We all know the drill. We start out our day with a to-do list and a certain number of hours in which to complete it.
We diligently get started on item #1, deal with a minor (or sometimes major) interruption or two, check our email or Twitter accounts, return to the list and repeat the cycle a few times until…poof, suddenly—almost without warning—the day is gone and we’ve accomplished only a fraction of what we set out to do.
And, while some distractions are out of our control, there are certainly many that we create all on our own.
If you find yourself fanaticizing at the end of every day about feeling more focused, more efficient, less stressed, and generally happier, here are 5 tips to start practicing today.
1. Live by the 80/20 Rule.
The Pareto Principle tells us that roughly eighty percent of the things we do will only result in about 20 percent of our happiness. Conversely, about 20 percent of the things we do are responsible for 80 percent of our happiness
Apply that principle to your life, and you’ll soon see that most of the things we spend our time on each day add little to no real value to our lives.
Each day, stop and think about what really needs to get done for the sake of long-term happiness, and write them down (this is that golden 20 percent of stuff that really matters). They can be related to work, health, household, relationships, or fun. Then, make those things the priority, even if doing so means that you’ll have to say “no” to other people, events, and opportunities. I know, saying no sucks, but sometimes it’s necessary.
If you later find yourself veering away from those big priorities, stop and ask yourself, “How much value will this activity bring into my life?” If the answer is not much, ditch it in exchange for something else
2. Avoid Time Sucks
Whether we’re wasting our time by checking email too often, getting sidetracked by our social media accounts (but, I swear, it’s for work I tell you!), or Googling one too many useless factoids on our smartphones, we can all occasionally fall victim to the time suck trap.
The modern age is rife with distractions, but that doesn’t mean we have to give into them. Unless I’m expecting something urgent to come in, I typically limit email checking to about three 5-10 minute sessions per day—once first thing in the morning, again around midday, and one more time before wrapping up my day on the tail end (and, sometimes, once more before bed if I’m working after the kids are in bed). The same rule applies to managing my social media accounts. Be brutal with yourself here.
3. Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
Ever notice how much more you get done when you adhere to a schedule? It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how often we forget that the small act of creating a workday schedule can make a big difference in our productivity levels.
After all, you are much less likely to get trapped by time-sucks in the first place if you know you only have another 30 minutes allotted to get that report done. Sticking to it takes discipline, but it’s well worth it for the amount of time is saves you later in the day (and the next day too).
4. Get Moving
And no, this isn’t just a euphemistic way of saying get to work. I mean move in the most literal sense—as in exercise. There was a time, not too long ago, when I allowed myself to believe that I simply didn’t have time to exercise. I had too many other things to do!
Within a few months, I was pitifully out of shape, becoming painfully winded going up every set of stairs. I felt sluggish, unmotivated, and even mentally unfocused all day long—everyday. I couldn’t be productive anymore because my body wasn’t operating at peak performance.
You see, the physical, mental, and emotional balance that makes us who we are can’t be compartmentalized. Each one is undeniably connected to the other, and when one part of us is off, so is the rest of us.
Take some time each morning to get the blood flowing (pssst…it also flows to your brain and makes you smarter) by going for a run, starting a yoga practice or workout program, or even by simply taking a short walk around your neighborhood. Or, just do jumping jacks and sit-ups for 5 to 10 minutes if that’s all you can squeeze in. If you can work in another few minutes of movement midday, go for it!
It may seem like it’s taking up valuable time, but you’ll be so much more productive the rest of the day as a result that it will hardly matter.
5. Get Your Rest
It goes without saying that a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will most certainly equal a more productive day. That’s because the human brain and body both function best after having plenty of time to recharge and regenerate.
But, what about emotional rest? If you find yourself becoming increasingly apathetic about your life or work, and just can’t seem to motivate yourself the way you used to, it’s possible you’re suffering from a severe case of burnout.
Perhaps your old priorities just aren’t working for you anymore, or perhaps they are, but you’ve had tunnel vision for too long.
If this is you, re-evaluate your priorities and take some time to reacquaint yourself with the things you have always liked to do just for fun. Socialize more, take a good, long vacation, find a new hobby (or revisit an old one), or simply allow some time every weekend to just do nothing.
In short, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to have the well-rounded life you were meant to have.