The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t. ― Joshua Becker
If you have read any articles about productivity, you don’t need this post to find out that we’re bombarded with more tasks than ever before. Expectations and demand increase, while our sleep, stress levels, and happiness suffer. We create to-do lists that are so long it feels like we are running a race against the clock. The problem with that is….well there are a lot of problems with that, actually.
First off, we always lose that race. We cram way too much into a day and then we get disappointed when we don’t finish everything. Oh well, we’ll just pile up these to-dos onto tomorrow’s to-do list, right? After all, tomorrow we’ll be much more productive and we’ll be able to do everything. Except tomorrow’s to-do list is just as long and tasks continue to move from one day to the next as if they’re playing hopscotch on the calendar. All the while, the amount of stress and anxiety begin to become overwhelming. And anytime you want to do something that isn’t on your to-do list, the activity can’t even be fully enjoyed because there is a sense of guilt from not working on that to-do list.
It’s time to admit it, this system isn’t effective. Complaining about it isn’t going to help, so let’s talk about solutions.
Evaluate your to-do list
Start by taking a look at that to-do list. Go through each item, one-by-one, and ask yourself if it’s really important. What does this task achieve? Does it help me make progress towards my goals or values? Is this task really necessary? If it doesn’t add value to your life but it’s necessary, see if you can find a way to do the task in less time. If it doesn’t add value to your life and it’s not necessary, why is it on the to-do list? Take it off the to-do list to leave time for more important tasks.
Focus on the three most important tasks for the day
Each morning, have your top three tasks that you want to achieve for the day. These are tasks that are necessary or provide immense value to your life. Your attention, energy, and time should go to finishing these three tasks before doing any other task on the to-do list. This doesn’t mean that you only do three tasks in a day. Instead, it means that the three most important tasks get the time and attention they deserve. Better yet, by working on these tasks first, they no longer have to be subjected to procrastination.
Cut out the distractions
We all have something in common with millionaires, productivity gurus, and personal development coaches; we all have twenty-four hours in a day. The problem is we spend those hours differently. How many of those hours are going towards social media, email, and television? These tasks can be a great source of recreation, but if it’s time to be productive, consider spending less time on these tasks.
Take breaks to recharge
Even productivity ninjas take breaks every once in awhile. The key is to use planned breaks as an opportunity to recharge, and gain clarity again so you are ready to focus. Working in short, focused segments can be a great way to power through important tasks. One popular approach to make this happen is called the Pomodoro Technique. It might sound fancy, but it’s quite simple. Remove all distractions then focus on one of your most important tasks for twenty-five minutes without stopping or checking notifications. After twenty-five minutes, take a five-minute break to drink some water, take a short walk, or do an activity that can help you focus. Then start again. After performing this process four times, take a break for fifteen to thirty minutes. By doing this process, you will spend over an hour and a half focusing on your task. Now take a look at your results. Chances are, your results came out much better, and faster than usual. It’s a simple technique, but it works wonders. Best of all, you can repeat the process again and again, all you need is a timer.
Maybe twenty-five minutes is too long for you to focus, and you need to have twenty-minute focus sessions instead. Perhaps you’d rather have two most important tasks instead of three. Just because the suggestions don’t currently work for you, doesn’t mean they need to be tossed out completely. Adjust accordingly to see what works out best for you. Start off with only one suggestion then slowly add more as time goes on.
Becoming a productivity ninja
While some of these approaches seem counterintuitive, test them out and see what happens. By focusing on less, we can create more meaningful work at a higher quality. This also helps our stress levels, wellness, sleep, and quality of life. If that doesn’t sound like a good deal, I don’t know what does.1