You may have seen the title of this post and either got excited to read what I’ll share or instead you’re rolling your eyes, tuning me out and clicking away. Maybe you’ve read articles on this topic before, tried the ideas and it didn’t work…or maybe you read the ideas, thought they were great but never took action. Whatever your reaction is to the topic of “how to get more done”, know that it’s going to take work on your part. Period. The way to get more done involves the uncomfortableness of changing habits. It involves self-discipline. It involves actually wanting the change and being ready to tackle the action of getting more done. It involves understanding it won’t be easy because anything involving change to your norm creates a little stress. It involves being realistic and definitely includes not taking on more than can handle. Which, in my opinion, is why many of us struggle with not getting more done to begin with. Getting more done sometimes involves taking things off your plate that never should have been there to begin with.
Day in and day out I work with families that struggle to get their homes organized and keep it that way. Part of their reason for hiring me is that they don’t have systems in place, have clutter, need ideas, a design or space planned out. As an independent new fresh set of eyes entering their atmosphere, what I tend to see is their overflowing plate – yet they are happy to sprinkle even more responsibility on top. Need someone to volunteer for the bake sale? Sure, count me in. Oh, the school is in a pinch and needs another committee spot filled? Ok, I can do that! Forget about the fact you have zero time to bake those 4 dozen brownies by Thursday or attend endless committee meetings. Instead of taking a moment to think about how this will impact you, your family or current overflowing schedule – you’ve successfully added another thing to your list. Another thing that’s keeping you from getting on top of your own tasks and responsibilities.
I think we need to be more intentional with our priorities and time. And I don’t believe that way of thinking is selfish. Take a moment to focus on you for a small amount of time to re-assess. If you’re feeling overwhelmed now, it’s not going to get better until you get a grip on the current situation and make a change. When people hire me and we’re working together one-on-one, they don’t ask about my other clients spaces, their stories, or what’s happening within the 4 walls of the person who referred me. (Yes, they are always snoopy in a cute way) Instead they ask about me – they want to know how *I* stay organized. How *I* get stuff done. Trust me, I’m not perfect – I’m constantly checking myself because I too fall prey to e-mails from the PTA president asking for help with a project. Over the years I’ve learned to check myself first before saying yes…and I’ve practiced saying no a lot more.
Ok, so…apparently, this intro turned out to be a mini-vent, soap-box sesh – haha! Joking aside, please don’t take it that way – this post had to begin with those points right out of the gate because it absolutely ties into getting more done. Getting more done involves you first assessing what’s going on now. Sure, could be just your habits, which will require some behavior-modification on your part. But a lot of the time – and I’m seeing this consistently with my clients – is that we have too much on our plates to begin with. And we’re all aware that multi-tasking isn’t the way to get things done completely, thoroughly and correctly. Why do we want to let anyone down by not giving it our all? And more importantly, why are we letting ourselves down by adding more than we can handle to our plates?
Ok, ok – enough, Sam! Alright – that out of the way, I’m going to share my ideas for getting more done. This list has been accumulating for a long time and includes tips I’ve picked up from reading books, talking to colleagues, learning the hard way myself or spending intimate time with clients. My hope is these ideas will resonate with you and help you take action toward getting more done!
KNOW WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU AND WHAT YOU WANT TO GET DONE
This is otherwise known as creating a plan, which involves taking time to figure out what is and isn’t working, what can come off your plate and knowing what you want to accomplish. If you feel as if every year you’re rushing around to finish Christmas shopping or you weren’t as creative as you hoped with gift giving, that should be a part of your goal / plan. If you’re struggling to get backpacks organized in the morning and want to make a change so those early routines work more efficiently, this is a goal to focus on. And it will involve creating a new habit or system that happens the evening before. These are examples, but you get the idea. Just take some time to figure out what those stress points are in your day and what your goals are for yourself moving forward.
