April 4, 2013

Lots of Words on Productivity

At the risk of being that annoying facebook friend:
(I know, it drives me crazy too, and I'm sorry)
... there are some big changes right around the corner for me. I wish I could share them in detail and I can't wait until they're official so that I can do just that. (And no, none of these changes involve a baby, so you can cross that off the list.) Rest assured that they are exciting, challenging, and a little scary, as all changes should be... or so I've heard. If you remember, I'm not a huge fan of change. So for now, to keep from completely freaking out while I wait for the wheels on this wagon to start rolling, I'm channeling my inner boy scout and trying to get prepared.
Most of the preparation is mental: these changes are going to necessitate a jumpstart in the productivity department. I've never been particularly good at time management (see also: master procrastinator), but since college my efficiency rate has been in steady decline. So over the next few weeks, I've got to get my tush back in gear, shaking off the lazy habits and getting ready for the major to do lists that are headed my way. Here's a little peek at my gameplan:

1. streamline the to do list: I've tried hand-written lists, google docs, and a handful of apps to keep track of tasks. I love the feeling of fitting everything I need to do on one sheet of paper (no matter how small I have to write), but it's usually more practical to use an app like TeuxDeux, where edits and changes are quick. I also love their dual layout -- I can keep track of work projects by date, but I can also create personal lists (reading for class, emails to send, even things to pick up at the store) at the bottom.
2. break free from the social media monster: I find myself tapping the Facebook icon so often when I'm bored with what I'm doing, need a break, or reach a tough spot in my work. I waste more time than I should reading things that don't even interest me, and half of the time I end up annoyed with people who feel the need to overshare (or those people who post vague statuses... oops). I have a sneaking suspicion that I'd be better off using that time to read a newspaper article, take a walk, or knock something easy off my to do list (and I doubt I'd really miss the pictures of other people's lunches).
3. get focused: I am a classic example of how today's culture of instant gratification is frying brains. If I have to wait more than a few seconds for a website to load, I'm off to browse somewhere else (ahem... see #2). If I get stuck on something, I scoot over to read a blog instead of working through the problem spot. When an email pops up, I stop what I'm doing to read it. I multitask like a pro, but sometimes I get so caught up in doing 16 things at once that I don't do any of them well. I need to make an effort to slow down and really pay attention to what I'm doing at any given moment. Luckily, this applies to both work and play: when I'm taking time to do something fun, I've got to stop letting my mind slip back to the piles of laundry and half-finished work spreadsheet.
4. count some sheep: How many times can we beat this dead horse? I've got to start getting up earlier, which means I've got to start heading for bed earlier. And stop falling asleep on the couch. And stop hitting the snooze button. It's not complicated, it's just really hard to remember at night when I'm just not sleepy... or at 5:00 in the morning when I definitely am. It's also tough to break the mindset (perfected during my college days) that sleep is a "bonus," some activity to fill the night hours when there's nothing better to be doing. If you've ever met me on a tired day, though, it's obvious that sleep is pretty critical to my ability to function. For the past few months I've been better about aiming for 6 hours a night, but I read this week that most people actually need 7 or 8 (and I'm inclined to believe it, since I'm always tired). Going to bed at 10 just isn't possible sometimes (Dan doesn't even get off work until 10 some nights), but I'm going to try my best to spend an extra hour with my pillow whenever possible.
5. organize all the things: I work so much better when my space is clean and I can find what I need. I typically do a pretty good job of keeping things neat, but every once in a while my stuff gets ahead of me. One of my New Year's resolutions was to de-clutter, and I will be taking that to heart in the coming days. Our poor trash man is probably going to deserve a tip.
6. take a break: I love a good day off as much as the next person, but I don't always use them to their full potential. I have a tendency to pack my long weekends so full of chores, work, and errands that I return to the office more exhausted than refreshed. As life gets busier, time off (be it days, hours, or minutes) are certainly going to get harder to find, but I know that both scheduling and taking advantage of free time is going to be essential. Not that I'll be sitting around with my feet up all weekend, but maybe a few bon-bons wouldn't hurt. Honestly, I think people who spend their time off well (even if they don't get much) are harder workers and happier people.
7. set a goal or three: For a while now I've been stuck in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting things out and trying to stay content with the rut in which I'm finding myself. Although the changes ahead weren't something I actively sought out, they are a great excuse to shake things up a bit and keep the momentum going. It's a good time to look towards the horizon, re-evaluate some things, and then take a few giant steps towards... something. Still working on that last part, clearly.
8. name that priority: If I were to look back at each minute of my day yesterday, I'm sure that I'd be surprised by the time I spent doing things that didn't really matter to me. Doing dishes may be a necessary evil, but bad TV is not, and I'm never going to get that half hour back. If I'm going to master the art of fitting all of the important things into each 24 hour period, I have to start cutting out things that are just wasting space (and yes, I'll also be playing a lot of Tetris to practice).
9. one and done: Years ago, I read some brilliant article (that has since disappeared from the depths of the internet) about how to deal with everything from your overflowing email inbox to your cluttered bathroom counter. The author suggested a simple rule: don't look at anything more than once. When an email comes in, don't flag it to remind yourself to come back to it; answer it. When something lands on your desk, don't add it to a pile; take care of it. When a bill comes in, don't make a note on your calendar; pay it. The author argued that the more times you have to look at something (an email, an item on a list, something that needs to be put away), the harder it becomes to take care of. I am certainly the queen of doing this wrong: the piles on my stairs (of things to take up or down) have begun to grow roots and my email is full of different colored stars that scream "don't forget to come back to me!" Although the article didn't stick with me, the principle did, and it is past time to put it to use and stop looking at things so much.

I certainly have a long way to go: it took me all of 3 days to write this post and I'm sure I moseyed over to check facebook at least 6 times while I was "writing." But I know that it's time to make a change, and that getting good at these things will not only help make the next few months less stressful, they'll become habits and life skills that will stick with me. I'm thinking of it as spring cleaning, just for my brain and my lifestyle.

Now you tell me: what are your favorite secrets to productivity? How do you get so much done in a day? How many hours of sleep do you get? Have you found the code that unlocks 2 extra hours each week? I'd love to hear it (especially that last one)!



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