Many of us have the urge to reach for more caffeine, work longer hours to get it all done, and feel defeated before even reaching the computer in the morning. That’s just the reality of modern workloads, right?
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it’s possible to get more done in a day without feeling overwhelmed or defeated by the herculean effort you put in. When you follow these simple suggestions, you’ll be able to reclaim more of your energy and maybe even take some much needed time away from your work on a regular basis.
1. Start with a Full Tank
The most important piece of the productivity puzzle is how you enter the ring, are you already tired and zoning out? It’s totally normal to have off days and to feel burned out if you’ve been going at it without proper rest for awhile. Do you ever wonder why you get more done after you come back from a vacation? It’s because your tank is full, and you’re able to work at an improved energy level.
What if you can’t take a vacation right now, or you’ve got a pressing project that needs to get done? Take time away from work by fully unplugging in the evenings, and getting a solid 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Most of us run on far too little sleep, and the day to day meetings, tasks, and other demands can really take a toll.
Another idea is to take a fully unplugged day per week, like Saturday or Sunday, where you don’t check email, social media, or do any work. It can be difficult if you’re not used to it, but you’ll come back with more energy for your work every time.
2. Don’t Overcommit
As humans, we constantly overestimate what we can achieve in one day, and underestimate what we can achieve in one year. Set big goals for yourself in life, but set small achievable goals for your day to day activities.
Breaking down bigger projects and tasks helps you do the hardest thing of all: start it. Once you start on a project, you’re more likely to finish and to feel good about your progress. This is more motivating than writing down the same task you were supposed to do yesterday on tomorrow’s to do list, because you underestimated how big it was. I’ve been there, with a big task showing up on my to do list day after day for weeks, when I should have just taken the first step, then the next, etc.
3. Focus on Fewer Projects at a Time
This one is important, and we’re all guilty, but once you start putting it into place you won’t look back. To explain this idea, let me use the analogy of a highway. When you have a highway with just a few cars on it, everyone can go fast and get to their destination. But once you add more cars, things start to slow down until you get a traffic jam.
It’s the same with the number of projects we take on at any one time. If you’re trying to work on too many projects at once, they will each progress at a slower pace than they would have if you had taken them on one after another.
This doesn’t mean that you can only have one project at a time, but it does mean not biting off more than you can chew. Do you really need to have 5 major endeavors happening simultaneously? Or can you schedule 1 for the next few weeks, the next two in one month, and the final two a few months from now?
Once I really “got” this in my life, I started to put everything on a big wall calendar in my office so I could see what major projects I had in the works during each part of the year, and it changed everything.
4. Schedule Chunks of Uninterrupted Time
Disruptions are costly. According to a study by Microsoft, it takes the brain 15 minutes to re-focus after losing your train of thought during your work. Every time you’re interrupted, whether it’s by a “ping!” from your email or a text message, someone calling you on the phone, or you checking your stock prices… you’re robbing yourself of the focus you need to get the work done.
There are ways to get around interruptions, even if you’re responsible for them, by installing simple scripts on your computer to block the internet like Freedom or Concentrate. You can also start to train friends and family members to use asynchronous forms of communication, which means they can leave you a message and you’ll get back to them after your focused chunks of time. The key is to stick to your own schedule, so that people take your boundaries seriously and don’t expect to get an email or a call back within minutes of leaving a message.
5. Use the Pareto Principle to Eliminate Overwhelm
Any discussion about getting more done in the day needs to cover the high priority tasks, and not just the busy work. Busy work is the reason most of us feel so overwhelmed, and why we look back at the end of the day and wonder why we didn’t get anything of real value done.
By applying Pareto’s principle and focusing on the 20 percent of the tasks that yield 80 percent of the results in your work, you can prioritize the important work first. We all have tasks that need to get done, but that honestly don’t bring a lot of value to our work. Maybe it’s getting back to your vendors about some questions they had, filing your taxes, or writing reviews. If you schedule these toward the end of your day, you’ll be prioritizing the high impact work that will move the needle in your business and career.
6. Close The Loops & Capture Stray Thoughts
One easy tip for how to get more done in a day is to make space in your mind, so you can focus. Sometimes while you’re at work, or maybe before you fall asleep, you’ll have a stray thought: remember to finish XYZ, or follow up with ABC. These are important little bursts of thought, and if you don’t write these things down then a part of your brain will be working hard to make sure you don’t forget.
Instead of keeping these stray thoughts in your head as you go about your day, or hoping you’ll remember when you wake up in the morning, jot them down in a notepad. Then each morning or evening, simply review your notepad and transfer any ideas or tasks into your regular to do list system. This way, you’re sending a strong message to your brain that you’re taking care of business, and to keep sending these important reminders, but not to worry because you’ll get them handled.
7. Leave Breadcrumbs for Yourself
This is a tricky one: have you ever found yourself working on something, then needing to do some research to complete the task… and losing track of where you were when you left off?
The simple solution is to leave breadcrumbs for yourself, so you can come back to your original work without having to start from the beginning. This often happens to me when I’m programming: I need to look something up, and when I resurface from my research haze, I forget what I was originally trying to solve or achieve. Now that I leave breadcrumbs for myself, I don’t waste any time jumping back onto my original train of thought.