GET MORE SLEEP
This goes without saying, but if you’re tired it’s going to show in your work, results and outcome. We aren’t getting enough sleep – kids specifically these days! If you’re a night owl, but wake up in the morning feeling exhausted…or maybe you’re setting more than one alarm or keep hitting snooze – time to crack down on a better bedtime routine. It’s a very hard habit to change for sure, particularly for us moms that enjoy getting 10 million things done after the kids are in bed and the house is quiet. Try going to bed earlier so you can get up earlier to do a few things before the rest of the house wakes up. Or just for the sake of having more sleep and feeling better overall.
CREATE A DAILY TO-DO LIST
I’ve talked about to-do lists before (right here) and there’s nothing more important than a good, solid daily to-do list to keep you on track toward getting more done. Nothing is more satisfying than checking items off your list. More importantly, it’s very satisfying when those tasks are things that actually needed to get done. I won’t go into much detail on this bullet point since I have an entire blog post dedicated to it already, but I’ll add in that when you create your to-do lists, make note of anything that can be delegated to someone else…and really important here – don’t make your to-do lists too long and unrealistic!
DO THE MOST IMPORTANT, LEAST ENJOYABLE TASKS FIRST
When creating your daily to-do list, make sure your “must get done” items are at the top of the list and commit to getting them done right away. You’ll be at your freshest point at the beginning of your day, so commit to getting it done no matter how much you don’t enjoy the task.
BE SMART ABOUT YOUR TIMING
There are certain tasks on my to-do list that can absolutely get knocked off when the kids are around – like putting away laundry or returning a book to the library. But if an important task includes sitting at my computer or making a phone call that needs absolute silence, best to do that while my kids aren’t home. My 3 kiddos can make so much noise and cause me to lose focus with the quickness. Be smart about when you tackle those items and be sure to get them done early on so they aren’t hanging over your head 30 minutes before carpool time.
MAKE A SCHEDULE / CALENDAR
Keeping a master calendar and schedule is an obvious way to stay more organized. But it also helps you get more done because you have a jumping point from which to create those daily to-do lists. Make sure when you’re creating those lists that you check your calendar for things that can be knocked off in advance. If you’ve signed up to bring snacks to the soccer game this Saturday and you’re going to the market today, grab the snacks now and tuck them away so it’s ready for the weekend. It’s one less thing to do, you’re getting it done early and you’ll be at the market anyway. Also knowing your schedule and having activities and other dates plugged into a calendar will keep you from overcommitting yourself. I don’t go anywhere without my calendar. It’s big and clunky because I manage a lot of schedules, but it keeps me from having to re-schedule something because I forgot I was already committed at that day / time. It also keeps me from feeling as if I’ve let someone down when I say yes and then later have to follow-up with a no.
CREATE MASTER TO-DO LISTS
These are a great way to not only keep track of grand plans, but also gets the ideas out of your head and onto paper. For me, when things are written down it frees up precious space in my head to focus on tasks or projects I’m working on. I know they are written down somewhere for safe keeping and can move on with my day…or finally fall asleep! Yep, you know those random to-do’s pop into your head at the most impossible moments.
Routines and habits are bff’s. Good habits are really what sets up those solid routines. An example – one of my biggest challenges for a while was getting on top of 3 overflowing backpacks each afternoon when my kids came home. Each bag needed unpacking, repacking, snacks put together for the next day, lunch bags emptied and re-filled, and then there’s all that paper that comes home. Sometimes it was too much to handle so I pushed it off until the morning. Bad idea! I had to get up earlier each morning to handle it and I’m not a morning person. After struggling for a few weeks, I finally set a routine for myself that everything backpack-related would get done as soon as we got home from school…and when my energy was up. My kids know this is a part of mom’s routine and they give me a solid 15-20 minutes to sort through bags, re-pack items and figure out what homework needs to get done or papers need signing. This is also my time to make note of important dates or deadlines. This habit has now become a routine for me and if I don’t get to do it after school I don’t feel good. It’s just a part of my day and it bleeds over into being more organized the next morning. This could also be said for a gym routine, weekly meal planning, grocery shopping, and more.
