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It is true that too much work is unhealthy. A good work and family life is important. However, it is still possible to be super-productive while you’re hard at work.
In my own life, I’ve been accused of being a workaholic often. I admit, it’s a struggle to maintain a healthy work/life balance, but it isn’t impossible. There are several things you can do during your productive hours to triple or even quadruple how much you accomplish while you’re working.
By using the tips I’m going to share with you, I’m able to manage a full 8–9 hour a day job, work a full-time position as managing editor of MakeUseOf, and run my own website. This is all in addition to raising two teenage daughters, and contributing to a healthy marriage. If you’re ready to multiply your productivity without sacrificing your personal life, let’s get started.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Every person has their own set of priorities in life. For some people, the most important thing to is being able to socialize more. For other people, it’s spending more time in nature. Still, for others, the driving force is the dream to be in some position like CEO or President.
You probably want to dive directly into my tips below so you can learn how to be more productive. First, I highly recommend you take a few moments to reflect on what is most important in your life.
What is it that you imagine yourself doing every day that would make you the happiest person in the world? Is it working from home so you can spend more time with your kids? Is running your own company?
Being “productive” is not the end — it’s a means to an end. If you don’t know where you’re going, then no amount of advice in the world is going to help you get there. So, take a few moments to reflect on your life, and decide what it is you want to accomplish. Think big.
When you’re ready, read on.
1. Big Goals First, Small Tasks After
What do I mean by “big picture planning”? I mean listing the top 4 or 5 things that are the highest priorities in your life. These are the things that you want to be working toward every day. Basically, these are the answer to the question, “Where do you want to go?”
For me, my top five priorities are:
- Have a healthy and happy family.
- Be financially independent.
- Do work as an investigative journalist.
- Write books.
- Become a data analysis expert.
At MakeUseOf, we’ve written about how to develop these big life goals in countless articles across the site, so I’m not going to get into that here. The only reason I bring it up is because to be supernaturally productive, you need to have both vision and purpose. Once the vision is in place, you can stop wasting your time worrying about where you’re going, and instead focus on your daily purpose, and work hard to get there.
2. Create Tasks for Your Life
When most people break down their big goals into smaller tasks, they usually only focus on the goals that are income or job related. They will create a series of smaller goals to achieve their dream of owning their own business or writing their first novel. People rarely take the time to break down other important areas of their life into lists.
For example, to achieve your life goal of having a healthy and happy family, you may create the following monthly tasks:
- Take my spouse out for a date every other Wednesday.
- Play basketball with my son every Saturday morning.
- Take my daughter to see a movie every first Friday of the month.
- Cook supper with my spouse every Monday night.
People often laugh when they see me checking off one of these tasks on my to-do list as completed. They ask, “You have to create a to-do list to spend time with your wife?”
My answer is always, “I want to spend time with my wife, and my to-do list holds me accountable to myself.”
This is what this list is all about. It isn’t what work tasks you need to finish up before Friday so your boss doesn’t fire you. Those may make up a small percentage of your to-do list, but the bulk of your daily focus and time should be in line with what’s on the list.
Those tasks are your way of holding yourself accountable to get them done. They should be a holistic plan of your entire day to ensure you’re giving a piece of the “time pie” to everything. This should include your health goals, your family goals, your financial goals, and your professional goals.
If you want to accomplish more in life, then you better make sure you’re striking this balance. Accomplishing your health and happiness tasks will end up making you more productive with your professional tasks as well. Fail with your health and happiness goals, and your professional goals will follow suit. That’s just how life works.
3. Your To-Do List Should Be Your Bible
So, you’ve created those big life goals, and you’ve broken them down into yearly, monthly and daily tasks. Now what?
This is when you’ve entered the phase of supernatural productivity I call “The Grind”. The purpose of spending so much time organizing up front is so you can release your thoughts and worries about the future. You can worry only about what you need to get done today, and put all your energy and thought process into grinding those out. Let nothing get in your way. You have 24 hours, minus sleep. Get it done.
This is where the tools you use are important, and they need to match your lifestyle.
My preference for the longest time has been ToDoist. The reason for this is that even though you create projects, sub-projects and tasks, all the tasks from all projects get combined into a master list of daily tasks you need to accomplish. Again, this lets you stop worrying about those big-picture ideas, and help you focus only on individual tasks. You need not concern yourself why you need to get those tasks done. You just need to get them done as efficiently as you can so you can move on to the next task!
This task management tool works best for people who are like me — you prefer putting your head down and focusing on specific tasks, without the distraction of worrying about the big picture daily. However, we’re not all alike. Some people prefer the “round-robin” approach to task management, where you work a little bit on multiple tasks all at the same time. This is a fine approach, but it requires a different kind of task management tool.
