“There’s so little time and so much to do,” sang Louis Armstrong. That pretty much sums up most days, doesn’t it?
I don’t know what your life is like, but as a speaker, author, wife and mom of three kids, I’m always trying to figure out how to be more productive. As I’ve studied and taught on life balance over the past decade, I’ve found that these 11 tips are the most useful in my own life.
1. Set your priorities before you start working.
Every morning, choose your priorities for that day. Focus on three to five things that you want to get done most. In fact, I encourage you to title your list exactly that: “What I Want to Get Done Most Today.” As silly as it may sound, the title will help you make room for only the most important things so you can feel confident about how you’re spending your time.
2. Get rid of the tasks that don’t matter.
You know that feeling of crossing things off your to-do list? You can start your day feeling that way! Get rid of tasks that simply don’t matter—or at least don’t matter right now. Do you really need to steam your couch cushions? Do you really need to respond to all 150 emails in your inbox?
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Evaluate what tasks are worth your time and scratch off (or delegate) the ones that aren’t. Learning to say no to what doesn’t matter will free you up to create a life you actually want to lead.
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3. Schedule your work.
Use your calendar as a tool to manage your work time and to-do list. We schedule appointments and parties, so why not schedule your work time?
Take your list of priorities, look at your schedule for the day, and decide where to fit them. Even when something else comes up, you can always adapt your plans as things change throughout the week—just move your work to a different time slot. The goal is to continue doing the right things at the right time.
4. Cut out the time wasters.
We’re all guilty of filling our time with things that don’t matter—I’ll be the first to admit it! It’s easy to procrastinate by scrolling through Instagram, or constantly refreshing the news, or deciding to start a load of laundry when you should be working to meet a deadline . . .
These mindless activities aren’t helping you. In fact, they’re stealing your time. When you feel tempted to break concentration and do something else, ask yourself: Is this the best use of my time? Usually that question will answer itself.
5. Create an environment that inspires you.
Whether you work from home or in an office, look around your workspace the next time you’re there. Does it boost your energy and focus? If not, maybe it's time to make some changes. Bring in a lamp to create soft light. Buy a plant. Put up photos. Create an environment that inspires you.
Also, sometimes we just need a change of scene. Maybe you should post up at a coffee shop one Saturday or take your laptop outside on a pretty afternoon. That fresh energy can keep you motivated to knock a few more items off your list.
6. Go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
Sleep gives you the energy you need to focus and get things done. It’s impossible to feel your best when you’re tired and grouchy! Prioritize sleep by getting between seven and nine hours every single night.
I recommend going to bed earlier instead of sleeping in. Here’s why: When you wake up early, you can have time alone to start the day as you—not as an employee or a mom or a dad. You have time and space to enjoy a cup of coffee or get in a good workout. The way you start your day affects how you spend the rest of your day.
7. Set yourself up to be able to focus.
Your attention is one of your most valuable resources. Protect it. Create boundaries around your work time and workspace. You might need to clear your calendar and book a conference room at work or put a sign on your bedroom door asking the kids to leave you alone while you work. Turn off notifications for instant messages, texts and emails when you’re in work mode. Interruptions and distractions will derail your focus and cost you lots of time.
8. Do one thing at a time.
Doing several things at once might help you feel like you’re getting a lot done, but multitasking kills productivity and leaves you feeling stressed and out of balance. Wherever you are, be all there. Finish one task completely (whenever possible) before starting the next one. In the end, you’ll do more and better work.
9. Grit your teeth and get to it.
Sometimes we simply have to do things we’d rather not do. It’s a fact of life. And avoiding something unpleasant will only make matters worse.
As Nike says, "Just do it." Force yourself to work on a task you dread for one hour and get as much done as you can. Working on the project in small increments of time will help you focus on the assignment and get it crossed off your list.
10. Take breaks and make time for rest.
Yes, sometimes you need to push yourself to keep working. But knowing when to take a break is also important. Leave your workspace and take a walk, or make a smoothie, or call a friend. The goal isn’t to procrastinate—it’s to refresh your perspective on your work.
If we’re not careful, our unhealthy need to feel productive will keep us on a treadmill of to-do lists for the rest of our lives, and it will keep us from ever being able to enjoy rest, feel peace, or create balance. Give yourself permission to pause and breathe, even when you’re in productivity mode.
11. Focus on balance, not productivity.
I’ll be honest with you: The first 10 tips will help you be more productive, but at the end of the day, is that what you really need?
You see, our time, money and energy are finite. We’re always going to have to make choices. We can either make choices that reflect what matters most to us or try to do it all and fail.
I don’t think we need more time-management hacks. I think what we’re really searching for is a sense of balance—to feel confident about how we’re spending our time. And I care about this so much that I wrote a whole book about it called Take Back Your Time: The Guilt-Free Guide to Life Balance.
In the book, we dig deep and get to the root of what’s causing us to feel so out of balance. I’ll show you how to trade exhaustion and guilt for peace and fulfillment.
And believe it or not, life balance is possible. Start today and read the first chapter of my book for free!