It isn’t rocket science, but unfortunately there’s no magic bullet that will transform you into a productivity wizard either. While getting sucked into social media, crap on the telly or Pinterest are all key factors, it is your overall mindset that really needs to change if you’re going to be your most productive self.
First of all you must realise that time spent on a task is not an indicator to it’s success or importance. For many people there seems to be a mystifying and inherent badge of honour mentality associated with how long a task takes (“Ooooh I’ve been working on this project / doing emails / writing this blog post for sooo long. Everybody notice how hard I’ve worked!”) To break free from this vicious circle, you must first realise that that is complete bullshit.
There is a theory that a task will take you exactly the amount of time that you give it. If something takes you weeks, it’s most likely because that’s how long you’ve mentally allotted to it. Of course this isn’t always the case, with some things taking much longer than you hope, but giving yourself shorter deadlines is a brilliant – and simple – way to get things done quicker.
Here are a few other ways you can get more done, in less time:
Unsubscribe from any newsletters you don’t value, unfollow people on social media that don’t interest you and trim down any blogs you no longer enjoy from your RSS feed.
Close Tweetdeck, Facebook and your email client when you are working. Turn off the TV. Silence your mobile phone. Turn off notifications. Distraction feeds procrastination and is the antithesis of getting stuff done.
Take charge of your email. I’ve written about this extensively before but email can suck the life right out of you if you allow it. Yes, there are many things you can do to try and keep on top of that ever-expanding inbox of yours, but my advice to you here would be to let. it. go.
That’s right, you need to forgive yourself for not being as on top of it as you’d like. People send and receive a exorbitant amount of email these days and you are only one little person. You must forgive yourself for not replying as fast as you’d like. Instead of feeling bad all the time, make sure you strive to do the very best you can. There is nothing more distracting or unproductive than guilt.
Cancel your meetings. These days so much can be achieved over email, Skype or the phone. If it’s not a requirement that you need to meet someone in real life, then don’t. I NEVER have in-person meetings if I can help it. It’s not because I’m a recluse or socially awkward, far from it, it’s that the travel time alone isn’t worth it when the same thing can be achieved in an email or phone conversation.
When inspiration strikes – take action. If you get a flash of inspiration, start working then and there. Stop what you are doing and start immediately! Don’t put it off or think you’ll remember it later, you won’t. These moments are precious, exciting, and often rare so don’t stifle them by not acting on them. If you shoo them away too often they might stop coming back.
Work at the time when you are most creative. If you have a day job and that cuts into your creative time, try your best to work around it. Maybe you need to move your lunch break so you can draw / write / edit during that time, maybe you need to get up earlier so you can catch up on emails, maybe you need to jot down ideas or start writing blog posts on the train… Don’t waste your creativity with monotony.
Take regular breaks. Have short bursts of solid concentration, broken up with small breaks. Resting your brain is imperative otherwise you’ll burn out. Quickly.
If something is not working, the inspiration just isn’t hitting you or you’re feeling stressed and frustrated, step away. Take a bath, go for a walk, play with your cat. Clear your mind and come back in 10 minutes / an hour / the next day with a fresh perspective. Forcing creativity never works but even if it’s a boring admin task, take yourself away from it if you feel yourself flagging.
Being your most productive isn’t about working as hard as you can, it’s about working as smart as you can. Many tasks can take much less time than you actually give them, and many others need more of your attention (seeing your friends, going on dates, family gatherings). So this year why not realign those priorities and give yourself more time for the things that really matter?