You don't have to completely overhaul your life to make progress toward your goals. Small changes can reap big rewards in making a meaningfully productive life.
Small changes, consistently applied, can change your life
Setting out to change ourselves and our habits to increase productivity can seem daunting and burdensome. On the other hand, maybe you find yourself gung ho to overhaul your habits and lifestyle in order to fit into a mold of peak productivity, only to find that the enthusiasm wears off quickly, and you slip back into your old habits.
One of the best ways to combat this is to make small changes, one step at a time, to increase the likelihood of having these habits stick and become part of your normal routine. (For more info and inspiration on the benefits of making small changes, check out Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, by Stephen Guise
I’ve put together a list of 11 simple, small changes you can make starting today to easily put you on the path to being more productive and better able to focus on living the life you want.
Task management changes
1. Separate your “Today” List from your Master Task List
We've talked many times about the importance of having one place to capture everything so your brain isn’t weighed down with those instead of being able to focus on the tasks at hand. I use Nozbe and OmniFocus for my task manager, but — as I’ve said in previous episodes — use the tool that works best for you.
Even if your tasks are organized and in one place, though, it can be overwhelming if your task manager is constantly full of ideas and tasks. Having a separate list for just today's most important tasks can help you focus and prioritize.
Most digital task managers feature a method for using tags or filters to let you view only today's tasks. Your big master list is still there, but out of sight, where it can't distract or overwhelm you while you focus specifically on what you need or want to do today.
Alternatively, you can go old-school: From your master list, choose your two or three Most Important Tasks for the day and write those down on a 3×5 card or on a sticky note, and keep that with you. If you have an incredibly productive day and get those done, then you can move on and focus on something else.
2. Start a Don’t Do List
We’re encouraged to add to our to-do list, but sometimes the only way to make time for the things that matter is to learn to say no to the less important things.
As I was thinking about this topic as part of the outline for this episode, I got a message about the “Don't Do” list from my friend Emily Prokop, sharing a couple of excellent articles on the subject.
An example of prioritizing things in your life comes from an assignment Jim Collins, the writer of this article, received: “Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone calls tells you you've inherited $20 million. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently and, in particular, what would you stop doing?”
- Productivity Is Really About What You Don’t Do. Some suggestions from this article include:
- Don’t listen to music or radio that has words.
- Don’t look at email until doing 90 minutes of deep-attention work.
- Don’t look at social media until the afternoon, and then only on breaks.
- What Is On Your ‘Don’t Do’ List?. Some suggestions from this article include:
- Don’t eat sugar (donuts, cereal, etc.) for breakfast.
- Don’t switch on the TV in the morning.
- Don’t have your inbox open all day.
It's all about clearing out the things that take up your time, energy, or attention and rob you of the time needed to focus on those things that matter most to you. Additional information can be found in books like Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown.
Learning to say no is essential to learning to be productive and making time for what matters most.Click To Tweet”
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” — Warren Buffett
3. Create a landing space in your home.
This is a place where you put things like your keys, your wallet, your purse, probably near the door you enter the house by. Developing this habit keeps the space tidier and saves time looking for lost items.
4. Start a practice of getting rid of two items from your home or office every day for a month.
It’s all about decluttering our space and making space in our life for more and better things. We also talked about decluttering in episode 14, Conquering Clutter; episode 16, Conquering Clutter, Step by Step; episode 37, A Quick & Dirty Look at Clutter; and episode 83, The Art of Decluttering: An International Conversation.
5. Turn off the notifications on your smartphone and computer.
Of course there are exceptions, and with iOS devices, it’s possible to take advantage of setting certain people as VIPs so their messages and notifications will get though. But all those pings and buzzes are distracting us from getting things done. Constant updates are a “toxic source of stress,” which kills productivity. When we’re interrupted, there’s something called “context shifting” where we get slowed down to look at our phone or notifications.
Even if we don’t check those notifications, just knowing that notification is there causes a demand on our brain that affects our focus and concentration.
- Productivity Tip: An Argument Against Instant Email Notification
- Notifications Kill Your Productivity: This Is Why I Turned Them Off
- Psychologists Warn Constant Email Notifications are ‘Toxic Sources of Stress'
- Constant Phone Notifications Are Ruining Your Productivity
- Just Hearing Your Phone Buzz Hurts Your Productivity
Listener Alissa Smith recently wrote an email to share some of her productivity tips, including turning notifications off on her iPhone. She also uses the Chrome Browser Extension News Feed Eradicator to hide her Facebook news feed.
