Productivity is more than just a buzzword. You may have fallen into a spiral of procrastination, time-wasting and anxiety that you’re not making the most of your days, but with these three stages and ten steps, you can get back on track – and make the most of every hour that comes your way.
Stage One: Get out of your head
In a good way. Too much of the time our heads are so full of EVERYTHING that we become less than efficient with our time, focus, energy, creativity, communication and decision making. To be productive and increase performance, we need to clear our heads. Here’s how:
1. Brain dump
Take a clean piece of paper and write down in no particular order all the things that are on your mind until your mind feels clear. Now, from that list, highlight the things that you must move on today, and do those things.
For the rest, if it’s important, put it somewhere you will be reminded when you need to be reminded. Don’t put it back in your head. Your head is for solving and creating, not for storing reminders.
2. Use your calendar
But only for things that will happen on that specific day. For instance, meetings that are set in stone should go in your calendar. Critical reminders, and medical appointments are also allowed.
But curb yourself. Your calendar should not become a depository for useless information or things you remember on a whim. So, a reminder to book a table for your partner’s birthday is allowed, because tomorrow the restaurant will be all booked out. But ‘call Jimmy about the sales report’ should not – as that can happen any day of the week.
3. Keep a personalised ‘With’ List for the critical people in your life
For example, create individual, personalised to-do lists for your boss, your mother, your partner, your website designer et al. Anyone with whom you regularly have multiple things to update.
When something comes up that you need to discuss, check, or ask to that person specifically, add it to the ‘With’ list. And, next time you are with them (on phone, in person, whatever) you can check this list and see what you need to cover or tell them.
4. Do less to do more
The last step to stage one, you should only commit to doing today the critical things that desperately need doing today. Stop trying to cram everything in. Write these 2 or 3 things down at the start of the day and wipe everything else off your ‘to-do list’. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to complete everything on a list, and it will feel like you have had a highly productive day.
Stage Two: Take care of yourself
Truly, only by taking care of ourselves first can we maintain productivity and sustained performance. You’ll also increase your joy, inspiration, creativity and health. Here’s how:
5. Slow down to go faster
Meditate. Or just pause for a few seconds in your day and breathe deeply. Literally pause, breathe, relax and let go. Do this for a few seconds and you will actually feel as if time is expanding. You will see things more clearly, make wiser choices and know what needs your attention and what does not.
6. Sleep more
As with meditating, this will expand the capacity of your day. You will get more done in less time. The science tells us that, for 99 per cent of folks, 7 – 9 hours is the sweet spot. If you want to get more done in your day, try going to bed 15 mins earlier each week until you feel properly rested. Don’t believe me? Checkout sleep expert Els van der Helm if you need convincing.
7. Drink less coffee
Writing as someone who loves a coffee in the morning, there’s no easy way to tell you this: all that coffee really isn’t great for you – and it’s not helping you to be as productive as you think.
Try to reduce to one cup or less per day. Enjoy that cup. But don’t use it as medication. Sleep is a far better remedy for tiredness. Switch from coffee to matcha or green tea. And, in general, try to have no caffeinated drinks after 2pm. You will be amazed at the beneficial impact this has on your energy levels, as well as your mental and emotional wellbeing.
8. Eat well
You are what you eat. It makes sense. And everyone is individual. So take time to notice what works for you and be willing to check out new, healthier habits. For example, switch to wholegrain bread. There is so much more nutrition in wholegrain. Use organic where possible. Begin to reduce refined sugar. You don’t need to change everything, just make small adjustments, one at a time. If you need pointing in the right direction, check out the new book from founder of Planet Organic, Renée Elliott.
Stage Three: One step at a time
Too often we set ourselves up for failure. We are unrealistic in our goal-setting, or impatient – or simply spread ourselves too thin. Instead of falling into these traps, use an approach that sets you up for success. Here’s how:
9. Small steps
You don’t try to climb a mountain in one leap. That approach guarantees failure. So, rather than trying to make a massive change today, start with a commitment to make a small change that you will stick to every day for the next week.
For example, get 15 mins more sleep, or reduce your coffee intake to one cup or less, or introduce 1 minute of meditation each day. Master this level of change. Then, when you are ready, make a further incremental adjustment and keep going until you reach your goal.
You can only climb one peak at a time. So choose which peak and focus all of your efforts on that. This applies equally to how you manage your day as it does to how you manage your wider life in general. There is tremendous power in focus, and you will be amazed at how much more success you create and ultimately how much more you achieve when you focus on one commitment at a time.