Last Updated on April 7, 2022 by Stephanie
You check your list of things to do at the end of the day and realize that you crossed off one or two things, but you added another 5 to the list. You think about something else you need to get done while you’re working on one project. The stress of getting things done is becoming too much. You plan and plan. However, you still feel like you’ve got a million things lost in the shuffle.
Does any of the above sound familiar? I know that I’ve absolutely been there. I want to let you in on a little secret though… you can do it. You can get things done and create time for what you really want to do. It isn’t about balance though, it’s about your systems. I wrote a whole post about how building systems can help you boost your productivity. Now comes the second piece to that idea of getting more done in what seems like less time: efficiency!
The Main Points
I can break this into just a few major points to help you evaluate your systems and tweak them so they work the best for you. So next, in this post you’re going to read a bit about learning, habits, abandoning, excess planning, busy doesn’t mean productive, and automation.
I read a lot, and this is why…
You may think that reading has nothing to do with getting anything done. For me, it has absolutely EVERYTHING to do with getting things done. One book I read that absolutely changed my life was Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen. I took his initial idea and have changed and revisited and tweaked a LOT of different things.
One thing that I have stuck with for over a year now is the weekly review. If you don’t do a weekly review or know what one is, go check out my post about it here. It was a GAME CHANGER for me.
The more I read, the more I refine things that I’m doing. As I’m writing this post I’m currently reading a book called The One Thing by Gary Keller. Check out this great quote that sums up basically this entire post.
Ask someone who is doing it better than you. Ask the friend you see getting something done quicker than you. When you see something that interests you or an app that someone mentions that helps them… research it. You don’t know what is out there until you try it. To sum it up, the more you learn about ways to do the things you do, the faster you become and the easier it is. Getting things done is about making sure you are doing things efficiently.
Habits are habits… good or bad… they rule your day.
Habits are a tricky tricky thing, and sometimes you aren’t even aware that you are doing something. I just finished The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and the amount of our lives driven by habit will absolutely astound you! People just keep doing inefficient things even when they know there is a better way just because they’ve been doing it that way for years.
A perfect example of this from my own life is when I made the shift to Inbox Zero. If you don’t know what that is, check out my whole series of posts about it starting with this one. Whenever I had a free moment in my day during teaching, I would check my email. I was compelled at every tiny break to check email. It would derail what I wanted to get done 80% of the time. I still did it. I let someone else hijack my day multiple times a day because it was a habit. When I started only checking my email twice a day, I got SO MUCH MORE DONE! And you know what? Not a single person complained that I didn’t get back to them in a timely fashion. I did not miss anything.
So, if you find yourself doing something a lot during your day… a small menial task that maybe takes you a few minutes at a time, try stopping it. When you find yourself starting to do it out of habit, glance at your to-do list instead and start working on your big task for the day. Pick a time for all those tiny tasks and batch them together instead!
Getting things done means stop doing things that don’t work.
You would think that everyone who read that statement just said “duh. I know that.” Here’s the thing though, you don’t. How many times have you tried to make something work… a lifestyle or work thing… and every time you try it, it fizzles out? Just stop doing it! Stop trying it!
Some of you are thinking to yourselves that I just gave you permission to quit, but I didn’t. If you’ve given something a good honest try and it does not work for you, do not waste your time on it. I’m thinking about planners in my own personal life. I create digital planners and notebooks, so I’m well aware of different planning styles. I have tried to do an hourly weekly spread a million times. This is the one that you plan out your day in time blocks and write down everything. My max is 5 days until I stop doing it. I’ve tried it countless times, and just finally admitted to myself a few years ago that it does not work for me, and that is perfectly okay.
If you start something or you try a new way of doing something and it really doesn’t fit with your lifestyle and takes you more time, then abandon it. When you try a certain system (like me with the Getting Things Done method by David Allen) and you don’t like a certain aspect of it, it is okay to eliminate that part. Productivity is about flexibility in finding what works. If you know that you can’t carry a big-ass planner around with you all the time, stop buying them. If that app that you bought to do habit tracking doesn’t help you the way you thought… oh well. You’re out $2.99… stop wasting your time filling it in every day.
Give yourself permission to stop doing the things that don’t work. Also, give yourself the permission to tweak things that are working but you think could work better!
If it takes you double the time to plan it… no.
