The 3 Most Practical Productivity Lessons I’ve learned.
I’ve had an interest in productivity and time management since I was a teenager. I’ve always felt happier when I know what my plan is and that I have enough time to do whatever I want to get done. When I don’t know what I want to accomplish, or if I begin the day with no plan, I become stressed and anxious.
Learning about productivity and time management has been a life-long mission of mine, and over the last thirty years or so, I’ve learned many things. Numerous things don’t work or are impractical, but I have discovered three things that are both simple and practical, and anyone can use them.
Plan your day the day before
Beginning the day with no plan is a recipe for disaster. Disaster in the sense that if you have no plan, you will naturally gravitate to following the plans of other people, which never lead to great outcomes for you.
But far more important than that is if you do your daily plan the day before you will be less stressed and sleep better.
Most of our stress comes from feeling overwhelmed by what we think we have to do. Our brains have a tendency towards believing we have more work to do than time available to do it. The reality is, you have enough time — you don’t have to do everything immediately — you just have to decide when you will do it.
This is why planning the day before allows your brain to relax. You get to see what you have to do, and make decisions about what would be the best use of your time tomorrow. Once you have made those decisions and have them written, your brain will relax, and you will sleep better.
Daily planning does not take very long. Once you become consistent, it’s ten minutes at most. Everyone can find ten minutes a day, and the benefits to your stress levels, sleep quality and the work you do means this could be the most valuable ten minutes you have each day.
2 Don’t trust your brain to remember things
We’ve all done it, you agree to a meeting next Wednesday at 10:30am and you don’t write it down and when Wednesday comes around you get a message at 10:40am asking where are you?
You forgot to add it to your calendar.
Our brains are not the most reliable tools for remembering key information. We are great at noticing patterns, our brains like patterns. That’s why we can sense danger — our brain recognises something is not following the expected pattern and alerts us to something ‘not being right’, but when it comes to remembering plain data, it’s terrible.
To avoid this, write down key information. However, where we write this information down is also important. It’s no good pulling out a stack of PostIt Notes and sticking them all over the place. PostIt Notes have a habit of falling off surfaces and being stuffed in folders and bags, never to see the light of day again.
You need to write information down either in a notebook you carry with you everywhere or into a digital place such as a task manager or notes app.
Then, at the end of the day, go through your notes for the day and make sure tasks are added to your task manager and events and appointments are added to your calendar.
Again, we are not talking about a lot of time. You only need around ten-minutes to process your notes. The time and effort will reward you is so many ways.
If it’s important, schedule it
If something needs to be done, you will need time for doing it. Whatever you want to do will require time. I’m sure you have found yourself saying “I don’t have time” many times. What that usually means is whatever it is you want to do is not important to you.
As the old saying goes:
“If it’s important enough, you’ll find the time. If not, you’ll find an excuse”.
If something is important to you, then make sure you schedule it on your calendar. For me, this means scheduling my exercise and writing times. These are scheduled in my calendar every week. Writing these blog posts is important to me, as is making sure I exercise every day. If you are not scheduling your important work and activities, then events will steal time away from you.
Get used to blocking time out on your calendar for doing the things you want to do. And this is not just about doing your work. You need to be scheduling your rest and relaxation time too. I have a recurring block every Saturday night for “TV time”. I use this time for catching up on my favourite TV shows and watching movies. Furthermore, I also schedule an hour every morning for “me time”, where I write my journal, do my stretches and prepare myself for the day ahead.
Once something is on my calendar, it becomes a must-do. Your calendar needs to be sacred territory. Only things you are committed to doing go on there. Hope to do or maybe things do not go on your calendar — they either go in your task manager or a notes app until you commit to doing them.
And there you go. Three practical things you can do that will ensure you are less stressed, more productive and in control of your time.
None of these three things are difficult, but it will require you to make a commitment. Ten minutes for daily planning and ten minutes to process your collected notes each day. It’s a twenty-minute daily commitment. Surely, that is not too much of a commitment for a more productive, stress-free life?
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