I begin this blog post by telling you all that I am super busy these days. In the midst of the busiest month at the office, working part-time at a yoga studio, trying to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle, on top of being in the process of working towards/launching something BIG in April (stay tuned!), I am going nuts. In a good way though. No one likes to be bored, and the good news is, I am loving each and every second of it! More than ever though, I find that it is incredibly crucial to stay highly organized, energized and most importantly: do everything in my control to ensure that I am operating at the most efficient and productive speed possible. So in the midst of all of the chaos in my life, I decided to sit down and write a list of how I taught myself to be more productive. Also, side-note - I love to tell stories… which I am certain that some of you may have noticed. So much so, that all of my family members and close friends would tell you that sometimes my stories are too long, and I typically tell them more than once. I am not going to do that to you though, not today, anyways. For the purpose of this blog post (and taking into consideration that I am incredibly busy, and I know all of you are too), I am going to cut to the chase and share with you my top 11 ways that have led me to become my most productive self.
1.) Multi-task (When it is appropriate):
Now before you say anything, I am not encouraging you to focus on more than one task at one time in the office. That is counter-productive, and typically leaves me doing two shitty jobs instead of one good one. No, when your brain is focused on something, then allow it to be fully present. I am talking about being resourceful with your time. What are you doing on your way to the office during your commute? If you have a thirty-minute walk to work, or a forty-minute street car/subway ride, think about listening to podcasts, audio tapes or read a book if your eyes aren't required to be on the road. Think about all of this new-found knowledge you will have, without having to even set aside extra time in your day to listen! If you (like I do) have close to a thirty-minute commute every day to work and back, you would be giving up twenty hours every month that could potentially be spent learning something new. Or, a personal favourite of mine, and something I do every single morning, is listen to podcasts, online lectures and TED Talks during my work-outs. This type of content inspires and energizes me before my day has even begun.
2.) Get More Sleep:
I did not realize how important this was until I started getting a decent amount of sleep every night. At my last job, I would stay up working well into the night and try to get up at five every morning to make it to the gym before heading into the office, averaging about four or five hours of sleep per night, on a good day. I thought I was being uber productive since I was working around the clock, but found that with less and less sleep, my body and brain were responding at a much slower rate. Every task would take longer than it should because it was difficult to focus when I was so exhausted. Since I’m so bad at actually going to bed on my own, I decided to try scheduling it into my calendar to start winding down at nine pm by getting ready, reading a bit, and aiming for a 10 pm bedtime. There are, of course, evenings that I don't keep to my schedule. But then I wake up feeling much less energetic, and as a result, am noticeably much less productive on those days.
3.) Post-Work To-do Lists:
Write them at the end of your work day and review in the morning. Last Sunday I spent an hour mapping out my entire week ahead. I scheduled tasks that were most pressing and urgent to be done on Monday and Tuesday, and the less urgent items were relegated to Wednesday and Thursday. I review it every morning to see what needs to get done today, and then quickly scan the rest of the list.
Exercise will be rated high on all of my "how to" lists. You may have already noticed. Exercise is what keeps me sane, energetic, positive, de-stressed and basically, enjoying life! When I stopped exercising at my previous job because I constantly had so many pressing demands, I became miserable, and for lack of a better term, I felt like a slug…slow, sloppy and gross. I am much more aware, upbeat and motivated on the days when I work out in the morning.
5.) Eat Clean:
I don't eat meat at all, but anyone can eat clean regardless of their dietary restrictions. Stop eating packaged goods, eating out, stopping at fast-food joints. Any food item that makes you stop and wonder, "Is this healthy?" probably isn't. Just make meals as often as possible and try to use clean, natural, organic, non-GMO and free range food choices when you cook. Eating clean and exercising go hand and hand. The healthier you keep your body, the healthier you keep your mind, allowing it operate at its optimum speed and effectiveness.
