If you’re constantly flat out but never seem to complete your to-do list, it’s time to supercharge your productivity. Here are some top tips from the experts…
- Do the worst job first
If there’s something you’ve been putting off, make a concerted effort to get it done first thing, recommends business coach Arvind Devalia, author of Live the Life You Love (www.arvinddevalia.com/blog).
“It sounds odd,” says Devalia, “but if you tackle the worst thing as soon as you get up in the morning or when you get to your desk, your day will only get better
“We all have things that we dread doing, whether it’s sending a difficult e-mail or sorting out a huge pile of clutter. We overestimate how much time the task will take us and the job becomes overwhelming so we put it off.
“The secret is to break the job down into chunks and get started. If you have a huge pile of paperwork that’s been sitting on your desk for the last six months and you tackle one piece of paper a day, it could be sorted within a month.
“Once you start, you’ll see results very quickly, which will give you more energy to carry on. Make sure you give yourself a reward, such as a cup of tea or a walk in the park.”
- Ask yourself three simple questions
If you get engrossed with trivial jobs, and never get round to the important things, ask yourself three questions, advises life coach Talane Miedaner. author of Coach Yourself To Success (£10.99, McGraw-Hill).
- a) What’s important about today?
It might be your daughter’s birthday or a job interview. Make sure you allow enough time for these parts of your day and don’t get distracted.
- b) What must get done today?
Work out the most urgent jobs, such as seeing the doctor about the cough you can’t shake, or food shopping because there’s nothing in the cupboards – and see these as the top things priorities on your to do list.
- c) What’s important about the future?
If you just focus on today, you won’t have enough time to prepare for the things that are coming up, so look ahead. This could mean making some appointments or stocking up on birthday cards.”
- Quit or commit
Psychologist Rachael Alexander (www.couragequeen.com) says we usually give jobs and projects about 50 per cent of our effort and interest. She suggests we list the things we’ve signed up for or agreed to do, and make a decision that we’re either going to stop doing them (quit) or we’re going to give them 100 per cent (commit).
“As soon as you give a course, a piece of work or even your toddler’s swimming lessons 100 per cent commitment, you enjoy them more and you get them done more effectively and quickly,” says Alexander, who specialises in conquering fear and anxiety.
- Get some order
If you can’t ever find your car keys, you’ll start the day drained of energy, says Miedaner.
“While you spend 20 minutes trying to find them, all sorts of negative things pop into your mind and will sap your energy for the whole day.That’s why it’s worth having some systems.
“They’re a little bit of hassle to set up but they are an investment. Once they’re up and running, they’re one less task and you will feel a sense of order about your life.
“Tackle every area of your life – sort out your files, set up standing orders for regular bills, do your banking online and clear out your wardrobes.”
- Calm down
It’s ironic that we achieve far more when we’re relaxed, says stress expert Becki Houlston.
“No one would ever get on a plane if they saw the pilot running across the runway stressed, shouting that he’s far too busy to talk to air traffic control,” says Houlston. “When we’re stressed, our prefrontal cortex in our brain closes down and it goes into emergency mode which means we don’t spot errors.”
Next time you’re rushing stop and practise the 7/11 method – take seven breaths in and eleven out. This will calm you so you can think rationally and get much more done.
- Batch activities
Group different jobs together and do them all at the same time, suggests Miedaner.
“Think how quickly you open and sort your post when you get back from holiday,” she says. “Have a tray for incoming mail and open several days’ worth at once. Pay bills at the same time. If you have several calls to make, do them at the same time.
- Do 15 minutes at a time
If there are jobs you’re not that keen on, do them in 15-minute chunks, advises Rachael Alexander.
“This is a bit sneaky because after a quarter of an hour, you’ll probably be so engrossed in the job you’ll decide you’ll carry on,” says Alexander. “But equally, you can set your timer and you know you can stop after 15 minutes.
“You can use this rule with everything from doing a huge pile of ironing to writing a book, brainstorming for new business ideas, and even popping round to see relatives.”
Look at the jobs you do and see if there are any you could delegate, says Miedaner.
“Get your supermarket shopping delivered, and if you can afford a cleaner, you could regain the five hours per week you spend cleaning and use them for more important things,” she suggests.
“Make jobs like washing the car or unloading the dishwasher sound like fun and share them out among your children for a little extra pocket money. At work, see if there are jobs you could give to the office junior or another member of staff.”
- Plug your energy drains
Go around your home and workplace and list the things that drag your mood down when you see them – from a broken picture frame to filing cabinets crammed with old paperwork. Work through your list and get everything fixed.
“If you can get rid of energy drainers, like the clothes that tumble out of a cupboard every time you open the door, you’ll have more energy to focus on the bigger things in your life,” says Presley-Turner.
- Be a finisher
If we have 25 goals, we’ll probably never achieve them all so we end up feeling despondent. Presley-Turner suggests we stick to three main goals that really stretch and excite us.
“Finishing the things we start is paramount to feeling satisfied with ourselves,” she says. “It gives us the feeling that we’re moving forward in our lives, rather than being stuck. It’s much better to finish one project that’s important to us, having done it well, than have 20 half-done on a back burner.”
Christine Fieldhouse is a health and self-help journalist, and she writes for the national and international press.
Her autobiography, Why Do Monsters Come Out at Night? was published by Hay House. She lives in North Yorkshire with her husband Ian and son Jack. www.christinefieldhouse.co.uk
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