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Creative Ways to Increase Your Productivity

Written by:
Guest Writer

"It just doesn’t make sense to me to do several things in a mediocre way, wear yourself out and do nothing excellently." -Katt Tozier

When I was raising 4 kids and working from home doing medical transcription, I discovered a book called Sidetracked Home Executives some 20 years ago. The system utilizes index cards to organize daily, weekly, monthly and yearly household tasks. The idea being if everything is assigned to a certain time – and free days are built in – you can keep up with chores effortlessly and in small steps.

I’m still a fan of pen and paper when I’m drafting plans, but I love a number of electronic planning tools, too. You can translate systems like this into today’s technology easily enough with a calendar app, especially with the addition of something like ColorNote.

FlyLady uses a similar concept – a weekly “zone” rotation schedule, plus daily tasks, weekly power hours and decluttering exercises to get, and keep, you organized. FlyLady also advocates for “baby steps” – starting small, developing habits and building momentum. (And by the way, the Fly in FlyLady stands for First Love Yourself – a whole other topic).

Dr. Stephen Covey, well known for his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, advises that you put your Big Rocks into your schedule first. Big Rocks, as you can imagine, are your priorities, your most important goals and people (including yourself) and they get put on the calendar first, fitting other thing in and around them in the same way smaller gravel fills in the gaps between larger stones and sand fills in the gaps between gravel, rounding out your plans. This speaks of setting a primary goal in first, then the sub-goals related to the primary and finally the incremental steps that help you reach first the sub-goal, and cumulatively, the primary goal. 

I also love The Entrepreneurial Time System developed by Dan Sullivan. He advises we have focus days, buffer days and free days. The buffer days are the planning, organizing and dealing with minutiae days that allow us to actually be able to focus when it’s a focus day instead of being fragmented by too many things to do at once. And, again, this system emphasizes including “personal days” in your planning.

The commonality of these systems – whether business focused, home focused or personally focused – is assigning tasks to allotted times, leaving you free to just get it done instead of wasting time figuring out what to prioritize, and they all force you to look at the big picture AND the small steps you need to take to get there.

They also all advocate for scheduling free time, me time, downtime.

I love batching and the Pomodoro Technique, too. I’m not a fan of multitasking, as I don’t believe we do anything particularly well when we ask our minds to do too many things at once, and it’s exhausting. It just doesn’t make sense to be to do several things.

In a mediocre way, wear yourself out and do nothing excellently. Batching is a better alternative: scheduling similar tasks in blocks, so you’re only asking your mind to switch minor gears from task to task.

The Pomodoro way of doing this is to set a timer for 25 minutes and stay completely focused on the task at hand.

There’s an 80/20 rule in business – it’s the idea that 80% of your achievement is accomplished through 20% of what you do. In other words, we waste a lot of time on unnecessary things and in utilizing organization and planning systems, we spend our “focus time” on the 20% that matters (and when we cut out the time-wasters, we actually get to the free time).
It might seem like all of this doesn’t allow for creativity: it’s counterintuitive because using habits like batching and other structural systems increases creative productivity when the strategic stuff is easily crossed off the list and you can focus on creating.

It’s important to know your high- and low-energy times, your best and worst focus times. There are lots of daily habits, and some batching tasks, that plug nicely into low-energy times. Then, you can save your high-energy, best-focus times for important primary goals – Big Rocks – and for creativity.

So many things happen that interrupt our plans – illness, relocation, death in the family, maternity leave, divorce, business mergers and restructuring and all the other unexpected things that throw us a curveball – and it’s a lot easier to regroup if you’ve got a guideline in place.

Even when facing a challenge, you can often keep some momentum with automatic daily habits and simple batching tasks that help you stay grounded and feel productive – and make getting back into the groove afterwards a little less daunting.
Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I’m a big fan of that advice…whether you’re starting out or starting over.

When we have a plan, we so easily beat ourselves up for not getting it all done. And if life throws us a curveball and we miss a few days, we feel like we have to catch up before we can start again. And if the curveball is a major one that sets us back by weeks or months, we feel like we’ve failed.

One of the mindsets we need to overcome – and one of the dangers of organizational systems – is that we can reach a point of stasis and hold steady there. But change is inevitable and life throws us off balance frequently.

Organizational systems can make us feel we should shoot out of the gate, propel forward straight as an arrow toward an end-point and hit our target dead center.

Not so.

Nothing in life works that way.

The point of a planning system isn’t to lock you into a rigid trajectory; it’s purpose is to automate all the “little things” that have to get done, leaving you with energy to create and enjoy your life and work rather than being chained to endless to-do lists and 60-hours weeks.

Knowing what’s important to you, developing a general plan to get there, getting the unnecessary things out of the way, making progress and allowing for shifts is what counts. The path may be zig-zag, have switchbacks, be uphill at some points, and may be filled with potholes or obstacles.

Being on the path is what counts.

Getting going, or getting restarted.

But there’s a trick to it: for someone like me (who loves research, learning, charts, graphs, lists, problem-solving), it’s easy to get caught in spending too much time developing the plan instead of executing the plan. Even for those who don’t have that kind of nature, it’s still easy to keep planning because planning feels productive but allows you to keep procrastinating.
There are a lot of great ideas out there about time management and organization, and lots of how-to information, but you’ve got to recognize when to stop planning and start doing.

But that’s a different subject (hint: it involves moving past fear and doubt) and we’ll save it for another day.

About the Author

Katt Tozier is a writer, LifeWork Mentor and host of the Indomitable Women Podcast. She engages in conversations with women about facing adversity, healing, thriving and helping others heal. Her life and her work serve the higher purpose of being a voice in the world to eliminate violence against women and to mitigate the effects of trauma in their lives.

This article was originally published in the May 2016 edition of Elements For A Healthier Life Magazine.

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