Again back to the planners. If you go on Instagram, you might see some of these beautiful digital or paper planner spreads. People spend hours a day creating beautiful works of art in their planners and bullet journals. I am telling you right now that for 90% of the world, that is not realistic. What I believe is happening is that people are combining their planning with their leisure activity. Creative artists can absolutely find creative joy in making these beautiful calendars and decorations and use them as a functional planner.
I choose to typically use my Google Calendar and then I use digital notebooks for a lot of everything else. If you want to check out a free digital notebook, click on the image below! If you’ve already joined the digital planning and notebooking crowd, check out my shop. Haven’t thought about digital planning or notebooking? Check out my post about the pros and cons of each here!
When decorating and creating your planning pages is taking you more than I’m going to say a half hour a day and maybe an hour for a weekly review… it is not helping you. It is hurting you. Again, with the exception of people who use this as their leisure activity. I choose to quilt, you choose to decorate your planner and that’s cool.
It should not take long to plan out what you need to get done each day. Planning out something like a major project or a social media calendar takes time depending on what you put into it. Taking time to write out your three top tasks for the day does not. If you review your project list for the week, it also does not take you that much time. This leads me to my next point.
Being busy does not mean you are actually getting things done.
I can be busy or I can be productive. Chances are the two of those days look very different. On a busy day, I switch from activity to activity. It looks like I get a lot of stuff done. I cross boxes off my to-do list. At the end of that day, I still haven’t gotten my most important tasks done. On a productive day, I close my door and I tackle my biggest task first. I do the thing that is going to make my life easier, the thing I need the most focus for, the thing that has the most consequences attached to it.
In the book I mentioned above, The One Thing by Gary Keller, the author focuses on this idea. We need to think about and focus on the one thing that is going to make everything easier for us. If you ask yourself that question for everything, you will absolutely boost your productivity.
For me, in my teaching career, I plan one week ahead. At the beginning of the week, I use every possible moment to get my plans for the following week along with anything I need, completely planned out. This one thing will ensure that I am completely ready for the week that follows. If anything pops up during that following week, I know I am already ready for everything, so it is not a stressor for me. I then choose my next thing.
Every time you finish something, ask yourself, “What is the next thing I need to get done that is going to help me the most?”
Create automation as much as possible.
Lastly, I would like to talk about the idea of automation. Automatic reminders, habits to put in place, things like that. Habits and automation are the keys to efficiency. When something becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it anymore. Make it a habit and you are going to cut the time needed to do that thing by a LOT. Take it out of your thoughts and you are freeing up even more space for your brain to work on more important tasks.
My favorite app for to do list automation
My world absolutely changed when I started using ToDoist. It is an app that you can get for your phone, tablet, and computer and it is amazing. I am planning on eventually doing an entire post about my love for this app, but the BEST part about it is the automation that it brings to my life. I don’t need to remember half of the things I do because ToDoist tells me I need to do it.
For example, I’m in charge of posting our weekly newsletter to the school’s webpage every Friday. Every Friday, that task automatically pops up in my list for that day. I should probably clean my cat’s water fountain every two weeks, and I do because ToDoist puts it on my list for that day. If you would like to try ToDoist, you can get a longer free pro trial and help me out when you click on my link! Full disclosure, I get some money off of my membership if you try through the link, but I have used the app for over a year and will continue using it for years to come. Click on the link to try!
Use ToDoist or find another app that you love, but find ways to eliminate your need to think about what you have to do. That is why I also love my weekly review habit. Every week, I check-in and go through my entire project list. I look at every single thing on my list. I assign a date to a task right then and there when I see one that needs to be completed this week. Sometimes doing my review triggers other reminders for me about other things I need to do in the coming week. I already have the list made and I review and update it often. It doesn’t take me the extra time because I’m in maintenance mode. I’m not starting from scratch every time. Check out my post about effective to-do lists for more information about that!
Try out some different productivity methods and work towards getting things done in more efficient ways. My shop has a great bundle of productivity printables!
Final Thoughts on Getting Things Done
Some of this may have been hard to read because it made you feel like you’ve got a lot to think about. Great! That was the point.
It is my firm belief that everyone has inside themselves the ability to accomplish everything they want to accomplish. People need tools and systems in place. If you take an honest look at what you do and how you do it, you can absolutely find ways to improve how you do it. If you can’t see a way to make it better, ask for help. As I said above, do not be afraid to ask someone you think is doing something better than you how they are doing it! Plenty of people have traveled the road you are trying to travel yourself, so it makes sense to ask them for tips on how to avoid the potholes.
What are your thoughts? What systems do you have in place that you need to tweak? Are there any places in your life you feel could benefit from a different system?