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Monday, September 4, 2017

5 Tips for Being More Productive (when it really counts)

Whether as teachers or parents (or any other hats we wear), the times we need to get the most done are usually the times when we feel the least able to actually be productive. I think the biggest inhibitors to productivity in these situations are stamina and overwhelm. Today I want to share my 5 tips to help you overcome those factors and be more productive when it really counts!

I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts out there on how to be more productive in life in general, mostly relating to the kinds of habits and routines we can set up for ourselves to make it easier to "get more done". In fact, I've written a few of those myself- here's my post about monthly tasks and routines, and here's my post on weekly routines. I've also written about daily morning routines for home and another for school, as well as yearly tasks for home and for school.

So yes, routines and habits are an important part of being more productive! ;)

What I want to focus on in this post, though, is the specific situation we sometimes find ourselves in when we have a to-do list a mile long, full of important tasks that need to get done. How can we avoid getting overwhelmed and finding ourselves at the end of a long day with nothing to show for ourselves but a bunch of new recipes pinned to our Pinterest board and some half-finished projects strewn across the living (or class) room?

1. Write Everything Down

Hopefully for my long-time readers this goes without saying, but it's important enough to say again anyway: write. it. down. One of the best ways to overcome the feeling of overwhelm is to write down every task you hope to accomplish, no matter how small. It may seem counter-intuitive to make your to-do list longer by adding every little thing, whether it's taking out the trash or a quick email/text you need to send, but this strategy will help in a few ways:

1) you'll be able to look back later and acknowledge everything you truly did and validate the time and effort you put into things that are important, even if they are small and/or routine,
2) you can start to create a more realistic plan for how you are going to get things done when you factor all of those more "minor" but necessary tasks into your thinking, and
3) you'll reduce your anxiety by simply freeing your brain from having to remember all those little items.

Once you've got your written list, you need to make some kind of plan to get the stuff done that needs to get done. How you make that plan, and what kind of plan you make, will depend on the types of tasks you're doing, how spread out your time is in which to get it done, your personality, etc. Here are some things to consider:

2. Use Your Productive Hours Wisely

Most people have certain times of day when they're most alert and they have the most energy. For me, that's in the morning. For others, it's at night. Maybe it's in the middle of the day. Whatever those most productive hours are for you, plan your tasks out so that you can do the least attractive tasks and the tasks that require the most brain power during that time, and plan to do the tasks that keep you physically active (like running errands) and tasks that are most attractive in your "off-peak" hours.

3. Give Yourself Incentives

Yes, it's true, you can use extrinsic motivators even when you're trying to motivate yourself! Promise yourself certain incentives for getting certain things done. Maybe you get to eat 5 M&M's for every hour you spend working on a writing project. Maybe you get to watch a YouTube video after each large task. Maybe you can go get ice cream on your way to the grocery store if you've finished these 5 things by noon. Especially if you have a lot of tasks that you are having a hard time motivating yourself to do (even during your productive hours), giving yourself small incentives can help give you more stamina to push through those tasks.

4. Vary and Chunk Tasks

So here are 2 totally opposite things that are both equally helpful: vary your tasks and chunk like tasks together. Varying tasks, like doing one cleaning task, then doing something on the computer, then cooking, can keep things from getting mundane. But chunking certain tasks together can also help you be more efficient, like doing all of your errands in one trip (or everything at one store even if it's slightly more expensive), answering all of your emails in one sitting, or doing all of the cleaning in one afternoon. It depends on your personality, which tasks you enjoy (and have more stamina for), and the logistics of the tasks themselves.

5. Prioritize and Let Go

Of course the danger of talking about productivity is playing into the pressure to #doallthethings and actually increasing anxiety, losing sight of relationships and self-care, or skewing your priorities. One of the keys to being more productive is keeping everything in perspective. Yes, being more productive is a good thing, but only if you can be clear on which tasks are most important, make sure those things get done, and look back at the end of a productive day and say, "I did the best I possibly could". Being productive should give you the freedom to shrug your shoulders at the things that didn't get done, knowing that you did your best, instead of being left with a sense of guilt thinking about all those hours you wasted on unimportant things. At the end of the day, give yourself permission to pat yourself on the back, and let go of any guilt over unfinished tasks. Nobody can expect you to do more than you can do!

This time of year can get pretty busy. I hope these tips help you improve your productivity and find better balance in your life. What are your top tips for being more productive? How do you stay focused on your priorities when life gets hectic? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. That first point is my productivity motto, for sure! I'm often juggling many responsibilities and writing my tasks and 'to-do' items down helps me *immensely* in remember them. I prefer sticky notes and memo pads over digital lists because crossing off the completed tasks and seeing on paper what I've been able to tackle feels so great! :) ~Danielle |

    1. Totally agreed- crossing things off is sooooo satisfying! ;)