I spoke to a client the other day who is struggling with overwhelm and productivity. Life is busy and stressful, and she has big plans for herself.
As well as wanting to transform her career, she wants to transform the way in which she lives her life.
She wants more autonomy in how she spends her time, more opportunity to focus on her areas of expertise, and time to pursue new hobbies or things she wants to learn.
Productivity, focus, procrastination
After talking to her it got me thinking of productivity, focus and procrastination. These are the key areas which affect getting things done aren’t they?
You want to be really focused on what you want to achieve, really productive in how you spend your time getting there. And then our friend procrastination comes along, getting in the way.
I started to look at my own situation and realised that I too feel pulled in all sorts of directions. I have all these great ideas, I put them on a list of ‘things to do’, and then before I know it I’m crippled by indecision. Where to start? Is this idea really worth the time? Should I be focusing on something else?
The teeny tiny first step
I’ve recently discovered the idea of breaking down a big old ‘thing to do’ into the very smallest possible steps, in order to actually get started and make progress.
For example, take a potentially awkward phone call I’ve been putting off. I’ll write down these three steps on my to-do list.
1. Literally just finding and noting down the phone number to call as the first task (ie a Google search).
2. Next, planning what I’m going to say, or noting down what I need to find out. Writing down a few lines to fall back on.
3. Finally, picking up the phone and making the call.
You tick each item off the list as you accomplish it. It sounds so obvious but physiologically it helps me just do stuff. What might have been pushed back and pushed back becomes doable.
Too much at once
However I’ve realised that I often start one thing on my list, just to get started. I then look at a completely different ‘to-do’ and take the first small step there. I’ll swiftly move on to another – to feel as though I’m covering all bases, making progress all round. The result is I end up with lots of half-done unsatisfactory unfinished things.
I looked to a book for inspiration. One that’s always at the back of my mind but that I’ve never fully read (what’s going on there?) is Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I read the first chapter and loved his ethos. As his website says:
“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done.”
It’s all about prioritising. Only focusing on the essentials – not the fluffy extras that are time wasting opportunities. Your productivity will surely improve.
So I decided to pick my top priority from my to-do list – what’s the one thing that’s going to push me forwards the most? Then I’d break that task down into tiny bite-sized pieces, and work on these tasks only, until it is complete.
And do you know what? So far it is working. I highlighted the two most urgent important tasks on my to-do list, and listed all the little steps to get each done. Then I picked one, ignored the other, and solidly worked my way through the steps.
I was so buoyed by my success that I felt full of energy and ready to start my second top priority task.
Chances are if I hadn’t applied this tactic I’d still be procrastinating, searching and reading articles about both tasks and not actually getting on with making them happen.
What you can do
So there we have it. My productivity tips:
- Read Essentialism before me.
- Highlight 1-3 of your top priority tasks on your to-do list.
- List each teeny tiny easy step you need to complete for each one (I’m talking mind numbingly easy like 1. watch Youtube video on creating a Pinterest account, 2. sign up to create a Pinterest account, 3. watch Youtube video on creating a board on Pinterest…).
- Pick one top priority task and get to work, step by step. Ignore all else until it is completed.
- Feel smug.
I hope this helps if you are feeling overwhelmed and your to-do list is out of control! Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
If you’d like to try a life coaching session with me, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign-up for a free 30 minute Skype call with me.