The internet is full of tips for making people more efficient. You could procrastinate for weeks by reading such articles, or books on how to be more productive. Since I write about these topics, I’ve waded through a lot of the literature. Some is…eh. But these are the strategies I actually use in my life, over and over again — because I find they make life so much better.
1. Plan your weeks on Fridays. This tactic is really two ideas combined into one. The first realization is that life is lived in weeks, so the best unit of time to plan for is the week. As for Friday? It’s best to think through your weeks before you’re in them, so you can take a step back and ask what matters and what doesn’t. On Friday afternoons, I plan out my most important professional and personal priorities for the next week, and see where these items can go.
2. Measure what matters. I have a few logs going. One is a time log, which tracks my time in half hour blocks. In the two years I have been faithfully recording each day on this log, I have developed a much more holistic and accurate sense of my time. It is truly precious and plentiful. But that’s not the only log! I log my runs, which has helped me stay motivated to keep running daily (the streak hit 6 months this weekend). I also track books read, which has inspired me to devote more of my leisure time to literature. I’ve finished 75 books already in 2017!
3. Figure out three “anchor” events for the weekend. Since I have four kids and a house to manage, it would be easy for my weekends to be taken over by chores and children’s activities. Sometimes it feels like my weekends are taken over by these things. On Saturday, I had karate belt graduations at 10:00 and 12:15, and I managed to get my daughter to the pediatrician in between (for an 11:15 appointment; my personal brag here is that I was only 3 minutes late to the second belt graduation. And I was able to stay at the first graduation long enough to put the new orange belt on my son). On Sunday I spent an hour cleaning out the van, which was positively disgusting. Pro tip for anyone pondering procreation, or purchasing a minivan: do not let your children eat raisins in the car. HOWEVER, I also knew I had a few events planned that would add to my energy levels. I did two runs and my husband and I went to the Summer Ale Festival at the Philadelphia Zoo. We ate pulled pork, drank a lot of craft brews, and looked at the animals without our children. I really think all zoo trips would be improved by beer. We also did a family bike ride on Sunday. While that had some not-fun moments, parts of it were good, so that could be a semi-anchor event. Knowing fun stuff is coming up helps me get through the less fun stuff. And I hit Monday feeling pretty good.
4. Tackle the toughest work first. I aim to do any first draft writing, or deep editing (when stuff is clearly not working and needs to be fixed) first thing during my work day. I can do so much more with a cup of coffee or two between 8:40-11:40 a.m. than I can between, say, 1-4 p.m. If I wait until later, I get distracted and things take much longer.
5. Use bits of time well. Remember those 75 books in 2017? I owe much of that to the Kindle app on my phone. In the past, I would surf the web in the 10 minutes before a phone call started. Now I generally read. Those 5-10 minute spurts happen more often through the day than one might think (waiting for kids at practice, waiting for my daughter to go potty while I’m putting her to bed, etc.). Added up, that turns into a lot of reading time.
6. Make very short to-do lists. I do make daily to-do lists, often the night before. But I aim to keep these quite short. They’re never more than 10 items, and if they’re 10 items, 3 of those might be “email so and so” — that is, short tasks. Often the lists are much shorter than that. If something’s on the list, I’m going to do it. There’s no point putting something on a list and then not doing it. I revisit the list toward the end of the day to make sure I’m on track, and to plot out the rest of the day based on anything that’s come up.
7. Have a bed time. I really am aiming to be in bed around 10:30 p.m. these days. It doesn’t always happen, but I feel so much better in the morning when I get enough sleep. And given that the little guy is still waking up way too early, I need to feel decently in the morning.
What productivity tips do you use all the time?
In other news: Congrats to Gladys, who won the abandoned books giveaway! She selected The Wedding Bees. I hope she enjoys it.
Photos: Photo with beer, and giraffes, then pulled pork from a food truck at the zoo. With candied bacon on top. Talk about a weekend anchor event!