Someone asked me the other day how I managed to get so much done in one day. I have never really given it much thought until now. Everyone works at their own speed and what works for one person may not work for everyone. What works for me is to remain focused on my goals. Doing so gives me a sense of accomplishment. I think my deadline-oriented history as a journalist provided me with a solid training ground.
Here are some of the tactics I use that might be helpful for you.
Start the day early: I get up around 6 a.m. and plow through my emails and skim social media (it takes about 15 minutes) before getting ready for work. I have read articles that suggest this only serves to derail your day, but the hour between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. is my creative time because the kids are still in bed, so it works for me and helps me to organize my day.
Get easy things out of the way: Once the kids are up and preparing themselves for school (thank goodness they are old enough now), I grab a cup of coffee and head to my home office to see what other items I can get out of the way. Perhaps I might look for something to post to LinkedIn or Twitter for a client, or maybe I will search for a blog idea that I can start writing about later in the day for another client. Whatever it is, I make sure it’s something quick and easy that can be accomplished in under 30 minutes.
Create a to-do list: In between making sure the kids have eaten breakfast and getting them out the door, I jot down my to-do list for the day. I start with my list on Monday and either add items or check them off as the week progresses. I keep a running tally throughout the week with the goal of getting everything accomplished. Prioritization is key, so it’s important to triage. If a blog I am writing is due on Tuesday, but a press release I am supposed to be writing is due on Thursday, then I do what’s needed first, not what I feel like doing. Just like in journalism, deadlines are important. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when that to-do list keeps growing, so being able to check off items helps to give me a sense of accomplishment.
Take small bites: If a project has many parts to it, then I will break it into smaller parts and work to complete one piece before moving on to the next.
Don’t multi-task: Recent studies have found that workers make significantly more errors when they multi-task. While I find this sometimes unavoidable, I have been working diligently this year to focus on one thing at a time. Instead of answering emails and calls as they come in, (unless the request is urgent), I try to set aside a few times each day to address these unavoidable interruptions.
Keep to a schedule: Whenever possible I reserve the mornings for conference calls and client meetings. My reason is two-fold: By getting these out of the way early, I can act on what was discussed immediately after the meeting/call if needed. It also allows me to be able to accomplish my other goals for the day before picking up the kids from school.
Create an agenda: Phone calls and meetings can become a time suck. Try to go into them with an agenda in mind. Discuss what you went in to discuss and don’t let the conversation meander too long. This will save you and everyone else time.
Don’t forget the reward: I use the rest of the day to work on my checklist. Once I accomplish one of the items I give myself a reward. I get up, stretch, perhaps go downstairs and grab something to eat, let the dogs out for a few minutes and get some fresh air, or make a quick stop on Facebook to see what my friends and colleagues are up to. Do whatever makes you happy and relaxed. Regardless of whether I finish a project to its completion, I always make sure I get up at least every 30 minutes to stretch.
Take time for yourself: It’s never a good idea to skip a meal and although I may not go out to lunch, I make sure I leave my office for at least 30 minutes to eat. I do not take lunch at my desk and work through it. During this time do what you enjoy, read, post to Facebook, or just stare out the window and enjoy the scenery.
The homestretch: After lunch I have about two-and-a-half hours before it’s time to pick up the kids from school. It’s easy to become more and more distracted as the day goes on. This is the time of day to really put on the blinders and plow through. Emails are my No. 1 distraction, so unless it really can’t wait, I might take a quick look and then put the email back to “mark as unread” until I can get to it.
Shut the door: I am fortune to work from home, but that also means my office is just upstairs. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s important to close the door and not return until morning. Some nights at the office are later than others – just like those of you who do not work at home. But having a good work/life balance is important. I turn off all electronic devices an hour before bedtime – no more email, social media, phone calls.
It’s a new year and what better time to come up with game plan that works for you and keeps you on track to reach your goals? What are some ways that help you to be more productive?
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, South Florida based public relations firm. Susan is a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience. She has two daughters, three golden retrievers and two cats, but just one guinea pig who is happy not to have to share his cage or his daily stash of veggies with anyone.
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.