Every year, come January, millions of people pledge that the new year will be their best year ever—the year they finally lose weight, quit smoking, write a book, start a business, etc. But while fantasizing of your dream life and writing down the corresponding resolutions that will get you there is relatively easy, making actual progress on those goals is much more difficult. Productivity is an often elusive animal that we chase and chase but can never fully grasp; there’s always more we could have done and something else that never got crossed off the never-ending to-do list.
So in the spirit all things new, instead of helping you set a list of goals that may never get accomplished, we’re offering tips to help you get more done in 2015. Here’s to a productive new year!
While we’d love to be able to create a clone and have an identical version of ourselves to knock out all the tasks that we never have time for or simply don’t like doing, we just can’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still pass off some of those items to someone else.
“Women do it all, and there is not enough time to stay sane and be successful—hence the reason that list just keeps piling up,” says Glenda Oakley, a motivational speaker and coach from San Antonio, Texas. “Women should re-prioritize and invest in their lives to make time for their goals.”
Oakley suggests hiring a housekeeper or checking out concierge services like Fiverr or HireMyMom for running errands or small jobs. And she doesn’t hesitate to “outsource cooking” (via fast food or take out) in her own home.
Like a car running on empty, there’s no way we can expect to be our most productive without the proper fuel to keep us going. But it’s not as simple as eating three square meals a day; there’s a right and a wrong way to eat for maximum energy.
“Avoid heavy meals unless you like that sleep feeling and an afternoon nap,” says Melody Granger, founder of The Well-Organized Entrepreneur. “Eat easy to consume snacks throughout the day, especially if you easily lose track of time. The brain and body will function so much better when it’s being fed.”
Dr. Jo Lichten, PhD, a registered dietitian and speaker who works to help busy people stay healthy and productive, agrees. “The body burns calories 24/7, yet most of us eat most of our food during the afternoon and evening hours,” she says. “You’ll feel more energized and productive if you eat more consistently throughout the day, starting with breakfast.”
Get some sleep
When deadlines loom, logging fewer hours of sleep at night often seems like the easiest way to allocate more time to getting things done, but this approach often has the opposite effect, slashing our productivity significantly. “Research shows that sleep deprivation results in a slowing of our productivity to the levels of someone who is intoxicated,” Lichten adds.
To operate at peak performance, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Once you’ve committed to getting a good’s night sleep each night, you may feel tempted to plow through each day, cramming as much into each waking hour as possible. But, again, your productivity levels will likely take a hit.
“Our natural body rhythms flow through 90-minute cycles throughout the night and day,” says Lichten. “For peak productivity, work hard like a sprinter for 90 minutes, then take a 5-10 minute break to refresh your mind. Then, get back to the grindstone.”
Work on the tasks you can do alone
In today’s interconnected society, working in teams and thus depending on others for the completion of certain tasks is more common than not. Unfortunately, working according to someone else’s timetable can cause us to do more waiting than actual working.
As a result, Granger says to focus on the items you aren’t dependent on someone else to help you with. As an example, she advises against listing “paint the house” on your to-do list, since you won’t actually be painting the house yourself. Instead, she says, “Put ‘call painters’ on your list, and when you’re ready to make it happen, make the phone call.”
Focus on the task, not the time
If you have a hard time focusing on the work in front of you because you’re always looking at the clock, wondering when you’ll be able to move on to the next thing, listen up: “Using a task-based mindset allows you to deal with items of importance with more intention and attention,” says Mike Vardy, founder and president of Productivityist. “Using a time-based mindset forces you to deal with items of urgency, and quality can also suffer in the process.”
The solution, he says, is to focus on the items of most importance and be diligent in working towards their completion. “Make every day a ‘do’ date rather than working towards the due date,” he adds.
Overhaul your to-do list
Ultimately, your productivity is determined by the number and scale very tasks you aim to complete, so with that in mind, professional organizer Melissa Gravitas encourages her clients to take a careful look at their to-do lists before ever committing to any projects.
“There are only four options for an item on your to-do list,” she says. “You can:
1. Perform it. Even if you don’t complete the action or project in
its entirety, you can make progress on it.
2. Assign it. If you are not the best equipped person for the task, you can delegate it or outsource it to someone else who is. (See tip #1 for more info.)
3. Postpone it. You can delay the start of the task, but beware of serial postponements. That is also known as procrastination.
4. Abandon it. Perhaps your priorities have changed. Perhaps it should never have been added to the list to begin with. Purge your to-do list just as you would your file cabinets.”
With those things in mind, and a strategic overhaul, your to-do list will be a lot more manageable and, consequently, you’ll be able to conquer those resolutions.