“But I just don’t have time”: It’s an excuse you’ve surely used, likely recently, for not doing stuff you know is good for you (see: going to the gym regularly, meal prepping your healthy lunches for the week, brushing your teeth for the full two minutes you’re supposed to), but isn’t as pressing as, well, the other stuff you have to do. Think: Being so great at your job that your boss compares you to Steve Jobs. I get it.
That, my friends, is where this list of productivity tips — all of which have helped to take me from one of those “But I just don’t have time” workaholics to a person who works and goes to the gym AND brushes her teeth for a full two minutes every morning (still working on the meal prepping thing, y’all) — comes in. See, when you can get more done during your workday, you make room for meeting the goals that feel less urgent, like going to three barre classes a week like you said you were going to when you wrote down your New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s to killing it in and out of the office.
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6 Tricks That Will Help You Knock Out Your To-Do List
1) Get smarter about your to-do list
Fact: You can write “Become Beyoncé” on your to-do list, but jotting that lofty goal down onto a Post-It note where you can see it every second of the day does not a Beyoncé make come 5 p.m. My point: To-do lists only do their jobs when you set realistic expectations for yourself. And in order to set expectations, you’ve got to prioritize. The most helpful way I’ve found to prioritize an otherwise jumbled list of things to get done, from calling my mom to say “Happy birthday!” to taking out the trash to meeting an important deadline, is the ABCDE technique.
Here’s the deal: This technique involves assigning every task on your to-do list a letter: A tasks are those whoppers that will keep you up at night if you don’t cross them off (see: calling mom on her birthday); B tasks will give you a slight stomach ache if they go undone, but not like the A tasks; C tasks are things that you’d like to do (like getting lunch with a friend, etc.), but aren’t necessary; D tasks are tasks you can delegate (see: taking out the trash — putting that on the fiancé’s to-do list); and E tasks are those you can eliminate completely (see: become Beyoncé). Then, you go through and number the tasks in each category from most important to least, conquering all the A tasks before moving on to the B tasks. And voila: You’ve got a to-do list that actually does its job. Hallelujah!
2) Embrace the Pomodoro Technique
This productivity technique was introduced to me by a former editor and not a day goes by that I don’t mentally hug her for showing me the light. Basically, the Pomodoro Technique is a pretty fail-proof way of eliminating distractions and actually zoning in on the task at hand. It goes like this: For 25 minutes, you focus on one to-do list item and one item only — no chatting at the water cooler with a coworker midway through, no checking Instagram to see if Kylie Jenner has posted any photos of her kid (hey, no judgment — just don’t do this during your Pomodoro), no texting your BFF about your coworker who chews too loudly. Just. That. Task. Then, once your alarm goes off at 25 minutes, you take a five-minute break where you can check Instagram, refill your water bottle and rant in your group chat. You do this four times through, taking a longer break after the fourth Pomodoro. And let me tell you: You will be amazed at how much work you’ll have completed in two hours, when the Instagram rabbit hole is off limits. Like, seriously, you’ll wonder how you ever got anything done before.
3) Time blocking: know it, learn it, love it
Time blocking is just what it sounds like: Allotting a set number of time to complete each item on your to-do list. This way, you don’t find yourself still working on the second item on your to-do list when the clock strikes 5 p.m. and what you want to be doing is heading to your barre class. When it comes to time blocking, you can even use Pomodoros as your time quantifier, by allotting three pomodoros to one task, one to another, and so on.
Now, this isn’t to say that you’ll always finish your task in the time you gave yourself to do it, BUT looking at your workload in this way does help you to get a grasp on how long it takes you to complete certain items on your to-do list, along with seeing where you might be wasting time. And once you have an audit of your time, it’s a whole lot easier to manage.
4) Pencil in time to check your email
Do you think Oprah checks her email every two minutes? No. The answer is no. Well, actually, Oprah probably doesn’t check her email ever or carry her own umbrella, because she is a queen and has likely hired others to do those things for her. But still, my point is that in every blog post with a title like “The Secrets of Successful People” that exists on the Internet — and there are many — one of the cardinal rules goes a little something like this: don’t be a slave to the “ding!” of your email. By looking at your email every single time you get a notification, you end up interrupting your work and wasting valuable time, often for totally unimportant information. So give yourself times to check your email — say 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. — and stick to ‘em to avoid falling down the rabbit hole anytime anyone decides they have something to tell you.
5) Life hack: Stop saying yes to social commitments you know you won’t enjoy
I have a note taped to my desk that says “Stop saying yes to stuff you hate” — actually, there’s a different word in place of “stuff,” but you get the point. And boy, is it a necessary reminder. Too many times, I’ve found myself spending valuable time doing things — activities, lunches, happy hours — that I had no interest in, eating into my workday and then staying later to make up for it. After one too many of these activities where I had to focus on not rolling my eyes the entire way through, I wrote this note and made it a reminder to really think before saying yes when an email rolls in. And I have never once regretted it, because now I have more time to get the, um, stuff I want to get done done.
6) If nothing else, turn your phone on silent — airplane mode is even better — when you’re trying to tackle your to-do list
For the love of all things holy, if you want to be more productive, don’t let Instagram notify you that your ex-boyfriend “liked” a photo you’re tagged in. Need I say more?