Do you want to become more productive? If so, you are in the right place. This post is divided into two sections. First, I will address the most common reasons people have trouble being productive and how they affect your productivity. Then, I will explain the best ways to become more productive. It’s all very simple after you have figured out what exactly is the reason that you feel you are not productive and what you have to do the fix the situation.
Keep in mind that there are no magic tricks when it comes to getting things done. At the end of the day, you just have to step up and do it. That’s all there is to it. There is no need to make things more difficult than they need to be. Your tasks are often much simpler than they first seem. The first step you take may be the hardest, but if you keep doing one little thing after another, sooner or later you will be finished. Well then, without further ado, let’s get to the reasons you might be having trouble getting things done.
What is your biggest challenge?
If you have trouble conquering your to-do list, there’s often a simple reason for it. Don’t worry, it’s not because you’re lazy or simply can’t do it. Things may be hard, but you can get it all done one step at a time and you will learn more along the way.
First you have to figure out what keeps you from beginning or makes you give up too easily, or makes it hard to focus on anything for more than five minutes. After that, you can start to make actual changes to become a more productive person.
The number one reason that keeps people from being productive is procrastination. If you are supposed to be doing something that you don’t think is interesting and you maybe find it somewhat difficult, it can be hard to make yourself sit down and get to work. This is normal, but thankfully it’s also something you can change.
First of all, you need to know why exactly you are procrastinating. Is it because you’re supposed to do something very difficult? Or something really boring? Is it something scary or are you simply overwhelmed? When you understand the problem, it’s easier to fix.
Make sure that you’re not asking too much from yourself. If you are for example supposed to write a 10-page essay, it doesn’t make any sense to simply think that you should write the essay. Instead, you can tell yourself that first you just need to plan the essay or write an outline. Or you can set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes and just commit to working for that time. The bottom line is to figure out what makes you procrastinate and what is the best solution to that.
If you are a perfectionist or otherwise someone with very high standards, you might find it hard to finish things or even start them. Everything seems difficult when you strive for perfection. In this case, it’s best to set realistic goals and standards for yourself. If you are writing a report that you know people will simply glance over, it doesn’t make any sense to spend any more time on it than is necessary. If you are reading a book that you don’t find particularly interesting and you won’t be tested on it, there’s no need to write every word carefully or even to read every chapter.
Strive for progress over perfection and keep in mind that it really is progress that is ‘perfect’, not the details. Be clear about what you have to do and set realistic standards for everything you have to do. Focus on the big picture instead of the little details and you’ll notice you can get a lot more done.
3. Too many things to do
Sometimes it’s hard to get things done because you simply have too many things to do. Now you may be thinking that that’s just how things are and there’s nothing you can do about it, but think again. There are things that you simply have to do, there are things you think you should do, there are things you do because you want to and there are things you do because you’ve got used to doing them.
To make more time and to be able to focus on what really matters, you have to prioritize. Even if you feel like you have to do ‘everything’, there are always things that are of more or less importance. Ask yourself what really matters the most and what can be skipped or put on the back burner. If after prioritizing you still have too many things to do, prioritize some more.
Multitasking is sometimes seen as the epitome of being productive, but in reality, it tends to be the opposite. When you multitask, you don’t focus on anything properly. You have to constantly switch your focus from one thing to the other and that tends to lead to more time spent compared to if you only did one thing at once.
To be productive, you have to refrain from multitasking when you need to concentrate. If you are doing something very simple, like washing the dishes or jogging, you definitely can multitask a little by listening to something at the same time. But at the same time you have to be observant and honest with yourself: if you can’t focus properly because you are doing too many things at once (even if it’s just listening to music), you have to be strict with yourself and only focus on what you really should be doing.
5. Not being organized
One reason people find it hard to be productive is that they are not organized enough. If you have a lot of things to do, but no system to keep track of everything, that alone can cause you to waste a lot of time and energy. To be efficient, you have to know exactly what you’re supposed to do and by what time.
Create a good system to stay on top of everything and you’ll have a much easier time focusing on one thing at once and getting everything done on time without having to suffer from unnecessary stress. A good system doesn’t have to be complicated. When I was in university, I had a simple Word document where I had written all the different courses as subtitles and underneath them, I would list every single thing I had to do for that course. It was fast to use, easy to edit and I would always have a clear idea of what I was supposed to do.
How to become productive
It’s not enough to simply know what the problem is, you have to fix it too. Being productive is about taking action and doing what you have to do even when you don’t feel like it. You can make things much easier for yourself though. The easier you make your life, the more productive you can be. Here are six ways to make your life easier and be more productive.
