If you're anything like me, winter means cozying up on the couch, shrouding yourself in blankets, and hitting the snooze button in the cold mornings. But life doesn't always offer us the opportunity to hibernate, and it's important to be productive, even when you'd rather lounge. Here are some tips that can be used year-round, but particularly in winter, to keep you feeling efficient.
Pick three. Make a to-do list and fill it with all the things in front of you. Then select three main tasks to tackle for the day, and work on accomplishing those before you begin any of the others. Having more concrete goals will help you prioritize, and it will prevent you from being overwhelmed. A long list of tasks can be intimidating, but a set of three items feels do-able.
Break tasks into smaller units. Sometimes productivity is just a result of being able to figure out how you should be spending your time and what actions are absolutely necessary. When setting goals, try to be specific, and break large goals into smaller ones. Let's say that your goal is to work on your novel. That's a great goal, but it's still unspecific and large. Instead, set goals like, "I want to fix the introduction to Chapter One." It's clearer and more manageable, and then you can move on to other tasks when that one is complete.
Eat regular meals. If you skip lunch or breakfast, chances are you will flag at some point in the day. Your attention will be on your stomach rather than on the task at hand, and you won't have the energy that you need to get stuff done.
Move around. Sitting at a desk all day can kill your energy level. If your body is, even momentarily, dynamic, then chances are good that your work will be more dynamic as well.
Talk to friends about work. I talk to my friends all the time but don't often talk with them about work. When we do, though, I find that there's a great deal to be gained from having a connection with others over professional problems, joys, and goals. Everyone needs some encouragement, support, and new ideas from time to time.
Multitask (within reason). Too much multitasking means that you can't focus properly on the tasks at-hand, but there are some activities than you can actually make more productive just by keeping your hands and mind simultaneously busy. Fold laundry while doing something more enjoyable, like watching TV or listening to music. Or wash dishes while you chat with your best friend on the phone. These types of multitasking are best when neither task requires a lot of attention, so for the low-attention goals, why not make them more fun?
Make a routine. Keeping things regular--like your bedtime, wake-up time, work hours, etc.--will greatly improve your productivity. If your routine varies too much, you waste time constantly adjusting to change. Some variation throughout the day is good, but too much just shocks the system.
Give yourself rewards. Have something to look forward to! If there's something I absolutely don't want to do, having the enticement of a night out with friends or a nice cup of coffee can make all the difference in getting me motivated.
Stay hydrated. It's all too easy to get into a groove with work and forget to drink water. But after a while, if you aren't hydrated, sluggishness sets in. And if you're really lucky, headaches ensue. Keep a bottle of water nearby or make a point to take five minutes each hour to get up, walk around, and drink a glass of water.
Just start. With any task, the beginning is often the hardest part, particularly if it's difficult or loathsome. So muster your resolve, take a deep breath, and just do it. Even if your first efforts aren't successful, keep at it. Writers facing writers' block are often encouraged just to get words on the page, and it's not that different with other tasks. Don't judge your efforts, don't get frustrated. Just jump in. You can always correct your work or start again later. The hard part will already be behind you.
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(Image credits: Natalie Jeffcott; Bethany Nauert; Cathy Pyle)