5 Ways to Slay Your To-Do List
Consider this: it’s early morning. You are full of hope on this beautiful day. You sit down to write down your To-Do list for the day. And it grows. And grows. You better get a head start on the day. It’s going to be a wonderfully productive day. Before you know it, it’s evening and you are only halfway through your To-Do list. You reflect on where all the time went. Well, you know it as much as anyone else where it all went.
Don’t we all want our days to be productive? I know I do! But as moms, we often tend to bite off more than we can chew. Because, you know, there is just so much to do. It’s not that you cannot do it, but remember some of the items on your To-Do list may need to be tackled on another day. This really isn’t a race, so please allow yourself some grace (unintentional rhyming in play ;-))
So how can we become a little more (or a lot more) productive?
Top 5 Ways to Be the Productivity Queen
No surprises there! When you are distracted, nothing gets done. Would you believe it’s taken me 5 days to finish writing this article? Yes, this article that you are reading! I was distracted. We are in the middle of moving houses and I have a preschooler on spring break, and you know how that boat sails. So, I would sit every day in the middle of all this chaos and try to finish writing this article. And I would be either called away to either supervise something or by my child. It was very frustrating to not see any progress as far as this article goes. “My blog is going to suffer and I will NOT let that happen,” I said to myself. So, I ensured everything that can be done in the new house is done and then I requested my mother-in-law to care for my child for two hours while I finish my “work.”
So that was an example of “offline” distraction. The best way to tackle this type of distraction is to remove the source of it until you are ready to get back to it. But remember, in today’s age, “online” distraction is also a real thing. I know I get distracted by Lord Google. I will log in with the intention to research for my post for about 15 mins and then I find myself hopping from one site to another and soon I find myself reading or watching something that is just not related to my original query. Or, how about the time I wanted to check my Twitter feed and soon I had spent 45 minutes not only checking the feed but also click on the various links that people had shared. How would you handle these distractions? Well, if you are strong-willed and disciplined, maybe you can chide yourself every time you get carried away in the virtual world. But, if you are anything like me, consider using a productivity application like Cold Turkey, which is a free productivity program that can be used to temporarily block websites that you find getting distracted by while working. Cold Turkey offers both free and paid versions, but for me, the free version works well enough.
Identify and Work During Your Peak Hours
Okay, so you have dealt with the distractions but still can’t find yourself getting any work done? Perhaps the hours you are working are not really your “peak hours.” Let me give you an example: I am sure you must have read a few articles highlighting how people who wake up early are more productive. Apparently, it’s true. They get more done because they start early and usually do not have any distractions around at that early hour. But hey, no matter how hard you try, if you are not naturally a morning person, it may be very, very taxing for your mind and body to change its natural cycle. So, it is important to recognize your body’s natural rhythm and schedule important work during those hours. Now, I understand it may not be possible to schedule every important work late in the evening (for night owl mommies), but try and pick your battles. Remember, not everything needs to be done today!
That said, if you would like to give this “becoming a morning person” phenomenon a try, here is a post I wrote earlier listing my top 5 ways to become a morning person. There is no harm in trying, right? After all, it is a scientifically-proven fact. Good luck!
Break Up Your Work
While we are on the topic of picking your battles, remember it’s about winning the battles, not the war. How often do you have a big house or work goal you need to accomplish…and one week (or, one day!) before the deadline, you are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be put into accomplishing this goal. Many of us make this mistake of trying to tackle the giant and win the war. But if you simply plan ahead, break your goal into smaller tasks, and schedule these tasks accordingly, you will not only be in control of the situation when the big day comes but also you will have the satisfaction of checking off the smaller goals. Now, that’s being productive!
A very popular tool to draft goals is to follow the SMART goal methodology. When you follow this methodology, you break your bigger goal into smaller goals that are specific, measurable, agree-upon (or attainable), realistic, and time-bounded.
Prioritize High-Value Work
Now that you have identified your peak hours and broken down your big goal into smaller, achievable tasks, it’s time to prioritize. Take a look at the small goals (or even your everyday To-Do list). Is every task listed there equally important? Perhaps. Then, ask yourself, will accomplishing each task give you the same amount of return on investment? The most likely answer is NO! Let me give you an example: you have slogged yourself over the gas for two hours to prepare a feast for your family. At the dinner table, you notice your family reaching for 1-2 staple dishes while the fancy dish you spent one-hour preparing lies mostly untouched. Was that productive? Was it really worth it? You might as well cook your dinner in one hour and utilize the remaining one hour working on something else that is more valuable….like your body or mind. Learn where to draw the line. If your family is being fed nutritious food that can be prepared in 30 minutes, why would you want to spend two hours on the gas every day? Save the feasts for special occasions so your efforts are appreciated (and consumed) more.
Many of you must have heard of the 80:20 rule, also known as Pareto (here’s a very well-explained article about the 80:20 rule). Pareto charting is a very popular business principle, which we used frequently during my corporate stint. It is a principle to identify the high-value 20 percent input that will help achieve the 80% output. Tasks that are not high-value or of any value at all must either be delegated or eliminated. Think about it.
Take Scheduled, Strategic Breaks
The most important point to boost productivity. As moms, we want to be a superwoman, but please believe when experts say that breaks are necessary. It’s natural to get carried away and trying to do strike off every item on your list at one go. The sudden burst of energy and improved productivity may lead you to expend more energy than your mind and/or body may allow. The adrenaline rush will inhibit signs of exertion but soon you will find your brain fogging up. It is, therefore, important to take regular breaks while working on finishing your To-Do list.
A very common productivity technique doing the rounds is the Pomodoro method. This method introduces a time factor in your workday by dividing your work day into several chunks and breaks. It is up to you to decide the duration of the work windows and the break windows, but the developers of the Pomodoro technique recommend working in bursts of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoro windows, the user is expected to take a longer break of 20 minutes or so. Personally for me, working in 90-minute windows followed by 15-minute breaks work the best. I schedule my break times into my calendar so that impromptu meetings can be avoided.
Now, taking breaks is half the battle won. But there is also the matter of how you utilize that break time. Washing dishes or dusting the furniture during the breaks do not count as “break.” Please be mindful of why you are taking the break and ensure you utilize the time to relax your mind and body.
So, there you go. Five ways you can boost your productivity. I hope you will give these a try.
What are some of your productivity tips? Please leave a comment to share. I would love to learn from you.
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