If I asked you why you never went after what was important to you, would you give me one of these well worn excuses: “I never have any time”, “I’m so busy”, or, “I’m just too tired”?
I bet you would because these are the things we tell ourselves when we feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on our to do list, and can’t imagine where we could possibly make any room for the things we really want to do.
Instead, we put those things, that we truly yearn for, aside. We stuff them into the “too hard” drawer, archive them in the darkest corners of our minds, and just carry on doing the things that are expected, the things that we feel we “should” do, or the things that we can do with our eyes closed so that we don't even need to think.
So why am I writing about this today? Well, the fact is that time and time again I sit down with clients who tell me that they don't have the time to achieve their goals. So, I sometimes wonder, "Why come and spend money on coaching, when you're already talking yourself out of being able to do it?" Well, fortunately, I have some great strategies to help them, and you, to get an hour's productivity out of every 30 minutes, so let's have a little look...
1. Get clear on your objectives
The first thing you need to do is work out what you want from your life. If you don't know what you want to achieve with your day, week, month, year, or decade, then how can you know what tasks to focus on? Consider each aspect of your life: personal, family, relationship, work, home, etc. What is the most important result that you need for each. For example, it may be that personally, you want time to pursue your own interests. From a family perspective, your priority could be wanting your children to be happy and confident. Your work needs to be rewarding. Your home needs to be cosy and comfortable, and so on...
2. Categorise your "To Do" list
Next, look at all of the tasks you need to get done and categorise them into your bigger objectives. Consider which tasks will make the biggest difference in moving your towards your greater goals. It's usually impossible to fit in everything, so this is where you'll look to figure out which things are actually in line with your goals, and which aren't. For example, if your long term objective is to build a business, then agreeing to work 20+ hours of overtime, on top of your standard working week, or saying yes to helping out at every school disco and fair, is not going to help you make the time to get there; even though the extra cash might be a nice short-term bonus. Equally, if you want your teenagers to be confident, then taxiing them all over the place, rather than encouraging a little independence (walking, bus, etc), might not be in their best interests. The whole point of this categorisation is to make the links, in your mind, between the actions you take and the outcome you're working towards. It'll also help you to reduce feelings of overwhelm.
3. Delegate it
So, now you know what tasks will actually move you towards your goals, and which ones are just noise, it's time to consider what you'll put your focus into. If things absolutely have to be done, for example the laundry, but really you don't have time to do them, then consider delegating it to someone else. It can be a little mind-bending at first, to pay someone to do things that you can do yourself, but the time that you gain back is worth ten times what you'll pay someone else to do it. It took me three years of saying I would, to finally bite the bullet and start paying someone to do my housework. I felt like a failure as a mum and a wife, not to be able to keep on top of my housework while millions of other women manage just fine but, once I finally did it, it was an absolute joy to come home to a tidy house and, quite quickly, became an absolute necessity. Looking back, I don't know how I ever found the time to do it!
4. Ditch it
If you have things on your list which aren't moving you towards your goals in any way, you should look to eliminate them as quickly as possible. If it's a necessity task like turning up at work, when really you want to be running a business, then make sure you limit the time you spend at work to a minimum and put lots of time aside for moving towards your goal. If it's less urgent, like perhaps you feel you must sit and watch the news for an hour every night, even though it doesn't move you towards your goals, then why do it? And why do you really need to check facebook every hour? Or, if you're feeling pressured to visit with your in-laws every weekend, and never get any personal time as a result, then be bold enough to let them down. Agree to go every three weeks, or once a month instead. Also, it's really important to know that you don't have to say yes to everything that is asked of you. I know so many of us get wrapped up into thinking that we can't let anybody down, but if you spend all of your time fulfilling other people's priorities, then you'll find that you're letting yourself down. It's not selfish, and you don't have to justify yourself. Just let them know that you're flattered that they thought of you, but that you have an already-full schedule of priorities right now.
5. Do it
With only the tasks remaining that you absolutely must do yourself, break them down into smaller bite size chunks and schedule them into your day/week/month/etc. One of the most effective methods I've found for making sure I'm 100% productive every time I approach a task, is to set a specific section of time aside for it and to STOP, as soon as that time is up, no matter how much (or little) progress I've made. As a result, if I give myself, for example, an hour to write this blog, then my brain goes into super-focused mode. The one thing I definitely do not want to do is to have to come back and finish it tomorrow. I want it done, finished, out of the way. I don't want to have to think about it again. So, you can bet your bottom dollar that the blog will be done within the hour.
6. Eliminate distractions
Distractions are the nemesis of productivity and they come in all shapes and sizes; I have a white(ish) fluffy one here right now who can't decide if he wants to stay in or go out!!! So, if you need time to focus, get someone to walk the dog (if only I'd taken my own advice today), turn off your mobile phone (yes, I really do mean TURN IT OFF!), switch off the wi-fi so you can't get distracted by social media or emails, work in a room with no TV or radio, and ignore the door if someone knocks - or let people know in advance that you won't be available!
7. Early morning magic
I can't say enough times that, even if you believe you're a night owl, and you think that you're more productive in the evening, you are most likely wrong. If you've put in a full day doing other things then your mind simply doesn't have the capacity for creative thinking and problem solving that a well rested mind does. So, my best advice to you is to go to bed early and get up before anyone else. Personally, I get up between 4:30 and 5am every day and I get more done before my kids get out of bed at 7:30 than I do in any other similar time slot during the day, because my mind is fresh and raring to go, distractions (kids, mutt, text messages, phone calls) are zero, and I have a very clear idea of what I want to achieve. Sometimes, I can get 4-5 hours scheduled work out in that 2-2.5 hour slot. And that, is how you can squeeze a pint into a half pint pot...
I'd love to learn about the productivity hacks you swear by, so please share them, by leaving a comment below...