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6 Oct 2010 / Julie

10 tips for finding your groove and getting sh*t done

There is a glut of information on and products and services for productivity. Why the fascination?

For me “productivity” is such a crap buzz word – it gives me mental images of the gizmo maker on the production line with the supervisor standing over him cracking the whip. “500 more gizmos before lunch!”

i think the fascination with “productivity” is just our american-internet-generation’s way of trying to survive in the adult world where we have to do things we don’t always want to do but would rather pretend that we’re still kids and can get away with not doing what we don’t want to do.

I admit i’m guilty of it too – i can’t help but feel the pull of yet another headline on said buzz word. i think my own fascination with it is my desire to procrastinate (aka – do other things now and that stuff later) coupled with the desire to find the “magic bean” that will take your work and *poof* file it, send it, process it, wash, dry and fold it. (aka – do other things now and that stuff later). Well, i’d prefer to be the one to burst your bubble, since we’re friends and i like you… so here goes -  if you haven’t already gotten the hint – there is no such theory, method, software or bean to do this.

Your ability to get stuff done is all you, buddy. Your success and failure is up to you. In that vein, I’m going to reframe “productivity” to “the groove you get in that helps you get things done” and share with you my tips for finding that groove:

1. Begin each day as if it was on purpose.

I don’t know when i first heard that sentence. It’s possible it was from one of those page-a-day calendars. The sentiment struck me as brilliant. Instead of acting like the day is happening TO YOU, act as if you have control over the day – because really, you DO.

As painful as it is, i start my day around 5:30am so i can have a little control and start the day how i want. normally, staring out the window with a warm beverage or going for a walk/run. It gets my brain ready to roll and gives me time to breathe before the insanity starts. My boyfriend, the poor schmuck who sleeps next to me, wakes up in just enough time (sometimes not) to get ready, eat, and walk out the door. He’s fine with his process, but when i follow suit, i feel like i’m waking up to go to work – instead of waking up to a day wherein i happen to go to work eventually. It’s an important defining difference for me.

2. Set a routine for email. (aka take control of distractions)

Routines are very important for a lot of things – we all have a routine for getting ready in the morning – but i think it’s our email routine that is most important for those of us with an email problem. the problem is too much of it and too much attachment to it. I set a routine (and an alarm) to check my email at 10am and at 2pm. My cell phone will bling and remind me to check it so that i can pretend it doesn’t exist for the rest of the day. On random occasions when the alarm doesn’t go off (like weekends), if i’m online, i’m in my email. and i’m clicking “refresh” like a crack addict. Not healthy.

Pro tip (and sarcasm): clicking refresh will not make whatever is going to come come any faster. and if nothing is coming and you’re not expecting anything – take it as a blessing and get the hell out of your email.

3. Set goals. Make a list.

What are the top 3 or 4 things i must get done before the end of the day? Do you need to make sure to call Sue? Spend one hour making progress on that report that’s due at the end of the month? Do you need to pick up the dry cleaning? What’s on your short-list that you can realistically accomplish today? Things on this list should be things that (a- need to get done regardless of whether you want to do them and b- things that if nothing else gets done today, you’ll feel like you had a good, productive day).

I try to do this the night before so that my brain can chill out and relax and actually get sleep but this is also something you can make a routine of for your mornings before you do ANYTHING else. When i do make this list in the am, i do it before i touch anything else that might distract me like email (see #2) or voicemails. Depending on your coworkers and office space, you might consider making your list before you even reach your office.

4. Get Sh*t Done.

I say GSD because eventually you’re going to need to stop reading productivity articles and tips, put the facebooks down, stop cleaning your desk (my favorite procrastination activity), act like an adult and get shit done. This is only something you can do for yourself. Grow up and do what you’re supposed to. Play later. Work now.

5. Set aside time for silliness.

You DO need time for silliness. Allow yourself that time. Use a timer if your silliness involves a time suck. Give yourself 15 mins to screw around online, check whats going on in the twitters or go look at silly pictures of fuzzy animals. Set a timer and have fun – but get back to work when your timer goes off! No asking mom for 5 more minutes!