The simpler the system, the better too! Have a system for sorting mail each day – and make it quick. Have a system for staying on top of laundry – it will never be 100% done (ever!) so just have a system for staying on top of it. Nothing fancy, just a system that works in line with your habits.
As I mentioned in my intro, I think many of us struggle to get things done because we are committing ourselves to tasks that don’t belong to us. I think there’s definitely a role for volunteerism in each of our lives, but we should be cautious of taking on as much as we can truly handle. Even if your volunteer job can only include 30 minutes a week in the school library (that’s me!) than so be it! Remember that later your time may allow for more of these little extras. But if you’re reading this still…thank you!…chances are your current personal to-do lists aren’t getting done. Consider taking on fewer projects or volunteer jobs until you’re ready to handle it.
PRACTICE SAYING NO
While this may make you cringe, saying no isn’t a bad thing. Saying no means you’re focused on your goals, your family and your well-being /sanity. It’s ok to say no. And it’s ok to say it without following up that no with your long list of reasons / excuses. This takes some practice since most of us are not used to the idea. You’ll get there!
MAKE TIME TO DO NOTHING
It’s easy to get so focused on tasks that you forget to take a break. Make sure part of your day includes quiet, reflective time…or time at the gym or in a yoga class. Maybe reading for 30 minutes before bed or going for a walk in the evening. Quiet time does wonders for your well-being and re-energizes you to get more done on that list.
Yep, one of my favorites here on the list – wonder why. Ha! Having a cluttered space will absolutely keep you from getting things done. If you have cluttered spaces, you’re less likely to focus because other items sitting around will distract you. Maybe you’ll see something on your desk that belongs in the kitchen…next thing you know you’re in the kitchen having a snack, checking your phone. Talking hypothetically here, of course. *coughcough* Tidy up those spaces, friends!
HAVE A SYSTEM FOR WRITING DOWN NEW IDEAS / TO-DO’S THAT COME TO MIND
Whether you keep a running list in your smartphone or carry a pad of paper / pen in your purse, have somewhere to jot down random tasks that come to mind. Later when you’re near that master to-do list or you’re creating that daily to-do list for tomorrow, you can make the transfer.
SCHEDULE E-MAIL TIME
The real truth is if we checked our e-mail a lot less, we’d be a whole bunch more productive. It’s true. Refreshing your inbox incessantly will keep you from focusing on what you should be doing. Also, keep in mind that e-mails don’t have to be long and wordy. Keep them to the point and try to spend no more than 2 minutes replying to each. Personally, if it takes me longer than 2 minutes to reply to an e-mail, I’d rather pick up the phone and talk to the person. If you write fewer e-mails, that means you’ll have fewer being returned…and fewer to reply to again!
ORGANIZE YOUR E-MAIL INBOX
There’s nothing worse than opening your e-mail to see a full inbox. Did you know you can make your e-mail system work hard for you by using folders or apps? My friend Carley K recently wrote this amazing piece about organizing your inbox and it was within her post that I learned about apps for organizing e-mail. I’d heard of this before but never pulled the trigger until she detailed out several options. I’ve been using the Mailbox app for over a month and my inbox is ALWAYS EMPTY. No joke. The app allows me to delay / schedule e-mails to show up in my box later, to be filed away in a “to read” folder for another time, and I’ve created dozens of folders named for clients, projects and more where e-mails are filed away neatly and safely…yet easy to find when I need them. This is only the beginning! If your inbox is driving you crazy, schedule time with yourself to sift through and organize it. On that note, make a promise that each time a junky e-mail shows up in your inbox that you’re tired of receiving (like ads, coupons or newsletters you never read) that you’ll unsubscribe right away. Don’t just delete the email – unsubscribe and then delete!
