I said it before, and I will say it again – real productivity has nothing to do with the number of tasks that you check off your to-do list. Want to learn how to be more productive, really? Then keep on reading for my TOP 5 favorite productivity tips. (Hint: they are NOT what you expect.)
Over the last few years, I learned many lessons, some very hard way, that you can get a hundred tasks done and still feel like you did nothing. And on the other hand, sometimes getting just a few things completed makes you feel great.
If you have been following along for a while, you already know that I am all about designing my life in a way that allows me to achieve more in a sustainable way.
When I say achieve more, I don’t mean getting more tasks done off my to-do list. If anything, I mean getting less tasks done. But usually, I prefer to get the more important tasks done. The ones that matter more, the ones that will make more impact. The ones that are truly essential – instead of getting 20 things done and none of them being really important.
And when I say achieve it in a sustainable way, I mean a way that will prevent burnout and overwhelm. Because I want to be able to sustain it for an extended amount of time, while actually enjoying my life in the process.
Sometimes we get fixated on a goal, or an end result so much that we actually stop enjoying our present life. We work very hard toward that goal, and in the best case scenario, if we eventually get there, we realize that getting there didn’t make us as happy as we thought it would. Or, in the worst case scenario, if we don’t achieve the result we wanted, we get very frustrated.
And this is NOT sustainable.
I didn’t always know that. For many years, I chased productivity. For many years, I believed that being more productive simply means getting more tasks. And so I filled my todo list with dozens of tasks, and then I was wondering why I still wasn’t feeling like I was being productive.
But I learned my lessons, some very hard way. And today I want to share with you my TOP five true productivity tips – tips that help me maintain a sustainable way of living, so I can achieve more in life, work and business while feeling good.
Productivity tip #1: Create buffer
The first tip is about having a buffer in your schedule.
Imagine you suddenly get this nice open day with nothing planned. And what do you do? Right, you immediately fill it with tasks and meetings, leaving absolutely no room.
Because it’s such a great opportunity to get SO much done! So let’s squeeze in as much as possible in this day!
You get all these things planned, and then something unexpected happens.
Last time I did that, my daughter got sick, and so I ended up taking work calls while sitting in her room, cooking her chicken soup and measuring her temperature. Out of 30 tasks I’d planned, I did 10 at most. And it definitely didn’t make me feel good.
Now I am smarter.
These days, I intentionally leave some empty space in my day. If I feel like I can accomplish 10 tasks, I will only aim to complete 5. If I know that I have 4 hours of spare time today, I will only book 2 of those hours, and I will leave the other 2 empty.
Because some unexpected things might happen.
Something might go sideways. Something might take longer than expected. Some emergencies might occur. And if that does happen, I want to have room to accommodate those without feeling slammed.
And if nothing happens, then I will be left with 2 extra hours that I can use to do something that I love! I can use those 2 hours to relax, read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game – whatever I feel like doing!
So, next time you feel tempted to fully book your calendar, DON’T.
Be smart. And leave some buffer.
Productivity tip #2: Plan for the week instead of the day
Tip number two is all about setting priorities and tasks for the week, not for the day.
I have been using planners for several years now, and every year I try to find a planner that will allow me to easily schedule tasks for the week. But all I can find is planners that have to-do lists for the day.
And here’s my problem with daily to-do lists: I feel like they enslave me.
Because sometimes I just don’t feel like doing this particular task today.
Yes, there are some truly time-sensitive tasks. But most of the time, a task just needs to be done. And whether it’s today or tomorrow, doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s done this week, it’s perfectly fine. And I don’t want to be forced to complete it today only because I wrote it down on my to-do list for today.
This is why now I create a plan for the week rather than for the day.
It gives me freedom to work on my tasks in the order that makes most sense at the time. I might feel inspired to pick this particular task right now, and so I do it. Or vise versa, I might not feel like doing it today, and so I do it tomorrow instead.
Approaching my to-do list this way has helped me tremendously to feel better at the end of each day. Which, in its turn, has positively affected my ability to get even more done.
Productivity tip #3: Book no-work time
This tip is all about making it sustainable.