Plan on wasting time. Instead of keeping unnecessary windows open (chats, blogs, twitter, etc.) all day long, work intently with no distractions for a given time, then give yourself (significantly shorter) blocks of time to be unapologetically unproductive. — Matthew Hall, Jr. Consultant at Mutual Mobile (quoted from 37 Productivity Tips for Working From Anywhere)

6. Take breaks.

The typical american workplace tells you that you need to work harder and longer to be maximally productive. Breaks, while legally mandatory, are often frowned upon. This unspoken work ethic is the for birds and completely unhelpful. Study after study shows that when you take breaks/naps, you are more productive after those breaks than if you were to just work 8 hours straight with no significant break time. You need breaks that will help your brain and body to decompress (esp if you’re in a chair in front of a computer all day like i am).

Get up, walk away from your computer and GO SOMEWHERE ELSE! Get a drink of water. Walk around the building or block. If there’s a playground nearby, go swing for 15 mins (my personal favorite). I’ve found a walk around the block is so beneficial- after about 1.5 laps i will realize i’ve stopped thinking. another lap after that point and i’m recharged and ready to get back to business.

The moment at which you don’t think you can afford to take a break is the point at which you probably need one. If you feel you are getting tight or tense or are spinning your wheels on something – THAT is the time to take a break. Go think about something else for a while – SOMEWHERE ELSE. Go!

7. Work when you are most productive on the ball.

Not all employers are going to be cool with this one, but to the degree that you are able to, try to set your work schedule that works best with when you work best! Not an early riser? Don’t start your work day at 7! Better at night? Try going in later and leaving later. If you have the luxury of having a job that doesn’t care when you work, just that the work gets done – perfect! Pay attention to your body and schedule accordingly.

Even if you’re not able to set your work schedule- if you know that you can’t think straight after 2pm – make sure you do the brain-intensive stuff earlier in the day!

8. Get organized.

This is probably the first part of maximizing your time to get stuff done. If you’re spending 15 minutes trying to find the meeting details or sort through your emails to find that reference or phone number, you are wasting valuable time. This applies to those of us who are completely digital too – if you don’t have a system, it doesn’t matter if all your stuff is “in the cloud” or “on the computer” if you still can’t find it. I have a book that i keep all my TDL/GSDs in which is also the book i keep meeting notes in. Sticky notes do not apply – it goes in The Book later so i can always find it. I highlight contact info in blue, finished items in pink, and separators or meeting headings in green to help find things easier. I also date every new item/page. Additional tips for being (and staying) organized:

  • Visualize yourself as an organized person- i believe that visualization is ridiculously important. as soon as you shift how you see yourself and start acting like that vision already exists, everything else will fall into place.
  • Don’t keep things you don’t have to. Delete, purge and toss.
  • Don’t touch something more than once. Deal with it right now. If you don’t have time to respond to this email, why did you check your email? A way you can check this is at least for physical items, mark something with a dot or sticky note every time you touch it and don’t act on it (act = do it, file it or toss it). The visual of how often you avoid it can help you overcome the silliness.
  • Be on time. make sure you note in your calendar how long it will take to GET where you need to be – or schedule time for a potty break before the long meeting. When you’re late that means other people’s time is being wasted, not just yours.

[update: I started using The Book after reading this.]

9. Be honest and vocal.

Do you work in a shared space with others who work differently than you? Talk to them about how you can better work in the same space. Suggest headphones (for both you and them) if you need quiet to work (or whitenoise!). Make a deal that you won’t set meetings for before 9am or at all on fridays. Being honest and vocal with your colleagues about what you need (and them about what they need) will help for a more productive, happy workplace.

10. Reassess. (aka Let yourself off the hook)

At the end of the day, there is probably a reason you’re not getting done what you need to. Perhaps you have too much to do. You’re over-scheduled or over-committed. Are the things you’re doing things you assume you should be doing rather than things you need to do or things you want to dedicate your time to? Are these things that used to be “fun” and now aren’t anymore? Is it time to move on? Do you need to be doing these things or can someone else do them or help you with them? Let yourself off the hook sometimes. Be aware of when your inability to get things done is a cry for help – and then be prepared to act on it or ask for help. If you have no control over the list in front of you – seek help to finish them or get help in getting them off your plate completely. Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Pro tip: If your supervisor has given you too much to do and expects it all to be done – throw the ball back in their hands. Ask them to prioritize things for you if you aren’t able to say “no” to a task.

I hope some of the things that work for me help you out on your quest for the ultimate groove. I welcome comments and ideas!

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Further Reading:

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