5 Life-Changing Ways to Boost Productivity
I love to-do lists and paper planners. If you like to have your daily tasks written down so you can easily keep track of progress during the day — and check off every completed activity — you know how I feel.
This system motivates me to keep doing the work and even helps me reduce procrastination.
On the other hand, I'm not too fond of having a routine and, as a consequence, my to-do list must look different every day. Otherwise, I throw it away, postpone tasks, and end up with lost appointments, overdue assignments, and missed deadlines.
So, I had to develop a system that gave me consistency and diversity at the same time. Here's what's been working for me.
My Day ‘Starts’ the Evening Before
I learned to plan my day the evening before when I was working for a business coach, and I've followed her fantastic advice almost every day since. It helped me gain clarity over what I needed to accomplish in a day and helped me prioritize tasks.
In simple words, before turning off the computer and switching to Netflix and popcorn, I take time to write my to-do list for the following day. I do it every evening, from Monday to Thursday, and sometime during the day on Sundays.
When I turn on my computer in the morning, I know what needs to be done and where to start. It saves me time and stops me from getting distracted by planning. By mid-morning, I have at least one or two tasks checked as done. The only thing ready otherwise would be my to-do list.
The Empowering Task Comes First
Some people start their days with the most critical tasks. I prefer to start with something that makes me feel empowered, such as writing invoices, reading an article, or answering comments on social media.
The task may not significantly impact the overall business, but it influences my mood and work. Moreover, I make sure the activity doesn't require too much time, so I can get it done quickly and move on with the rest of my to-do list.
Labeled Activities Help Me Maintain Balance
As a freelancer, it's pretty easy to go down the rabbit hole and focus too much on client work. Before I know it, I'm chaotic, have no control over which client receives priority, and miss deadlines. Furthermore, I forget to block time for self-care, stop answering personal emails, or ignore the administrative or marketing tasks.
I divide tasks into four categories to avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because of too much client work. So, my to-do list includes things I like to do, things I don’t care for but need to be done, activities for my clients, and activities for my business. When one of the categories lacks tasks for several days in a row, I quickly realize that things are moving in the wrong direction and bring balance back to my days.
Life Happens, So It Should Be on the List
As a work-from-home mom, I've learned that unexpected things always happen when you're less likely to have time for them. So, I try to be ready almost every day for whatever my kids decide to put on my plate.
When I write down my to-do list, I add a time frame to each activity. This method gives me a realistic picture of what I can accomplish each day. Overall, our to-do lists tend to be too long. Deciding how much time I need to dedicate to each task makes it less likely you’ll have 20 hours’ worth of work planned for one day.
Another advantage of this method is having the ability to remain flexible when things don't go as planned. Instead of planning for eight hours, I can write down tasks I can finish in six hours, for example. If everything goes as planned, I have two extra hours for more work or something fun.
I Put My Needs First
As much as I love planners, I need a break from to-do lists sometimes. When it feels wrong to plan the day, I let myself run against the clock for a few days. It's exhausting, but I need the adrenaline to break the monotony.
In the beginning, I used to feel guilty about doing it, but I've learned to listen to myself and accept this chaotic way of working as part of who I am. It usually lasts three to four days and, once it's over, it helps me keep my calendar even more organized than before.
All the good and bad planning habits I have at the moment didn't just happen. It took me more than a year to understand what I liked and disliked about planning as a freelancer. I had to push myself to write the list even when I was tired in the evening, and I often slipped and didn't do what was on the list to take care of other tasks. It's still a journey, and I'm happy with what I’ve learn about myself in this process.