How to Stay Productive and Actually Get Shit Done
I’m not a new year resolutions kind of person. I never have been. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the same clean slate, fresh start feeling that we all get come January.
In fact, I start feeling it in December.
The end of one year and the beginning of another feels like a weight has lifted. I’ve suddenly got this ‘no fail’ enthusiasm that I didn’t even know existed in my body or mind. But somewhere between March and binging The Office every night after work, my desire to stay productive has fizzled into a stronger desire to do absolutely nothing.
So this year, I’m trying something new.
This is my attempt at keeping myself accountable and actually getting shit done this year. Care to join me?
It’s time to change things up
Often I find myself staring at my to-do list, overwhelmed. The overwhelm turns into picking up my phone and scrolling through Instagram for an hour or so. Followed by some serious hatred for myself because 1. I’ve just wasted an entire hour mindlessly scrolling and 2. I’ve thought of more things I need/want to achieve in the next three, six, twelve months of my life.
I’ve come to realise, I’ve spent the last four years of working for myself having one productive day each week. One… And more often than not, these productive days were usually caused by a seriously tight deadline. Causing more stress, more frustrating and more hatred.
Please tell me I’m not the only nutter out there who creates this self-inflicted torture?
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. And I sure as heck am willing to admit I have a very serious problem with procrastination. It’s time things change.
The monthly brain-dump
To avoid a to-do list that feels like it’s a beast that’s constantly growing, I need dump everything out of the abyss that is my mind, onto a piece of tangible paper.
At the beginning of the month, I switch off. In a quiet space clear of any distractions (yes, phone and computer included) I’ll sit down with my thoughts and my thoughts only. It’s not enough for me to have my phone sitting face down. I literally leave it in another room, on silent or better yet, switched off.
In this quiet space, I grab a big piece of paper and a pen, and I start jotting down everything I want to achieve for the month. Sometimes it’s hard to get started. It helps looking at everything I’ve done the month before. So it’s always good to come prepared. I find it helps to work off one notebook for all my lists so I can keep track of where I’m at.
In this brain-dump, I consider my customer. What will this month bring up for them? Are they struggling with anything that I and my business can help with?
I consider my products and services. Is there anything I’m launching that I need to prepare for?
I consider if anything has been playing on my mind lately that I’d like to write a piece about.
The key to this is to just write. Every thought I have, I write down. Sometimes, when I can’t think of anything, I just journal. I write out everything that’s in my mind – the things that are bugging me, the things that aren’t working or are working, the things I want for my future. And eventually, I get to a place where I’m thinking openly about what I want to achieve, and what I need to do to get there.
I certainly can’t work from my brain-dump. Often there are things in there that are just so off topic that they just don’t have a place in my to-do list.
So, naturally, I start a new list.
This, I like to call, a mega-list. Now, I’d never work off this list. It’s far too overwhelming to look at. It’s more of a reference point for the next four weeks.
There are times when I look at this list and realise there’s just far too many tasks to complete in four weeks (talk about eager!). When this happens, I need to sift through and highlight my priorities. I consider whether any tasks are dependent on other tasks being complete. I consider deadlines and whether certain tasks are influenced by certain moments in the month.
The priority tasks will be pulled into ANOTHER list – an updated mega-list for the month ahead. Anything left over is to be moved to the next month. Seeya.
Once my mega-list is looking manageable, I like to make a commitment to myself, to try, as hard as humanly (and mentally) possible to complete every task on this list. But, y’know, no pressure.
Lock it in
I’ve tried a bunch of apps to block out my time and plan my tasks. And I’ve recently found a system that’s so simple, but has really made a difference for me. It’s seriously so freaking easy, I’m kicking myself for not trying it sooner.
I’ve started blocking out time in my Google Calendar. Yeah, it’s that simple.
Now, I’m not going crazy with it and blocking out every half hour. I’m just not the kind of person who can keep up with that. I kinda hate being told what to do to be perfectly honest.
Instead, I just block out chunks of my day for certain tasks.
This system has been working so well for me, I’ve even starting trialling meal planning with it to save money and avoid wasting food.
Here’s an example of how my calendar looks.
The daily to-do
Each day, I’ll take a look at my mega-list and pull out three main tasks for the day. These are my main priorities.
The reason I chose three is I find it’s so not so overwhelming and it’s actually manageable to complete. Once one’s been ticked off, I feel a rush of pride, giving me the energy to tackle the next one.
Before I start working on the first task, I think of all the little things I need to do in the day too. Things like replying to an email or book an appointment. The kind of things that just come up randomly but don’t take too much time.
Manage breaks wisely
Breaks are helpful and encouraged. But I’ve found the worst thing I can do in my break is to focus my brain power on something that lies outside of the task at hand before it’s been completed. That’s where my procrastination brain thrives.
So instead, I try to take small breaks doing really mundane things. Things like taking a moment to make a cup of tea. Hanging the washing on the line. Watering the plants. Standing outside for a moment or going for a quick walk around the block.
Now, I definitely haven’t perfected this yet. I still catch myself on particularly bad days watching InstaStories or obsessively reading about the latest strange crime in the news. But on days that I’m strict with my breaks, I seem to get a whole lot more done.
I’ve created a weekly and monthly planner for you! Hopefully it’ll help you get on track, stay productive and get shit done this year.