How to Be Productive
Show me someone who claims they have never procrastinated, and I’ll show you a liar.
Too harsh of an intro? Well, too bad. Because according to the #1 anti-procrastination, pro-productivity tip of all time*:
“Perfection is the death of all good things, perfection is the death of pleasure, it’s the death of productivity, it’s the death of efficiency, it’s the death of joy.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Ted.com
So, that intro wasn’t perfect, but who cares? It’s done, and we’re moving on.
In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing exactly how you can harness your own progress-not-perfection mentality, with tips for:
- Overcoming procrastination
- Creating a productive schedule
- Choosing your set of productivity tools
It’ll be challenging. It’ll be worth it.
*In my opinion.
Establish Daily Routines
Routines provide structure, reduce our need to plan, create efficiencies—and most importantly, they save us time.
When establishing your own set of daily routines, think about the type of person you are:
- Are you more of an early riser or a night owl?
- Do you like opening your phone first thing and checking the news, or would you rather go outside for a walk?
- Do you like to plan your day the day before, or the day of?
You get the idea.
When you take a step back and review the things you do every day without thinking—you’ll realize you have the bones of a routine already.
This quote, from SkilledAtLife.com (perfect URL, right?) summarizes the author’s journey from anti- to pro-routine perfectly; I’m sure many of us feel the same way as they do, and would thusly benefit from creating more structure day-to-day:
“I used to view having a routine as being boring, rigid, and stifling, and I know that many people share this view. They live their lives in a capricious and whimsical manner, believing that it frees them somehow. On the contrary, I have learned that designing and adhering to a personal daily routine is the path to freedom, productivity, happiness, and fulfilling our true potential.”
Start small when creating your routines and rituals. What makes you the happiest? What keeps you grounded? Start by answering those questions, then introduce those elements into your morning. Kicking off each morning with something that makes you happy will undoubtedly improve your mood, and your work productivity, for the rest of the day.
Personally, I like to sip coffee in silence. I know this routine can’t continue forever, but right now it works for me and my schedule. Without at least 15 minutes of … literally, nothing else but coffee and silence … my day feels off. Find what works for you.
I am easily distracted. Whether it be my phone lighting up, notifying me that my sister has put my niece Madelyn in a new onesie, or Microsoft Teams telling me that someone has liked a message in a group chat I didn’t even know I was a part of, I still look. It doesn’t matter the content of the notification—it’s still a pop-up that takes me away from whatever I was trying to focus on.
Here are some ways to limit those distractions that take us all away from the task at hand:
- Get away from your cell phone. Put it in another room, toggle the volume to silent (and no vibrate), and don’t look at it until you don’t need to be in focus mode anymore.
- Close out of the applications, software, documents, and anything else taking up space in your taskbar. The snipping tool currently residing in my taskbar is making me wonder what I snipped yesterday. This is a distraction. I am going to close out of it now.
- Turn off email notifications. That email will still be there in 20 minutes, trust me.
- Turn off chat notifications. In Microsoft Teams, there’s a nifty setting called “Do Not Disturb”. When you set your status to Do Not Disturb, you will only receive notifications for urgent messages and from your priority contacts. You can choose your priority contacts by clicking “Change Settings.”
Define Your Schedule
Define your workday; don’t let your workday define you.
In all of the research leading up to this article, I’ve come across the same advice again and again, leading me to draw the conclusion: There is no one-size-fits-all, perfect schedule. Some people are more productive earlier in the morning; some are night owls. But as long as work gets done, should it matter what time that work is completed?
Creating your ideal schedule will take time; here’s some advice to get you started:
- Make your schedule work for the type of person you are vs. the type of person you think you should be. If you’re not a morning person, don’t add “work out every morning!” to your daily routine.
- Focus on one day at a time. Creating a schedule that will work every day is a great way to create a schedule that you will never follow.
- Look at your calendar and be realistic about the free time you have that day. On average, middle managers spend about 35% of their time in meetings; (upper management spends 50%.)¹ Using these averages, that gives us about 5 hours a day to produce. Some days have more meetings, some less. Yet another case for why your ideal schedule needs to flex per day. After figuring out how much time you have that day, get realistic about what can actually be achieved during your block of “free” (non-meeting) time.
- Pick 3 tasks that need to get done that day. One author refers to the rule of 3 as “ruthless prioritization.” Part of his morning routine is choosing which three things he wants to accomplish that day. And during his nightly routine, he reviews his list of 3. If he achieved everything—great! And if he didn’t—at least he learned something.
Tackle Unpleasant Tasks First
“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”
— Dale Carnegie, GoodReads.com
Isn’t it the worst when you’ve set out your schedule for the day, you’re excited about what you get to work on (excited may be too strong a word) and then you remember about that one forgot-to-do-or-didn’t-want-to-do-or-not-sure-how-to-do-but-need-to-do thing?
Talk about a distraction! This unpleasant task will linger with you until it gets done. So as Nike would say: “Just do it.”
When creating your list of 3, list the hardest or most unpleasant task first; this is a well-known strategy, which Brian Tracey dives into in his book, Eat that Frog. Here’s a bit of the overview, taken from the Barnes and Noble listing summary:
“There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life.”
Is it too late to add this book to my Christmas list?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for overcoming procrastination and improving your productivity. There are many, many strategies however, and it’ll take time to figure out what those are for you.
In the next post, I’ll be diving further into the tools to help you boost your productivity. Not the buzz-wordy, task or project management systems—but the functional tools that accountants, tax pros and related business professionals are already using, and how to make the most of them.
Until next time,