I have turned these [notifications] all OFF from my iPhone! What a massive difference to my anxiety! Besides texts and calls, I don't need a notification from any other social media. I can go into Notification Centre if I want to see recent activity. I go onto Facebook and others a couple of times a day.” ~ Alissa Smith, Listener, New Zealand
Other Apps to help you take control of your online communications:
- Freedom — Blocks access to social media on iOS devices and Mac or PC for a particular amount of time.
- Offtime — Set specific periods of time when all notifications on your iPhone or Android phone are off.
- Flipd — Creates a lock screen that keeps you from checking social media notifications your phone for a certain amount of time.
- Moment — Automatically tracks how often you use your iPhone or iPad each day. You can set limits for the amount of time spent on your iOS device.
6. Get up and move a little bit more.
Increasing movement during the day increases blood flow to the brain. Healthy employees tend to be more productive.
Some tips to help increase physical activity are:
- Take a walk at lunchtime
- Get up from your desk and stretch one or twice per hour.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Sit on an exercise chair at work
- Take walking meetings instead of sitting down.
Recent guest and women's wellness professional Bridgit Danner shared some tips for getting moving during the day in episode 82.
More information and additional tips:
- Benefits of Movement: Increased Productivity
- Stand Up to Improve Workplace Health, Mood, Energy, and Productivity
- Maximize Movement for Peak Productivity
- To Work Better, Just Get Up From Your Desk
7. Spend 15 minutes at the end of the day setting up for the next day.
Tidy up your workspace in the office.
Write down the three Most Important Tasks you want to accomplish you want to accomplish the next day and decide which task to do first. By having that decision already made, you can hit the ground running as soon as you wake up in the morning.
8. Be more aware of what you’re doing and how you’re spending your time.
Set a timer to go off every hour to remind yourself to ask, “Is what I’m doing right now the best use of my time?” So much of being productive is all about being aware and being intentional. Use this break as your chance to reevaluate and refocus your attention on what matters.
9. Schedule time for your most important project.
This is a small change, but it can make a big difference. It’s easy to fill our days with tasks and projects that keep us very busy, but not productive, because we make no progress on the truly important projects and tasks. We have to schedule time for what matters most.
Commit to spending 15 minutes per day on your No. 1 priority project, and get it on the calendar. (Also, see past episodes about why we don’t do the things we want to do.)
Make a commitment, just for one week, to schedule 30-60 minutes of uninterrupted time to use to work on that important project. Schedule it on your calendar. (Keep in mind that maybe that important project is your own well-being–use the time to rest, relax, and reflect.)
10. Stop multitasking and practice focusing on one thing at a time.
Multitasking impairs productivity because our mental resources are finite. When we multitask, our mind is shifting back and forth very rapidly, and it’s mentally exhausting.
Whether it’s a work task, a personal task, or even a conversation with a friend, try to be more intentional about just doing that one thing.
Overall, the ultimate lesson I have learnt in my career, and have only really started practising in the past year, is to just do one thing at a time! Such a simple and seemingly obvious concept, yet it was like an epiphany! I am juggling many things (there are other sidelines that I haven't mentioned), so a single focus on the task at hand is the only way to keep control (coupled with a good task system).” ~ Listener Alissa Smith, New Zealand
11. Start a gratitude journal or list.
Gratitude increases the release of dopamine, which increases our happiness. Happier people are more able to focus on their goals and achieve them. A study from the University of California and the University of Miami showed subjects who kept a gratitude journal or list were more likely to have made progress on their goals, overall.
A starting suggestion: Every day, just write down two things you are grateful for. Merely by starting this habit you'll find yourself looking for things to be grateful for, just so you have something to write on the list! And the fact is we see what we're looking for–so train yourself to look for things to be grateful for.
- Increasing Productivity with Gratitude
- Research Proves A Gratitude Journal (Strangely) Boosts Productivity
- 20 Ways Gratitude Improves Productivity
What do you think?
Do you have tips about simple changes that have helped you become more productive? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, on The Productive Woman Facebook page or the new TPW Community Facebook group, or email me.
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