6.) Take Email Breaks:
This one made a HUGE impact on my productivity. Working with clients, I quite often have an email build up that could take an entire day to deal with. I realized that the necessary tasks were getting delayed because I would spend all of my time reading, responding and acting on one-off email requests. So my solution was to block off some time during the most productive hours of the day (in the morning) and knock off as many tasks as possible. Emails will still be there later on in the day, and can wait until after you complete your most demanding tasks.
7.) Do the Most Important Tasks First:
This has taken me 26 years to figure out, and I am still working at it. Do you know those extremely urgent tasks you know you should be doing - that your employer or coworker needs you to do, like yesterday? When I became aware of what I was doing, I noticed that I would put off the difficult things that I was nervous/stressed/too busy to start tackling, until I got the quicker, easier tasks done. Valuing quantity, rather than the importance of the tasks proved to be the worst and least productive idea ever. Start prioritizing all of your tasks, and start immediately on the most pressing and most difficult ones, first. It’s amazing how much stress you’ll avoid by getting the big jobs finished first.
8.) Take a break:
Again, I learned this at my last job. I was working well over twelve hours a day, on average. My only breaks would consist of going to the washroom and getting into my car to drive home from the office - only to continue working once I got there. I mistakenly believed that in order to get all of my work done, I needed to spend every second I had, working. I felt anxious about leaving for lunch, so I found myself eating at my desk while still typing/working away. Once I started my new job, I promised myself that I would take a break every day, no matter how busy I was (even if it’s just a 15 minute coffee run) to ensure that I was getting some fresh air and clearing my head. I find that if I clear my head, even for a few minutes, I feel recharged and ready to go. After several hours in front of a computer, I start to lose focus, making it more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.
9.) Clear the Mess:
My mom often said to me, "The state of your bed, is the state of your head!". Unlike some of her (usually correct) advice, this actually worked on me and motivated me to start making my bed in the morning. (That and my roommate who has the most pristine and Pinterest-worthy bedroom you have ever seen). I noticed, after I got into this habit, that my thoughts started clearing up a bit. I didn't feel as anxious or cluttered. (Mind you, I could apply this rule to my office space as well, but one step at a time here, people.)
10.) Learn How to Say, "No":
I am still working on this one, but have gotten substantially better. Like most nice people in the world, we suffer from the "people-pleaser" bug, and are consistently trying to volunteer and help out wherever and with whomever we can. For me, it stemmed from the notion (popular in Management courses and career-building events) that in order to succeed in business, one should offer assistance to any struggling co-worker or project. That way – the theory goes – you will be seen, by both colleagues and (preferably) the boss, as the girl who brings new meaning to the the word “teamwork”. Well I stopped doing that. I am not saying to flat out say "no" to whoever asks for help, pending on the situation that could put you out of a job. I am just saying to be selective with how you choose to volunteer your valuable time. I remember at one job, we were discussing the idea of implementing an "Employee of the Month" program. We chatted about what the criteria should be to win this most prestigious award. One particular employee's name – he no longer worked for the company - was mentioned, and everyone quickly and enthusiastically agreed that his outstanding qualities and helpful nature with every single department in the organization, deemed him worthy of this honour. All, but one person - his boss…who informed us, that while this particular individual was busy running around the office offering his assistance to everyone and their cat, he neglected to do his actual job. She said that she would never hire him back. My point? Focus on your work, first and foremost.
I’ve already talked about the importance of scheduling. Do you ever have wonderfully ambitious plans for the evening but find that they never get tackled? At around lunch time, I start making mental notes about pre-cooking my favourite meals, hitting a yoga class, tackling some emails and reading a few chapters in my book. Quite often, pending on the day, I am sometimes zero for four. Unless I have something written down in my agenda or actually scheduled into my phone, I rarely get things done. Change your settings to remind you, in advance, of what you would most like to accomplish in your spare time. Online yoga class at 8:30? Set your alarm for 8:00 so you can get changed, get your water out and set up your mat in advance, so you are ready to go.
As always, if you have any other productive kick-starting tips and tricks for me, please share in the comments box below! I would love to hear them and love to try them out!