Life & Work Skills

How to be more productive and less busy

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Are you really busy, but don’t seem to be getting much accomplished? If you’re like me, you’re often surprised how fast time is going by. Yes, we’re already in March for Christ’s sake.

I’m still working out the right balance of time I want to dedicate to work, personal care and personal interests, sleep, and my social life. It recently dawned on me that we have to do that. We have to sit down and work this stuff out on paper then put it into practice.

Modern life demands a lot of our time. The basics alone — sleep and our personal care, work and having the bare-minimum social life — can take up all our time. We’ll never get to the good stuff, I’ve found, without mapping out our time better.

Without better planning, you’ll never find the time to write that book, learn a new language, volunteer, start a garden, a non-profit, or any of the amazing things that would give your life more meaning. And more meaning is what we all want and need. Otherwise, life can feel like a series of chores with a few nice moments thrown in.

To be more productive and less busy, learn some holistic time management skills. Holistic time management encourages you to reconsider daily routines according to their importance and to make room for personal goals. Here are some things that help me have a real life where I’m feeling more productive and less busy.

Pre-plan

I’ve gotten into the annual habit of scheduling most of my important appointments like medical checkups, household chores, social events, even vacations, all at once. I’m taking a page from well-run businesses who plan recurring meetings and events for the following year in December. Because I usually take the week between Christmas and New Year off and because I schedule new appointments on or about the date every year, it takes virtually no time to schedule. Much of the scheduling has become automatic and because I use email and text messaging when available, scheduling 7-10 important dates takes me roughly 2 hours. In roughly 2 hours in December, more than half of my important appointments for the upcoming year gets scheduled:
  • I schedule my annual medical checkups in February (around my birthday), so almost always between February 10th and 15th.
  • My dermatology visit for a skin peel and checkup is scheduled for late April to early May when the weather is cooler.
  • Spring cleaning is always done in early April.
  • My two dental appointments are always scheduled in May and November.
  • Gyno check-up in September
  • Any classes I want to take, I schedule in September (like going back school)
  • My vacations are always in April or late September to early October when you can usually find great travel deals and the weather in most places is almost always pleasant.

Stick to your schedule

One way we invite chaos into our lives is by being flexible to everyone and everything. We change our plans to suit new things that come up, instead of letting them adjust to us. What I’ve learned, is that most people and situations will adjust if we insist on it. Before you flex your schedule to anyone or any unplanned situation, make sure it’s worth the time it’s going to take to rearrange yours.

Put everything on the calendar

It’s one of my favorite productivity hacks, I put everything on the calendar. I add placeholders for calls to home I want to make and thanks to the alerts, it’s helped me stay in touch with family and friends. Because mine are all over the place (in NYC, Jamaica, London, mostly), we were missing each other a lot and due to the time difference, it could take days and weeks to reconnect. That changed once I started putting my calls on my calendar. Whatever is important to get done in a given day, gets put on the calendar.

Group your tasks

Do a mind-mapping exercise (on an app or just a piece of paper), to put down all the things you do in a typical day. Then group like tasks into buckets of time.

Prioritize

Stop letting your email and phone calls dictate what you do from moment to moment. That’s living in reaction mode, and it’s not a great way to run your life. That’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 (use a grading system, if that will help). Once you’ve decided how you want to spend your time, stick to it.

Take frequent breaks (if it helps)

Here’s the thing: breaks are crucial for our productivity.  Our brain works better and processes things faster with regular breaks, and for tasks that you find taxing, frequent breaks.  A short walk or stretches at your desk are great for your mental and physical health. There are tasks that I can spend hours on and never get tired — anything creative like decorating and much of my personal work fall in that category. But I find certain tasks, like writing, challenging. My own version of the Pomodoro technique comes in handy for that. It lets me schedule more frequent breaks, that I can stick to and still get something accomplished. Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose a task you’d like to get done.
  2. Set an alarm for 25 minutes and work focused until the alarm goes off.
  3. Take a short break of 2 to 10 minutes.
  4. Work for another 25 minutes until the task is completed.
We all want to live better. The way to do is to run your life like a boss. Don’t let everything on your calendar or into your life. Choose what matters, put it all on the calendar, plan ahead of time and stick to your schedule and use techniques that work best for you and your situation.

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About the Author

Christine is a lifestyle coach who believes the way we live affects everything we do, especially our motivation. She's also a mindful living educator living in Los Angeles, California.

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