Today we have unprecedented access to information anywhere and anytime. We can multitask using multiple screens, and we can connect and converse on the fly—yet there are still only 24 hours in a day. Do you think that our increased level of “connectedness” today has anything to do with being busier, yet less productive? You bet it does, and I fall victim to this just as much as anyone else. In fact, I notice more and more these days that I need to “unplug” on a regular basis in order to regain some equilibrium. Do you notice that in your life as well? Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned from personal experience that can help you stay productive without being overwhelmed with busy-ness:
Keep Track of Your Priorities
Writing down your goals and keeping them uppermost in your mind as you plan your schedule for the day, week, month or year is important. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that ends up on your plate—whether you put it there or someone else does. So when I start feeling that things are falling off the edge and I can’t keep track of it all, I have to take a step back and look at those priorities again.
Does this activity or that one serve my goals or detract from them? Should I take on this assignment now or politely decline (or postpone)? When should I just say “no thanks”?
Ask yourself these questions as a filter as you go over your schedule. Make sure your assistant(s) have those priorities in front of them as well, so they can be proactive in protecting your time and keeping you on track.
Keep Your To-Do List Short (and give yourself a break)
How many things do you put on your daily “to-do” list? If you’re like many of us, it can be easy to pile things on as you go, and then beat yourself up because you didn’t get it all done in a day. Life happens. Interruptions happen. Take those things into account and prioritize your to-do list into A, B and C activities. A = Must Get Done Today (or I’ll lose business), B = Should Get Done Today (but can wait) and C = Would be Nice (but not necessary).
Then cull your list to one or two As (and maybe a B), but not more than three items total. Everything else can move to the next day and re-prioritized. Be honest with yourself on what’s an A, B or C and match them to your priorities list.
Why only three items? Putting ten or more items on a daily to-do list sets you up for failure. It’s almost impossible to get that many things done in the average work day, so you stress yourself out before you even start, and the tension builds throughout the day as you get further and further behind. Trust me, it’s a lot easier to work from a short list. It keeps you more focused, and instead of beating yourself up because you only got one or two things done, you can celebrate instead! Those one or two things moved you toward your prioritized goals instead of keeping you spinning in a hamster wheel of busy-but-not-productive activities. It takes a little practice to get in a groove with this, but I’ve found it’s well worth the effort.
Unplug to Recharge
Prioritizing your activities and keeping your to-do list short are important, but so is taking time for yourself to unplug and unwind. Today we’re bombarded by more external stimuli than ever before. Multiple screens mean that multiple things vie for our limited attention spans. Our days are full to bursting. We get less sleep. All of that tends to pack on the stress, which has a direct effect on mental and physical health.
Over the years I’ve learned to listen to my body’s physical cues that it’s time to unplug. One of those cues is when I have nothing on my plate the next day, but I wake up feeling stressed and drained. I might have even accomplished a lot the previous day (or week). When I get that feeling, I know it’s time to take a few days to head to my favorite quiet beach and relax, take it down a notch (or two sometimes) and recharge my mental batteries.
Learn to pay attention to your own inner cues. It’s important to find that balance for yourself, and to carve out time and space where you can get away even for a short while, even for “moments” at a time, to just “be” in an environment that makes you happy and gives you peace.
Rinse and Repeat
While it’s important to unplug when necessary, it’s also important not to lose your productivity momentum when getting back into your work routine. That’s why I always re-start by revisiting and tweaking my written goals and making a concerted effort to keep my to-do lists short and prioritized. However, we’re not robots, and life is not something that can be relegated to lists. Give yourself room to move, be flexible, and recognize moments of opportunity that give our lives meaning and purpose.
Is this outline a magic formula that works for everyone? Nope. I know that it works for me, but there might be other things that work for you. We’re all busy—and each of us copes with that in different ways. But we’re also human, which means we benefit from being on both the receiving and giving end of sharing what helps us live healthy, productive lives. Hopefully you can benefit in some way from the tips I’ve shared here.
Remember I say all the time that there is #NoLetUp… but that also means #NoLetUp finding a few moments here and there for yourself.