You can’t magically add hours to your day, but you can make better use of the ones you have.
We all have our Achilles heel of distractions that pull us away from what we’re supposed to be doing. Have you ever wondered how some people are able to make distractions disappear while getting so much accomplished?
It takes a combination of discipline and creativity (and a few tricks up your sleeve doesn’t hurt). Here are a few to try:
Do the hardest thing first.
If you have the same five items bogging down your to-do list that never seem to get done, try working on them first before you do anything else. Stephen Covey introduces this habit of working on the “first things” in his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’ve never seen this video using rocks to illustrate this concept, it’s an insightful classic.
Do one thing at a time.
Studies have shown that multi-tasking is a myth and that while your brain may be able to switch between tasks quickly, it can’t really do more than one thing at a time. Instead of using your brain power to switch between things, try doing one thing all the way to completion for maximum efficiency.
Create a habit (or break one holding you back).
When something is a habit, you do it automatically without having to waste time thinking about it. In her book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchin Rubin argues that there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to developing, keeping and breaking habits. Every individual is different. You can take a free quiz online to better understand your habit tendencies.
Ask for help.
If you’re not getting everything done, maybe you’ve simply taken on more than you can handle. Find a few items you can delegate or call in some favors for some short-term relief. Or maybe you just need to talk it through with someone whose advice and experience you admire. If you haven’t found a mentor yet, now might be the time.
Step away and take a break.
When you hit a wall, instead of digging in and working harder, step away for five to ten minutes. You probably need a break and a chance to recharge. Plus, costly mistakes are often made when you’re worn out and unable to focus. Drink some water while you’re at it. Hydration is important.
Turn off your phone. Shut off your email. (Or whatever is distracting you.)
If the idea of disconnecting makes your heart rate increase, it’s understandable. What if that one person you’ve been waiting to hear from finally gets back to you? But if you can eliminate or minimize interruptions even if it’s just for one or two hours a day, you’ll find it easier to be productive. You can schedule a time to work, and then a time to return voicemails and emails later.
Track your time.
If you don’t know how much time it takes to accomplish a certain task, it will be hard to carve out the time do it. An easy system like the Pomodoro Technique can help you break up large tasks into smaller ones while giving you a realistic understanding of how much time a task takes.
Don’t forget to eat.
It may feel like a thousand different things are demanding your attention, but with a little awareness and a few tricks, you can make your days even more efficient and productive.
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