Trello is the perfect tool for this. Make sure to check out Akshata’s list of Trello Integrations that can help you stay more productive using Trello.
— Alana White (@alanakwhite) January 26, 2016
Still, other people are information-focused. This means that when you work on individual tasks, you want as much information as possible organized into a central location. You’re a note-taking type of person and always feel like there’s no such thing as having too much information.
Evernote is the perfect task management tool for you. Make sure to check out Nancy’s list of Evernote templates that can help you be more productive.
Evernote is a very powerful tool for collecting all sorts of information related to your tasks and projects. You can save photos, audio and other files into folders, take notes about different aspects of your projects or tasks, and much more.
Don’t settle too quickly on one tool. I’ve personally changed to-do task management tools at least a dozen times in my life, and I don’t plan to stop trying out new ones. Since this is a tool you’ll be using for every day of your life — practically every minute — you want something that feels fluid, easy to use, and comfortable both on your laptop and on your mobile phone.
4. Learn to Prioritize and Let Go
The biggest mistake unproductive people make is working on tasks that are urgent now, but make very little impact on those long term goals. This is fine if you don’t mind living every day without making any progress in your life, but if you’re looking for something better, it just won’t do.
Here’s an example. Let’s say one of your goals is to publish your first book. You’ve assigned four hours every Saturday morning to work on tasks related to writing your first book. Here are all the typical “urgent” life issues that may get in the way of that goal.
- Your wife informs you that the dishwasher is broken and needs to be repaired.
- Your son comes into your home office to complain that his laptop doesn’t work.
- You’re yearning to walk over to the game console in the corner and play just a few minutes of Infinite Warfare to decompress.
- The cat walks into the room and you remember that you haven’t fed it or cleaned the cat box yet.
These are what I call false fires — they are there to distract you from what currently should be your highest priority. These are hard to let go. This is where most people fail.
It’s critical that you place a priority ranking on all the tasks you lay out. The only tasks you’re allowed to push out into the future are the lower priority ones. If you are sitting there with a high priority task in front of you, come hell or high water you’ve got to get that job done.
Some techniques that can help:
- Isolate yourself. Lock the door, and put a “do not disturb” sign on it if you must.
- Use utilities to temporarily block social networks and other online distractions.
- Set a timer, and race the clock to get as much of that task done as humanly possible within that time limit.
- When the time is up, stop working on that task and move on to the next.
It’s a good idea to follow a job-related task with a health or family related tasks. Mixing it up like this makes it feel less like you’re constantly working and more like you’re enjoying life. If your kids need help with their computer, that can be part of the “spending time with the kids” goal you’ve set up for yourself. Treat it like any other task — dedicate a time block to it, block out all other distractions, and focus entirely on the task of spending that time with your children.
It’s not all about work, it’s about setting your mind to something and getting it done. Become a doer, not a procrastinator.
5. Learn to Fold Time Onto Itself
The one skill that you can learn that will make you appear like you are superhuman when it comes to productivity, is folding time on top of itself.
No, I don’t mean you need to invent a time machine. What I mean is, you need to accomplish multiple things using the same effort and the same time. Many tasks require more “wait time” than people realize. When you go to the doctor, you end up spending up to 30 minutes in a waiting room. When you do your laundry, you’re often waiting 15 to 20 minutes for your clothes to wash or dry. These “wait time” moments throughout your day accumulate to a gold mine of opportunity to get more tasks accomplished.
For this reason, bringing your smartphone and your laptop wherever you go is critical to having supernatural productivity. Any time you’re expected to wait for anything during the day, take either of those tools out and get some work done. Thankfully, these days there’s a Wi-Fi hotspot nearly everywhere you go, so even if you need the internet to get work done, that’s usually possible.
- While waiting in the doctor’s office, use your smartphone to answer emails.
- If you’re in the car waiting for your spouse to finish shopping, use your laptop to write a report for your boss.
- If you’re waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, use your smartphone to organize your evening tasks on your task management tool.
- While you’re waiting in the parking lot at school to pick up your kids, use the quiet time to cross meditation off your daily to-do list.
There are countless opportunities like this throughout the day, and for most people they add up to a whole lot of wasted time. However, when you start accomplishing things at the same time you’re accomplishing other things, you become a time-warping, productivity superhero.
Work Smart and Don’t Burn Out
If you follow the advice above, you will have tasks to manage your health and sleep patterns, your family and social life, as well as all your career goals. By following a well-rounded plan for your productivity, you’ll be sure to stay healthy and rested. This is how you can accomplish so much, while avoiding burnout.
Do you already use any of the tips above in your own daily life? Do you know of any other creative time management tips to boost productivity? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!
Image Credits: alphaspirit/Shutterstock