It’s time to Power-Up your Productivity
We’re a few months deep into the new year, and it’s time for a productivity assessment. You may have started the year with a fresh outlook and determination to get more accomplished with your time. And now, as the months have sped by, you might have found yourself falling short. Or falling back into bad habits and inefficient patterns.
It’s important to remember that the need for occasional course-correction is normal and even beneficial. Building good work habits goes a long way towards increasing productivity. But over time even quality routines may degrade, allowing in procrastination and distractions.
The following are a handful of productivity power-ups that you can inject into your daily and weekly routines now. We’re not looking to completely overhaul your work life. Instead, we want to make adjustments that, applied properly, will help keep you focused and effective.
Create a Weekly Schedule and Stick to It
Chaotic schedules make it incredibly difficult to be productive. An absence of structure allows available hours to disappear like a rogue in the night (minus the a puff of smoke and yell of “ninja vanish!”). When your day lacks a plan, you may spend precious minutes and hours meandering, trying to decide what to do.
We all lead hectic lives. Some of our daily interruptions are out of our control. But you can commandeer your time by standardizing as much of your weekly routine as possible.
Sit down with a calendar to map out your average day. Use calendar apps on your phone or in Gmail or Outlook to dissect the days down to the half hour.
First, block in what you can keep consistent: wake up times, meals, job shifts, commutes. Then lock in the daily variations – the kids’ activities, your favorite TV shows, weekly Magic tourneys at the game shop. Drop in all of the stuff you do almost every week.
Schedule your family and relaxation times, too. To be a Nerd for a Living, you have to work hard. But you must protect your time for enjoyment and loved ones, too.
Now examine the spaces that are left. Make these your productive periods, when you can squirrel away time for that novel, business plan, or art practice. If possible, make it the same time every day. The more consistent, the better. Wherever they fall, though, block in an hour or two, whatever you can spare, and reserve it for your projects.
Establish this routine with the rest of your household. Start every day knowing that this time is off-limits to everything but your work. Protect your productivity time. Defend that time with all your might.
Resist the urge to encroach on it with house chores, or that one-more-level-for-reals-just-one on your game. Set alarms on your phone or computer to remind you when it’s time to get down to it.
And when the minute strikes for you to start, be ready to begin. Don’t spend 10 of those precious minutes getting coffee or getting settled. Handle that stuff beforehand.
It will take discipline. But over time, you will create good habits. Train yourself to dominate your productive time.
Plan your Days the Night Before
Once you have your new schedule in place, establish the habit of checking it each evening before bed. Familiarize yourself with the next day’s agenda. That way, you’ll wake up knowing where you’re supposed to be and what you need to accomplish. Remind yourself of your upcoming productivity time.
Decide ahead how you’ll use it. Make a note – mental, digital or post-it – of what project or to-do you will attack in that time slot. This allows your subconscious to grind away on it overnight and during your day. Then, when you settle in to work, you won’t flounder about figuring out how to spend your time. You can get down to business, mentally prepped for that day’s challenge.
Each of us possesses a finite daily amount of willpower and decision-making ability. Imagine that you have a Willpower meter keeping track of your available energy. The meter refreshes each morning. Every decision and minor bit of stress whittles that meter down as the day passes. When your meter runs low, even small, innocuous decisions become difficult. It becomes easier to avoid good choices and procrastinate. This can kill your productivity.
Routine and habit help automate some of those daily decisions, preserving your meter. “Today You” can assist “Tomorrow You” in a big way with some pre-planning. Just as laying out the clothes for the morning saves you time and mental energy in the A.M. rush, planning your productive period ahead of time makes it easier to put your head down and get to work.
Focus on Short Term, 90 Day Goals
It’s tempting to think big picture when setting goalposts. You want to be a screenwriter. Become a game developer. Build a successful business. Get in Captain America shape. All great goals! But each of them are the product of long development assembled from many smaller milestones.
Envisioning enormous, longterm goals is both invigorating and daunting. You are initially charged with excitement, ready to attack your lofty ambition. If you do not have achievable short-term goals, though, you’ll get lost in the grind, achieving little satisfaction. The endgame will seem too far away, feel increasingly unattainable. You may lose focus or drive. So many projects and ambitions are cast aside because they seemed too big, too hard.
Rein in your plans and expectations. Instead of struggling with huge projects, break them down into manageable, 90 day plans. Three months provides enough time to resolve significant tasks, but not so huge that you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Within that 90 day window, divide your projects into smaller daily and weekly goals. Gift yourself the ability to score frequent, satisfying small wins. These accomplishments will recharge your batteries and fuel your efforts through to the completion of the larger endeavors.
Focus on Just a Few Projects at a Time
“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
– Ron Swanson
Some of you may be blessed with a singular mission that you pursue with laser focus. Nothing distracts you from your one true destiny.
I honestly don’t understand you. At all. But I’m totally jealous of that focus.
Creative and entrepreneurial types frequently shove a multitude of irons in the fire. Whether serial business creators or artists experimenting across media, we are wellsprings of ideas and ambitions. This makes us exciting and formidable. It also means we start a lot more projects than we finish.
It’s a fine thing to dabble in various pursuits. Enjoy learning new skills, rack up experience points. But if you want to level up with serious achievements, you must narrow the focus of your energies. Your goals will never see fruition if you’re constantly splitting your available time between a dozen hobbies or pursuits.
If you’re serious about pursuing your dreams, now is the time to decide on your priorities.
I’m one of these types of scattershot creatives. I know how hard it is to kill your darlings. I don’t prescribe eliminating ALL the varying activities that you enjoy or that scratch your creative itch. You will likely go crazy doing just one thing, and fall off the wagon.
Just hone your focus to the smallest handful of pursuits that are most important, most pertinent to your life goals.
Here’s your homework: Make a list of all the things you want to do, to achieve. Not hobbies, but actual goals and pursuits. Fill it in with all the random plans you’re tinkering with. Pick the two most important, promising, fulfilling goals.
Now the throw the rest away.
Everything else on the list is a distraction. Get those first two done, and THEN find time for the others again. If you’re serious about your project or life path, you have to get down to business and make things happen. Otherwise you’ll be looking at that list 10 years from now, with nothing important crossed off.
Apply a few of these suggestions and you should see a noticeable uptick in your productivity. You’re a nerd on a mission. Keep leveling up.