5 Easy Ways to Make Your Day More Productive
I am not one to shy away from hard work, but as I get older, I’m trying to learn to work smarter – not harder. I used to work 18-hour days and go to bed feeling like I hadn’t accomplished a thing…because I hadn’t. Sure, I did a few loads of laundry, organized my closet, researched how to fix a coding error on my website, bought my blog post supplies for the next two weeks, and planned out my blog schedule for the rest of the season, but I didn’t have a post scheduled for the next day. I was doing a lot of things with intense concentration and effort, but I wasn’t finishing the most important tasks.
A few months ago, I made a decision to adjust my daily routine to maximize productivity. I’m no longer interested in being busy all the time. Instead, I’m interested in achieving goals all the time. While I originally thought that I’d have to make major life changes to reach my productivity goals, I’ve learned that even small changes to your daily routine can generate big results. Today I’m sharing five easy ways to make your day more productive. They’re all easy to implement and generate immediate improvements to your productivity level!
1. Give yourself time to ease into the day.This tip is basically just a nicer way of saying you need to wake up earlier. I am not a morning person by nature, so I wouldn’t even think of advocating for early mornings if I didn’t think it would make a huge difference in your productivity. Waking up 30 minutes to one hour earlier each morning has substantially increased my daily productivity levels. The extra bit of time each morning allows me to ease into the work day, so I have time to eat breakfast, stretch, watch a YouTube video or two, and allow my brain to start functioning due to the miracle of caffeinated beverages.
When I do start working, I’m alert and ready to knock out the tasks on my to-do lists. In addition to drastically improving your productivity, this extra time in the morning will improve your mood and health. When I start my day with things that fuel me (healthy food, exercise, meditation, quiet time), I tend to make healthier decisions throughout the day. Try it out for a week. I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly you start to see results.
2. Create a master to-do list and stick to it.I am the queen of to-do lists. This title doesn’t mean that I’m particularly good at completing to-do lists. I’m merely great at writing an endless number of tasks on different sheets of paper. I find the process of writing down the tasks that I need to complete relaxing, and I’ve always thought that writing my goals over and over would keep them on the top of my mind. And then one day I accepted a painfully obvious fact that I ignored for years: my to-do lists never got done. Sure, I’d cross off two or three tasks each day, but I’d manage to add five additional to-do items in their place.
While I felt like I was being ambitious and productive by creating extensive lists of detailed goals, I was actually just distracting myself from work. You may not be a compulsive to-do list maker like me, but I encourage you to take a look at your currently planning routine and determine if it’s working or not. If it’s not, set boundaries for yourself. Start by writing down your goals for the week. Once that’s completed, go ahead and cross out half of the items on the list. Now that you have a modest but achievable list of goals for the week, stick to it. Nothing can be added until those goals are finished. If something absolutely needs to be added, you’ll have to take another goal off the list. These boundaries will keep you focused on high-impact, top-priority items and eliminate the distraction of positive but non-essential items.
My current planning routine: At the beginning of each week, I transfer all scheduled tasks and appointments from my monthly planner onto a weekly schedule notepad. I limit myself to 1-3 items per day. These items must be completed by the end of the assigned day. On the side of the note pad, I’ll write down 10-12 additional to-do list items for the week. These items must be completed by the end of the week. As I mentioned before, I’m not allowed to add new goals to the list until everything is completed- unless there’s an urgent work/family matter that needs my attention. This weekly system allows me to stay focused on the most important goals of the day/week, and while it’s simple, I’ve found it to be extremely effective.
3. Finish your main goal of the day first.Ok, you’ve started your day off on the right foot, and your main priorities are planned out for the entire week. What’s the first you should do in the morning? Answer all of your e-mails? Nope, those emails will still be there in a few hours. Check your social networking accounting? Definitely not, unless your main goal for the day is to get sucked into an endless stream of adorable tiny hamster videos and political memes.
So what should you do? Finish the top-priority item on your to-do list. I know it’s painfully difficult to ignore the growing number of unanswered emails and social network notifications, but it’s worth the effort. Devote all of your energy to accomplishing your main priority of the day and get it out of the way as soon as possible. Do not start another task until your main goal is completed.
This simple concept helps you to develop a habit of starting a task and completing it, which means the second and third items on your to-do list will seem easier to complete. And guess what? Your email inbox will not spontaneously combust. I promise.
4. Take structured mini-breaks.After you’ve completed your main goal of the day, it’s time to reward yourself. My reward of choice is caffeine. Since I work from home, I’d plan a trip to the coffee shop during my breaks. While I’d plan to spend twenty minutes grabbing a fancy coffee or tea while I listened to a podcast or the news, my 20-minute outings would inevitably turn into 3-hour excursions.
After I picked up my vanilla latte or iced tea, I’d notice the grocery store out of the corner of my eye and decide to buy a few items for dinner while I was out. Then, I’d remember that the dry cleaners were right next to the grocery store, so I’d pick up our laundered items. This process would go on and on, until I finally realized that I’d wasted hours on frivolous tasks that were not time-sensitive. I’ve since taken a more structured approach to my mini-breaks. I set my phone’s timer for 20 or 30 minutes, and I spend the entire break relaxing at home.
My drink of choice lately has been coffee or watered down espresso with a splash of International Delight Simply Pure Vanilla creamer. The creamer contains only five ingredients – including real milk, cream, and sugar, and it adds the perfect amount of sweetness to my coffee. It’s simply delicious, and I enjoy every sip while I catch up on YouTube, podcasts, and my favorite blogs. I love it so much that I’m planning to pick up the other flavors in the International Delight Simply Pure line during my next trip to the grocery store. Since I try to be intensely focused on my main goals during work hours, these mini-breaks are heavenly and allow me to re-charge for the next task at hand.
5. Find ways to work around your weaknesses.We all have weaknesses, so let’s go ahead and accept them. While I will never forget to take my coffee break, I conveniently forget important things like deadlines, errands, or where I put my keys. Instead of making excuses, I plan around my forgetfulness.
My weekly to-do list keeps me focused on the main tasks of the day. I put a tracking device on my keys, so I will never lose them. If I need to bring something important to a meeting, I’ll stick a reminder post-it note on the front door of my apartment or the steering wheel of my car. These little tricks might not seem like they’d make a difference in my productivity, but they free up so much time and energy.
Take a hard look into your daily routine and find the weaknesses that are decreasing your productivity. Once your weaknesses are identified, find a way to work around them, so that you can take away any excuse for not completing the main tasks of the day. Losing your keys might not seem like a big deal, but I save at least 10 minutes a day by having a tracking device on my keys. That’s nearly 61 hours a year. 61 hours that I can now use to work towards my goals instead of fumbling through my apartment looking for my keys.
These five tips aren’t revolutionary. They’re common-sense ideas that you’ve probably heard at least a thousand times before, but I challenge you to put them into action this week and let me know how it works out. I think you will be surprised that such small adjustments to your daily routine can have a massive impact on your productivity level. I’d love to know your favorite tips for increasing productivity and your favorite treats for your mid-day break!
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of International Delight. The opinions and text are all mine.