Busy, busy, busy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and it’s easy to make excuses for why we aren’t getting anything done. Our jobs demand a lot is us, there’s traffic to fight, and the distractions of TV and Facebook are just a click away.
But you have to act in order to move forward. You have to break out the mental bondage of feeling overwhelmed and helpless. To help jumpstart your productivity, use the five-step checklist below:
There’s a reason why people talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that all of us have basic needs that have to be met, ranging from food and shelter (survival) to the ultimate goal of self-actualization (such as following The Daily Bell’s Two Year Plan to Freedom).
Your hierarchy of needs is important because if you don’t fulfill your lower needs, it becomes harder to fulfill your higher needs. It’s hard to build an empire if you haven’t eaten or slept.
This is why the first thing you should always do to be productive is to prioritize those needs. Above all, you will sacrifice productivity if you haven’t slept enough, or eaten enough healthy food.
Then, write down your top three to five needs and rank them according to their importance. While doing this, also recall that some things are urgent but not important. You might really need to send that email but you also know that to try and write it now would be futile unless you get some food in your system or take a moment to decompress.
Take care of yourself and what tasks have to come first before you try and tackle anything else. This will keep you on track and will save you valuable time and bandwidth.
We recommend Craig Ballantyne’s book The Perfect Day Formula for more on prioritizing, as well as getting more done, while still having time to do the things you love.
Trying to make too many choices at once, or being given too many options, is mentally overwhelmingly for many people. Who doesn’t get a little stressed out choosing toppings and syrup flavors at IHOP?
As the number of choices that need to be made in a short timespan increases, the number of well-made decisions drops. You probably have experienced this decision fatigue when you were at the store looking at thirty different toothpastes. Or at the end of a day when you made a poor financial decision because you were too tired to consider alternatives.
Decisions are exhausting. We get caught up in the details, muddling over opportunity costs, pluses and minuses, and what’s better in the short or long term. All these decisions drain your mental capacity and willpower. This is especially true at the end of the day when you’ve used up your capacity to make decisions.
In order to avoid decision fatigue, you should use that list of priorities we talked about before and front-load your most important decisions. Make the vital choices at the beginning of your day, not at the end of it. This way when it’s late and you’re staring at the clock, it’s because you have a happy hour to look forward to instead of another tough decision.
You should also seek to minimize your daily number of choices in order to conserve your bandwidth. This is why many high powered people, from businessmen to politicians, often eat the same thing for breakfast and have a capsule wardrobe. They know that by automating and reducing their choices they will be able to concentrate on more important things.
Try this in your own life and see how much easier it will be to focus on the big things instead of what you will wear or eat.
Triggers are anything that causes us to make a certain choice or that influences us in a particular direction. These could be subconscious desires, mores, or values instilled in us when we were kids. They could be from nonstop advertising and cultural pressures.
One way to be more productive is to use these triggers to your advantage instead of just reacting to them like most people do. Think of what influences you and what your habits are like. Consider your daily routines and look for triggers. What pushes your buttons so that you feel compelled to take a certain action?
For instance, one common trigger is New Year’s Day, which makes people reflect on their lives and about changes they’d like to make. Another, more mundane, example is that looking in the mirror in the morning reminds people to shave.
You will become more productive if you create your own triggers or rewrite bad ones.
Maybe payday is a trigger to splurge a little. That’s fine but why not also make it a trigger to check your accounts and pay some bills first?
Maybe bedtime is a trigger to scroll the internet on your phone, costing you hours of sleep and much-needed energy the next morning. Why not instead have bedtime become a trigger to charge the device across the room where you can’t reach it? (That’s another trick from The Perfect Day Formula; keeping your phone across the room also means you have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.)
The good thing is that almost anything- visual or audible input, physical objects, a time of day- can be a trigger. The key is to control them to build new habits of productivity and to nudge yourself into making better use of your resources.
No one’s mood and energy is constant 24/7. You’re not a robot and unless you’re a Cylon or Mr. Data, your emotions and energy fluctuate throughout the day and year. Maybe you notice that you’re more down and drained in the fall and early spring when there’s less sunlight. Maybe you know that you’re a morning or night person. Perhaps you have come to realize that certain music or locations make a noticeable difference in your productivity.
This is normal and instead of trying to fight it, you should roll with it.
Take the time to chart out how your energy and mood is during the day. Notice how it changes, when, and why. This can be done simply be reflecting at the end of the day or writing down the occasional observation.
The goal is to know yourself better and to take advantage of your mood and energy patterns to enhance your productivity.
If you know when you’re the most energized then you’ll be able to use those peak moments to get a lot done. This is an easier way to be productive since it relies on you using your existing patterns instead of trying to force yourself to work.
Finally, remember to refresh yourself rather than trying to always push through every single obstacle. When you are working with your mood and energy, refreshing is how you keep going during your low periods.
You might think refreshing yourself sounds counterproductive or like some kind of new age fad. After all, this is about getting things accomplished, not about putting things off. And you’re right. However, a small break or moment of self-care can help you stay motivated or get back on track.
There’s also a very clear difference between a break that turns into a Netflix binge and a break to take a quick shower, stretch your legs, or get the heart rate up.
Unfortunately, we live inside these mortal bodies of ours that need to be taken care of. We’re human- fragile, emotional, flawed, and full of both dreams and excuses.
We have to find ways to move towards our goals. Only we know what can help us move forward and when we need a small break. That’s why the last key to productivity is to refresh yourself, not to break yourself.
Listen to your body and walk away when you need to. Then, after a moment, come right back and attack whatever you need to finish to be productive.
All boiled down: if you understand yourself–your habits, needs, emotions, triggers, and strengths–you can better control your outcomes.