Do you have too much to do and not enough time to do it all? Are you constantly overworked and overstressed? Does it feel like you just can’t ever catch up?
There is a solution—and it doesn’t involve adding more hours to your day or cloning yourself. The real solution is to quit overworking yourself so you can increase productivity and get more done without working more hours.
Yes, I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s true. When you stop trying to do it all—at once—you can do a lot more and dump a lot of your stress in the process.
Here are five of my top strategies to reduce your stress level and increase productivity.
The ability to multi-task used to be widely touted as a key to productivity. In recent years, multiple studies have debunked the myth of multi-tasking. We have come to learn that multi-tasking really means doing several things in rapid sequence badly. You aren’t really multi-tasking. That’s something computers do (and not always as well as we’d like). What we’re really doing when we think we’re multi-tasking is just requiring our brains to continually shift gears from task to task, and slowing ourselves down. Choose to focus on one task at a time and you’ll do it better and faster.
Pare Down Your To-Do List
Do you live and die by the to-do list? Have you ever found yourself guilty of putting mundane chores like making the bed and taking a shower on your list just so you know you’ll have something to cross off? Does your to-do list feel like it will never get to-done?
It’s time to pare down the list. Stop making an impossibly long to-do list every day. All you’re doing is frustrating yourself. You should never put more on your to-do list than you can reasonably accomplish in one day.
When you are putting items on your to-do list, give each project a realistic time estimate. Don’t put more items on your list than you have time in a day (you do need to allow time for eating and sleeping). Once you’ve done that, assign each project a priority level. Focus on the most important priority and you’ll get more done with less frustration.
Actually accomplishing your most important tasks without the pressure of trying to beat the clock has always been one of the best ways to reduce stress. While it feels nice at the moment to knock out the little projects so you can cross them off the list, at the end of the day, you’ll end up feeling more frustrated because that big project is still there, ready to show up on tomorrow’s to-do list.
Just for today, focus on the most important item on your list and stop worrying about the little things that don’t really matter.
You do not have to accept every request someone makes of you. Whether it’s at home or at the office too many obligations and assignments can wreak havoc on your productivity. Have you ever had so much to do that you couldn’t decide where to start? I have. It’s not pretty and it’s incredibly stressful. Learn to filter the demands on your time and talents. Sometimes you just need to say no and you can learn how here.
Make An Appointment with Yourself
If you have a project you need to focus on, block out the time you need on your calendar. Just as you make appointments for medical, dental or meetings, make an appointment to work on your project. It doesn’t matter what the project is, if it’s important to you, it’s worth scheduling the time. And then make sure you honor the appointment. Yes, you are just as important as everyone else in your life. Begin treating yourself like and see how much more you accomplish.
Eliminate Distractions to Increase Productivity
Now that you’ve made an appointment with yourself, eliminate the distractions. Eliminating the unnecessary is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Turn off your phone. Your calls can go to voice mail. The world will not stop turning on its axis because you aren’t answering the phone for an hour or two. Unless you are on the Organ Transplant List or waiting for an imminent job offer, just step away from the phone. If you really can’t bear the thought that you might miss a call from your child’s school, use your phone’s blocking mode to program in the “critical” calls that you’ll allow to come through.
In addition to the phone, turn off the television and the internet. If you lack the self-discipline to stay away from the internet, there are programs you can download that will temporarily block your online access. I’m personally not a big fan, but they work. My answer to the distraction of the internet is just to turn off the computer completely. Yes, even for writing projects. There is something creatively freeing for me about pen and paper, but that’s for another post.
And if you have children clamoring for your attention, either schedule your time when they are sleeping or not at home, or arrange for an off-premises babysitter or playdate. Oh, and before you get all indignant that I classified children as a distraction, think about it and then tell me that your children have never made it a challenge for you to get things done. You may be a better mother than I (wouldn’t surprise me at all), but my children are absolutely genius at finding ways to get me sidetracked.
Do you have any strategies for getting more done? Please share your thoughts and ideas–what’s worked for you–to increase productivity in the comment section below.