Do you struggle finding your focus? Does it seem like you don't get as much done as you could with your time because your mind wanders or you are paralyzed with overwhelm? If so, this blog post is for you.
Working with big projects used to freak me out. When I first got started, I felt like I had no idea where to start so every time I would try I was so scattered I would waste hours getting nothing done. Now, I have strategies that can help me work through even the most complex and seemingly endless projects imaginable. Which means I can get more done in less time. Isn't that what we all want out of life?
In the end, a big part of this process comes down to priorities. The reality is, there is no way you can get everything done every day. You will have off days, family obligations, emergencies, and other things that come up and detract from your productivity. You can't do anything about those obstacles, but what you can do is decide in advance what your priorities are and how you are going to accomplish those things that rank at the top of your list. Here is how you can do it in 10 steps:
- Think about your general priorities in your life. What are your top five? Some examples might be: Family, Friends, Health, Home, Work, Hobbies, Etc. Where do you place research?
- Formatting a to do list for success. When you write a to do list, start with major categories that point to what category the activities fit under. Those get capitalized roman numerals (I, II, III...) beneath those, an indented list of tasks which get numbers (1, 2, 3) and if they are complex they get broken into sub-tasks that get letters (a, b, c) which are further indented.
- Choose two categories that align with your life priorities. When you write up your daily to do list, make sure to rank activities that top your general priority list as more important. Pick two to three categories and highlight them. Those are your priorities for the day.
- Simplicity wins. If you find yourself overwhelmed by your list, then simplify it. Re-write, using only those highlighted items. You can add to it later after you finish it. Sometimes this act of re-writing is like clearing your slate and giving yourself permission not to get it all done.
- The 80/20 Rule. This rule has gotten a lot of press in the past couple years, but here is why I think it is awesome. In theory, it says that if we go at something without a plan, twenty percent of our time will be spent being productive in tiny increments over the course of the entire span of time we use up. The other 80% of the time will be less productive. There are two ways you can use this:
(A) If you have a lot you need to do in a day, you can spend the first 2 hours doing the most important tasks. Use your most productive 20% all at once. Then, there is nothing to say the other 80% of your day won't be productive, just less productive, in setting the bar high right away, you raise your average output for the day.
(B) If you feel guilty for spending some time unproductively, spend 20% of it getting important things done and then relax and enjoy the rest of the day however you wish. If you were preoccupied and thinking of that fun thing you weren't doing, you wouldn't be getting much done anyway.
- Scheduling Tasks. By designating space on your calendar to the most important things you are mentally making these items an event. Psychologically events are important and require focus and attention.
- Set a timer. If something is a priority and you are still having trouble focusing on the task at hand, set a timer for a reasonable amount of time to complete the item. Sometimes, the mental accountability of having a timer that requires you to get the work done can be that extra bit of motivation that you need to get it done.
- Schedule priorities that don't have tasks associated. Some priorities just don't have a whole lot of tasks associated, for example, if you are a working professional, sometimes family time can get neglected because "remember to play a game with Tommy" doesn't always fit nicely into our to do lists. For this reason, remember to schedule blocks of time to spend on these important activities that fit into your priorities so they do not get neglected.
- Reward yourself for accomplishing priorities. Even little rewards can have powerful psychological effects. Figure out what kind of reward system will work for you. Sometimes just visual cues, like putting a marble in a jar every time you complete a task, or even crossing items off of a list can be enough. Sometimes you may need something a little more tangible, like scheduled time to do something you love - like playing a game or reading a book. It all depends on you!
- Spend time assessing whether you are focusing on your priorities. In the end your life will be defined by what you do rather than what you say. What does that mean? It means, if you prioritize something in your life, you have to practice spending time on it. When you look back on your week, did one of your priorities get totally neglected? If so, you need to think hard about whether that item is really a priority to you. If it isn't, it needs to come off the list. If it is, you need to find ways to spend time honoring that priority.
Whats top priority on your list for today? How do you get things done? Let me know in the comments below!