With a plethora of goal setting articles, tips, tools and everyone offering their little bit of advice, it can get really confusing and that’s the last thing you need.
There’s no magic formula. So reading countless number of books/articles isn’t gonna get you a winning formula. One where you’ll suddenly wake up and be mr or mrs super productive.
It’s more about knowing what works for you, being disciplined and committed to it.
Here are 10 things that I keep to:
Keep it simple
There are many people and articles out there that will tell you this app is better than the others, that you need this tool and that extension and a Moleskin notebook and binder and 67 coloured pens and highlighters to get your work done.
Yes, coloured pens are pretty and it’s nice to write in a pretty notebook. But all these things in and of itself isn’t gonna make you super productive. Worse, they are going to hold you back if you don’t have a system and you are too busy drawing lines, and looking for coloured pens and decorating.
At the end of the day, just keep it simple. What works for me is just a simple to-do list with checkboxes. I use Google Keep and Google tasks for this. I toggle between the both depending on my mood. But I always make sure it’s in either one of these apps.
I use Keep for everything – school, business, work, random stuff and Tasks is more for my day to day.
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Everything in one place
Related to the point above, I emphasise keeping everything in the same place. That helps keep you focused and productive, as you won’t be spending time going around trying to locate random pieces of paper or forgetting which notebook page you have it on.
I also recommend getting everything out onto your app or paper instead of storing it in your head. This frees up your mental capacity for other things.
Having a deadline
People find this really boring and rigid. But it’s one of the key things that stops people from completing what they set out to. Most people tend to waste time when they have too much of it on their hands.
Things that can done at anytime end up getting done at no time.Gretchen Rubin
The quote above sums the point up perfectly. Things expand to fill up the time you give them – Parkinson’s Law, so if you don’t have a deadline, you will tend to take longer than necessary to complete it.
I’m currently studying part time and I find that whenever I have too long deadlines I end up procrastinating and doing them at the last minute. I changed that by doing the work the minute I get them and then giving me short deadlines to finish it. (link to article on challenge again).
For every single little thing that you do, set a time limit. If you go over the limit, it’s fine. Just schedule in another timeslot and deadline to complete it. This way you now know how much time completing the task realistically takes.
This is somewhat related to the point above, and is something that people find really boring as well. Time blocking just means setting aside time for each activity and blocking it out in your schedule.
The trick about this is to give yourself a realistic amount of time to accomplish what you need to. But it’s also about being flexible and not packing too many things together without any buffers in between.
Time tracking helps a lot with time blocking. When you track how you use your time, you are then able to plan your schedule properly.
After awhile of tracking my time, I now know that I can usually finish a huge task in about 1.5 to 2 hours. 2.5 hours is the longest I’d take. All you need is a timer! Just start timing yourself whenever you start working on something and switch it off once you are done.
You will be able to get a better idea of the amount of time you need for different types of work.
Knowing your energy levels
Are you more alert in the morning? Evening? Are you the sort that prefers to do heavy tasks at certain times of the day?
Knowing your energy levels will enable you to plan your day better. For instance, I know that I’m quite alert from 10am to noon and I do a lot of my writing/reading then if possible. I’m usually pretty low energy after lunch so I try to complete more “action”-based activities like calls, some admin tasks – things which don’t require deep thought.
Get a good night’s rest
Too many of us wake up with not enough sleep inside of us. I won’t go into details of what a lack of sleep do to your body, but let’s just say it isn’t great over time. When you aren’t resting enough, you are not giving your bodily processes enough time to rejuvenate itself.
So get the right amount of hours you personally need – we are all different. If you need help getting rest, it helps to have a good pre-bedtime ritual.
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Planning things ahead of time
I love to plan my schedule at least 2 weeks ahead of time. It’s not long a time when things can change suddenly (like in a month), but still gives me sufficient time to schedule things with some flexibility.
For instance, whenever I know I have an important thesis submission on a Monday, I wouldn’t plan any social gatherings the previous week.
Know your bandwidth
For instance, I know that if I had a very full day at work, I wouldn’t be able to come home and read and write an essay for school. I’d be alright with reading short articles or writing a short paragraph.
There are people out there who are able to juggle a million things and seem to be super productive. But you need to know yourself best. We all have different bandwidths and work at different speeds. Pushing yourself beyond your bandwidth is going to lead to burnout in the very near future.
Knowing the difference between a project and a task
Another mistake that many people make is that we don’t differentiate between a project (which is huge) and a task. Tasks are the steps that you need to accomplish to finish the project. For example, if you write “finish Biology essay” – it doesn’t help.
What are the components of finishing the essay? What do you need to do before the essay is completed? Do some research? Specifically what research? What parts of the essay do you aim to finish – if it’s long. What pieces of knowledge do you need to put it together?
All those bits and pieces are tasks and can take hours to accomplish in and of itself. Hence just writing “finish an essay” isn’t helping your brain and will likely lead to more overwhelm and procrastination.