By Alina Berdichevsky
How often do you end the day lamenting “I was busy, but what did I accomplish?” Do you spend much of your day slacking off, procrastinating or ticking off an endless list of tasks that makes little difference to your output or happiness?
As a copywriter, I have to constantly be across new industries and trends at expert level to give insider topics the same seamless depth as my aptly versed, experienced clients. As content marketing grows in popularity, my days are increasingly spent lost in complex readings about the banking and governance sectors – along with the actual writing, extra-curricular volunteering, semi-livable housekeeping and experimenting with dinners that don’t kill my husband.
Frankly, my brain is turning to goop and my precious free time is closing in on me faster than a winter’s day. Sick of feeling tired and behind the eight-ball (and fuelled by the suspicion that others may be suffering the same), I decided to seek out some expert opinions to help me regain my joy-de-vivre and hopefully squeeze a 10-hour workday into a friendlier 6.
Here is how to regain your focus, blast through distractions, cut down your to-do list and fill your day with more of the things you love (whilst also getting ahead in life).
Complete tomorrow’s tasks tonight
As I casually flick through a monthly glossy, an article jumps out at me about busy women who move tomorrow’s tasks to the prior evening. Rather than getting up at a draconian hour, they do as much as possible the night before, including laying work clothes, squeezing that morning juice and sleeping in their make-up (for the committed!). This rather obvious but brilliant suggestion could be godsend for those of us who think nothing of pottering until 1am but would rather lick a toad than get up before it’s light.
Efficacy over efficiency
Encouraged by the information at my fingertips, I peruse the backlog of e-tips left in my mailbox by The 4-Hour Workweek guy, Tim Ferriss. I am refreshed by Ferriss’ honest confession that, despite his super productive last 90 days (think raising capital, closing huge deals, kicking goals for his chosen not-for-profit and buffing up his physique), he’s also suffered bouts of depression, procrastinated more than normal and worn the same pair of jeans for one week straight. His one success tool is to ride the waves of maximizing efficacy (doing the right things) over efficiency (doing things quickly).
To boost our productivity and fly through daily tasks, Ferriss recommends waking up one hour before screen time (as e-mail is a ‘mind killer’), make a non-caffeine tea (the irony) and use an old fashioned note pad and pen to write down 2-3 things that are bringing you anxiety. Then, you are to ask yourself two golden questions for each annoyance – “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?” and “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?” For the rest of the day, your focus now is only on the tasks you answered YES to. Set aside 2-3 hours to knock only ONE of those off. The trick is, one block of time uninterrupted, one task. Repeat tomorrow with a new priority. As Ferriss says, “this is the only way I can create big outcomes despite my never-ending impulse to procrastinate, nap, and otherwise fritter away my days with crap.”
I relate – do you?
While online, I spy a women’s productivity summit called www.TheWomanReinventionProject.com. The founder Vesna Hrsto is a life coach and naturopath who specializes in adrenal fatigue syndrome and burnout in women that comes about due to long-term stress. For her summit, she has also interviewed 21 successful people from all walks of life who manage to maintain physical energy, healthy relationships, spend quality time with family and friends AND still have time to be creative despite their busy schedules.
Naturally, I decide to give her a call. She summons me to reduce my to-do list to the core essentials and stop being distracted by shiny objects (or too many open browsers). We all have those tasks we love to hate but have to do, so she swears by the Pomodoro Technique which sets aside 20-25 mins of time to get through one task and takes out laborious mental resistance. For longer tasks Hrsto says to try the 52/17 rule, where you spend 52 minutes working solidly then take 17 minutes off completely away from your work or any technology.
Before we hang up, Hrsto reminds me to stop feeling guilty about taking time for myself and remember I am worth more than just an endless to-do list. I like her! She’s big on taking your ‘soul vitamins’ – hobbies, creative expression, spending time on your own – anything delightful that makes you feel happy and refreshed.
Can you delegate?
Health is also on the mind when I write to productivity coach, Louise D’Allura. I’ve been following her work for a while and D’Allura begins our chat by saying humanity is not only having a global energy crisis – we’re having a personal energy crisis! Everyone feels overwhelmed and strung out more often than they’d like – herself included. The trick is to be more savvy in defining what is actually a ‘priority.’ Sure, we may have a buffet of options due tomorrow, but which task will bring the biggest ROI to your project, study or organization? And really, do you have to do the whole thing yourself? Which parts are truly yours to own and which parts can you delegate?
A lack of organization is the biggest time waster
To focus while you work, D’Allura recommends a phone in airplane mode. She also states flat out that lack of organization is the biggest time waster we have and this is a life-skill to be mastered in our individual way. Don’t worry about overhauling your life, just start with the time drainers. Can setting up some email templates help you cut out unnecessary repetition? Would a simple excel spreadsheet keep tabs on any stats, figures and deadlines? Being creative is not equated with being chaotic. I think she was talking directly to me.
So, what have I learned?
1. Do your work during the times you feel most productive.
2. Take quiet time to get your thoughts in order.
3. Know your most important task and knock it off first.
4. Work in short, uninterrupted time capsules.
5. Take time out for health, joy and play.
The point is, we have made life and our schedules too busy and stressful for ourselves. If we get back to basics and remember to live in moments of priority, we can get through tasks quicker and have more time to take those ‘soul vitamins’ or finally master that Latino dancing class.
Alina Berdichevsky is a writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading online education providers. She is a communications consultant, brand lover and cultural excavator. She is also an expert on strategic achievement. Alina has delivered strategic content and digital solutions for a variety of organizations in the fashion, lifestyle, business, luxury, travel, technology, finance and not-for-profit sectors. She has a clear understanding of the power of search optimization and extensive experience in promoting culture, lifestyle and fashion-centered content across a variety of key audiences. Connect with Alina on Twitter at https://twitter.com/OpenCollegesAU.
I’d love to know, do you ever feel like you are BUSY but not PRODUCTIVE? Any tips you can share with our readers that work well for you?