Is your productivity off (ii)?

An icon of a crying figure sitting at a desk with a pile of papers

Last week, I wrote about how we all have days with low productivity and why you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much if you have a single off day once in a while. If, however, all your days are starting to look like a chore, you may need to ask yourself a few questions. Some of the reasons you suddenly find yourself unable to finish scheduled tasks could be:

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What did you do this morning?

Sunrise

“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

St Francis of Assisi

I’m a big fan of the early morning hours. I relish getting as much tasks as I can out of the way before noon. There is something about the first few hours of the day when you are awake that provides a huge productivity rush. For me, it tends to be the hours when I have the fewest distractions. Whose house am I going to visit or call at that hour? I have also just woken up from a good night’s rest and I am ready to tackle a difficult task.

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Nobody works well under pressure

Working under pressure is last minute time management

We have all met someone who proudly declared they work well under pressure. The sort of people who boldly put it on their CV and expect to be rewarded for it. They are most likely the sort of people who annoy colleagues to no end by submitting work five minutes to the deadline and expect to be given a round of applause for it. You may have convinced yourself being able to work under pressure is a skill. Perhaps you also believe you possess that skill. Let me burst your bubble. It is not.

A man in a suit struggling to meet a deadline
You under pressure keeping people waiting

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What do you do with your downtime?

A clockface

Do you have some downtime this week? I’m sure if you thought more careful about how you spend your days, you could probably find 30 minutes on most days when you are not really doing anything. Do you have any unfinished tasks on your to-do list from last week? It could be an annoying task you have been putting off for a few days such as dropping off your laundry or rearranging the books on your shelf. What if you chipped away at those catch up tasks for 30 minutes each day during your downtime?

A person sleepy in front of a laptop
A lot of downtime is spent on idle browsing

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Batch it

A screwdriver and a spanner

Nobody likes doing dishes but most people would agree that dishes are tasks that need to be done. If you don’t, you’d eventually run out of clean cutlery to use. We all have repetitive tasks that no one particularly enjoys but can acknowledge they need to get done. Tasks like these are the ones we are more likely to procrastinate on either.

Unpleasant but necessary tasks such as doing the dishes are best done by batching them. For example, if you washed all the cutlery you used for breakfast before getting out of the house, you wouldn’t have to come home to an overflowing sink. If you tried to wash each item immediately after you use it, you might get bored but if you made a commitment to wash each item after meals, you would be committing to doing the dishes only three (or 2) times a day and this seems more manageable.

An overflowing stack of cups
Related tasks this way

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Not all hours are created equal

Clock gears

If you ask most people, what hours they would consider their peak periods of alertness, they would say early morning hours. After a good night’s rest, they are fully rested and have the energy to dive into almost any task with greater enthusiasm. It also helps that at those hours, there are often fewer distractions. People are yet to have their first arguments for the day and as a result are often in a happier place.

Unfortunately, the early morning hours are the time that a lot of people waste on trivial tasks. Many people wake up at dawn, reach for their phones and start checking social media. Unless you are managing the social media profile of a company for a living or work in customer care, that is probably not the most productive use of your time. How much more could you get done if you learnt to harness an hour or two each morning?

Hourglass against a backdrop of dawn
What did you do this morning?

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When you just can’t get in the mood for work (ii)

Fear

My previous post was about the reasons you just can’t seem to take that crucial first step towards getting your goals achieved. For many people, fear seems to be the factor that stops them. If you regularly find yourself in a productivity slump, there are a few techniques you can try to help you get in the mood for work. The most difficult step is often the first one.

Schedule your tasks

If you can’t see it, you can’t get it done. Write down what you want to do. Use a to-do list. If you have recurring tasks, try and schedule them for the same time of the week or day. After some time, they will become habits and be easier for you to do. Having a schedule means once it’s time to get a task started, your brain automatically goes into work mode and you can jump into your tasks straight away.

A clock and a folder
What time is it? What do I need to work on now?

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When you just can’t get in the mood for work (i)

Fear

Do you ever have days when you wake up knowing what you are supposed to do but somehow just can’t seem to get started? Days where you know the next step to take because you have written in your to-do list but something stops you taking that first step and building momentum. It’s a fact of life that we will all have good days and bad days. There are a lot of reasons why you find yourself struggling to start tasks. Most of those reasons stem from one thing: FEAR.

Fear of the unknown

Achieving goals requires stepping out of your comfort zone. It is never easy to do that. We are creatures of habit and we like staying where it is safe. The average person is content to do the same things again and again because they are what he/she is used to and that comfort is not something they want to let go off. Working on your goals requires pushing your limits and trying new (sometimes scary) things. If you aren’t ready to ditch the comfort zone, you won’t get started on important tasks.

A man running from his own shadow
“All the dread is mainly in the head”

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Write your next task this way

A to-do list

Raise your hand if you use a to-do list. You’re my best friend if you do. To-do lists are a great way of capturing tasks you need to get done. The satisfaction of crossing off items on your list as they get done or the ding you hear after marking a task as completed on your digital list motivate you to start working on the next task so you can get another feel good hit as soon as it’s completed.

A to-do list. All the items have been checked
Just seeing this makes me feel good

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Creating your own personal productivity system (iv)

A person sitting in front of a computer

November has been the personal productivity system (PPS) month. I hope you read the three preceding articles that cover what you need to design your own PPS. In case you didn’t you can find them here, here and here. I felt this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t share some of what I used for my own PPS. I believe there is no such thing as the perfect productivity app and encourage everyone to experiment until they find what works best for them. However, if you are curious about what I use, here you go:

A blank pushing an app button
Try to focus on the principles instead of the apps

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