Last Updated on April 8, 2022 by Stephanie
You’ve read it all. You have a Pinterest board full of tips and ideas to help you become more productive. Crap, I’ve devoted an entire blog to this stuff. I’m being absolutely honest with you here… putting it out there for all to read. You might not need to read any of the other stuff if you understand this one major productivity and time management tip.
My husband actually said it best. He is a total type A, no-nonsense guy. He is also a teacher. I was trying to better myself. However, I am a slightly disorganized and creative spirit. This is when I grabbed Getting Things Done by David Allen. I LOVE that book. There are many parts to my overall organization system that I learned from it. After explaining to him how great it was and letting him know all the interesting things that I learned, he told me this:
“I could write a book like that. My book would be one line: Close this book and go do your work.”– My awesome husband
If you know my husband, you could absolutely picture him saying that. This is how he thinks. His mind doesn’t go in a million different directions. However, mine is all over the place! He was right though, and that’s the big tip. In the next section, I boil it down to what you need to understand most about productivity and time management.
Productivity Really Comes Down to One Thing
It is all up to you.
I was standing in the shower listening to an audiobook by Gary John Bishop when I decided to write this post. He’s the author of the book Unfu*k Yourself. I have loved every one of his books I’ve read so far. So, there I am, listening to his book Do The Work and he is speaking his truth and making me laugh out loud. He is totally my husband if my husband had a Scottish accent. Which, by the way, if you are wanting to read any of Gary John Bishop’s books, I would highly recommend listening to them because that makes them even better! The main theme of all of Gary’s books is this: It is all up to you. Productivity and Time Management have one thing in common: they are all about the actions that you take.
Now, let me give an example of my first hour of the day at school. I go early so I can be there before others get there. My most productive time is that hour before school starts. It can go two ways and they all depend on me.
I get to school, shut my door, and open up my Chromebook. Then, I glance at my ToDoist for the day. After that, I pick my top three things to get done for the day. It takes me 20 minutes to get my first thing done. I send it to the printer.
Glancing at my list, I start on my next task for the day and finish the first couple steps of that task before I’ve got only five minutes. Now, I open a new tab for my email to make sure there aren’t any important announcements for the morning, delete a couple of random emails from newsletters that I don’t need at the moment, and go grab my stuff off the printer. One and a half of my top three things are done.
I get to school and open up my Chromebook. Again, I glance at my ToDoist for the day. I pick out my top three things to get done for the day. While working on my first task, my colleague comes in for a minute to ask me about my weekend since she saw my open door. I glance at my email since it’s already an open tab in my browser.
I’ve still got about half an hour, so I feel like I’ve got the time to check everything. It takes me about 15 minutes to go through my email. Back to work! I get my first task done. Then, I send it to the printer. I go grab it right away. When I look at the clock in the front office, I’ve only got about 5 minutes left before the kids come. Now, I might as well just chit-chat with the secretaries.
Which Example Do You Relate to More?
Before the past two years, I was example 2 all the way. I had my list of stuff, but I let the distractions happen. My stuff would get done, so who cares? Wow, if I knew then what I know now.
Example 1 sets you up for success. Shut your door when you’ve got crap to do. Someone will actually think twice if they have to knock or open your door to chat with you. Now, this does not make you a recluse. It helps you prioritize what you are there to do. I work, I send things to the printer, and I let them live there. I’ve got other stuff to get done. If I leave the cocoon of my room I will get distracted. Instead, I keep working until I’ve only got 5 minutes until the kids come. 5 minutes gives me just enough time to glance for anything important on my email and go grab what I printed.
All of those things were actions by me. I chose to close my door because I knew I would get distracted. Others always pop in. Then, instead of rushing off to grab the stuff from the printer, I saved it for last. If I wait, I might have something else to grab. My email does not stay open on my computer. Check out my posts about Inbox Zero if you want to know why.
In the examples above, you can see that there are just tiny little choices that we make every day that derail our productivity. We are all rooted in habits. 90% of our day is driven by our habits. We are making very little choice in our days because our habits direct us on what to do. Now, really think about your day and the things you get done. Then you will agree that so much of what we do is automatic.
With that, understand you can change small things to make a big difference. You have to examine what you are doing and reflect on things that are going well.
Track Your Time
Recently, one thing I tried for a few days was to track my time. You do not have to do this every day or even for a long period of time. Do it a couple days and see what you learn. I set a timer on my Apple Watch for 15 minutes, and every time it went off, I wrote down what I had been working on. Everything from playing games on my phone, taking a shower, working on a blog post, and scrolling Pinterest. It all went in there.
It was eye-opening. Honestly, the biggest takeaway is that it helped me realize how long it took me to do certain things. This also showed me how productive I was when I wasn’t shifting from task to task. You can’t implement any kind of time management tip until you know where you need the help and where you are wasting your time.
Thinking about your time tracking, you can take your action a step further by using what you learned. Time Management strategies like the Pomodoro Method and Time-Blocking work best because you have an idea of how long something is going to take you to get done.
Parkinson’s Law is an interesting phenomenon that comes up in productivity. Originally this was not a talk about productivity but of something economical. However, it has morphed into the idea that if you are given extra time to do something, you will stretch that task into the time. It will take you two weeks to do a task if you are given a deadline two weeks from today. If you are given the same task, but only one week to complete it… it will get done in one week. I believe we have lost our sense of urgency at the same time we gained this idea of immediate reward. Doing things like trackers make your time and getting things done more of a challenge and a game. Try it!
If you want to try out the Pomodoro Method, check out this freebie:
What would happen to your day if you decided to give yourself shorter deadlines? If you’ve been doing something for a while, see if you can have it only take up 45 minutes of your day instead of an hour. Do you think you could do it? I bet you could. You would find small things to tweak. You would shave off time here and there to get it done. Give your tasks some urgency. You will be astounded by what you can accomplish in a shorter amount of time. Trying to become better at a task you do repeatedly in and of itself is a time management tip and technique that can change your productivity.
In my own personal life, I’ve totally found this to be true. There was a day I decided I was going to get every single lesson plan done for the next week in the first hour of my day. I usually do a couple of grade levels every day. It takes me about three days of my plan time. I was in the groove. I got all of them done in that first hour. Shutting my door and only thinking about my lessons ahead, I had batched planning together and it was actually easier than normal!
Try it! Group similar tasks together and try to see if you can shorten the time it takes you to do them!
Stop Saying “I Can’t”, “I Don’t”, “But…”, and All of Those Things That Stop You
You are what you think. The conversation that plays out in your head as you go about your day will define your day.
Do not tell yourself that you can’t do something.
Stop telling yourself that you don’t know how.
Do not make excuses for yourself.
Make the choice to look at what you need to accomplish and do it. If you “can’t” do something, why can’t you? Figure that out by asking someone who has already done it or looking it up. The same thing goes for not knowing how to do something. A great quote from The One Thing by Gary Keller came from his mom when she said “When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them.” If you keep telling yourself excuses, you will keep telling yourself excuses.
To recap, the one productivity and time management tip is that you need to understand that it is all up to you. You need to sit and think about how you can use your time more wisely. Keep track of your time and try to see what you’re spending it on. Figure out what triggers your wanting to sit around and do nothing. Examine what motivates you the most. It is all about you!
I’ve also got some great productivity printables here in my shop. This bundle has everything from goal setting to a monthly habit tracker. Click on the picture below for more information.
Go do something extraordinary and please feel free to comment below with any questions or ideas that you use!