I've got a confession. I may have become obsessed with productivity self-help books....
I've always classed myself as an organised person. My love of spreadsheets started long ago. However, over the last couple of years, I've honed these skills further, so I am now more productive than ever.
As a society, we have become rather obsessed with productivity. My generation (millennials) now idolise these apparent workaholics that are plastered across our social media feeds. When this slips into 'toxic productivity', it becomes dangerous. This is not the type of productivity I will be writing about today.
Instead, I am going to use all my learning from some fantastic books (list at the end of this blog) to show how organisation can be used as a tool to reach our goals, whilst still maintaining a healthy, balanced life. No matter if you are a hardcore bullet journaler or more of a 'wing it' type of person, I hope you can find some value here, to streamline both your work and home life. So lets get cracking!
1. Reassess your goals
This is all about having an essentialist mindset. Focus on what is really important to you and leave the rest.
I need you to be ruthless here. Look at what you have on your plate, be it in your job or overall life, and start making cuts. I can guarantee there is stuff there that would be 'nice to do' but isn't essential when working towards your goals. I would also bet money that there are things there that don't serve you at all, but are purely there to please other people.
If some of these tasks are work related, and not set by yourself, then I would also recommend raising this with your manager, where appropriate. They may have no idea how long these 'pointless' tasks are taking you and would rather you spend your effort elsewhere. Bonus points if you already have a suggestion to hand of where you could better utilise your time. Who can argue with that?
If you are struggling to assess whether a task serves you, remember, if its not a clear yes, then its a no.
2. Break down your goals
As you may have noticed by now, I am a fairly goal-orientated human...
Goals can be split into overall life goals, or just specific tasks. Either way, its important to break these down into steps, so that you can start moving forwards on them. Set deadlines, if these haven't been determined externally, and I'd always recommend starting work on these as soon as possible. Yes, I was that geeky university student that always handed in assignments a week early...
Treating life goals the same way you would work deadlines, means you are much more likely to achieve them. The time limit on these will be whatever works for you, but I recommend planning for 5 years ahead at a maximum. Then you can break down the goal for each year, each quarter, each month, each week and, before you know it, you will be working towards your goals every day. Read on to see how you can keep this on track...
3. Time blocking
This concept has radically changed my life. The idea is, you can split your time into different blocks in which you complete different tasks. I recommend time blocking your weeks, ideally on the Friday/Sunday before, so you can start moving through tasks as soon as the week commences.
This is an excellent way of gaining an oversight on how much time you actually have to complete these tasks. It can prevent overfilling your calendar, as your time is already committed. If you struggle to set realistic time blocks, start by monitoring how long it actually takes to complete tasks, so you can be more accurate and prevent putting undue pressure on yourself going forwards.
This works best when you group similar tasks together. Its important to factor in your energy levels here. We are all different, so our productivity levels will vary during the day. For me, I'm most productive first thing in the morning, with my energy slowly sapping as the day continues, meaning I'm essentially useless come 3pm. So, I start my day with my heavier projects, that require a lot of concentration, and fill my afternoons with admin or more creative tasks.
This time blocking is not set in stone. Life will throw us curveballs, so its important to be flexible enough to adapt to them. If your job is anything like mine, an email can land in your inbox and suddenly your priorities change. You can combat this by scheduling in time to respond to 'last-minute' tasks, as often as you need. If you end up not needing it, then you can use this time to get ahead on something else. Simple!
P.S. Google calendar is a dream for time blocking, as you can colour code different tasks (e.g. work & life) and easily move timings. Check out the video below for a typical day example.
4. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination occurs when we loose motivation and give in to distractions. Motivation can come and go, so this can be more challenging to manage. Distractions, however, can be tackled head on.
Its so important to keep your work space tidy and functional. This has become all the more relevant now that so many of us are working from home. Our offices are likely to be multi-functional, unless your lucky enough to have whole room as an office.
Take time setting up a work space that allows you to fully concentrate. A Mari Kondo style declutter is always useful here. Avoid unnecessary surface clutter with clever storage. Only those items that you use daily should be on your desk e.g. laptop. Add the odd aesthetic potted plant and you will get full on office vibes that could help you find your flow.
Now, we all know what the biggest distraction can be. Our phones. To combat this, I recommend you turn all your notifications off as a minimum. I never have any of my social media notifications on and its made such a difference. If you really can't avoid reaching for a quick scroll, remove your phone from the room entirely. Leave it there until you are satisfied in what you have achieved in your working day.
5. Prioritise self-care
This is fundamental. If you don't look after yourself, you cannot be at your most productive.
If you really struggle to find time to recharge, then schedule this into your calendar, just like you would a work commitment. Use this time to let your brain rest, however best this works for you. I find routines useful here. You can read my full morning routine here, where I implement habits that get me ready for the day. My evenings are all about winding down. I fill them with nourishing activities, like yoga, spending time with friends and reading. All leading towards having a restful night sleep.
On a final note, I must stress that you do not need to be productive all of the time. In fact, I think its important to spend time being entirely 'unproductive'. These are just tools that you can implement to ensure you are moving forward and getting those important things done. The rest of your life is totally up to you. Have fun!
Books that have inspired me - add links
The edited life - Anna Newton
Essentialism - Greg McKeown
Working hard hardly working - Grace Beverley
Simplicite, how to live more with less - Dominique Loreau
Digital minimalism - Cal Newport
The power of habit - Charles Duhigg
A have many more on my list! Add your book suggestions below...