Life is hard. It's full of chores that have to be done and errands that need to be run, much of which stands in the way of the stuff you actually want to do. If you're feeling spread thin, here are some productivity hacks that will make you better at actually getting stuff done:
1. Say No
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to making good use of your time is forgetting how to say no. When trying to be more productive, many people take on too many tasks and responsibilities. The idea is that if you have more to do, you'll get more done. Unfortunately, this often isn't the case. Instead, spreading yourself thin can leave you feeling bogged down, and end up with you falling behind on the more important jobs.
When someone asks you to do something, really consider whether you have the time to get it done along with your other, preexisting tasks. If not, don't be afraid to decline.
2. Ignore People
Try to be as isolated as possible when you're working. If you can, turn off instant messengers and email notifications. Set your phone to silent or, if you're comfortable, turn it off entirely. This will let you dedicate the bulk of your attention to the task at hand instead of having your mind pulled toward distractions.
If you're too paranoid to go notification-free for long stretches of time, then schedule specific times to check your phone or email. That way you're changing speeds on your own terms, instead of being taken out of a productive moment.
3. Eat Frogs
When you're looking at the tasks you have to do in a given day, figure out which tasks are the frogs. "Frogs" are jobs that you don't want to do, but you absolutely have to. These can be anything from boring data-entry tasks to the phone calls you're dreading. Once you've identified the frogs, put them at the top of your to-do list.
Eating your frogs first thing works well for a few reasons: First, it capitalizes on your early-morning energy, and second, it gets them out of the way. If you put them off until the end of the day, you have to spend hours dreading it and knowing it's coming. This can sap your energy, and make you less productive until you cross it off. Doing these tasks early means you can get through the rest of the day without thinking about it.
4. Make Goals
Big goals, small goals, wild and lofty goals: The important thing isn't the size of your goals, but the specificity. Making very specific goals will motivate you to reach them.
A goal like, "Build up my savings account," is too nebulous. How much are you building it up? Over what period of time?
Without more details, adding five dollars to your savings account qualifies as reaching the goal. Odds are good you meant something a little more substantial than that, so make a goal that reflects your real aspirations, like, "I want to have six months worth of pay saved by next year."
5. Drink Water
Most people don't drink enough water, so you don't need to feel bad if you're not as hydrated as you'd like to be. However, if you want to be more productive, now's the time to start refilling that water bottle. People who are well hydrated have more focus, higher energy, and get better sleep. Try to get at least eight cups of water a day to give your brain a boost.
6. Do Short Tasks Now
There's this concept called the "2 Minute Rule" which says that any item on your to-do list that takes less than two minutes should be done immediately. It's the ultimate anti-procrastination concept- instead of perpetually pushing back easy tasks because you'll "get to them later," you do them straight away.
This is a particularly great way to make your to-do list look more approachable. Long, intensive to-do lists can get intimidating until you start thinking in terms of which tasks can be done very quickly. Start following this rule, and you'll find your to-do lists shrinking before your eyes.
7. Check Email Fifth
Or third, or tenth, or last: Just don't check your email first. It's counter-intuitive, since email usually holds important information. When you first get started on a task, however, you have a lot of energy and momentum. Instead of immediately dedicating that to what other people think you need to do, trust your instincts. Do at least one thing you need to get done before you start addressing other people's requests.
8. Do Mindless Tasks
There are some things you have to do day-to-day that don't require any brain power, like dishes or taking public transit. Take advantage of these times to listen to something interesting, like an audio book or a podcast you enjoy. By adding these tasks to what is an otherwise boring part of the day, you'll make the tasks a lot more enjoyable.
9. Kill Darlings
If you do any sort of creative tasks, familiarize yourself with the (often difficult/sometimes painful) concept of "killing your darlings." This means recognizing when an idea or concept isn't working out, dropping it and moving on.
When you've come up with an idea that, in the excitement of the moment, seems like it's the best thing anyone has ever thought of, it can be hard to let go. However, not every idea is a winner, and some are just duds. Recognizing these dead ends and moving past them can save you a lot of time and energy.
10. Give Yourself Less Time
It seems totally backwards, but give yourself less time for big, important tasks. By scheduling the bare minimum amount of time, you'll actually work a lot harder to reach that goal. If you're having trouble picturing how this would work, think back to writing papers for school. When were you more productive: When the paper was due in two weeks, or when it was due in two hours?
When you're giving yourself short deadlines, you're actually setting yourself up to get things done more quickly. This way you have all the motivation and ambition that you get from putting something off until the last minute, without any of the risk.