Productivity & Organization

How To Trick Your Brain Into Being More Productive

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Aaah, productivity! The hallmark of western civilization. A trait we measure success by. An attribute we tie our self-worth to. If you’ve read other posts of mine, you’ll know my thoughts on the p-word. Nevertheless, I know that productivity will continue to be a measure of success, whether professionally or personally, for most of us for the foreseeable future. However, given my vision for 2021, I’ve realized that balance is key, i.e.:

Work hard,

Rest hard.

So here are my tips on how to be more “productive” – i.e. how to do what you can without burning yourself out and without feeling guilty for taking breaks (perhaps this is what I should’ve titled this post but I thought it was a little lengthy…).

Get a planner you will actually use

Step 1 in any time management/productivity strategy is having a planner. I rededicated myself to using a planner this year and it’s been such an asset to my daily routine. No matter how great you think your memory is, it ain’t! You will forget stuff which will result in you frantically trying to catch up when you realize what you’ve forgotten. Now you’re stressed because of the added work and you feel stupid for forgetting. You get down on yourself for not being perfect, you berate yourself with negative self-talk, your self-esteem declines and so does your motivation as a result. Wow, that escalated quickly. All because you didn’t have a planner..tisk tisk! Okay, I’m being a little facetious but you get my point. If you want to be productive without burning yourself out, you either need to reduce the amount of work you have altogether or better manage your time. The first option is not something most people are willing or even able to do. So you have to become good at managing your time and part of that is writing everything down.

Plan it out

I won’t go too in depth about planning out your weekly schedule because I have a dedicated post just on time management. However, what I didn’t mention in that post is the importance of creating an action plan.

An action plan works like this:

  • At the beginning of each week, check your work and personal calendars
  • Write down all of the things you want to and need to get done that week
  • Compile it into one meta-list.
  • Then, you start prioritizing when what needs to get done.
    • To do that, start sorting each task on that list onto specific days of that week. Be realistic and know how long it takes you to complete each task. Don’t put a huge project on the same day that you have 10 appointments and a staff meeting. For example, I had to grade 20+ personal statements one week. It’s not a task I enjoy but it needed to get done. I know that grading that many statements coupled with the detailed feedback I like to give meant that this task would take me a while. So I looked at my week to see on which day I could block off a big chunk of time. I knew it would take me around 2 hours to complete this task, so I settled on grading them on a Thursday afternoon after a team meeting because I don’t have appointments then. You do this process with each item on your to-do list.
    • One day your schedule might be filled with many little 5 – 10 minute items. Other days, it’ll just be 1 – 2 several hours items. Again, be realistic with how much time any given task will take you and schedule it accordingly.

Now here comes the “trick” part of this post:

Plan for enjoyable things

Oftentimes when we plan out our week, we only focus on the things we HAVE to do such as this phone call, that email, doing laundry, washing the dishes…ugh just writing about it bores me to tears. But what about the fun stuff? What about that mystery novel you like to read? Or that yoga class? What about the new video game you just bought? Let’s not forget about the new season of who-knows-what on Netflix! Put these items on your to-do list as well and incorporate them into each day. Because, get this! When you spend the evening binging that Netflix show, after a hard day’s work, you get to check it off on your to-do list like some g*d d*mn productivity-czar. That’s right! You do something you like, because hey! It’s on your to-do list. *insert satisfied smirk here*

Retroactively add unexpected bursts of productivity

Have you ever completed a task not on your to-do list, then gone back and put it there after the fact just so you can check it off? Yea, me too! Why? Because it’s so satisfying. So if you don’t do this already, start now. You did an extra load of laundry today because you had a few extra minutes? Put it on the to-do list and check it off. Say what? You read an extra chapter of that book? Put it on the to-do list and check it off. Before you know it, you’ll have a completed to-do list a mile long and you’ll marvel at your own stamina.

Keep in mind

If you stay consistent and realistic with your plan, you’ll get done what you need to get done with time left over to relax. Furthermore, if there is a day in which you only get half of your list done – that’s okay! Your to-do list should be more of a guide as opposed to a hard and fast rule. Again, if you plan ahead (just in case unexpected events pop up) and do so realistically (not over-scheduling yourself or holding yourself to unrealistic standards), then you can comfortably move tasks around as life happens without getting flustered and stressed.

What are your strategies for being more “productive”? What are your thoughts on mine? Share them in the comments below.

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