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! Being more productive is an art and a learnable one at that.

The reality is that modern life demands a lot of time. Unless we get creative with our time management, we’ll never make the time to get to the good stuff.

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.

These are 10 ways I get creative with my time to fit in my personal development and what I call, the good stuff.

1. Annual scheduling

I’ve gotten into the annual scheduling habit and I can’t tell you how much time it saves me. Most of my important appointments like medical checkups, household chores, social events, even vacations, get scheduled all at once.

By doing this, I’m taking a page from executives who plan recurring meetings and events for the following year in December. Because I schedule appointments on or about the same date every year, it takes virtually no time to make a new appointment. Plus, I use email and text messaging when available. In roughly 2 hours in December, more than half of my important appointments for the coming year are booked.

  • I schedule annual checkups in February (around my birthday), almost always between February 10th and 15th.
  • My skin peel and dermatology checkups are 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-ups are in September.
  • I like going “back to school” in September and schedule online courses then.
  • My vacations are always in April or late September to early October when the weather and travel deals are usually pleasant.

2. Put everything on the calendar

One of my favorite productivity hacks is putting everything on the calendar. I even put calls to family and friends on the calendar, and thanks to the alerts, I come off like the thoughtful loving person I want to be. Whatever is important to do in a given day, I put on the calendar.

3. 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.

4. Get help

Where help is available and if you can afford it, 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 repairman on TaskRabbit to put together your Ikea table. Got kids? They can help a lot more than most parents ask them to, and it’s good for them too.

5. Healthy multitasking

If you’ve been following me or reading my work for a while, you know I’m not a fan of constant multitasking. Much of the multitasking we do is counterproductive, but there are some things that we do daily that can easily be done while doing something else.

I sketch out articles while I’m on the treadmill, listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car and do deep breathing exercises anywhere.

6. Squeeze it in at work

We can get a little more done if we use our 9-5 more holistically. Instead of neatly compartmentalizing your life into things you do for home, work, health, etc., rework Monday to Friday to squeeze in some personal stuff. If during work hours is the ideal time to get in your exercise, work it out. Instead of mindlessly distracting yourself at work with cute videos, use the time to run an errand. Move a few of your weekend chores to the work week to get more done before, during and after work.

7. Group your tasks (aka mind-mapping)

On an app or just a piece of paper, mind-map your day. How to do it: Group similar tasks into buckets of time and according to location. For example, your Saturday can be mapped where all housework-related tasks are grouped into a chunk of time. Another chunk of time is when you would run personal errands like go to the beauty salon and pick up personal items at the drugstore. You want to also plan your day where all your stops are within a mile of each other. Whatever can’t get done in the same geographic area, should be moved to another day—maybe one evening after work.

8. 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 and work according to priority, not other people. 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?” At work, I never address most emails that come through after 3 pm. I will put a reminder on the email to handle at a specific time tomorrow or ASAP. And then there are those asks that routinely delegate.

9. Make your own “Stay Organized” tricks

I’ll use my time on the treadmill to sketch out articles, dictate to-do lists and to catch up on online reading. Saving those articles I want to read soon on Pocket is one of my organization tricks. I have a bunch of other tricks I use:

  • I pick up my mail once a week,
  • Check email during the same 3 windows every day,
  • I limit the number of cups and dishes I use to one (although I have enough to serve 6-8), and
  • Use a bunch of other tricks to keep me organized.

Everything I do is unique to how I live, my own needs and quirks. If you think creatively, you may be able to devise your own “Stay Organized” tricks.

10. I say No a lot!

Actually, I say “Let me get back to you!” a lot more often than I say No. I find it helpful to check my schedule before committing.

I used to be in the habit of saying Yes to everything for fear I would miss out socially or seem rude. Once I realized how little I gained from some of these encounters and networking opportunities, and what I was missing out on (work I need to do for my business) when I went, I got more thoughtful with my responses. After reviewing what else I had to do that evening or weekend, how much time the commute might take and other variables, I calculated whether going would be a benefit or more likely cause me to feel overwhelmed. If there’s even the slightest chance I’m going to put pressure on myself, I graciously decline.

The way to get more accomplished is to run your life like a boss!

Choose what matters, put it all on the calendar, plan ahead, stick to your schedule, and use techniques and strategies 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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