Updated: Sep 28, 2020
For some of us, “getting things done” is a way of life - if a day goes by without some kind of productive activity it feels like time wasted. The definition of “productive” might vary depending on your goals, your talents, and your stage in life, but regardless, there are certain things you need to do to feel success in your day.
What if you aren’t one of these people? Perhaps you may not have the drive to continually achieve, but your relationships, your job and your general comfort depend on getting things done (I’m looking at you, dirty dishes.) How can you keep track of the tasks you must get done? How can you make sure you get them done?
I’m here to talk about a few ways you can manage yourself, your tasks and your time in a more productive way.
Obviously, everyone is different. Everyone enjoys certain methods more than others, or certain gadgets more than others. Awesome, you do you, boo. The trick is to find a method that realistically works for you, and you form a habit around using it.
Making a to-do-list for a week and promptly abandoning it isn’t going to cut it. It takes about twenty one days of a consistently repeated activity to form a habit, and another three cycles of this to cement it. That’s nine weeks. Keep it up for that long and bingo, you got you a habit. (Keep it up now!)
Why not give one of these a go. Know that you can - and even if you fail, and forget for a day, a week, a month, just pick up and keep going. You’re in control here.
Most of these methods can be combined, again you gotta find what works, and what closes the most holes to stop things falling through.
#1. The To-Do List
People that love the physical & visual interaction of seeing tasks and crossing them off find this effective. The act of writing your tasks down helps to cement them in your brain, meaning you are less likely to forget them. Seeing the list on paper helps you see how much needs to be done - and as you cross them off, how much work is getting done.
How should you record tasks? Some love the tactile aspect of pen and paper. You could use a notebook, diary, or just scraps lying around (don’t accidentally throw them away though!) There are also many great digital options, such as productivity apps like Asana or Trello (not sponsored, just a fan) that can allow you to digitally keep track of tasks and organize them into bigger projects.
When your paper list gets too long, re-write the most important or must urgent tasks onto a new list. Focus on that, and once those are done go back to your original list to complete minor or less urgent tasks.
#2. A Post-it wall.
If you love colour, flexibility and like to be a bit creative, try a method like this. Choose your categories, such as “Major Projects” “Minor Projects” “Completed” or “Start” “middle” “Finish.” Display these where you’ll see them - they could be pieces of paper with a heading stuck to a wall, or written in chalk-pen on a window. For each task or project, write it on a sticky-note and stick it to the appropriate category. When you’re done, move it to whatever place to say it’s done, or throw it away.
It visually helps you see what’s going on - and depending on how you sort them - their level of urgency or completion. If you keep the notes, you’ll also see how much work is getting done.
#3. A timed task list.
Enter your tasks for the day into timed slots in your email calendar or an app like Any.Do (also not sponsored.) Depending on your accuracy in timing or how often you like to switch tasks, this method can help you keep your day organized and on-track.
Just remember that this is a tool that can help you control your time - don’t let it become a dictator in your life, or make you feel unsuccessful because a task takes longer than you anticipate.
This method works especially well for time sensitive tasks, like going to meetings, appointments, and meeting deadlines.
4. Keep a diary
Not a “Dear Diary,” but a date diary. Write in it for each day what you need to do, and transfer to the next day what needs to be passed on.
Bullet Journaling (which has become really popular in the last few years) is a specialized method of diary keeping that is totally flexible depending on what you want to do, and can become very creative.
This video explains the basics of the bullet journal - but did I mention it gives you 100% CUSTOMIZATION - meaning however it works for you is how it works for you, and you can change this up as you need to. No artistic ability required (although you can make it as exciting and interesting as you like.)
#4. Use the 321 DO IT rule.
This is better for small, short tasks rather than long-term projects, for example cleaning the bathroom or addressing letters. Instead of putting it off, countdown from three to one and JUST DO IT - don’t think, don’t stall, don’t give yourself time to procrastinate just get up and get it done. Once it’s done - awesome. Can you do another task?
Apply this to your day and you’ll find you’ve finished the list of tasks you weren’t too excited about (because if you wanted to do them, you would) - congratulations.
#5. Break it down
Break bigger tasks or projects into manageable steps that can be completed in a couple of hours or less. Once that’s done, move on to the next step.
Breaking it down means you get to tick off more of the sub-tasks (more satisfaction) and you’re more likely to gain momentum to keep going, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work. You can SEE how much you’ve done (a bit like having a progress bar.)
#6. Cut yourself the right amount of slack.
Sometimes you won’t win. And that is okay. Some days you're just not going to be productive. You might be tired, unwell, interrupted, dealing with emergencies, or any number of things that stop you from achieving your list.
We all have days like this. Don’t let it drag you down - tomorrow is a new day. Keep a realistic perspective on how much you can practically get done in a day. Ride the good days as much as you can, and don’t let the bad days diminish your sense of worth.
There are always days where you need to push through and meet responsibility - prioritize and do what must be done and let the rest sit until tomorrow.
#7. Smash Through the Shortest Tasks
If you’re feeling really overwhelmed start with a 2 minute task. Empty the rubbish. Clear your desk from clutter. Write a paragraph. Send a text or an email. Don’t make it out in your head to be huge - it’s a two minute task that YOU CAN DO!
Use the satisfaction of getting it done to tackle another short task. Work your way up to bigger tasks slowly to prime your brain.
#8. Make hay while the sun shines.
Are the conditions for doing your task perfect? Are you in the mood? Is it the right weather, or the right season? Then do it!
This is honestly my life motto. I don't always follow my own advice, but I am an opportunist at heart. I always know that if I can do it now, I won't have to do it later (or be frustrated that I can't when I need to!)
Conditions may not be so favourable if you put it off until later. Need to mow the lawns on a beautiful Saturday? Don’t put it off if Sunday’s forecast is rain, or you know you’ve got plans. Look ahead and be prepared. If you know you have a busy week coming up, do those small tasks now so they won’t be another item in your mind to do later!
#9. Speaking of being prepared…
Try getting ready ahead of time - not at the time! Preparing in advance means you can avoid a last minute scramble when things are misplaced or don’t work. Get clothes and items ready for work the night before. Charge your phone before you leave.
When the time pressure is on it’s easy to make mistakes or forget things - which might leave you in an awkward situation or make you lose more time.
#10. Do it for your future self.
Studies have shown that procrastinators think of their future selves as strangers - someone they don’t know and therefore, don’t care much about. ‘The Simpsons’ summed it up pretty well: “That’s future Homer’s problem.”
Try to get to know your future self - imagine yourself in your own future shoes, enjoying the benefits of your past self’s work. Instead of putting off doing the dishes as “a future me task,” do them now and enjoy past self’s work when you wake up in the morning and look at a tidy kitchen! A task done now is a task not needing to be done in the future.
Productivity (or lack of) can feel like a major source of stress in our lives. But it doesn't have to be! It's important to develop some healthy habits and attitudes to getting stuff done, and finding our sweet spot between constantly working and never getting off the couch.
If you're not naturally an achiever type, what are your best productivity hacks to make sure you get your stuff done?