This bullet-point is also in line with handling e-mail once. If you read and delete, file it away in a folder or respond right away – it’s done and over with and not hanging over your head anymore.
SET A TIMER, USE TIME BLOCKS OR A METHOD LIKE POMODORO
Instead of sitting at your desk and bouncing from task to task or working on what happens to be randomly set down in front of you, set a timer for uninterrupted, focused work time. If you’ve never heard of the Pomodoro Technique or time blocking, it’s been shown to work great for those of us with focus issues! I use a version of this on my own without having read books or researched much into the idea. I learned this habit in college and it’s carried on with me. For example, when I’m writing a blog post, I set my timer for 25 minutes and focus on only that blog post until the timer goes off. Even if I don’t wrap up the blog post in that period, I come back to it again later after a short break. For this post, I wrote it in 4 time blocks of 25 minutes each. When my timer went off, I walked away from my desk to drink a glass of water, have a snack, switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer…and then I returned and set the timer again. Blogging for me takes a lot of concentration and for this post in particular, there was a lot I wanted to share with you guys. I wanted to focus. If you work in an office setting with co-workers, you can nicely ask them to give you some uninterrupted time. They’ll get it!
ONLY ATTEND MEETINGS THAT ARE TRULY NECESSARY
Meetings of any kind often turn into a time-suck. Especially if the person organizing the meeting doesn’t have an agenda or keep the group moving and on time. Sometimes you can’t avoid a meeting and simply have to muscle through it. Sorry! But if you don’t have to be there, don’t. I’m on a few school committees and many times I don’t *need* to be there. Generally, I’ll ask the committee head what the meeting is about and if my presence is necessary. If it isn’t, I’ll ask for a quick post-meeting e-mail detailing tasks delegated or what was missed. I’ve saved myself hours upon hours by not attending meetings…and sometimes the meeting organizer will suggest a conference call instead, which is always much more convenient for everyone.
LET IT GO TO VOICEMAIL
These days, most of us have a phone with caller-id. If you’re working on a dedicated, focused task and your phone rings – and it’s not important / earth-shattering – let it go to voicemail. Phone calls can be a huge distraction from getting things done because they veer you off course.
Many studies have proven that multi-tasking isn’t effective. Some have even said it’s a myth. In most cases I tend to agree. In certain situations it’s going to happen – like when I’m cooking dinner but talking to my kids about something or talking on the phone with my grandma. Otherwise, I tend to agree with this idea. The idea behind a lot of the studies is that bouncing around from one task to another interferes with concentration…which in turn makes for more mistakes…which in turn means you’re re-doing tasks and wasting more time.
LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is just another fancy word for procrastination. I struggle with this too! For example, as I’ve been sitting here composing this post I’ve reached for my phone 2-3 times…I hit a moment where I had to stop, think or re-read something and my first inkling was to grab my phone to check Instagram. There’s a place and time for scanning down your Facebook news feed or scrolling around Instagram and it’s not while you’re working on a project, while you’re driving or sitting at a red light and not when you’re trying to get something done. There’s no quicker way to get off track, stall your work progress, get honked at or (worse yet) end up in a car accident. I do my best to tune out social media when I working on focus tasks. And when I do check social media, I go for some sort of time limit. Otherwise next thing I know an hour has passed and dinner is burned.
JUST 15 MINUTES
Spend 15 minutes each day or evening clearing off the important spaces in your home so you start with a fresh, clean slate each morning. Think your desktop (if you work in an office or at home), kitchen counters, your landing spot, etc. Clearing them off at the end of day absolutely contributes to getting more done because you’re starting the day off by not tying up those loose ends from yesterday.
Snacks are a great way to keep your energy up and your blood sugar / motivation from plummeting. Keep healthy snacks in reach while you’re working on a project or running errands. And don’t forget to drink more water! When you feel better, you’ll get more done.
I’d love to hear your tips for getting more done and ways that help you feel successful – so be sure to share below in the comments! Have a great day guys!