When I was in my twenties, I used to lie awake at night thinking about my ever-growing To Do list. I wondered how I’d get through it all the next day without getting fired.
I’m far from alone.
According to the Health and Safety Executive in the UK, 526,000 UK workers reported they had experienced work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016–17.
In this article, I’ll give you seven proven productivity strategies that will help you take charge of your time and do more of what you want to do.
1. Start With The End In Mind
It’s easy to spend the day on busywork: long meetings, lengthy email chains, an endless stream of notifications and more.
Instead, clarify what you want to have accomplished by the end of each week. Then work toward that.
Depending on your priorities, these steps might include a set number of sales calls, a newly launched marketing campaign or a series of customer interviews.
Only then, make room for smaller activities that sap your time and energy.
As a writer, for example, my output includes one to three finished articles per week. I can make time for Twitter and Instagram after I’ve finished writing those articles.
2. Do It Right Away If It Takes Less Than Two Minutes
This productivity strategy comes from the author of Getting Things Done David Allen.
The psychological burden that comes with postponing tasks and writing them on your To Do list often takes far more time than if you’d attended to the item immediately.
You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish in 120 seconds, but if the activity takes longer, write it on your To Do list.
In Getting Things Done, Allen wrote,
“The rationale for the two-minute rule is that that’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands — in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff.”
3. Own Your Calendar
Your calendar is one of your most valuable assets; guard it wisely.
That’s an extreme example.
Still, at the end of day, review your calendar to see who you met with and how you spent your time. Consider what meetings or activities energised you and which ones ran over.
If you’re on a key project, block book an hour or two in your calendar for working on this project before the demands of the day take over.
4. Prepare Your Work In Advance
Have you ever sat down at your desk first thing, read the news, checked your email and thought about doing everything but work?
Then when you finally feel guilty enough to start, you spend another thirty minutes opening up your work and looking for your notes and a place to begin.
Instead, prepare your work the night before. Arrange your tools and research in one place. Leave a note to yourself about exactly where to start.
You might, for example, record the phone number of a customer next to a list of questions to ask.
The trick is to make it as easy as possible to start work when you sit down the following day. You don’t want to have to spend any time looking for what you need.
5. Harness The Power Of Small Daily Wins
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states:
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
This applies to accomplishing more each week too.
In other words, if you gain a little momentum on a project by working on it for just 30-minutes, you’re far more likely to sustain this momentum for the working week.
Alternatively, if you attempt to power through a project during a single three- or four-hour block of work, it will take a lot more of your energy and time.
6. Track Yourself Like A Boss
The old productivity maxim “What gets measured gets done” is attributed to Peter Drucker among others.
You can track yourself by recording how long you spend on tasks for a couple of days. You don’t need to do this in the long-term, but if you know how you’re spending your time, you can decide what activities to purge and do more.
An app like Harvest is useful for tracking how you’re spending your hours. Or you could simply record your working day for a week in a spreadsheet.
Then on Friday, you can see what’s taking longer or less time than you imagined. You can also see if you’re spending enough time on key projects and too much on less valuable activities. This knowledge will enable you to plan for the week ahead.
7. Hold A Weekly Review
The weekly review is an effective productivity strategy for the overwhelmed.
I also learned about the weekly review several years ago from Allen, and it’s helped me avoid feeling stressed over the weekend.
“Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself.”
What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip?
You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.
Once a week, spend 30–60 minutes reviewing what you worked on, what lessons you learned and what you want to accomplish next week.
Remember, it’s natural to feel a little stressed while working on a big project, but lying awake at night feeling overwhelmed is a sign that you need to reprioritize.