1. Be clear about your goals and tasks
The first thing you have to do is to be clear about what exactly you have to get done and what do you want to get done. If your goals are vague, it’s hard to work for them. “To quit 9-5” doesn’t mean anything, if you don’t also have a plan to make it happen.
The same goes for your daily tasks and short-term projects. If you have a report or essay to write, ask yourself what exactly does this text has to be like, what is it supposed to convey, and how good you want it to be. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. The important thing is that you know exactly what are you going to do and try to make the project or task as simple as possible. If you are planning on cleaning your house today, don’t just write “clean the house” on your list. Instead, make the needed tasks clear for yourself by writing down “vacuum”, “wash the shower curtain” or “clean the spice rack”.
2. Stay organized
It’s hard to be productive if you have random to-do lists lying around, some notes saved on your phone, some on your laptop, you use two different calendars and all the rest is just in your head. I’ve been there myself, but there’s a better way to stay on top of things. The important thing is that you have a clear system that you use consistently.
For example, you can use Google Calendar to remember where you have to be, write everything you need to do on a Microsoft Word document (with categories), and write your daily to-do lists on a piece of paper that you always throw away at the end of the day. Or you can use a bullet journal to keep track of everything. Or possibly you want to keep everything on your phone or maybe a certain type of calendar, like a Panda Planner. There are many ways to be organized, you just have to come up with one that works for you and fits your needs.
Don’t spend time on creating a fancy Pinterest-worthy system that requires you to make things look good. You want a system that is clear, easy, and doesn’t take any extra time. That is productive.
3. Don’t let yourself procrastinate
I know this is easier said than done, but there’s nothing more important to do in order to be productive than to avoid procrastinating. If there is a specific reason for you to procrastinate, you have to come up with a solution to that. In any situation where you feel like doing something more fun and comfortable than working, you have to keep one thing in mind: it’s all about simply sitting down and starting to work.
Don’t worry about getting all the way till the end before you’ve even started. What you have to do right now, is to start. That’s all. You can set a timer for 15 minutes (or 5, if you feel like you can’t commit to more than that) and just promise yourself to work for that long. Chances are that after 15 minutes you feel like continuing to work because it actually wasn’t that hard after all. Or if you do want to quit after the time runs out, at least you got something done. Take a break and then set the timer again.
4. Prioritize and then prioritize some more
If you feel overwhelmed with too many things to do, you have to prioritize. You only have 24 hours in a day, which means you can only do so many things each day. You have to ask yourself what are the most important things that you really have to or want to do. These are the things that you need to prioritize. Anything else, whether it’s something that would benefit you or be fun, comes after.
It’s very possible that even after prioritizing the most important things, you still feel that you don’t have enough time to get everything done. In that case, you simply have to prioritize even more. Are you working on an important project? Ask yourself what are the most important parts of the project. If impressive charts would be nice for your project, but the main point really is the text, then you should focus on the text. I’ll say this once more: it doesn’t have to be perfect.
5. Create a good routine
Having a good routine helps tremendously. Try to build one that fits your work style. If you’re someone who can easily focus for long periods of time, use that to your advantage. If on the other hand you’re someone who can only stay still for so long, make sure you give yourself a lot of breaks and try to keep things interesting.
When creating the routine, ask yourself where do you think is the best place for you to work, what time of the day, for how long, when do you take breaks, what are you allowed to do when you work and what should you do when you feel like procrastinating. Having a plan will help you to stay consistent with your work and to get in the right mode when it’s time to get things done. If you always work at your desk with a cup of tea by your side, simply sitting down with the tea can put you in work mode.
6. Actionable steps
One way to make your to-do list a little less intimidating is to make sure every task on it can be completed in one sitting. That means you have to break down all your tasks into actionable steps. Every project, essay, and difficult task becomes much more doable this way. The smaller the steps, the easier and faster they are to complete.
If you have an essay to write, you don’t want to have just “essay” written on your to-do list. Instead, write down things like “Google about the topic”, “write the outline” and “write the introduction”. Try to make sure that every step takes less than half an hour to complete. This will make it much easier for you to start working. If there is something you can’t break into a small step, try setting a certain time for it. For example “15 minutes of writing”. Breaking everything down into actionable steps also ensures that you feel like you are making progress.
Do you struggle with productivity? Do you have any special techniques you have noticed work well for you? Let me know in the comments! Also, if you are serious about becoming extra productive and reaching your goals, you probably need some extra motivation from time to time. Sign up for my newsletter to get motivational emails and tips every two weeks. If you sign up now, you’ll also get a free copy of my book ‘A Complete Guide to a Productive Life’.