Busy people get more done. This might sound like a self-explanatory statement at first, but maybe it’s not. If you want to be more productive, you should just stay busy — right?
It’s more complicated than that, of course. You can probably think of a time when you stayed busy with a single task for quite some time, only to be disappointed when it didn’t deliver the results you wanted. You were “busy,” but you were not “productive.”
So what’s the secret to productivity? We studied the experts and this is what we learned.
Understand Your Priorities
Do you ever feel like the number of projects you’ve put on the back burner could easily occupy all of another person’s time? Why’d you start those projects if you knew you weren’t going to finish them? You probably never planned for them to fall off, which means you’re not doing enough to identify your priorities.
There’s only so much time in your day, so take a moment to consider which things are most urgent and which outcomes you desire the most. Then, arrange your time and effort deliberately so that you’ll complete those things and avoid investing valuable time and energy into less important objectives.
Get Out of Your Own Way
If you’ve ever felt like your own worst enemy, you’re not alone. The entire world deals with this type of emotion, but few people manage it effectively. When you turn negative feelings inward and create guilt, it can be physically impairing.
Don’t let this happen — it will have a sapping effect on your productivity. Instead, learn to recognize those feelings and investigate what triggers them. This will do two things for you.
First, it will help you avoid creating these negative feelings in the future. Second, it will allow you to have a healthier internal dialog about those feelings. Instead of beating yourself up for beating yourself up, you can say, “This happened because I was feeling negatively after an argument. It was uncomfortable, but I know where I could have avoided this, so I don’t need to live in fear of it happening again.”
Learn to Say ‘No’ to Things
“Yes” feels good. You can’t say “yes” all the time, though — there are just too many things to do in life. Saying “no” isn’t just a way out of things you don’t want to do. In fact, you might be someone who needs to get better at saying “no” to things you do want to do.
The ability to say “no” is a critical skill for prioritizing your time. Spreading yourself too thin will result in stress and incomplete tasks, which creates more of the chaos you were trying to get out of in the first place. The next time you have an important decision to make, give it some real thought. Should you say “no” to this? Are the benefits of a “yes” justified?
Even if your method of organization isn’t “neat” by conventional standards, you should know where things are. Have the notes for your meeting in front of you and review them beforehand. Keep your wallet in the same place every day so you don’t lose it. Set your watch five minutes early so you don’t arrive late.
After you learn to keep things in order, you’ll be better prepared to improvise should something come up. If you’re attempting to manage organized chaos, you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed.
Give Yourself Time to Recharge
One of the critical practices that keeps diligent people from being productive is that they forget to rest. You can tell yourself that operating on four hours of sleep a day is helping you light the world on fire, but you’ll be using wet matches. Find time to rest and treat yourself to a small reward for your efforts. It keeps your morale high and lets you continue to be productive.
This is not the same as indulging, which can be lead to just wasting more time. It just means you have to put energy back into your own system before you can continue spending it on the things you want to accomplish.
These are just five simple suggestions for how to start, and they will naturally guide you into other productive habits. No one is productive without trying, and you’ll probably fail at a few of these the first time around. Remember item number two above. Stay positive and remember — you have it in you to be very productive. Now go get to work!
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