It seems counterproductive to suggest you should not spend too much time planning for the future. Productivity is all about making plans and breaking them down into as many small steps as possible so you can follow through. Let me make it clear that I am not saying you should stop making plans and just wing it. I’d never do it and I’d never ask you to try that too.
There is such a thing as a planning horizon though. If you plan too far ahead into the future, you are more likely to be wrong. Experts tend to agree that a planning horizon beyond two weeks is likely to be wrong. Most people have a pretty good idea where they will be for the rest of the week but don’t do so well when trying to predict where they will be a month or two from now. Life throws up so many complications and unexpected events that you are likely to be wrong. An extreme example of this happened early this year. People made plans. The pandemic wrecked those plans.
The secret to having a productive week is simple: Plan your week in advance. A lot of people spend the weekends having fun and resting. That’s OK. Taking time to rest is an essential part of staying productive. However, taking 15 minutes every Sunday evening to plan your week can give your life much needed direction.
Make a list of the tasks you wish to accomplish during the week. Assign those tasks to the days you intend to work on them. That’s it.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, a lot of people are still working from home. If you have failed to put in place a system for keeping track of the hours you clock in while working from home, you might find yourself working longer hours than you used to yet still achieving less. People have told me they have attended back to back online meetings all day. On the surface, this looks like a productive day but if all they did was attend meetings, when are they supposed to work on their important tasks. No one is hired to attend meetings.
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:
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.