articles on the treadmill, listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car.
6. Squeeze it in at Work
We can get a little more done if we use our 9-5 more holistically. And by a little, I mean a lot. Instead of neatly compartmentalizing our lives into things we do for home, for work, for our health, etc., why not rework Monday through Friday to squeeze in the good stuff. If during work hours is the ideal time to get in your exercise, work it out. Maybe networking lunches on Thursdays is what you need? And to do something that matters to you such as volunteering or taking a salsa class, how about if you leave work an hour early every Friday?
7. Mind-Map Your To-Do List
Mind-mapping is a way to organize ideas into a visual format the brain can easily remember and use. It’s an awesome study aid for college students and a great organization tool for project managers. The concept has made its way to our to-do lists and is a nifty productivity tool. You can use it to organize your tasks in any way you wish but the idea is to find ways to group your to-do list to save yourself time. I group similar tasks together and do them in time-blocks. Take my typical Saturday for example. I’ll do all of my housework-related tasks in a 2-hour block of time. In another 3-hour chunk of time, I will run personal errands like going to the beauty salon, the drugstore, and dry cleaners. It helps that I plan errands within a mile of each other so I’m not in the car driving all over Los Angeles. Whatever I can’t get done in a general area, gets moved to another day—maybe one evening after work.
Don’t let your email and phone calls dictate what you do from moment to moment. That’s called living in reaction mode, and it’s not a great way to run your life. It’s like making other people (who don’t sign your paycheck or rub your feet at the end of the day) be the boss of you. Decide what has priority and work according to priority, not other people or your phone’s alerts. For example, I don’t pick up certain calls during the day (even from people I love) because I know I’ll get distracted. Instead, I text them back a quick, “Can you talk at 6?” And I almost never touch emails that come in after 3 pm unless I’m waiting on the information or there’s another urgent reason. Instead, I focus on finishing up tasks I’m already working on and tidying up my digital desktop (filing emails and files, flagging emails to follow-up, etc.).
9. Make your own “Stay Organized” Strategies
When I’m not using my time on the treadmill to sketch out articles, dictate to-do lists, or veg out on TV, I’m catching up on online reading. Saving those articles I want to read on “Pocket” is a productivity strategy that helps me. Here are a few other strategies I created to work for me:
- I pick up my mail once a week (it helps that virtually all my bills are paperless);
- Check email during the same 3 windows every day;
- Limit the number of cups and dishes I use to one (although I have enough to serve 6-8 people).
These strategies are tailored to my needs, my quirks, and how I live. Since you are also creative, I bet you can look at your life and devise strategies that will help you to be more productive too. Food prepping, for example, is a big one for people who take their lunch to work.
10. Say No!
I say No a lot. Actually, I say “Let me get back to you!” more often than I say No. I used to be in the habit of saying Yes to everything for fear of missing out socially or seeming rude. But a few times, after I reflected, I realized how little I had gained from what initially looked like a great opportunity. So now I try to weigh my options a little better. After my “maybe,” I will take a few minutes (or days) to look over what else I have going on. I try to calculate the cost-benefit of a “yes,” and if there’s even the slightest chance I’m going to put pressure on myself, I will graciously decline.
The way to be more productive and get more accomplished is to run our lives like we’re the boss of it! That’s a key mindset shift to being more productive and less busy. YOU are the boss of you, not your kids, your man, or even the person who signs your paycheck. Choose more of what matters, put it all on the calendar, stick to your schedule, and use techniques and strategies that work best for you and your situation.
Now you’ll have time to get in on that community garden or running club and I’ll be able to read your book/ebook. That’s the stuff the world really wants from you and what will be remembered when you’re gone.
Christine is a Life Strategist and Emotional Health Coach living in Los Angeles. She's big on meditation and believes in systems and routines, and in personalizing everything you do to help you get where you want to be.