Book no-work time on your calendar, and make it sacred. Really stick to it.
This is something I started doing a few years ago. Once a week, every Wednesday in the afternoon, I would book 30 minutes that I would call “thinking time”. During that time, I would make coffee and then sit in the backyard without my phone, without my laptop, without anything.
I would just sit, think and relax.
Don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I am running 30 miles per hour all day. I constantly juggle a million different things. And even though I sit at my desk all day, sometimes it feels like I am running out of breath.
And having those 30 minutes during my day to simply sit still, to slow down and recharge made a huge difference. At the end of these 30 minutes, I always feel refreshed and ready to rock-n-roll again.
Here is just one problem. Booking this time on the calendar is easy. What is not easy is actually using it as intended. It might be very tempting to use this time to deal with some task that just came up unexpectedly. And then, before you know it, you stop respecting this no-work time.
It is a true paradox that we so easily and so happily neglect ourselves and our own personal needs whenever something comes up. We should be treating ourselves as the highest priority, but somehow it turns out to be the opposite. I took some time to do a research and I discovered why it happens, and I have a lesson dedicated to this topic in my FREE online course called “How to find 3 extra hours in a day for something that you love” – definitely check it out if you are struggling to find time for yourself!
But coming back to your no-work time…
Book it on your calendar, and respect it.
Come up with a reason why you will stick to it. Make it your habit, make it your tradition, make it sacred. Make it something that nobody can touch.
It is your time – to relax, to think, to connect with yourself, to sit in silence and hear what your mind is trying to tell you.
You will learn so much by simply listening to your thoughts.
It doesn’t have to be much. It can be as little as 30 minutes a week. But it will make a huge difference.
Productivity tip #4: Optimize your daily schedule
There are many different ways and approaches to optimizing your daily schedule.
I know some people who like to space their meetings throughout the day and leave blank space in between. Their reasoning is that they want to be able to have a break, go to the bathroom, or have coffee.
I have tried this approach, but for me personally it doesn’t really work. I end up having a full day with a bunch of 15-minute breaks in between, and the problem is I can’t really use those 15-minute breaks for anything. My job, and especially my business, require a lot of tasks where I need to focus and think through things. And it’s hard to think through anything in 15 minutes.
Earlier this year, I was trying to optimize my schedule to separate my work and my business.
At first, I was thinking of dedicating a full day, let’s say Friday, to my business. But I quickly realized that it would be very hard to maintain – people at work would still expect me to be available 5 days a week.
So what I did instead was moving all my work tasks and meetings to the first part of the day every day, and then blocking in the rest of the day for my business.
So I would focus on my job from 9am till 3pm, and then from 3pm till 6pm I would work on my business. And this has worked really well for me.
Yes, sometimes I have to be flexible and to adjust things here and there, but in general this is exactly how I have been planning my days for many months now, and it has been working really well.
You can apply the same approach to non-work activities too. Feel free to use it to optimize your work vs family time, or business vs personal time – get creative and come up with a way that works for you!
Productivity tip #5: Stop multitasking
This is not a tip really, but rather I want to break a myth about multitasking.
So many of us are trying to multitask. Sometimes I find myself guilty of it as well. And once I notice myself trying to multitask, I immediately stop – because multitasking does NOT work.
Please hear me out.
You physically cannot focus on two things at the same time. What you call multitasking is instead you constantly trying to switch focus between two tasks.
And guess what?
As a result, you produce very mediocre results in both tasks.
It is tiring. It is disruptive. And it is meaningless.
And let me ask you something.
Is this task that you are working on right now important enough to deserve your full, uninterrupted attention?
If yes, then why are you multitasking? Why are you not giving it the attention it deserves?
And if no, then why are you working on it to begin with?
Try a new approach. Start focusing on one task at a time. And you will notice that not only will it help you achieve better results, but you will also feel more fulfilled once you are done.
Because this is exactly what makes us feel accomplished (and productive!) at the end of the day.
It’s NOT the number of tasks you completed. It is how important they were to you, and how deeply you connected with them.
Remember, it is NOT about quantity. It is about quality. Always