The best way to be more productive is to spend more time planning. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true. It’s difficult to be productive when you don’t really know what to do next. How many minutes and hours have you wasted by just looking around and wondering where to start? That’s where having a plan comes in handy. There’s no time for ‘what now?’ or ‘I know there’s something I’m supposed to be doing…’.
So spend a few minutes each evening planning out your next day. Grab your laptop, tablet, or good old fashioned pen and paper, and start writing down a list of all the things you need to do the next day. Notice that I said “need”. These are your priorities – the things that absolutely have to get done. You have to pick the kids up from school, and you have to do that important work presentation.
Now jot down all the things you’d like to get done. This is usually where things like cleaning come in. Yes, you’d like to tackle that pile of papers, and it will need to be done eventually, but right now it’s not as important as sitting down to a meal with your family, or helping a friend who’s going through a tough time. Put it on the list and realise that it’s not going to go away, but also recognise that it’s not a priority.
Your priorities will be different to the next person’s, so re-jig your list until you’re happy that it really does reflect your order of importance. Me? I do mine chronologically by hour, so I slot in all the things I have to do at the appropriate time, then fill in all the blank hours with things from the remainder of my list.
What’s important here is that you be realistic — I never schedule a lot of housework on a day when I’ll be running around town because, of course, I’m going to be physically tired. However, those are great days to finish reading those library books that are due back soon. Similarly, days spent sitting at a laptop for a few hours are great for fitting in a brisk walk or some of the chores that require a little more effort than others. Also be mindful of when you’re most energetic. I like to get the bigger tasks over and done with early in the day so I can spend my evenings relaxing, but some people only come alive when the sun goes down.
It’s also important to slot in some “buffer time”. Being realistic about how long something will take is one thing, but life always throws little obstacles in our way. The washing machine will break down, the phone will ring with someone requiring attention, the internet connection will drop, an unexpected visitor will show up… Or you’ll just plain run out of steam. Don’t jam pack your day with activities; you want the satisfaction of being able to complete all your chores with some time to spare, rather than rushing and racing to keep up and feeling worn out and fed up. Being productive should motivate you, not make you feel miserable. You should want to clap yourself on the back, not collapse in a heap.
Write your list and prioritise it, as outlined above, not forgetting to include time for the everyday routine stuff, like meals, showers, etc. (When I first started writing lists, they would often go astray when I forgot to include time to eat lunch or to get ready to go somewhere). Include everything, even if it’s an hour of catching up on your favourite TV programme.
Pick out the clothes you’ll wear, making sure they’re washed and ironed, and include accessories. What’s the point in having the perfect outfit picked out in advance if you then spend half the morning looking for appropriate footwear? (A helpful hint here is to check the weather forecast for the next day. This may dictate your choice of clothing, and also prompt you to put your umbrella in your bag!)
Look at each item on your list and gather what you’ll need for each one. For example, if you have a presentation, you’ll need your notes, so go get those and put them in your bag, or if you’re planning a workout, make sure your gym bag is packed and ready to go.
Make sure you have contact details for anyone you have to meet, and send a quick reminder to them so that you don’t waste time waiting around for someone who’s forgotten your appointment. If it’s a friend, a quick text message saying, “Are we still on for tomorrow?” will suffice; if it’s a professional meeting, an email saying something along the lines of, “I look forward to meeting you tomorrow at 2pm at the Conference Centre” should do the trick.
Plug any electronic equipment you’ll need in to charge.
Pack a lunch or some snacks.
And that’s it. Carry your list with you the next day so that at any given time you can glance at it and immediately remind yourself where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll feel more in control, less stressed, you’ll be less likely to forget anything in your rush out the door, and you’ll get so much more done than if you were trying to play catch-up all day. You’ll also sleep better because you won’t spend half the night tossing and turning, trying to remind yourself of things you need to do.