Your Two-step Guide for Getting More Done
A lot has changed in the last few years, and work is no exception. The typical 9-5 workday that for decades had been the nearly universal standard in office spaces is getting a shake-up. Across all kinds of different industries, there is a growing openness toward more varied schedules.
As innovations like remote work and even the 4-day work week gain broader appeal, it’s important to make sure that a change in routine doesn’t negatively affect your productivity. With just a little planning and organization, you can make the most of work stretches no matter when or where they take place. These two basic tips will be your guide for getting more done.
1. Organize your day
If you find yourself positioned with a project-oriented, deadline-based workflow, it’s up to you to schedule your own work hours. Think through the normal peaks and valleys of your daily routine to figure out what the most productive part of your day might be. For example, if you know you’re not a morning person, don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Maybe spend some time checking email in the morning, and save the most involved tasks for after lunch when you’re more energized.
Once you have a general overview of your schedule, the next step is to optimize your environment for productivity, namely by removing distractions. This step is especially important if you’re working from home—you might find things like chores or the TV or even your dog calling to you while you’re trying to get stuff done. The best way to combat this is by making room in your schedule for those things, too! Block off some time for laundry, pets, family, and relaxation each day.
It won’t be such a struggle to fit everything in when you see your whole day mapped out—when you’re not just improvising a new schedule every time you wake up. A few other ways to optimize your environment include:
- Not checking your email while you’re plugged-in to a task
- Silencing notifications while you work
- Listening to soothing ambient sounds to help you clear your mind
- Setting up at a library or coffee shop if home is too distracting
2. Organize your tasks
Now that you’ve organized on the macro level of your overall day, you can get organized on the micro level of your individual tasks. It’s one thing to set aside some dedicated time for work, but making the most of those work stretches means being prepared, being empowered, and being intentional. Here are a few different methods for managing your workload.
The important-urgent matrix
Credited to the time management habits of president Dwight D. Eisenhower, this method has you distinguish between activities that lead to you achieving goals (important) and those that simply demand attention (urgent). Ultimately, this approach is about organizing your priorities, and specifically emphasizes de-prioritizing the kind of work that’s more concerned with putting out fires than growth. From most essential to least essential, these are the four categories of work in the matrix:
- Important and urgent
- Important but not urgent
- Not important but urgent
- Not important and not urgent
The Getting Things Done system
Developed by productivity consultant David Allen, the Getting Things Done method highlights the value of front-end planning before you even sit down to work. Beyond just listing your tasks, you should write out:
- A one-sentence description of each task
- What it will look like when the task is completed
- The next step you will take to complete the task
- A self-assessment of the emotions you experience during this process for each task
The main principle of this system is that our “incompletes” swirl around in our brains even, sometimes without us even noticing, which leads to productivity-killing anxiety. Storing everything you’re not working on into a trusted system outside of your brain helps you focus on the work at hand.
On a Keep Connected podcast episode about organization, Rachel Wilkerson Miller talks about how she used to keep a to-do list at work, a diary at home, and a Google Calendar on her phone. Then one day she realized she could combine them all into one equally productive and meditative notebook.
A bullet journal is a totally customizable approach to to-do listing that is more holistic. It’s a place for short-term tasks and long-term goals. It’s your personal and professional daily mindfulness exercise.
Tech resources for productivity and growth
If you combine the above concepts with digital tools, there’s no limit to the amount of streamlining you can achieve. Check out a workflow guru like Asana, cloud-based storage systems like Dropbox, and other free tech tools.
Another tech resource that can expand the horizons of your work experience is Meetup! Join a group for your industry or a work-from-home group in your area. Not only can you make valuable networking connections, but you can also share general workflow ideas with people in similar situations. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you can easily create your own Meetup group and invite others to join you!
This article was written by James Quigley, a writer, editor, and educator whose work has received Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets nominations. James was born and raised in New York, where he lives and works as a freelance writer.